March 27, 2013

Women Publishers' Roundtable: Fifth Installment

Welcome back to Delirious Hem's Women Publishers' Roundtable.  Here you'll find the latest interview question that was circulated to this group of small press editors, as well as the conversation that followed.  Enjoy!

Interview Question 5: Given the increasing availability of resources for small publishers, do you feel that book publishing has been largely democratized? Based on your experience as a woman publisher, what work has yet to be done?

Kristy Bowen (Editor, Dancing Girl Press):  I always like to try to imagine doing what I do 25 years go (or at least pre-internet days) and I’m not sure it would be possible. Not only would it be logistically different to physically produce & distribute books, it would also be really difficult to connect with an audience, or to even FIND an audience, all of which has been remedied by online communities of various sorts—list servs, blogs, social media platforms, etc. Since women still encounter the sort of roadblocks that shouldn’t exist, I imagine 25 years ago those sort of things would be even more difficult in a more limited channel of dissemination.

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S. Whitney Holmes (Editor, Switchback Books):  I wouldn’t say it’s democratized. You still have to acknowledge the tremendous privilege it is to say, I’m going to start this thing, I’m going to take another person’s creative work and manifest it in some consumable way and they will trust me to do this. Not that many people are given the educational and socio-economic conditions from which to boldly declare that. To say, I have free time during which I can work for no pay. That’s the reality of small press publishing. Even publishing online isn’t free (the investment in time and access to/understanding of technologies has a price), and we need to be aware of that in the ways we perceive the economics of publishing. As far as what work is yet to be done? Woof. This is a question I don’t feel at all qualified to answer.

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Gina Abelkop (Editor, Birds of Lace Press):  Democratized to a degree. It does cost money and access to resources to print literature, as Switchback books states above. That said, there are so many exciting things happening in independent publications and literature. I see many excellent projects gaining funding via Kickstarter or benefit events. I certainly don’t think publishing has ever been as democratized as it is now. What work is to be done? Oh, so much. There is much work to be done for the inclusion, respect and representations of women, people of color, queers, genius freaks taking the time to think/write through, around and outside of the questions of being human , and so many more- not that all those populations can be conflated in terms of privilege or lack thereof, but that these voices have been and continue to be relegated to the margins and to literary ghettos.. There is a world of work to be done that extends beyond issues such as the afore mentioned but these are the issues that concern me, and the project of BoL, most.

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Lisa Marie Basile (Editor, Patasola Press):  I don’t think it’s largely democratized at all. I think one does have to have to spare time (or make it). It does take some financing. Paying for conferences like AWP gets super pricy, and only some people can afford that. It also takes the ability to thread an audience and build a network, and it takes some cultured credibility to be trusted. It’s difficult. It’s not easy for women, these days, I think. I get the question: “why are you a feminist press? why do you focus on women?” and sometimes, the question comes with, “so why won’t you publish men?” I don’t think that we have to be “othered” because we have that focus. That’s a problem. I do publish men, but I also see the necessity to promote women full-force. Having to answer those questions shows there is a problem. However, with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and countless other resources, I think there’s a grand playing field. It’s just time to level it out.

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T.A. Noonan (Editor, Sundress Publications): Democratized? I wouldn’t say that. I agree with Kristy that we couldn’t even come close to doing what we do without the technology available to us now. But, as Whitney points out, there is a tremendous amount of privilege necessary to run a press. To manifest the work in some kind of consumable form, publishers need to be able to read the work, appreciate it, work with the author and establish trust, edit the text, design the book, find the appropriate audience, market to that audience, and a bunch of other things that aren’t coming to mind. This takes resources—not necessarily monetary, but resources nonetheless.

It is easier than it used to be, though. And I think that because we create these networks, we have the ability to disseminate crucial works more freely, which in turn, helps create larger networks of readers, authors, collaborators, and supporters who are willing to take risks.

Here’s an observation, though: the fact that we have to ask what still needs to be done is a testament that there is so much more to do. I also don’t really feel qualified to answer the question in any kind of complete and cogent way, but I have some ideas about what I think should happen in my ideal universe. I’d love to see more publishers focusing exclusively on female and female-identified writers. The technology needs to be even more accessible in terms of cost, purpose, and ease of use. I wish the writing and publishing community would look more to the DIY and crafting community for inspiration; the ways in which they promote and distribute their work and the strength of their networking is simply astonishing.

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Erin Elizabeth Smith (Editor, Sundress Publications): I would say that in terms of means of production, certainly.  With POD, online publishing, or blogging, there are ways to publish both online and IRL for ultimately free.

However, that doesn't mean that the playing field is even.  There's still the time you need to be able to invest to read submissions, promote books/issues, solicit authors, so on.  You also need the skill to be able to code and design.  You need the right friends who are willing to promote.  There's always a hierarchy of taste, prestige, connections, etc.  I'm privileged enough to have a job that allows me the time to be able to do all of the things that Sundress does—book and e-chap publishing, the Best of the Net anthology, contests, print anthologies, lit journals, AWP readings, etc etc—and I'm blessed to have an amazing staff of volunteers and interns who give their time to do it with me for some free booze from time to time.

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Kristina Marie Darling (Editor, Noctuary Press):  I agree that the means of production are certainly more accessible than they were, say, twenty-five years ago.  In my opinion, much of the work that has yet to be done pertains to the way that we (as readers, as artists, and as a culture) assign value to literary texts.  Sure, texts can be easily produced and disseminated to readers.  But the way most people define "legitimacy" is very old-fashioned.  I don't think we can claim that publishing has been democratized until texts that are published and disseminated by alternative means are considered just as legitimate, worthwhile, and valuable as other literary texts. 
Please stop by for Part Six of the Women Publishers' Roundtable, which will include a discussion of marketing, promoting, and building an audience for a woman-centered press!