Tahoe writer sets up his own publishing company

You've finished your first book and it's all on a floppy disk ready to be published.

However, you've been unable to hook up with a book agent, practically a requirement to break into publishing. And you've been unable to persuade a publisher to look at your manuscript.

So, what do you do?

You might want to talk to Todd Borg, author of "Tahoe Blowup," just published, and his earlier "Tahoe Deathfall." Borg lives outside South Lake Tahoe and you can often find him at Borg & Night, Master Framing at 3440 Lake Tahoe Blvd. in South Lake Tahoe.

Borg, 48, published his two thriller novels under the aegis of the appropriately named Thriller Press. The publisher is Tyler Larsson/Todd Borg.

"I was driving out of Los Angles several years ago after an unsuccessful attempt to sell some of the songs I had written and I decided that I would switch to fiction writing," explained Borg in his busy framing shop. "So I started going to writers' workshops and publishers' conferences.

"It was at these events that I learned the tricks of self-publishing. One of those is that you should never be identified as your own publisher. There's a great deal of prejudice in the book industry against authors who do it themselves."

So Borg set up Thriller Press with Tyler Larsson, nee Borg. And while attending the conferences he was lucky enough to run into a book agent named Barbara Braun. She liked his work and took it to publishers.

But, as Borg explains, "Book publishing has changed with the conglomerates taking over. These are businesses which have little interest in books as books but rather simply as pieces of merchandise. They publish established authors who can sell based on past successes or new books that fit a niche category or talk-shoe hosts."

That, of course, wasn't Borg. Despite favorable reactions from editors, enough to cinch a sale in the past, the publishers' bean-counters rejected his books.

"Which was when I decided to go it alone."

Not quite alone, of course. His wife, Kit, was there to critique the manuscript and give general support. And help run the store as well.

There's a rich history of "do-it-yourself" authors, including James Joyce, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and even Joseph Conrad. That cuts no mustard with today's publishers. There is, however, the "vanity press," publishers who will produce a book for the new author for a fee, do some help with distribution but generally act to satisfy the author's ego.

Borg doesn't have that kind of vanity. He wants his books to be read and he wants to make a profit. As Samuel Johnson once noted, "Only a fool writes without pay."

So Borg finished two books, found book printer Central Plains Book Publishing in Kansas and produced his two thrillers, both coming out within two months of each other.

And he's now at work on No. 3.

Has he made the break-even point yet?

"Not quite, I'll need to sell at least 2,000 of each book to do that. But sales have been encouraging. I've tied in with Baker and Taylor for national distribution and I get a lot of sales from local book stores."

Both earlier books have the same basic characters, Owen McKenna as the private eye, Spot, his mammoth Great Dane, and Street, his forensic-scientist girl friend. In "Tahoe Deathfall" the plot involved a 14-year-old heiress who hired him to find out what caused her sister's death. In "Tahoe Blowup," an arsonist is at work around Lake Tahoe and in seeking to solve that mystery McKenna is almost killed in a massive forest fire while rescuing his girl friend Street who has been kidnapped.

Both books are well-written, with plenty of local color, wit and imagination. In other words, perfect for relaxed reading enjoyment.

Borg credits his success thus far to a couple of factors. Most important probably was a favorable review in Kirkus, a publishing trade magazine that reviews books.

"Kirkus devotes 90 percent of its reviews to major publishing houses' production, leaving just 10 percent for the rest of us. I was lucky and got favorable reviews on both books.

"Also important was that I got two books out almost simultaneously. If a reader likes a book they often see what else the author has done. In this case, a second book was there and waiting.

"Covers are critical to attracting readers, so Keith Carlson did two excellent ones for me. And we decided to go first class, 50-pound paper, full-color covers.

"And putting Tahoe in the titles gives readers something to recognize as well as the same major characters."

While his books are selling well nationally, local sales help a lot. In many cases tourists visit local book shops looking for something more than maps or hiking guides. They see "Tahoe" in the title, pick up and book and often buy, Borg said.

Borg came to the West from Minnesota after several ski trips to Colorado and California.

"But one day Kit and I decided we wanted 3-D living instead of the flatlands of Minnesota. So we sold our frame shop, packed everything into a truck and headed west. And here we are 11 years later, framing and writing and skiing and hiking.

Borg started to discuss his next book, but then stopped.

"Not a good idea to talk a book out," he said sheepishly. "You'll just have to wait until I get it finished."


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