AP NEWS

Harlingen publishing house aims to make books important again

July 24, 2016 GMT

HARLINGEN — The traditional book publishing industry, if not actually dying, is contemplating a good epitaph.

The industry has lost more publishers in the past decade than it gained in the last two decades.

“Why? People don’t read,” said Roger Young, operations officer for Harlingen-based Sarah Book Publishing.

“A strange fact: 44 percent of those under the age of 40 never read another book after they complete their educational requirements, whether it’s high school or college,” he said.

“Forty-six percent of all books purchased in the market today, including ebooks and children’s illustrated books, are bought by those over the age of 55.

“The real numbers are 30 percent Baby Boomers and 16 percent matures,” he said. “Doesn’t say much for our youth.”

Young and the founders of Sarah Book Publishing, Dr. Oladayo Sanusi and his wife, Cherry Sanusi, are attempting to change that.

Founded in 2009, Sarah Book Publishing released its first book in 2011. Now they’ve published more than 250 titles and have around 225 active titles. They’re not a vanity press where authors pay to play: Authors receive royalties on the sales of their books.

“We’ve had five years rockin’ and rollin’ in this business,” says the 70-year-old Young, who has authored more than 30 published books himself.

Sarah Books has authors from across the globe, including writers from Harlingen and the Rio Grande Valley, like Katelynn Renteria, who was just 16 years old when her book “The Other Side of the Law” was published. Since then, for several weeks, it has been Sarah’s best-selling title.

Last year one of the company’s books won the prestigious Literary Classics Gold Seal award for best new children’s book.

“This year a second book received their Best New Children’s Series Award,” Young said. “It’s written by Gary Scogin. He’s from East Texas, the Houston area.”

Young said another of the company’s books, “Chocolate Gravy on Dragon Creek,” written by Doretta Elaine Wilson of Arkansas, was awarded a Seal of Approval from Literary Classics as well.

“These awards don’t come easy,” Young said. “When you consider that there are thousands upon thousands of books submitted to Literary Classics every year, and we’ve had three of them recognized.”

Another thing that isn’t easy these days is starting a new book publishing company that actually makes money.

“The vision was to create a publishing company where new authors could get a chance,” Young said. “We have those new authors, and some old established authors, guys like Dr. Herb Marlow, well-recognized in the field of children’s psychology. Gosh, Herb’s got five or six books with us.”

Sarah Books publishes all genres, with the exception of erotica. And although they are not a strictly Christian-ethic book publishing firm, Young says some of the same standards are applicable.

“I request that authors clean up the language in their books quite frequently,” he said. “Why use that as a crutch?

“If you’re a good writer, write. You don’t need that other stuff. You don’t need that vulgarity to prop it up if it’s a good story,” he said.

Sarah Books has a particularly strong lineup of books for children and young adults, although even Young concedes the genre is quite competitive in the book market.

“The market’s flooded with them,” he says. “But we’re pretty selective, unfortunately for all the people who submit.”

Young says Sarah Books sets certain standards for children’s books. They must be educational, motivational and provide a good moral compass for kids.

“I guess the last thing among the criteria for me is they have to have a worthy content,” he said.

Sarah Books fashions itself as an educational company. Its mission? Getting more people reading.

“The whole thing was established on a vision, a vision of being able to spread literacy,” Young said. “We’re not concerned — believe it or not — about getting rich.”

And Sarah Book Publishing is putting its money where its words are.

That has arrived in the form of the nonprofit Sarah Book Society, a free-to-join group which now has about 2,500 members.

“The reason for establishing SBS is we’re dedicated to global literacy, starting right here in the Valley,” Young said.

Profits from Sarah Book Publishing, at least beyond those needed to run the business and fund its growth, go to the Sarah Book Society, Young said.

Established in 2013, the book society is still feeling its way, but is working to establish a scholarship fund for graduating high school seniors that could start as early as next year.

“The more people we can get into the program and get into reading, the better our society will be, the better our world will be, and the more peaceful it will be.”

rkelley@valleystar.com