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Turning Pages

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  • | 11:07 a.m. May 7, 2010
  • Entrepreneurs
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Shawna Vercher appears to have struck a potential gold mine from two completely unrelated elements — basketball and electronic books.

Her Largo-based company, VTi Media (originally called Vercher Technology & Innovation), had already created a niche as a specialty publisher of books for executive types when she got a call late last year from Tim Donaghy, the former National Basketball Association referee who was imprisoned for accepting money from a professional gambler for inside information on games, including some he had called.

Donaghy, who resides in Lakewood Ranch, had a previous book deal with Random House's Triumph Books subsidiary that was abruptly dropped last fall when the NBA reportedly threatened legal action. The most bothersome part of the story is that Donaghy had already put thousands of dollars on the line to publish what was a certain best seller, only to have it canceled.

“You not only risk losing money, but you can lose the rights to your material,” says Vercher, who used a little cloak-and-dagger strategy to get Donaghy's book to press. She, too, got called by the NBA prior to its publication, but then received what she terms “surprise assistance from within” the league's front offices.

Donaghy's resulting 270-page book, “Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal That Rocked the NBA,” was released by VTi Media last December and sold its first run of 10,000 copies in just three weeks. Vercher gained short-term national notoriety from the book (including a highlighted item in the Gulf Coast Business Review's Coffee Talk column) but has since returned to operating quietly from her leased offices near the intersection of Ulmerton Road and 66th Street.

More books are on the way from the currently small VTi Media machine, though none likely to be as controversial or as the one penned by Donaghy. Vercher says many of her company's current authors are executive types who want to establish expertise in their respective fields.

Perhaps the most appealing part about putting out a book through VTi Media is lower cost and quicker production. Where a larger publishing house may charge $30,000 to $40,000, Vercher says it costs under $10,000 to go through her firm, covering most everything from manuscript assistance to cover art.

While it may take as long as a year or two for an author to see his or her work on a bookstore's shelves, VTi Media can get a book on the market roughly 90 days from completion. Furthermore, the writer is entitled to 70% of the book's sales.

“Books are largely luxury items, but if you tie it into the launch of a company or business it becomes an investment,” says Vercher, who mostly worked in promotions for eight years before getting into book publishing last year. The CEO runs two other companies, VTi Group and the Society of Successful Women.

Rather than being limited to selling copies at speaking engagements, or give them away for years to come, Vercher says her company can distribute her clients' books through online services such as Amazon, with whom she established relations by way of Donaghy's tome. Other booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Borders carry VTi Media books, she says.

“Personal Foul” was released about the same time many voracious readers considered adding the Amazon Kindle to their own library. That device may have been trumped this spring by Apple's iPad, which also allows readers to quickly download new releases.

E-books may break new ground for VTi Media by allowing authors to correct errors in original manuscripts or update information as needed, Vercher says. Book chains are willing to carry new releases in either format in the interest of staving off bankruptcy, she says.

And it isn't just about business books: Some of Vercher's clients have penned children's or educational books, autobiographies, personal accounts of incidents (fiction and non-fiction) and original novels. If everyone has at least one book in them, she says, her business model provides an easier and cheaper way to get it out.

“We can't take every one, unfortunately,” she says, noting that her staff of seven can take its efforts to make a book interesting and sellable only so far. Someone has to tell the aspiring author if a book is a dud from the outset, she says, and that may include a local celebrity or athlete with a massive yet fragile ego.

A 33-year-old Florida State University graduate who married her college sweetheart and has a young daughter, Vercher has been in the limelight as a nationally recognized speaker and Huffington Post columnist. She also helped shape Barack Obama's online rapid response campaign that proved instrumental in the 2008 presidential election.

There are some offers Vercher will decline, such as the call by an agent wanting to know if she would be interested in a planned book by convicted Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. “We don't want to be known as that kind of publisher,” she says.
— Carl Cronan


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