NOTES FROM A DYSLEXIC PUBLISHER - # 1
Were it not for my having to face my own personal demons,
some of my best books might never have been published.
Garden City Park, NY: Independent publishers have a lot of reasons for bringing out the books they do. Most people never have an opportunity to see what’s behind the curtain. This is just one of the stories I thought I would share with you.
Square One Publishers is my second book publishing company, and will soon be twenty-one years old. I’ve been lucky enough to have brought out my share of successful titles. Over the years, I have spoken to many author groups on the topic of how to get their books published. That led me to write a book called How to Publish Your Nonfiction Book for authors with no clue as to the best way to approach a commercial publisher. One of the things I bring up whenever I speak to these folks is the fact that I am dyslexic—and because of that, I’m never quite sure what will come out of my mouth as I talk. It gets a laugh, but it also happens to be true.
As bad as dyslexia can be, it was actually the thing that first motivated my interest in books. When I was younger, on open school nights, I heard a teacher say to my mother, “He seems so smart, but what’s wrong with him?” This was before a learning disability was a recognized thing. By the time I hit middle school age, I thought everyone else had my problem but had outgrown or overcome it as they got older. Maybe I was a late bloomer—or at least, that was what I told myself.
Then I came up with an idea. I would take a book out of the library, and work at reading it straight through from start to finish. I thought that the more books I read, the more I could make this problem go away. And while it took me a long time to get through each title I took out, I simply forced myself to do it. My problem with words never went away, but I discovered that I really enjoyed reading books. After graduating college and working towards earning my master’s degree in history, I went in May 1970 for an interview as a sales rep for a college textbook company. Nervous as I was, I got the job, and I have never looked back.
Over the years, I had often wished that someone had told my parents that I had a learning problem when I was a kid; but then, perhaps my life would have turned out differently, and I wouldn’t be writing this note to you. What I have always known is that school should not have been as hard as it was for me back then. That experience planted a seed in me early—I thought that as a publisher, working to produce books for parents whose children have learning disabilities might be a helpful and worthy pursuit. And I’m proud to say that this has remained one of my top priorities in turning out books at Square One.
Things really began to click for me in the 1980s, when I first met child education pioneer Glenn Doman and his daughter, Janet. Glenn was the founder of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, located just outside of Philadelphia. The Institutes had developed a set of groundbreaking teaching techniques designed to help educate average and special needs children alike. Being shown around their facility, while also getting to meet some of their staff and students, was an amazing experience. My friendship with the Domans led me to publish nine of their titles. The “Gentle Revolution Series” has gone on to become this country’s bestselling parenting series, with over 13 million copies in print.
Watching a TV segment several years ago on 60 Minutes, I saw an interview with an educator and psychologist named Helen Irlen, who had devised a unique system of improving or eliminating the effects of dyslexia with the applied use of different colored lenses. Appearing on that news piece was a dyslexic girl from Australia, who Helen first asked to read aloud a paragraph without the help of her colored lenses. As she read before the camera, her hesitant and uncertain tone reminded me of, well, me. She then put on a pair of Irlen’s colored-lens glasses; and when she read the same paragraph out loud this time, she read it perfectly. I was blown away. On the following Monday, I tracked Helen down and introduced myself as a publisher who was dyslexic and wanted to know more. A few weeks later, I took a flight to the Irlen Institute in Long Beach, California—to meet with her, but also to be tested. What I discovered was that her lenses work beautifully for some people, but not for everyone—including me.
That wasn’t the end for me, though. I went on to learn that there are a number of things that can cause one’s brain to misinterpret the words and numbers that one sees. And while these causes are different, the end result for all remains the same—dyslexia. For those who see print that becomes distorted or have headaches or other physical symptoms when reading, these Irlen lenses might very well be the cure. I have published Helen Irlen’s book The Irlen Revolution, and Square One will soon be coming out with a new Irlen-based book for parents to use with their child called The Word Gobblers by a dedicated Irlen method educator Catherine Matthias.
These are only a few of the titles Square One has come out with over the years to help parents overcome their children’s learning difficulties. And while I am still dyslexic, many of the people who have learned about and worn the Irlen lenses as a result of our books have had their world changed. As I learned many years ago after that first fateful trip to the library, books can change your life. My colleagues and I at Square One remain proud and committed to making the kinds of books that aim to bring about positive change for all who embrace them.
Rudy Shur, Publisher
Square One Publishers, Inc.
P.S. Here below is the link to our list of "Learning Disabilities" titles. Perhaps someone you know could use a little help: