Dinner With My Publisher

Homebound_Logo_2017_Website_Header-Boat_2Here’s a sentence I never imagined saying: “I’m having dinner with my publisher.” It seemed like a line I’d heard in a movie, but never expected to utter myself. But I did—or more like shouted it from rooftops, wrote it in emails, and posted it on Facebook when my publisher, Leslie Browning, invited me to dinner earlier this month.

In 2011, Leslie founded Homebound Publications, a small (but growing) independent press based in Connecticut. I first learned of Homebound through Poets & Writers Magazine’s database of small presses when I was searching for a home for my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. The press’s tagline made me smile:

An award-winning independent publisher ensuring the mainstream isn’t the only stream.

Then, this­

It is our intention at Homebound Publications to preserve contemplative storytelling.”

prompted me to click on the link to Homebound’s website and continue reading.

Evidently I wasn’t the only visitor who wondered what the press means by “contemplative literature.”  It’s explained in the company’s philosophy:

In this throwaway-culture where we buy a book in the supermarket, read it over the weekend, and then toss it, we publish books that you will have on your nightstand for a few years and return to again and again—books that nourish your mind and soul.”

I started to feel prickles of excitement.

One of the strongest characteristics of my MFA program at Whidbey Writers Workshop was the emphasis on the profession of writing. Homebound’s view on the business of publishing was right in line with mine:

 So often in this age of commerce, entertainment supersedes growth; books of lesser integrity but higher marketability are chosen over those with much-needed truth but smaller audience. Here at Homebound Publications, we focus on the quality of the truth and insight present within a project before any other considerations.”

Discovering that the press’s books are printed on paper certified by forest sustainability programs, and it donates 1% of its annual net profits to charity, was the chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream.

Homebound Publications justifiably claims it’s a small press with big ideas. It publishes between fifteen to twenty books each year and has almost seventy-five titles distributed worldwide. Over the years, its authors have received dozens of awards including: Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, Nautilus Book Awards, Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, and Saltire Literary Awards.

I didn’t lose any time checking out Homebound’s Submission Guidelines and soon sent the information and manuscript requested. That was in May 2015. I learned of the press’s desire to publish my memoir a couple of months later and soon after that, I had my first “meeting” with Leslie by phone. A month later, I signed a contract with the press with a publication date of Sept. 2017. Since then, Leslie and I have communicated regularly via email, a private Facebook page for authors, and Basecamp (an online project management tool). As promised in the contract, she’s consulted with me about important decisions (such as front and back cover design and interior design) and assisted in marketing and promotion.

Before our dinner, I’d gotten to know a good bit about Leslie through our ongoing virtual conversations and by reading her poems and novel. A proud native of New England, Leslie grew up in the small fishing village of Stonington, Connecticut. In her writing, she explores the confluence of the natural landscape and the interior landscape; her longtime study of philosophy, nature, and art is evident in the themes she explores through poetry and fiction.

Ruminations-at-Twilight-180In 2010, Leslie debuted with a three-title contemplative poetry series: Ruminations at TwilightOak Wise, and Barren Plain (here’s a sample of one of her poems, “Where the Story Left Off.”) Her most recent book, The Castoff Children, is a page-turning novel set in the wintry streets of 1850s Boston. A group of orphaned children struggles for survival in this cold world, finding their way together, with friendship, perseverance, and courage.The-Castoff-Children-250

Leslie’s dedication to authors and readers is also evident in her service on the Board of Directors for both The Arts Café Mystic (a poetic arts venue in Mystic, CT) and Independent Book Publishers Association. And a milestone accomplishment for the press is Leslie’s recent agreement with Midpoint Trade Books to provide national distribution for all Homebound titles (you can see them all, including forthcoming books, in their 2017 catalog).

chef

 

I won’t deny that I loved being “wined and dined” by my publisher at Imperial Restaurant. But the best part was spending time with someone I now consider a friend.

 

l & i (1)
Dining with my publisher, Leslie Browning (l)

*Afterthought #56 Clearness Committee How-To

In my forthcoming memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I write about how my husband and I requested a clearness committee  from our Quaker meeting to help us find clarity on a major decision about work and home. In Afterthought #53, I posted a recent QuakerSpeak video about what’s involved with being a member of a clearness committee. This month, QuakerSpeak presented a how-to for being a “focus person” of a clearness committee – that is, what this process is like for the individual (or couple) seeking clarity about a question. These Friends express well the strength and comfort I’ve received from participation in clearness committees.

 

 

*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

“The Twenty-Year Memoir”: Re-blog from BREVITY

In the early years of my work to write a memoir, I heard Barbara Kingsolver talk about her novel, The Poisonwood Bible. She explained it sat in the bottom drawer of her file cabinet  for twenty years, and referred to it as her “damn Africa book.”

As my unfinished manuscript inched toward the two-decade mark, I often called it my “damn Stehekin book” and took some comfort in knowing that Kingsolver, whose writing I admire, toiled many years, too.

When I first began to write what turned into Hiking Naked  (forthcoming from Homebound Publications, September 2017), I naively thought I could finish it in a year.  But as weary and frustrated as I often felt, I’m glad I put in the time to, as Marc Nieson suggests, “to grow into” my words. I appreciate his insights on his  journey to write Schoolhouse  (follow the link below) and am eager to read his “quiet memoir.”

By Marc Nieson Growing up, I delivered newspapers after school. Every day, for some ten years. And forty years later, I can still remember the front stoops and names of many of those customers. Some nights I’ll even dream about that paper route. One spring afternoon, though, stands out above all the rest. I was […]

via Finish Work: The Twenty-Year Memoir — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog

Covers

Undoubtedly you’ve heard (or said) the expression, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” While I agree with the saying’s assertion that you can’t know what something or someone is like based only on appearance, as an author, publisher, and bookseller, I believe that the literal interpretation isn’t completely accurate. When it comes to books, the cover can determine whether someone looks right past it or picks it up and thumbs through the pages. And if it’s your book waiting to be snatched up, you want to be sure that the cover calls out to anyone who glances its way.

Robbin Schiff, executive art director at Random House Publishing Group, summed up the book cover’s significance in an interview with Mashable, a global media and entertainment company. “The most intriguing designs don’t give too much away, and you absolutely can judge many things about the book by its cover,” Schiff says.

I came to understand the importance of covers with my first book, Hands at Work. Photographer Summer Moon Scriver and I knew that not only the book’s cover, but the entire layout design, was as important as our words and images in telling the stories of people passionate about working with their hands. When we consulted with Bob Lanphear of Lanphear Design, we knew we’d found the right person when he said, “This book will tell us what it wants to be.”

Other authors had warned me that settling on a cover can be one of the hardest—and most important—tasks in book publishing. There’s added stress to this decision because it’s usually made quite late in the process—after the book has told you “what it wants to be.”

 Mashable presented a vivid perspective on covers in a post in March 2015 entitled, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover ‘til You See How Long It Takes to Design.” The article includes a video for Hausfrau: A Novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum, in which Random House “offers a rare peek into the book design process.” The clip cycles through a dizzying number of drafts of the hardcover book’s jacket, giving readers an idea of what designers go through to create a cover that does the work it needs to do. A quick online search reveals that the paperback ended up with a different cover.

For Hands at Work, Bob offered numerous design ideas (though nowhere near the number as Random House did for Hausfrau). Since the book depicts a couple dozen different kinds of work, we steered away from using a single image of someone’s hands (even though we had many stunning photographs to choose from). We didn’t want to give the impression that the book was all about baking, or weaving, or automotive repair. Summer and I knew the right one when we saw it, though.

H@W Cover LG (2)

In recent weeks, I’ve again focused on covers for two forthcoming books I’ve been working on. The first, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, will be released to the public on Friday, October 21. Published by the Lopez Community Land Trust, the 124-page book combines color photographs, profiles, and recipes for twenty-eight Lopez Island farms and farmers to present an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of what it takes to bring food from earth to table on Lopez Island.

BOUNTY Project Director Sue Roundy recognized the same challenge that Summer, Bob, and I faced with Hands at Work of selecting a single image to represent the diversity of farms and farmers portrayed in the book’s pages. With hundreds of photographs to choose from, Sue felt that one of The Sweetbriar Farm by Robert S. Harrison best communicated the book’s themes. Jane Jeszeck designed the layout to create a cover that I think readers will find irresistible.

bounty_cover

Though still farther off from publication, the cover for my memoir, Hiking Naked, has been mocked up by my publisher, Homebound Publications. This small press’s founder, Leslie M. Browning, has an artistic eye and usually designs authors’ book covers in addition to all of her other duties as a publisher (and author, with a new novel, The Castoff Children). I’m delighted with the cover Leslie proposed using a photograph by Nancy Barnhart of Stehekin, WA (the book’s setting).

hn-cover-no-blirb

Thanks to the artists I’ve had the privilege to work with, I’m quite content for people to judge my books by their covers.