Why I'm Starting a Feminist Press

Shade Mountain Press

I’m starting a small book publishing company, Shade Mountain Press, which will publish literary fiction by women authors. Two titles are scheduled to be published in 2014: Egg Heaven, a short story collection by Robin Parks; and Her Own Vietnam, a novel by Lynn Kanter.

If you’re so inclined, please visit my Indiegogo campaign (link is here) and contribute.

Why I’m Doing This

Women are still vastly underrepresented among authors of literary fiction. Only about 25% to 30% of authors published in literary journals are women. Of the authors whose books get reviewed in the major book review outlets, again, less than a third are women. Same situation in book publishing–and this is the case whether the publisher is a huge conglomerate or a small, supposedly cutting-edge press. At some publishers, the percentage of women authors of literary fiction is as small as 10%.

I noticed this trend myself as I researched publishers who might be interested in my own novel manuscript. Time after time, the “new and forthcoming” sections of reputable small, literary presses included only one female author out of eight, or one out of ten. Sometimes a publisher’s entire “new and forthcoming” list was male.

Lots of good articles are being written about this trend. The arts organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts is always posting links to relevant articles from places like NPR, The Atlantic, The Nation, and Salon.

I’m trying to be part of the solution.

Why This Matters

I happen to know that women are writing great things. Besides teaching writing classes, I go to writers’ conferences, I join writers groups. I hear women writers read from their works-in-progress, and it’s brilliant, amazing stuff.

I want their voices to be heard. I especially want to read more works by women from groups historically underrepresented among literary authors: women of color; women with disabilities; women from working-class backgrounds; lesbian/bisexual/queer women.

Obviously, one small publishing house by itself can’t solve this problem. But it’s a step in the right direction.

How I’m Qualified to Do This

I’ve been a freelance copyeditor of book manuscripts for twenty years, first with a research institute (where I worked with book designers and printers and had hands-on experience with layout) and then as a freelancer. I’ve also taught creative writing at the college level and in adult education classes, and I’ve worked as an advisor at a university writing center, so I’ve had a lot of experience working with authors.

What I Need

Over at the Indiegogo campaign, I’m asking for $13,000. This figure includes general start-up costs: a website, attorney’s fees for author contracts, ISBNs. Per-book costs include cover design, copyediting, paper, printing, binding, shipping, and promotion.

I would like Shade Mountain books to be printed using traditional offset printing, rather than print-on-demand (POD). Using offset printing for my books gives me more options for type design and paper, results in a higher-quality finished product, and gives my books a better chance of being ordered by bookstores and libraries.

Having startup capital is crucial for book publishing. When a customer buys a book in a bookstore or an online site like Amazon, the store or online site keeps about 55% of the money the customer paid. The distributer takes another 5-10%. The 35% that the publisher receives can take nine months or more to arrive–and then part of that, of course, goes to the authors as royalties. This process can become self-sustaining after a few years if you have decent sales and maintain a good-quality list, but in the meantime, you need money upfront.

Why the Name?

Shade Mountain is an eleven-mile-long ridge in Snyder County, in central Pennsylvania. It’s part of a state forest system called Bald Eagle State Forest. I’ve spent many hours walking the trails there. Shade Mountain shows up in first poem I ever published (“Amid Shade Mountain, in Saxon Meter”). It’s the site of a big party in my short story “Triptych,” in my collection Virgins and Tricksters. It shows up in the novel I’ve just finished, Kingdom of Women.

My father was raised in Beavertown, PA, population 800, and you can see Shade Mountain from the front steps of his childhood home. In fact you can see Shade Mountain from pretty much anywhere in the town. It’s the entire southern horizon; it’s always there. And that’s another thing that makes Shade Mountain meaningful to me: my grandmother would have looked at that mountain every day of her adult life. My father’s grandmother was born and raised there, and so was her mother, and so was her mother. I feel like I’m invoking my foremothers, and honoring them and this beautiful place.

Other Ways You Can Help

A great way to help (whether you can afford to donate or not) is to let others know about this campaign, by sharing the link with your friends. If you would like to be on the Shade Mountain Press e-newsletter mailing list, please email me at [email protected], and I’ll let you know when the titles will be available.

A Final Thought

In 1855 Nathaniel Hawthorne insisted that “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women.” Dear old boy. Let’s make his vision a reality.

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