Ink and Leotards: Unveiling the Unlikely Journey in Publishing’s New Horizon

In the ever-evolving landscape of book publishing, it is crucial to adapt to the shifting tides of the industry. Amid the post-COVID-19 era, where many spheres of life have been altered, the world of publishing is no exception. To delve deeper into the emerging trends in the book publishing industry post-pandemic, we had the privilege of interviewing Melisa Torres, a distinguished author whose journey is nothing short of inspiring.

As a teenage girl, Torres was enamored by two things that, on the surface, appeared to have little in common. She was an enthusiastic gymnast, driven by her passion for the sport, and an avid reader, nourishing her mind with the worlds created by authors. The intersection of these interests was not immediately apparent, but it was destined to shape her unique path.

“I was eight when I started gymnastics and eleven when I began competing,” Torres recollects. However, her early immersion in the world of gymnastics left her with little time to explore her literary inclinations. Her mother, an English teacher, recognized the importance of reading and expressed concern about her daughter’s limited exposure to books. This concern lay at the heart of Torres’ eventual foray into the world of publishing.

Torres, like many young readers, experienced challenges in finding books that resonated with her. She explains, “I liked the ‘Babysitters Club,’ but I’d never babysat a day in my life because I was busy training.” Her passion for gymnastics made her yearn for stories that mirrored her own experiences, stories that celebrated the world of gymnastics. These stories, however, were conspicuously absent from the literary landscape.

But Torres’ journey towards becoming an author truly began when she started connecting with literature during her high school and early college years. It was during this period that she discovered the power of historical fiction. “I found ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Rain of Gold,’ which is an immigrant story that really connected,” she reveals. “It was very much parallel with my grandfather’s story. And that’s when I realized how powerful literature is, that you can learn so much about history through historical fiction.”

This newfound appreciation for the genre ignited her passion for reading. As Torres advanced in her academic journey, she earned a literature minor and a major in psychology. When she later became a mother, she was determined to ensure that her children didn’t miss out on the joy of childhood reading that she had experienced as a gymnast. She made a conscious effort to read aloud to them from the time they were infants. The library became a weekly destination for the Torres family, an endeavor aimed at fostering her children’s love for reading.

However, it was during this period that Torres observed a recurring theme in the books she read to her children – the portrayal of girls being unkind to each other. This depiction did not align with her personal experiences in the gymnastics world, where camaraderie and support were prevalent among athletes. It was a moment of epiphany that further fueled her determination to fill a void in the literary world.

Torres recalls, “My son even said, ‘Are girls really that mean?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t think so. That’s not been my experience.’ When I was training, we were very supportive of each other.” It was a friend who planted the seed of writing a gymnastics book, and her son’s comment provided the impetus she needed to bring her dream to life.

Torres realized that there was a significant gap in the market for fiction stories with a gymnastics theme. For years, she had sought stories that resonated with her passion for the sport but found none. It was this realization that led her to embark on a journey to become a published author. She ventured into a market that was, at the time, considered niche and uncharted by traditional publishers.

When Torres submitted her work to traditional publishers, they rejected her proposals. The publishing industry, much like the world of movies, was risk-averse, and venturing into uncharted territory was not their preferred course of action. Yet, Torres believed in the potential of her niche market and was undeterred by the rejections.

She recognized that sometimes, a gap in the market exists for a reason, but her faith in the demand for gymnastics-themed books remained unwavering. “I think traditional publishing is like movies, very safe, risk-averse because it’s so much money to launch,” she observes. While the traditional publishing world was cautious, Torres saw it as an opportunity to shape her destiny as an author.

Her decision to treat her venture as a small business rather than just an author’s ambition, proved to be a game-changer. Torres approached her work with the same dedication and discipline she had applied to her gymnastics training. It was a leap of faith into the unknown, much like a gymnast executing a complex routine on the balance beam.

And her leap paid off. Torres discovered that her intuition was right, and her gymnastics-themed books found a dedicated audience. Not only did she fulfill her own desire to read stories about gymnastics, but she also became a source of inspiration for young readers who yearned to see themselves in the pages of a book.

Self-publishing, especially in the niche of middle-grade sports fiction, can be a lonely path. Torres recalls, “It’s very isolating in the beginning because I didn’t know any other writers. I didn’t know any other publishers. At that time, indie publishing was relatively unknown and not yet wildly successful.”

However, Torres’ determination and the niche she was targeting set her on a path of discovery. She realized that middle-grade readers often preferred physical books, and their parents were more inclined to buy paperbacks. This insight distinguished middle-grade publishing from genres like fantasy and romance, where ebooks were more dominant.

To reach her readers effectively, Torres went to youth gymnastics meets. She met the girls and their parents selling books, signing books, holding handstand contests with the athletes, and winning them over. “I didn’t know how to sell books on Amazon, but I did know who my readers were.”

“I immediately started with direct sales. I started that direct interaction between me and the parents of my readers.” The first time she handed out her business bookmarks, she had orders on her website by the end of the day.

Torres turned to newsletters as a powerful way to continue the connection. She acknowledged the unique needs of her audience, understanding that parents of middle-grade readers weren’t necessarily eager to receive frequent email updates. Instead, she tailored her newsletter strategy, sending updates only once every other month and focusing on what mattered most to her readers’ parents: new book releases.

One of the most critical insights she shared was the value of finding one’s tribe in the publishing world. In 2019, Torres discovered online groups of self-published authors on platforms like Facebook. These communities offered a wealth of knowledge and resources, from running Amazon ads to hosting writing sprints. Connecting with like-minded authors and publishers became a turning point in her publishing journey.

This success story showcases the power of embracing a niche market, understanding readers’ preferences, and adapting marketing strategies to reach them effectively. Torres’ story is an inspiration for authors and publishers in the middle-grade genre, highlighting the importance of catering to the unique demands of their audience.

When asked about the future of publishing, Torres expressed a desire for traditional and independent publishing to work together more collaboratively. She believes that the industry can benefit from a “hybrid” approach, where authors choose their publishing path based on the specific book’s needs. While traditional publishing excels in packaging, distribution, and marketing, self-publishing provides authors with more direct control and faster reporting.

In the end, Torres’ vision for the future is one of unity and collaboration, where the focus shifts from “us versus them” to finding the right publishing avenue for each book. By working together and embracing the strengths of both traditional and independent publishing, the industry can evolve, delivering more diverse and impactful literature to readers of all ages.

Torres’ journey has been marked by determination, adaptation, and a deep understanding of her audience. In an ever-changing world of publishing, it’s her story that offers inspiration and valuable lessons, illustrating that trends in book publishing post-COVID-19 are shaped not only by the industry’s shifts but also by the passion and vision of authors like Torres, who continue to develop their unique voice.


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