My Publisher Hat

My life-long goal has been to write novels and, secondarily, have someone want to publish them.

But last night, on the phone, a college sophomore called requesting to update my information. I told her I don’t work in the newspaper business any more, and gave her the name of Forest Avenue Press.

“What’s your title there?” she asked.

“Publisher,” I answered. “It’s my own small press. I started it.”

“You’re living the dream!” she told me. “So many English students dream about that, and you did it.”

I was never one of those students, though. I wanted to write. To be published. To live the dream my friend Polly Dugan, with her amazing agent and her two-book deal with Little, Brown, is living right now. (You can pre-order her linked story collection at Powell’s.) But after that phone call, I kept smiling. A publisher. Me. Living the dream.

It’s not the dream I started out with, or the dream I’m still holding close to my heart, but it’s a great gig. We’re still very small, of course, and growing, and every decision counts, and every deadline counts, and I love every single piece of it. (Except for the accounting…)

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I had to clear off my hat rack to make my new Forest Avenue Press caps fit.

I had to clear off my hat rack to make my new Forest Avenue Press caps fit.

My first author, during our recent Forest Avenue Press party, gave me six hats.

They say publisher, editor, publicist, events coordinator, book pimp, and mom.

I have joked lately about using my mom voice on my authors–“get over there and meet that person now!” flew out of my mouth at Wordstock in October. I was so incredibly touched by this gift, and as a hat person, it’s fun to choose which one to wear. I wore the publisher hat to the coffee shop. The publicist hat to the copy shop to pick up pub slips to go with our advance copies, and again to the post office to mail those first precious books into the world. The mom hat to the bank with my little one in tow.

What I loved about being a community journalism editor was wearing lots of hats, getting to do a little bit of everything. This is better, because I can do it on my own. Of course the mistakes are all mine too! I fully recognize I’m new to the business and occasionally guessing, and even if I knew everything, choosing which book to publish will always, always be a matter of personal taste to some degree, and not all readers will have the same taste or agree.

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 You should listen to this hour-long podcast of Harold Johnson talking about growing up black in Yakima, Washington. His laugh is infectious. And Yuvi Zalkow, who runs the series, asks fabulous questions and laughs right along with all the great stories. I’m lucky to have sat around the Pinewood Table with both of them.

Stay and poke around in Yuvi’s archives to watch some of his “Failed Writer” videos and listen to some other podcasts in The Creative Turn series. After each podcast, he posts an accompanying five-minute video based on the conversation. It’s well worth spending some time on the site.

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Finally, with all this on dreams and publishing, I was interviewed in Late Night Library last week. Interviewer Stefanie Freele asked me great questions about starting the press, where I expect to take it, and what surprises and pitfalls I’ve found along the way.

Read The Makings of a Regional Press: A Conversation with Laura Stanfill.

It’s an absolute honor to be featured in this community, known for showering attention on debut authors and doing so much for the literary world. Late Night Library just received its 501(c)3 designation. Go check out the podcasts, interviews, and features, and if you like what they’re doing, please consider donating with the button on the far right.

I especially love how Late Night Library is firmly, and thoroughly, committed to encouraging people to buy books from their local independents instead of Amazon. The organization is a wonderful example of what it means to be a good literary citizen, and part of that mission includes supporting local bookstores. They’re essential to the publishing business, but they’re also essential to our communities.

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Speaking of independent bookstores, have you heard about the Indies First celebration on Saturday, November 30? Authors have been invited to bookstores around the country to hand-sell their favorite books to readers and to encourage people to come in and support the stores. This call to action was started by Sherman Alexie in Seattle. Read his open letter here.

And here‘s a map of participating stores. I can’t wait to visit as many local stores as I can here in Portland!

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Publishing, small press, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to My Publisher Hat

  1. Ah, Laura … I feel like I need a few hats … the reading hat, the buyer and the supporter hats, the blogger, the fellow writer hats and the THANKFUL hat. Thankful that you’ve taken on this challenge and are helping so many find their dreams 🙂

    • Readers are the #1 asset for authors and presses, followed closely by independent bookstores, in my mind. You definitely need a supporter and reader hat, Florence! You’re incredibly supportive, and I always appreciate your smiling face showing up next to a comment.

  2. I love thinking of you actually wearing each of those hats, and being so conscious of all the different things you do to make Forest Avenue Press happen. You are amazing!

    • I do wear them, Stevan! Thank you so much for the thoughtful gift. And I should add that he gave the other authors, editors, and illustrators their own hats too! A pretty amazing thing, these hats.

  3. Emma says:

    You’ve achieved something amazing. Well done, Laura.

    • Oh thanks, Emma. I’m still learning so much, but the big lesson I’ve re-learned is that we can make our own dreams come true, even if they don’t turn out exactly as we expect. I remember writing my first novel after college and being empowered by actually setting that time aside and doing what I had always wanted to do. That novel never went anywhere, but the exercise, and the realization that if I want to do something, I just need to DO it, has stuck with me all these years. What’s happening with the press is a bigger, team-oriented outgrowth of that initial concept of just going for it.

      • Emma says:

        Well it sounds like it’s working out for you. You’ve done a lot and the book launches and publicity and everything – not all small presses do those physical meetings anymore. So congrats.

  4. There is something special (particularly these days) about a tangible object (a real hat, a real birthday card, a real book) as opposed to any sort of digital equivalent.

    If Forest Avenue Press ever starts to sell promotional items, a “Reader” hat might be a cool item.

    And, yes, when our dreams do come true they are almost always somewhat different from what we expected. Thank goodness. 🙂

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I love all of those hats—what a great idea that was for a gift! I think you’ve done a fantastic job so far with much bravery to launch such an endeavor. With the quality of writing that you’re publishing, I think you’ve got “the write stuff” for a long and successful future. (Okay, that’s probably one of the most overused clichés a writer can use. But sometimes, it just fits! 🙂 )

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