The Next Big Thing

By Todd R. Berger

[Editor’s Note: Former PubWest President Todd R. Berger has gone freelance and offers his thoughts on his move from America’s Southwest back to the Great Lakes—and from publisher to freelancer.]

At the Super 8 in Liberal, Kansas, the cotton-candy-pink-haired attendant checked me in with practiced efficiency, and I considered complimenting her on her hair, stopped myself, then complimented her anyway. She smiled and drew some squiggly lines on a place-mat map to show me where my room was. I paid ten bucks extra for doggy lodging in my room (I was accompanied by a sweet-eyed beagle named Abigail).

A step down from the La Fonda, I thought.

Walking out in back of the hotel, I discovered something notable, to me, anyway: black dirt and soft grass. Mind you, I’ve been living in various parts of Arizona for 11 years; black dirt and soft grass were remarkable.

I stared.

It’s not the destination but the journey, some wise-ass once said and more than one lazy writer, including me, clichéd to death. Nevertheless, relaunching and finally naming my 17-year-old editorial services, writing, and book-packaging company, Mind Stuff House, was just the start of the journey. The projects that came my way were the soft grass and black dirt, as well as the pink hair, the UFO museum in New Mexico, and the stampede-induced dust storm in Texas. Unforeseen things seem to keep coming my way, and the best way to ride this wave is to embrace the unknown and let go of anxiety about the future.

It takes a fair amount of ego as well as a thick skin to branch out on your own—most start-ups fail, you know. However, I am prone to feeling sorry for myself and have a hypersensitive nature. This must mean I have a much greater chance of success—I don’t fit the entrepreneurial mold. PubWest is filled with publishers, editors, writers, printers, designers, and more who took a leap of faith and went out on their own.

And just look where that got them.

As a first step, my wife and I decided to move the business and ourselves to St. Paul, Minnesota, to allow us to raise our five-year-old son in Midwestern familiarity. I’d build my business and sniff around for publishing jobs, and my wife would teach Pilates or dance.

To get things rolling, I needed to drive a car from Tucson to St. Paul, and deliver said beagle and the vehicle. Alone. Something I had never done before.

The trip unfolded much like my newly named business did—slowly, with long detours, failed experiments, and minor tech problems. But along the way, some glorious surprises dappled the trip, including the first time our beagle had set foot on black dirt and soft grass in Liberal, a memorable sunrise over the Kansas prairie, and buying roasted and dried Posada chiles at a roadside stand in New Mexico from a Hispanic man who smiled at me broadly. I even loved Iowa (nothing personal to anyone from the Hawkeye State), which looked like an emeraldy landscape freckled with adorable churches and farmhouses. The Iowa state trooper who pulled me over for speeding and a burnt-out headlight was even nice: he let me off with a warning.

Projects have trickled in, sometimes from completely unexpected places. Others I’ve worked my butt off to get. Whether it is selling audio rights, writing marketing copy, negotiating contracts, copyediting, substantive editing, or just writing the damn book myself, work has materialized. Mind Stuff House may well be the next big thing in publishing!

Or it will fizzle out and go nowhere, and we’ll have to live under an overpass. Do I have the temperament for fickle projects coming in here and there? Don’t know. I have to think about my family, too, as all three of us like to eat, and we have some impressive debts. But you can choose to worry about the future, or you can choose to act in ways that may well affect the future positively. You never know who’s going to be your sugar daddy. So don’t be surprised if I reach out to you about freelance work, as, in addition to making a living, I want to give back to members of this organization that has done so much for publishing entrepreneurs in the West.

And don’t be shy about reaching out to me, as I just may be able to help.

Todd R. Berger is a freelance editor, writer, and book packager based in St. Paul, Minnesota. He can be reached at (520) 331-5817 or