Tom Costello, with his wife Francine, opened Word Association in 1996, long before there were thousands of internet publishers all competing to capitalize on the sudden interest in self publishing. Tom’s love of books began early. His favorite childhood memory is sitting on the floor in the local library, trying to decide which books he should check out that day. In high school, he remembers reading “Romeo and Juliet” over and over, amazed at the beauty of the poetry. He began college as a business major but then quickly switched to English when he discovered he could spend all his time reading great books. Tom went on to get his PhD and taught literature and writing courses at Northwestern University.

In 1980, Tom and Francine quit their jobs in Chicago and moved to Pennsylvania and opened a bookstore. “It was like fulfilling a fantasy, but a bit scary,” Tom says. “We knew we loved books but we knew little about business.” They had to learn fast. Although their store was popular among the locals, they realized early on that books alone were not enough. They first added a copying service and a resume service and soon realized there was a need in their area for quality high speed printing. They hired a graphic designer and a press operator—within two years the bookstore had morphed into a busy print shop.

One day a customer walked in with a book he had written. He wanted to know if the Costellos could print it. “Somehow we learned how to produce a book,” Tom recalls. “The very first book we published had the title on the spine printed upsidedown.” Gradually, writers began to find them . In its first year as a publisher, Word Association published four books. Then they began to expand their services, offering editing and design. The second year, they published six titles. Then, in the mid 90s, an amazing thing happened. The internet came along. They put up a website. Inquiries started coming in from all over the country, then all over the world. By the year 2000 they were publishing a hundred titles a year. And the business has continued to grow.

“Working and talking with writers, reading and editing their books, helping them to market their books, riding the ebook revolution—it’s fun and satisfying,” Tom says. “It’s a great time to be in the book publishing business.”

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