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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Saltwater Media one-stop shop for writers

(Feb. 26, 2015) At Saltwater Media in Berlin, one young author’s struggle in the often-unwelcoming publishing industry led her to establish a virtual one-stop shop for aspiring local writers.
A decade ago, Salisbury native Stephanie Fowler was attending Washington College in Chestertown when she won the prestigious Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest undergraduate literary award in the country.
“I won with a series of short stories called ‘Crossings’ that I wrote about the Delmarva Peninsula, stories I had heard growing up,” Fowler said. “It was a kind of creative nonfiction.”
During the previous year, classmate Christine Lincoln won the prize, taking in $54,000 and catapulting her into the limelight.
“When she won, she was on Oprah and she had a major national book deal, the whole nine yards,” Fowler said. “Everyone in our class thought, ‘Oh, Christine has broken through. Oprah knows about us. Big publishers know about us now. We kind of thought maybe she had broken out and from that point forward everyone is going to be looked at. And then I win with a series of short stories about the Eastern Shore and everybody is like, ‘Meh, not so much.’”
One agent went so far as to tell Fowler, “If you ever write anything not about the Eastern Shore give me a call.”
“I thought that was the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever had,” she said. “‘So you’re telling me there’s a chance?’”
Undaunted, Fowler continued to shop her book around to regional presses.
“Nobody was really interested in the creative nonfiction style,” she said. “You were either fiction or nonfiction. Nobody really knew what to do with creative nonfiction in 2001, so I kind of shelved it for a while.”
Fowler eventually self-published the book through Arcadia Enterprises, a small press staffed by an army of one.
“It was a local lady who owned a small publishing company,” Fowler said. “Basically she was saving old manuscripts from going out of print and being lost completely. I kind of used her as a vehicle to publish ‘Crossings.’
“Through that process some things went really well, some things I kind of wished had gone better,” Fowler said. “When I went into the process, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what an ISBN was. I didn’t know how to do a book block layout. I didn’t know any of that stuff. I knew how to type on Microsoft Word and that was about it, but in the process I kind of had to learn as I went along.”
Meanwhile, Fowler was busy working a day job in the corporate health care sector.
“I stayed in health care because I had a mortgage and I had bills to pay, and honestly it was a very good job for a person of my age on the Eastern Shore,” she said. “I was making a great salary, lots of perks, lots of responsibility, nice title, all those good things. But at the end of the day there was nothing about my job that was creative. There was nothing about my job that spoke to me as a person or as an artist or anything like that.”
Then, during a fateful lunch with her mother, Fowler found herself literally crying in her burrito bowl.
“It was December 12, 2012, and I was in Chipotle in Salisbury and I was telling my mom how unhappy I was,” she said. “My mom is one of the most phenomenal women I’ve ever met in my life. I’m so lucky to have her as a mom. She looked at me and said, ‘Stephanie, what is it you want to do with your life, because clearly you don’t want to be doing this.’”
Fowler told her mother about a long-gestating idea that would become the seedling for Saltwater Media.
“I thought, what if there was a media company or a press out there that would tell first-time authors or people who want to go through the process, ‘Okay you have a book. This is what the pieces of the puzzle are. This is how it comes together,’ and make it a meaningful process for them,” Fowler said. “A little bit of handholding and a little bit of let’s take some of the mystery out of self-publishing and publishing in general.
“That was first time that I opened my mouth and gave voice to that little thing that had been kind of rumbling around back there,” Fowler continued. “My mom looked at me and said, ‘Well, get your business plan together, pull your financials together and see if it’s viable.’”
Fowler’s mother had seen a segment on a Sunday morning television show about the Espresso Book Machine, a new self-publishing tool that could produce finished, professional-quality books in mere moments.
Fowler contacted the owner of the machine, did her homework and spent five months “trying to spec out” exactly how the business could work.
Originally looking at properties in Salisbury, Fowler lost to another bidder and “played Plinko” with business partner Patty Gregorio from Bethany to West Ocean City, looking for the perfect location.
“This spot [on 29 Broad Street in Berlin] was the very last one we looked at, but when we got here I was like, ‘That will work,’” Fowler said. “We signed our lease in March, 2013 and we were in by April.”
Following a soft opening during 2nd Friday in May, the store officially opened in June 2013, offering services for writers from editing and design to production and distribution.
“We’ve sort of been off to the races ever since,” Fowler said. “The people in Berlin have been absolutely incredible. One of the first things that happened was Gee Williams showed up with a flower basket and a nice card saying, ‘Welcome to Berlin.’
“Shortly thereafter Robin Tomaselli from Baked Desserts Café came over and she said something to me that I’ll never forget, and to me it really encapsulates what we have here in Berlin as far as merchants and merchant business. She said, ‘What’s good for you is good for me and what’s good for me is good for you.’ When she said that, immediately it kind of puts you at ease.”
Fowler said she’s done work for people throughout town, from Helen Wiley at the Church Mouse to members of the Town Council, and that as she has referred customers to other shops and restaurant throughout town, business owners throughout town have referred customers back to her.
“I’m not from Berlin, but we came here and there was not one moment where someone said, ‘Oh what are they doing?’” Fowler said. “We walked in and people were positive and friendly and wanting to see the machine and hear about everything we do here. Among the merchants and the neighborhoods there really seems to be a conscientious effort to keep business local and to shop local businesses. It’s just such a warm and lovely place to be.”
Saltwater Media is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call 443-513-4422