When Jan Pogue hands authors the first bound copy of their book, she watches their eyes as they gently take hold of it.
“It’s like getting a baby handed to them; here it is, here is this beautiful, amazing thing they did,” Ms. Pogue, the editor and publisher of Vineyard Stories, said one morning this week. “Every time I get to hand over a book I feel like I’ve been gifted.”
Vineyard Stories is a book publishing company that helps bring to life the untold tales of the Island, helping new and seasoned writers evolve ideas into published works. Children’s books, history, novels, cookbooks, memoirs—Vineyard Stories looks into every corner of the Island and unearths a story never heard before.
At her Edgartown home this week, Ms. Pogue admitted the process is tough, but the journey is worth it.
“You beat [the authors] up a lot,” she said. “A writer’s ego is very fragile, so you never want to say, ‘oh this stinks.’ You say, ‘I know we can do a lot better, we can do this.’ I’ve never had a client who said ‘this isn’t what I thought it would be.’ They always say, ‘this is far more than I thought it could ever be.’”
Vineyard Stories began in Ms. Pogue’s living room in 2005, when she and her late husband John Walter invited friend Art Smadbeck over for dinner. Ms. Pogue announced the couple’s plans to begin publishing books.
“Art [stands up] and says, ‘you know how to do this?’ I said yes. He said, ‘you really know how to do this?’ I said yes. He got up and went to the door...and he said, ‘I’ll be back.’”
Mr. Smadbeck returned the next day with a series of columns his mother wrote for the Amsterdam News, the leading African American newspaper of the day.
“My husband was a real journalist and historian, he looked at this stuff and said no one knows this story, and that was book number one,” Ms. Pogue recalled. “We thought there would be three books; we thought we’d be in business for two years because how many books about Martha’s Vineyard can you write or publish?”
In August, Vineyard Stories will publish its 25th book.
This summer alone, Ms. Pogue is publishing five books including; the Chappy Ferry Book by Tom Dunlop; To the Harbor Light, a book about the lighthouses of Cape Cod; Nantucket and the Vineyard by Alison Shaw; Home Bird: Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard by Laura Wainwright; Where the Horses Fly by Jacqui Boulter, a children’s book about the Flying Horses carousel; and My Blue Butterfly by Mercedes Alvarez Rodman, a bilingual book in both English and Spanish about an El Salvadorian music program.
Ms. Pogue’s favorite, and possibly most challenging project to date, was Edo Potter’s memoir, Pimpneymouse: The Last Farm on Chappaquiddick. At first Ms. Pogue was skeptical of the manuscript, which came to her as a large stack of anecdotes.
“I was asked if I would look at them, and I said ‘no, memoirs don’t sell and I’m not going to deal with something that doesn’t sell,’” she said. “But I looked at it, and said, ‘man this is a story.’”
“The company’s mission is to tell the story of the Vineyard, both past and current, the real story of the Vineyard, and to capture the culture. This book was right on target.”
After a year of editing, Mrs. Potter’s book took shape.
“She worked so incredibly hard and the story...became stronger and stronger,” she said. “Her story was so powerful and her approach to rewriting it was so strong.”
A good and successful book goes beyond a beginning, middle and an end, Ms. Pogue said. It comes at life from a different, unexpected angle, so different that even the author may not realize what he or she has.
“I like quiet authors who really don’t know what they have,” she said, “and the best stories are not necessarily the expected stories. It’s the ones that come from the side and hit you and make you realize that Martha’s Vineyard is way beyond what you can possibly know.”
Ms. Pogue spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and USA Today, among other places, before writing 12 books on authorized company histories at a small niche publishing house in Atlanta. She moved here with her husband in 2002, when Mr. Walter became editor and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette for a year and a half. A few years later, Vineyard Stories was born.
There have been two books that changed the company “pretty drastically,” Ms. Pogue said. The first was Allen Whiting: An Artist at Sixty, which was a retrospective of the painter’s works. Ms. Pogue said the book showed the company “what a beautiful book could be” while introducing Vineyard Stories to the Island. The second was Morning Glory Farm and the Family that Feeds an Island, which weaves the story of the largest farm on the Vineyard owned by Jim and Debbie Athearn, with recipes and mementos.
It was bound to be an instant hit, with glorious photographs by Alison Shaw and text by Tom Dunlop, but one month after work began on the Morning Glory book, Mr. Walter died unexpectedly in 2008.
“I didn’t know what to do,” recalled Ms. Pogue. “I went to the Athearns and I said there are a couple of choices here. We can stop this now, I can turn it over to my [old publisher in Atlanta] who was willing to finish it for them, or we can go forward with me not having any idea of how to do this. We published the book nine months later, and it’s now in its third printing.”
The Morning Glory book remains the largest printing in the company’s young history. There was an intial run of 6,000 copies but just a month into sales Ms. Pogue had to order another 6,000 copies to finish out the summer season.
“That changed the company forever because it went viral, it really moved off the Island very quickly,” she said. “It was an extremely high quality product and a very different kind of product and it opened up the doors for a lot of people.”
When she’s not coaching authors, Ms. Pogue writes a popular blog on the Vineyard Stories Web site, where she documents Island life and the people behind the stories that define the Island. She works in a treehouse office that once held outdoor furniture but was converted last year into her work space among the birds with skylights, art from around the world, and books by Vineyard Stories. A small picture of Mr. Walter hangs in the window.
In the ever changing world of the book publishing industry, Vineyard Stories continues to thrive.
“Niche [publishing] is allowable now because the publishing industry has changed so much,” Ms. Pogue said. “Big publishers are not interested in small books or small runs. I am.”
For more information on Vineyard Stories visit vineyardstories.com.