A tale of two authors
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series on South Shore authors and the routes they’ve followed to publish their works.
Todd Borg started writing when he was a child, but it wasn’t until after he moved to Tahoe that he published his first book.
“Tahoe is a dramatic landscape. I came from the Midwest, which is not known for being a dramatic landscape. It’s so dramatic here, I thought it would be a great place to set a detective series,” Borg said.
Borg published the first novel, “Tahoe Deathtrap,” of the Owen McKenna mystery thriller series in 2001. Eleven years later, he’s added nine books to the Tahoe-centric series and continues writing.
The novels visit locations that should be familiar to any South Shore resident. Owen McKenna opened his private detective office in a rented space on Kingsbury Grade. He occasionally breakfasts at one of the three Tahoe Red Hut Cafes, where the fictional character always orders the usual – an omelet with cheddar cheese, freshly cut tomatoes, salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Visit the real Red Hut on Ski Run Boulevard, and you’ll find the dish has become such a staple that “Owen’s Omlette” actually appears on the menu.
From Cave Rock to Emerald Bay to the summit of Mount Tallac, the books traverse actual South Shore landscapes, but Borg said he steers clear of fictionalizing real people. He wants readers to connect with the locations and the history of the basin, but the characters are purely fictional.
“In my own method of conjuring up characters, I avoid using anything that could be construed as not imaginary. But because they’re Tahoe-centric stories, that’s part of the story. I don’t want to write a story that could take place anywhere. As a novelist, I make up aspects of a story and try and blend those with reality,” Borg said.
That Tahoe-specific feel caused several New York publishers to balk when Borg started looking for outlets to publish the first Owen McKenna book. From their offices almost 3,000 miles away, such regional novels seemed foreign and difficult to sell. According to Borg, one editor quipped, “Tahoe – that’s a Chevrolet, right?”
Borg said he got lot of “rave rejections,” which his agent considered promising –at least the publishing houses were reading the books. But Borg was impatient, and he began considering self-publishing even though his agent urged him to stick with the traditional publishing rather than be confined to what she called “the ghetto.”
Borg decided to take the risk, and he started his own publishing company, named Thriller Press, after researching what the business would entail. He’s earned enough to quit his day job –Borg ran a custom framing shop on the South Shore when he first moved to the area – and he gets ultimate control over his novels and the series. He’s also won numerous awards for his books, including a Ben Franklin Award that recognizes excellence in independent publishing.
“It’s been an example of how you don’t really need to listen to the experts. The books were successful right out of the gate. People get a misguided sense that how you publish your book is what matters, but my experience is that it doesn’t matter at all. It still gets down to the author finding the readers,” Borg said.
When North Shore author Tim Hauserman published the first edition of his guidebook, “Tahoe Rim Trail,” he decided to follow a traditional publishing route. Hauserman, who’s lived in the basin since 1960, wanted to write the authoritative guidebook on the rim trail that was completed in 2001. Wilderness Press picked up the manuscript, but it was still up to Hauserman to get the book into his readers’ hands.
“Publishers are less into marketing than they use to be. You have to put the word out there yourself. Any kind of social networking, networking with bookstores helps. I think there’s a lot more self-marketing than there use to be,” Hauserman said.
“Tahoe Rim Trail” is now in its third edition, and Hauserman has published two more books, titled “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada.” Both books went through third-party publishing houses.
He’s working on a memoir that focuses on solo backpacking trips, as well as two novels that he hopes will get picked up off the slush pile. Fiction is just harder to publish, he said. There’s more competition and you need an agent.
But there’s also more potential for profit. Hauserman’s “Tahoe Rim Trail” topped Wilderness Press’ top sellers list in 2003, but it still didn’t earn him enough money to live on.
“When I saw the numbers, I was like ‘What about the rest of the people on the list?’ There’s not a lot of money in it,” he said.
While Hauserman freelances professionally, he also works at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area in the winter and leads hikes during the summer.
“The Tahoe outdoors definitely inspired my writing. The “Tahoe Rim Trail,” it’s kind of a love letter to the trail in many ways. It’s a fun process,” he said.
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