With Sarasota’s seemingly endless supply of arts and culture, festivals, attractions and shenanigans, those of us at This Week in Sarasota who make a living by pressing the letter buttons to make words happen have plenty of material to work with right here in our own backyard.
Sometimes, though, we emerge from our cocoon to venture 20 minutes north into the great unknown, to the actually-not-so-distant city of Bradenton, home to a bountiful wealth of culture just begging to be explored.
As of late, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time making new friends in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, which I recently learned happens to be Florida’s largest artist colony. Every trip holds a new surprise as the Village is chock-full of hidden gems, including artist-in-residence studios, galleries, restaurants and other independent businesses.
Some of the most innovative movers and shakers the Manatee-Sarasota area has to offer reside in the Village and for that reason, TWIS is excited to announce its latest column, “Keeping Up with the Neighbors.” We’ll be checking in with the Village of the Arts from time to time to stay apprised of everything our neighbors are up to, from community art projects and music festivals to emerging businesses and local news.
During my most recent visit to the Village, I had the opportunity to meet Dona Lee, president of the Manatee County chapter of the Florida Writers Association, proprietor of Village Voices & Eclectic Art Emporium and owner of Bradenton’s newest publishing company, Published!
Tucked away in a lushly-vegetated purple house on 10th Street, which is guarded by a black cat who appears to be in a perpetual state of deep relaxation on the gallery’s doorstep, Village Voices is an exclusive retailer of books written by Florida authors and a must-visit for all bibliophiles and aspiring authors.
At Village Voices, Lee hosts a free writer’s workshop on the third Thursday of each month, as well as critique sessions through the Florida Writer’s Association on first and third Thursdays and Saturdays. Additionally, Village Voices hosts a book signing at every first Friday Art Walk by one of the authors whose work is featured in the book gallery.
After running Village Voices for six years, Lee launched her affiliate publishing company, Published!, in October of 2011. She started the company in response to what she saw as a growing need for local authors to have the opportunity to self-publish their work rather than trying to get picked up by traditional publishing companies.
“Too many times, I’ve seen very talented writers turned down by big traditional publishing companies. There’s such a closed-door policy within the industry that a lot of great writers get shut out completely. It’s really unfair,” Lee said.
Fed up with seeing talented writers turned down, often while less-deserving writers with the good fortune of landing an agent flourished on bookstore shelves, Lee took matters into her own hands. She founded Published! as an affiliate to Village Voices and went into business as a subsidy publisher, meaning that her company handles the production and publication of both paper and electronic books at the expense of the author.
“It used to be that traditional publishing was the only way to go, but the publishing industry is changing every year,” Lee said.
“Now is the time for authors to look toward self-publishing --- especially eBooks. It is my prediction within 10 years, eBooks will be the only way that most books, aside from textbooks and reference books, will be published,” she added.
Published! offers all traditional publishing services, including manuscript evaluations and copyediting, cover design, acquisition of an ISBN number, book trailers and marketing.
Published! released its first book, The Unraveling of Aggie Layman, an autobiography by Village of the Arts founding member Ruth Cade in November --- just one month after the company launched.
The book details Cade's life from her abandonment on the streets of London at age 16 during the World War II bombing blitz, through her time as a successful European model, to becoming one of the first female producers at CBS and, finally, a founding member of Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, where she would live out the remainder of her illustrious life. It is available for purchase at Village Voices and online.
Right on the heels of The Unraveling of Aggie Layman came Making Sense of the Tower of Babel, a collection of poetry, revelations, art and music by Karen Klosky, which is available as an eBook for Kindle Fire on Amazon.
In June, Lee published her own book, Published!: A Complete Guide to Nontraditional Publishing, co-authored by Al Musitano. The 480-page reference tome is a collection of research and tips for authors who aspire to have their work published. It covers topics such as the difference between subsidy and self-publishing, as well as tips on marketing and publishing for free through companies such as Amazon, CreateSpace, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt.
“It all stemmed from talking to local authors and realizing there was a need for a publishing guide. When I started looking for one online, I realized there was nothing out there,” Lee recalled.
“Once we started doing the research, I realized that there was enough not only for a complete book, but for a very big book,” she added.
Lee hopes that her book, which is available for purchase in Village Voices as well as online at Amazon, will serve as a valuable resource to help authors along the road to being published.
“Being the center of everything writing in Manatee and Sarasota County is so exciting because I’m learning new things all the time and loving it,” she said.
“Now I want to take all that knowledge and help other writers achieve their dreams.”
Village Voices is open every Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and for extended hours during First Friday Art Walks in the Village.