[Path to Publication] Falling in Love with the Team
Contributor

I have chosen to live on a dead-end gravel road five miles beyond a near-ghost town and 45 miles from a town of about 1800 people in northeastern Oregon. Our entire county has seven thousand people and is isolated and fragmented by mountains and canyons. I moved here because I love solitude, especially when I’m writing. I also like learning how to make food from scratch. I grow potatoes and store them in a root cellar over the winter. We nurture a growing flock of hens for eggs. We also raise pigs, make bacon, grind grain, bake bread. And every year, I experiment with new techniques, like seeing what I can grow without irrigation.

Knowing all that about myself, I worried I might not enjoy having to work with so many different people to publish my first book with Seal Press.

Part of the reason I sought out a publisher rather than trying to self-publish was that I knew I didn’t want to transform a rough manuscript into a book all by myself. I like figuring out how to render lard from my own hog fat and make souffles from my own eggs, but I don’t feel a similar drive to learn book cover design or even figure out how to hire my own book designer. I wanted experienced specialists to design the cover, edit and proofread, coordinate the team, handle distribution. I wanted experts to help create a professional product, but I wasn’t sure I would enjoy having that many people involved. Would I feel a loss of control or suffer some sense that the final product was not mine? Would I hate having to put so much energy into negotiating and making decisions with others?

No, I’m pleased to say. I’ve not only been impressed by how well the Seal Press team has been handling my book. I’ve loved the entire process of teamwork.

While listening to the wind in the pines on my farm, I could picture the staff at Seal Press weighing in on title or cover design options. It's a heady picture: people you've never met sitting around a table hundreds of miles away, caring enough about the words you've written to debate how best to get them into the hands of others who will care. My editor also took the time in each case to help me understand why the team believed one title or cover design worked better than another. We had some stimulating discussions that helped me see what others loved about my story. That’s helping me learn how to talk about it.

Then came the authors who stepped forward to read advance copies and give “quotes”, some of whom also sent personal notes of support, encouragement and advice. I have this glowing sensation that increasing numbers of people (besides family) are standing with me as I launch a new creation into the world. They’ve all had a hand in making the book and preparing audiences for its reception.

And although we’re still four months from having books available, I’m beginning to feel the support of enthusiastic readers who tell me they can’t wait, or who let me know they’ve pre-ordered or encouraged their local library to order.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what has made the process of working with others in the publishing process so enjoyable. In his column, "Ask a Debut Novelist," Ted Thompson, author of Land of Steady Habits, comes closest:

People in the book biz actually want to love your book.

Though from afar it’s easy to imagine the publishing business as either a collection of jaded gatekeepers who enjoy affirming their superiority by rejecting your work, or as a bunch of crass entertainment execs chasing the next megahit, I’ve been disappointed to find that it’s actually neither. Everyone who I’ve encountered in the book biz—from editorial to sales—seems disarmingly genuine about their love of books, and their jobs are pretty much like everyone else’s in the world, which is to say torn between reconciling their passion with the realities of the market. Every book they publish, especially if it’s by a first-time writer, is a risk to them and their reputation, and it’s one they take because they personally responded to the book. This was a revelation to me, the fact that the grand faceless facade of New York publishing turned out to be a collection of surprisingly normal people, all of whom were looking to fall in love with a manuscript.

Having the opportunity to work with people who are “looking to fall in love:” that nicely sums up at least part of the joy I’ve found in working with my publishing team. And it’s been a revelation for me too.


What have been your experiences in working with a publishing team (either with a publisher or a team you've assembled through hybrid- or self-publishing)?

Elizabeth Enslin is the author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal (Seal Press, September 2014) which won the 2013 She Writes to Seal Press Publishing Contract Contest.

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Comments
  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Thanks, Mardith. I didn't actually listen in on the team's conversations, but I did get some insight from my editor into how they saw what they liked about the book resonating with title and cover options and publicity. The whole process has slowly built up a picture for me of what others might care about in the story. That will continue building and changing, I'm sure.

  • Mardith Louisell

    Very informative post, Elizabeth. Congratulations on winning the contest. Listening to the team talk about your book is something I hadn't thought of as helping you talk about it but it makes sense.