Striking Out at the Texas Book Festival

I punched in my computer’s access code, and my homepage gave way to my email inbox. A new boldface email from my publisher, as if a black hole, sucked in all my attention. I saw the subject line, “Texas Book Festival,” and spied that the first line of his message included the word “Sorry.” Instinctively, I knew it was bad news. I opened it – the TBF submission committee had rejected my book. The submission deadline wasn’t even two weeks fresh. Through the brain fog that shock creates, it occurred to me that my book didn’t even make it out of the first round of cuts. I was stunned.


The 2019 TBF will feature upwards of 300 writers and their books. The festival was established in 1995 by Texas First Lady Laura Bush, a librarian and life-long reading advocate, to support libraries and reading programs throughout the state. On its website, the Texas Book Festival thanks individual and corporate supporters “who believe in the power of reading to change lives.” As the festival nears its 25th anniversary, it has gained in prominence and prestige. Now a national event, the competition to gain entry, for most any writer, is cut-throat.

Fool that I am, I thought my book had a great chance for acceptance. There is a Balm in Huntsville tells the fascinating story of the development of a life-changing restorative justice program that started in Texas. Have you ever heard of “Victim-Offender Dialogue”? It’s a high level restorative justice practice by which a crime victim can meet face to face with the incarcerated perpetrator who victimized them. Today, more than twenty-five other states, through their criminal justice systems, offer a replica of the Texas model. (And for those who wonder why some crime victims desire such encounters, my book answers that question definitively.)

Forgive the redundancy: Victim-Offender Dialogue started in Texas. The Texas criminal justice system still leads the way, having conducted more than 2,000 Victim-Offender Dialogues since the program’s inception more than twenty-five years ago. This is a vitally important story of which few Texans are aware.

Balm also focuses on the transformation of one Texas inmate through the VOD program by which he meets with the parents of the seventeen-year-old girl he killed in a drunk-driving wreck. My nonfiction narrative shows the human side of a prisoner who boldly tries to make amends for the wrongs he committed. The book is a well-written page-turner that has moved readers to tears as it shares the heartening stories of crime victims who have reclaimed hope and light after the deep darkness of crime overwhelmed them. The thought, care, and sensitivity that went into telling this story – from both sides of the dialogue table – has been noted by reviewers.

And if all this wasn’t enough, Balm tells the stories of three incredible Texans – Cathy Phillips, Ellen Halbert, and John Sage – pioneers in both the crime victim rights movement and restorative justice. All Texans should have the opportunity to read their inspiring and life-affirming stories of how they wrested good from catastrophic situations.

But, alas, I’m biased. As is my publisher who says, “Balm is a book that will save the lives of some, and change the lives of others.” As are many readers who have raved about the book and describe it: “gripping,” “compelling,” “eye-opening,” “unflinching,” “hard to put down,” “beautifully written.” As are reviewers who have 5-starred Balm on Amazon and Goodreads.

But even though Balm is touted by some as a life-changing read, it’s a book written by a little-known author (who has no agent) published by a small press. Might this have had anything to do with Balm‘s almost immediate rejection from the TBF submission committee? I get it: The publishing industry itself works as a de facto vetting system for the festival. With so many submissions, a book not from a large publisher or UT Press has to be really good (and never use descriptions like “really good”) to achieve entry status.

Even so, I have to ask: Was Balm judged for the content between its covers, or by the little-known names of author and publishing company on its spine? (For the record, Balm‘s publisher Merle Good has produced more restorative justice titles than anyone else in his long career.)

And, I’m compelled to ask another question: Are excellent, timely, and poignant books written by little-known authors published by small presses that tell influential stories of Texas and Texans welcome at the TBF?

And, a final question: Double-fool that I am, how did I not know that my publisher’s inability to print the first run of my book as a hardcover would help merit its almost immediate rejection from the TBF? Damn.

So, there you have it. A little-known author published by a small press has struck out at the Texas Book Festival, now bigger than Texas itself. I guess I’ll try to find an agent.


More info about There is a Balm in Huntsville is at Share of this post will be appreciated, especially when done by Texans.






6 thoughts on “Striking Out at the Texas Book Festival

  1. Rejection is the bane of aspiring authors everywhere. As I have lamented before, there are more writers out there today than there are readers, especially of scholarly and outstanding prose like your two great books. The publishing business in this country is in a sad state. The old, venerable companies with names like Simon & Schuster, Random House, Macmillan and McGraw-Hill have had to gobble up all of the hundreds of independent publishers just to stay alive in this world of social media, blogs and other competition for a dwindling number of readers. There are the Big Five now which control, I would hazard, 90 % of all paper and digital output, are virtually impossible to conquer. And, the network of agents, who are legion, protect the Big Five from attack from all sides. These agencies, with some firms as old as the publishers, hire fresh faced kids (dare I say – millennials) straight out of journalism schools, as their first line of defense against the onslaught of the crazed hoard of storytellers. It is frustrating, I know, but I would encourage you to hang in there. TBF is but one venue and a great one, admittedly. But before we scale the heights of Mount Everest, perhaps a little practice on the wall down at the Rock Climbing School might be a more successful approach to greatness. A state in which I am certain, in the long run, you will attain with There Is a Balm in Huntsville. Good luck and God Bless, my friend. Jud Smith.

    1. Thanks, Jud. Well said, and we will soldier on. I’m going to downsize your analogy and call the esteemed TBF not Everest but Emory Peak in the Big Bend. Pulitzer, Booker, and Nobel – these can be Everest, K-2, and Lhotse. Like you, I’ve been to Big Bend NP, and Emory is scalable for us both.
      As for Vicki’s “Thought of the Day,” I will be content for the moment to be a “thorn in the flesh” (biblical, of course) in the side of the aforementioned and, once again, esteemed, especially for the big 5 and UT Press, TBF. ;]

  2. Char Elder

    Sorry for your disappointment. With your grasp of worthwhile subjects and ability to express them, we have every reason to believe you’ll be successful. Regards, Char and George

    Get Outlook for Android


  3. Philip McBride

    Tim, that is an excellent blog post. My sympathies. As an indie author, I’ve not even tried for the Texas Book Festival. I commend you and your publisher for the effort.


    Phil McBride Lockhart, Texas (Wayne Walther’s next door neighbor-friend)

    On Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 9:44 PM The T. Carlos Blog wrote:

    > T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson posted: “I punched in my computer’s access code, > and my homepage gave way to my email inbox. A new boldface email from my > publisher, as if a black hole, sucked in all my attention. I saw the > subject line, “Texas Book Festival,” and spied that the first line of his” >

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