The Real Thing About My Experience
Managing An Author Behind Bars
Part 1 of 3
by Jarold Imes
Incarcerated Interest Pt. 2
Incarcerated Interest Pt. 3
Most people who get into urban publishing think that the formula is simple: incarcerated author writes book behind bars; publisher publishes book by author behind bars; book goes to the bestseller’s list; everyone on the team gets paid. Simple, right? Now, you and I both know that logistically, that doesn’t make sense but you would be surprised if I told you how many people believe that.
So much has been said about the incarceration and the management of Victor L. Martin (former author of Triple Crown Publications who went on to publish his critically acclaimed and hard to find title, Unique’s Ending elsewhere). The legend is that he started his own company behind bars and arranged the publication of his infamous title. Some say that his family owns the publishing company and that there is beef within. Then there are others who know the truth but feel that in order to establish credibility for themselves on various readers’ message boards, they must twist the story a little bit.
Myth #1: Victor started the former Vic Mar Publications, LLC so that he could publish Unique’s Ending.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The company that would adopt the Vic Mar Publications, LLC moniker would legally have its humble beginnings as a sole proprietorship that operated as a publishing imprint, RBANWRTR Enterprises on March 6, 2001, the same day my debut title would appear on the market as a walk in my shoes (better known as Never Too Much. A revised version, Never Too Much-The Remix will come out January 2008). I was a nineteen-year-old college student who waited three years after the completion of this book to see it in print. At that time, this book was one of two that I had spent a third of my life writing and perfecting. I had been inspired by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, who founded Def Jam Records in Rick Rubin’s dorm room at New York University. I had read the numerous stories about (and enjoyed watching to a point) Suge Knight building Death Row Records on the West Coast. I was even intrigued by fellow HBCU (Historically Black College/University) alum Sean Comb’s traveling back and forth from Howard University to New York to intern at Uptown Records in the mid-nineties, the label that was home to acts like Guy, Heavy D & the Boys, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and many more.
On March 6, 2001, I was a first year student at North Carolina A&T State University. It was my first year away from home (in theory at least) and I saw an opportunity to be among other college students who were taking risks starting their own companies. I would buy the company’s set of ISBN’s that summer and publish our debut title the rhyme, the story n me (ISBN: 0-9712309-0-0) (now republished as U Can’t Break Me by Jarold Imes) in October 2001. So technically, that would make my company just as old, if not older (give or take a month or two) than Triple Crown Publications, the company that would publish three of Victor L. Martin’s books. We even published our debut titles the same month. I don’t say that to be cocky or to start no shit but I feel like I’m on trial and that I have to lay a foundation so that the rest of this story will have credibility for those of you who are deciding to verify what I’ve said. Want to check it? The ISBN for our version of Unique’s Ending is 0-9712309-9-4. That means that I bought a set of 10 numbers and the “-9-“would indicate that this title was assigned the tenth number in the batch we paid for. And yes, I published nine other books before taking on Victor’s…
I would change the operation from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability company governed by the state laws of North Carolina on May 17, 2002, almost two years before the publication of A Hood Legend and at least a year and a half before Victor signed his first contract with Triple Crown. I would go on to change the name of the company to Martin Maasai, LLC in 2004 before settling on Vic Mar Publications, LLC in October 2005. By then I would have published Hold On Be Strong.
Around March 2005, after closing the doors on Martin Maasai, LLC and ending my relationships with my former business partners and authors and deciding to regroup, Victor’s mother contacted me and asked me to get in touch with her son. She explained to me how her son was incarcerated in North Carolina and that she thought it would be good if her son would meet with another author from North Carolina. At that time, I thought “cool.” Wasn’t any harm in writing someone who was behind bars, I felt. Perhaps it would give me something positive to look forward to and do while I was making plans to rebuild the company which had become mine again. I was on the verge of losing my job and the money that was supposed to come in from the sales of Hold On Be Strong was very slow. Remember, I started this company while in college and for those of you who have been, you know that college students typically struggle between waiting on refund checks from our student loans and working summer jobs. I had just graduated from A&T the December before and financially, I wasn’t any better off than I had been.
So I write Victor and he writes me and he talks about other publishers who pursued the publication on Unique’s Ending. For whatever reason they had, Triple Crown Publications turned down the opportunity to publish the book. He also talked about doing it himself. Having prior knowledge of Victor’s sales records before hand, I had encouraged him to take one of the publishing deals he had been offered. I even suggested a certain company who had they taken the book today, would not have had near as many barriers to overcome that I would have. I was sure that this book would put him on the Essence Bestseller’s List at least with the right marketing and placement within various book stores. At this time, Victor was accustomed to doing things the “traditional” way: author sends book to an agent; agent “shops” book around to various publishers; a publisher accepts the book; publisher pays advance (which is a loan on future monies earned on the book); publisher preps and publishes the book; book sells mainly via traditional bricks and mortar book stores and online retail outlets; author collects royalties from sales of the book AFTER the advance money has been recouped. Victor had his heart set on self-publishing this book. He wanted to do something different and see if he could create a formidable publishing company behind bars and give other incarcerated authors a chance to get put on.
Well there is one problem with Victor trying to self-publish the book—his incarceration. In spite of his own success as well as the success that Wahida Clark, Jason Poole, and others have had publishing the books while incarcerated, one of the disadvantages is the incarceration itself. An incarcerated author can not get on the streets of New York or with the street vendors in DC or in the book stores of Charlotte and interact with their fans. An incarcerated author can not drive around with four to six cases of books and ask everyone to “please read my book.” An incarcerated author can not interact with fans via a message board or an online chat or email or take too much advantage of the free communications means that authors who are not incarcerated often take for granted. True, the incarcerated author may write letters but that method is WAY TOO COSTLY for them as they have to come up with a way to acquire the stamps they need to respond to your letters. We won’t even discuss the time method, which could be spent writing books or taking care of other business.
For those of you who have read Vickie Stringer & Mia McPherson’s book, How to Succeed in the Publishing Game (Triple Crown Publications/Paperback/ISBN: 0-9767894-0-X/$20.00), you know that just writing a book is not going to get you published. Printing books doesn’t make you a published author, either. You have to set up some sort of office be it in your garage or spare room or in your kitchen (well it’s not supposed to be the kitchen but a lot of work gets done there J). Most incarcerated authors do not have the means to obtain all of that. A person outside of the prison system (or a very nice CO) would have to obtain all of that. I already had the ISBN’s, company structure, the computer, the printer, the scanner, office supplies, the room, a place to stay, a car to use, the post office box, a phone and other little things that a small publishing house would need to at least try to compete with the big boys. These are things that most incarcerated authors can not get on their own and what they can get is rationed out and not supposed to be used for “business”—“business” being defined in whichever context the state or the federal government feels. Keep in mind that when I met Victor, he already had two books out with Triple Crown and that his third book, For the Strength of You was on the way to bookstores.
I was asked to help Victor self-publish Unique’s Ending… well, he couldn’t “self-publish” in the way you and I know “self-publishing” to be. He needed someone who was willing to publish the book as he saw fit and would do it “his” way. I said no at least three times. I even told him to his face no when I went to see him. For starters, I felt that Victor had good deals on the table and I even felt that Triple Crown would change their mind if he made minor editorial changes to the story. Two, those of you who have had success obtaining a copy of Unique’s Ending know that the book is way better than any version of For the Strength of You, hands down, and I couldn’t see how any publisher would pass on the book. Three, it would be the completion of the Menage Unique Legend saga. Four, I didn’t have the money at the time to publish my own books, let alone help him do his. Besides, in spite of the lack of capital, most of my fans know that at this time, I was planning to re-release Hold On Be Strong and releasing Worth Fighting 4. After defending street fiction and the companies who publish this genre of work, I wanted to do a street book that would appeal to kids. I had accepted the challenge given on the RAW4All message group, dug deep into my own life as a child in Denver, Colorado and wrote what is possibly one of the most child friendly street story ever printed. I felt that in Worth Fighting 4, I had a book that was hard enough for adults but one that they would feel comfortable passing along to their children. And then there was the issue that at that time, I didn’t like Vickie… she did and said some things that were a little bit past foul, and I had not forgiven her for that yet. Being his manager meant that I would have to deal with her eventually. While I’m talking about Vickie, I’d like to say that for the record, I never had a problem with MOST current or former Triple Crown authors, just her and one of her “authors.” In fact, I still talk to and support many of the authors’ individual endeavors. And I got along with the staff at Triple Crown that I had to deal with. Mia McPherson was my main contact person. She was just as sweet, kind, supportive, helpful, and professional as you see in the video documentaries. So on that end, there was peace.
I eventually said yes, agreeing to overlook the Vickie situation and after being assured that the money would come to produce Unique’s Ending and that I would have help from family and friends. After doing the publishing thing by myself (even when I had partners, I was still by myself but that’s another story), I was willing to try this new thing. I had always said then and in some ways still feel that today I would be willing to work with someone who was just as passionate about me and my work as I am and I know that Jesus is. I knew going into this that I would need a team to show everyone that a small publisher CAN take a project by an established author and make it big. After working out the capital issues and creating a plan which originally included working with some of his longtime and favorite contributors (who had approached me about working with the book), I knew that Unique’s Ending could do what he, his fans, and I expected it to do.
Unfortunately, my contact with Mia would end after Vickie made and acted on a certain decision and I chose to take action based on her decision. Let’s get something straight, I sought counsel before I took my action and I’m comfortable with the action I have taken. Because of my previous issue with her, Vickie always pretended when it was convenient for her like “she didn’t know” I existed in my role as Victor’s manager. That’s some bullshit right there—how do you not know if everyone else knows and is contacting me? I could go into details, but I’ll just end this part by saying that that would be the only time she would respond or reach out to me in relationship with anything that had to do with Victor.
Jarold Imes is a contributing writer for The Urban Book Source and author of Hold on Be Strong; he is the creator of online soap opera: Hold on Be Strong (www.holdonbestrong.com), send emails to:firstname.lastname@example.org
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