Publishing Books Properly

One of the ongoing projects is to learn how to publish books properly, as a small press, practicing on my own books in part so I can eventually have the option of publishing other people’s.

If I’m going to do it, I want to do it right — if I’m going to publish some other writer’s work, I want to give them the same care and attention that I would want for my own work.

Which means I want:

– thoughtful editing

– careful copyediting and proofreading

– a gorgeous cover

– interior illustrations, if appropriate and possible

– both print and digital editions (and anyone buying the print edition automatically gets the digital included as well for their own personal use)

– a strong and well-thought out publicity campaign

– a decent advance for single-author works, decent story / essay / art payment for multi-author works (which probably means running a Kickstarter for each book, at least initially, until we get to the point where the press is running a profit and has funds for advances)

– etc!

It’s a lot.

Which means that I need to think pretty carefully about what I want to publish, if I’m going to publish other people’s work at Serendib Press.

There are some obvious options:

– I’ve thought about publishing novellas, because I think novellas are a beautiful form, and are still under-published in the market generally

– I’m obviously always particularly interested in publishing works by marginalized authors who still struggle for representation at big presses, most especially queer & South Asian & specifically Sri Lankan authors

– I’m interested in work that isn’t necessarily commercial in the traditional sense — writing that might be experimental and literary, that might not have a hook, that might play with pacing and style

– but here’s the weird one — more and more, I’ve been drawn to the idea of doing an speculative eco-fiction anthology

That’s weird because the environment hasn’t really been a focus of mine. I have friends who write primarily in the ecological mode, and I haven’t done that, in thirty years of writing.

But on the other hand — I cook, I garden, I raise small humans, I recycle (knowing what a tiny drop in the ocean it is, and that serious change needs to happen at systemic corporate / national / international levels). We are all engaged in the ecological mode, whether we want to be or not.

I’m fifty now, and looking to the future we’re leaving for our children. I would like to do something more concrete, to be part of the solution. For I am surely part of the problem.

I’m writing this from a plane, April 2022. We’ve entered the third year since the start of the pandemic — last night, I hosted an unmasked party for the first time in two years, with more than fifty (vaccinated, of course) people in my house. Three solid hours of delight.

I’m acutely aware of how miserable I was, when constrained to my own home. I retreated to living in a single room, let the rest of our home descend into mess and filth, so starved for socialization and the simple option of going out that I think I must have been a little crazed with it.

There must be a better, stronger word than stir-crazy. That sounds casual. I was trying my best to be a good citizen and do my part to end the pandemic as quickly as possible, but every day, I was swallowing panic.

When I did finally get to go out again, further than the grocery or garden store, when I decided it was safe enough to get on a plane and go up and away, I felt such incredible joy.

I feel that same joy now, every time I step on a plane. If I had my druthers, I’d be on a plane at least once a month, getting away, going UP.

I’ve always loved flying, always loved the privilege of visiting some far-flung place, spending time with distant kith and kin, meeting strangers who are at first incomprehensible, but then turn into friends. And it is a privilege. It comes with a cost.

Jet-fuel is a luxury, and a luxury our planet can ill-afford right now. That knowledge sits uneasy in my chest, along with the sense that I probably should stop eating meat, the question of whether we can really justify owning such a large house, the knowledge that if I send a dollar to Sri Lanka right now, it will translate to hundreds of rupees, at a time when people are desperately in need (Sri Lanka is in the midst of an economic and governmental crisis right now).

I bought myself a latte at Starbucks this morning, to help wake me up, so I could work efficiently on the plane while I travel to New York for a writing retreat, meeting with my editor, visit with my sister and her family. The money I spent on that latte would go so much further in Sri Lanka. I could have stayed at home and worked instead of getting on this plane — maybe the work wouldn’t have been as good.

I think it wouldn’t have been, but maybe I’m just lying to myself, or not being disciplined enough. I’m not sure. It’s easy to come up with justifications for anything you really want to do.

Everything is compromised, and that is, of course, part of the condition of being human.

But that doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and give up. Just because you don’t do everything you can, doesn’t mean you should do nothing.

So I’m thinking that the first book I’m likely to publish that isn’t just my own work will be an anthology of speculative ecological fiction.

We do what we can, and part of doing that effectively is leaning into our strengths. The field I know most intimately is writing and publishing, and if there’s a real contribution I can make towards saving the planet, if there’s a gesture of amends that might counterbalance, just a bit, the fact that I am on a plane right now, and I am hoping to be on many planes in the future, it seems like I am most likely to be effective on the writing and publishing front.

I know some people reading this will think I’m not doing nearly enough. I have friends who are far more committed to ecological work than I am, and while their judgement stings at times, I also appreciate the reminder. Sometimes I am working to capacity, but sometimes, it turns out that I can do a little more. I can make a book.

If we can create visions of a better future, one where we walk with gentleness on this earth and take better care of it, if we can help our children prioritize those decisions, maybe future generations will do better than we have.

If they get the chance.

Watch for a call for this anthology, hopefully to be published in 2023 or 2024. If you’d like to be tagged into that call, feel free to comment below.

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