From the Publisher’s Desk : A Matter of Taste

I’ve disappeared into editorial tasks over the past weeks, working on galleys for our Spring 2016 release, doing a final edit on our next release, and reading submissions for Forest Avenue Press. We opened nationally, seeking novels, for the first time in January, and wow, have I been stunned by the quality and quantity of manuscripts. Each has been a gift, even if it’s not a gift meant for our particular press. Whenever someone takes the time to share a piece of work, it’s a gift, and I treat rejections as such. With kindness and appreciation.

When I can, if I feel strongly enough about a novel that’s not working, I offer specific feedback. Sometimes that includes what’s positive, and sometimes I get a little bossy (shh) and pinpoint what’s not working because I think the book could work really well–should work really well–if only these issues were corrected. Sometimes books begin in the wrong place. Sometimes the voice is so strong it overwhelms the plot, or the plot is strong, but once the big scene that’s been teasingly revealed happens, the rest falls apart. Sometimes it’s just not the right book at the right time because of other things in my catalog queue. That last one happens a lot, and I’ve had to let go of some great books this time because they were too similar to other books I’ve already published or will be publishing next year.

Liz Prato, editor of The Night, and the Rain, and the River, our short story collection that came out last May, said something about if only the writers knew how much we want them to succeed. It’s so true! We try not to let bad formatting or typos or a terrible query letter or the wrong opening stop us from seeing the potential in a manuscript, but the easier you can make it for us to fall in love, the better your chances.

It’s really fun to peek behind the scenes at the submissions to our supernatural short story collection, set in Portland, or rather an alternate Portland, forthcoming in fall 2016, edited by Gigi Little. The submissions period closed last week. The decisions are all Gigi’s, and seeing her make comments on each piece reminds me of how strong a vision she has for this book. That’s the most important thing about publishing, for me: finding the right pieces. Falling in love. I have to want to devote eighteen months or more of pre-publication hard work to a novel, and if it’s not exactly for me, then I won’t be the right advocate for it. I won’t enjoy those months of pre-release activity, or the ride we’ll go on when the book actually launches.

So think about this, novelists and short story authors who have received rejections and have wondered about them. You may have more edits to do, things you need to fix and sharpen, especially if an agent or editor or publisher takes the time and care to tell you so. But it’s also a matter of personal taste. And you can’t take any of it personally, especially the taste thing. You write what you write because it’s your taste, your subject matter, your story, your belief in the way the world works. But we publish what we love, and it has to be our taste, something that we can get behind not just in the pre-publication process, but for years to come.

My first author, Stevan Allred, is still doing events and promoting his 2013 book, and I still have his back. He likes to say A Simplified Map of the Real World is just a toddler now, getting its legs under itself. And I love that. As a small press with a small catalog, we do have the luxury of promoting our backlist titles for years; there’s no three-month shelf life here.

I’m sitting in the airport right now, flying to our first sales conference since we signed with Legato Publishers Group, a division of Perseus Books Group. I’ll meet the reps who have been reading Landfall, by Ellen Urbani, our next title, which is forthcoming in August to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I’ll share my enthusiasm for Ellen’s spectacular novel, and my vision for Forest Avenue Press, and I’ll share our backlist titles, too. The four books that launched my company. It feels important to be in the airport today, getting ready to meet a team of executives and reps who dedicate their time to helping books succeed. It feels big. Really great.

I can’t wait to board my plane and go meet everyone. Including an author whose novel appeared in my inbox earlier this year, a novel that grabbed my heart, a novel that I could totally spend years working on, a novel that, when I finished reading, already had me itching to go back to the beginning to start again.

Lucky me.

I’m bringing all the love we’ve gotten from our readers and authors with me in my carry-on bag. Because this is big, this moment, and without them, I wouldn’t be here in the airport, poised to go to sales conference, poised to fully launch this company on the national scene, poised to meet with a new author. Thank you.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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9 Responses to From the Publisher’s Desk : A Matter of Taste

  1. Rosanne says:

    Good luck with your conference. So exciting to see a small press taking off. Yesterday I spoke w/ 2 indy bookstores in the region who are expanding this year. What an exciting time to work in the book world.

    • I love hearing literary success stories, Rosanne, especially when it pertains to indie bookstores. Thanks for sharing! It’s pretty incredible right now, to be sitting in a hotel room, waiting for the first event, and knowing Legato has chosen our 2015 title to be the cover of their fall frontlist catalog. This kind of support is amazing, after the grassroots movement of energy and love that founded the press regionally. There’s so much more to do but this is a huge, wonderful shift for our company.

  2. Good luck and have fun!
    I’ve started Landfall and am loving it. I’ll write more when I’m done — and enjoying it too much to try and think of something insightful or smart to say yet except thank you for the sneak preview! It’s a beauty.

  3. Gwen Stephens says:

    Laura, I’m really excited to read that you’re taking Forest Avenue to the national level. The quality of the books you carefully choose and release deserve a national audience! Reading and writing are both very, very personal endeavors, and it’s naive to think a title will appeal to everyone. I’m sure when you don your “bossy” hat and offer specific feedback about why a story isn’t working, those authors are infinitely grateful! This was such a wonderful, encouraging post.

    • Oh thanks, Gwen! Being a publisher has totally encouraged me as a writer, because I’ve learned so much about the taste part, and come to understand often it is just a matter of timing and things aligning. I’m so glad I can share what I’ve learned! And yes, I’ve had amazing responses from the authors who are grateful I shared my thoughts. I figure if I can help someone’s manuscript, or give an author an idea of what might not be working, it’s well worth the extra minutes to speak up. Especially if it’s a book that has a lot of promise.

  4. Gigi says:

    What a lovely post, Laura

  5. Laura, I have truly enjoyed watching the success of your small press from its inception.

  6. jmmcdowell says:

    It’s wonderful to see the success building for you, your press, and your authors! I hope the conference was everything you wanted it to be.

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