Annals of a Small Press
The mission statement is a critical component of the small press survival kit. It will come to serve many singular purposes. I would like to focus on two particular arenas where the mission statement will play a tangible role for the new publishing house.
The mission statement will cause your publishing speciality within a particular genre to be isolated and solidified in the minds of your distributors and repeat customers. This is an advantage and establishes meaningful exposure in the marketplace. This leads to positive cash flow.
Creating a positive stream of cash is very important but the mission statement will prove more essential for your survival as an entrepreneur. It establishes and solidifies your very raison d'être in the publishing world. Many of us were of the opinion that merely being an independent press in the face of acquisition fever amid colossal multi-national conglomerates is a prima facie case for our existence. And that of course is a good reason for doing what we do. Independent presses are ignited with the zeal of liberty, candour and truth. Many of us set out with cherished ideals in this image in order to contribute to the stream of life.
Educare Press came into being to uphold similar enlightened ideals. It was our aim to produce erudite works that would make a difference in the grand scheme of existence. Was this a naïve proposal? Whether or not it was insensate, it certainly was the driving force that kept us squarely rooted, shoulder to the wheel during the Sisyphus years when we could have been crushed with the slightest slip.
Educare was a dream since my last two years at university in the school of education. In spite of many distractions and side- tracks, something must have seeped through by osmosis to the core. Because somewhere along the route a stray thought, a seedling from my Socratic days, took root and, after festering in the back of my head for many years, eventually blossomed into the collection of computers and filing cabinets that adorn my office today. Through a dislocated series of synchronistic life-events I ended up in Seattle with a fledgling publishing company cherishing the belief that there could be truth and integrity in publishing.
Truth and integrity, there might have been in the early years, but there certainly was no cash flow. As a consequence the infant mission statement was relegated unceremoniously to the dubious precincts behind such tangible incumbents as offices supplies, postage meters, direct mail campaigns and brochures. In retrospect, it is easy to see that we were working at a great disadvantage. How could we possibly design an effective brochure without first rooting ourselves within a clear mission statement? Our lofty goals were in fact far from being achieved. Our panacea for life's ills could never be attained.
Notwithstanding these shortcomings, Educare persisted to produce sincere additions to the stream of life. We were stalwart supporters of the ideal that independent presses could pursue a path to truth and knowledge. The mission statement evolved over time to encompass all that we stood for, but remained aloof and intangible in an attempt to appease my need for a broad life philosophy:
Educare Press is committed to the concept of small presses and independent book publishing. We are dedicated to bringing out not only fine writing but also books that display courtesy and insight towards the reader.
A compromise was reached by assigning each title a brief but succinct announcement that honed it to its niche market and insured its acceptance in the readership:
North Flame: A Magical fable for All Ages by Rufus Goodwin.
"Not since St. Exupery's The Little Prince has there been such a fable in the classic sense, welcoming children into a world of imagination, and bringing adults back to their childhood with its wisdom, innocence and spare beauty."
Educare stems form the Latin infinitive of e-duco (I lead out). "Educ-are" means to lead out and encompasses Aristotle's educational premise that people are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge but rather individual entities replete with innate abilities and talents that can be nurtured and developed with love and understanding. In this way it is proposed that each individual will achieve self-worth and, in the knowledge that he is fulfilling his destiny, add a meaningful contribution to the confluencing streams of existence. Only in this can there be real happiness and a true purpose for life. The acorn will truly become the oak.
The cover of our first title was the embodiment of this Aristotelian 'Acorn and Oak' philosophy (see: Geography & Education). It was followed soon after by a sister work in the trilogy on 'geographical literacy'. This work was produced for parents and teachers and placed the pedagogy of geography solidly within the curricular horizons of the educational system. It proposed a thematic approach using the nascent science as the kernel.
The National Geographic Society was 100 years in existence in 1988. In their celebratory enthusiasm they reaffirmed their commitment to making adequate provision for geography education within the schools of the US. Timing is everything – the readiness is all. By then our books were becoming established in the field and many enlightened individuals were already using the proposed model in their educational endeavours. An unexpected twist of fate isolated chapter 9 from 'Geographical Literacy' where we had outlined a simple but effective method for establishing a safe haven for learning and a creative environment in the quest for truth and knowledge.
Today chapter 9 is available off the web to all educators who wish to take advantage of the ideals and philosophy therein provided. And thus the raison d'être of Educare is fulfilled.
Hand to mouth to...
So our ship came in...finally. It was a daunting sight to behold. All the planning and effort had come down to a single moment when you say to yourself, "Our book is on board." The ship was the "Ned Lloyd Yantain" and a few things immediately sprang to mind. First, what a strange new world - ships with names like the Ned Lloyd Yantain and, second, that it seemed to me to be moving rather rapidly for a container vessel as it glided south along the Puget Sound. Nosed up beside it, the tug looked like a toy boat as together they negotiated the Straits of Juan de Fuca and headed for Seattle. Mount Olympus, after a fresh fall of snow, formed a picture-perfect backdrop that draped almost to the water line. I followed along the coast on my motorbike. It was a sunny day in October, bright and cold but a crisp pleasure to feel the wind after the rain the week before.
I stopped once on highway 99, just below downtown, to get a view out over the waterfront. I was careful to frame the Space Needle and the passenger-only ferry from Vashon Island. South of the city, the Ned Lloyd Yantain edged its way with amazing agility into the dock at pier eighteen on Harbor Island. It was made fast to the steel bollards.
What was a strange feeling, a mixture of finality and tension! At last the book was here, and now all the work could begin. Launching a new title is like hovering between the two chambers of an hourglass. The bottom triangle, upright and full of sand would have the book sitting on top. The sand beneath it could be labeled with the following labels, denoting hours of work - conception, planning, content, editing, design, software, platform, cover, dust jacket, author bio, artwork, ISBN, copyright, Library of Congress, title, subtitle, spine, testimonials, barcode, price, genre, paper, printer, blue lines, revisions, pub dates, package, ship, customs, trucking, and warehousing. Finally, it has arrived and I find I am at the neck of the hourglass. There is a troubling and gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that time is important. The bottom chamber is full, but above the channel there is a huge empty space.
Now as I place the book on the other side of the canal, I see that empty triangle above. I keep it that way. I do not invert the triangle. I am standing at the apex of an inverted triangle and there is a lot of work to do. That is the reality of small press publishing. From here I get to step out into uncharted waters to commit and implement into the following arenas in varying degrees of success. The following is a list of terminology that will consume my working days for the next years with this new title: distributors, wholesalers, sales reps, promotion, news releases, reviewers, independent bookstores, chains, jobbers, libraries, schools, TV, Radio, Newspapers, Newsletters, catalogs, premiums, pitch letters, photographs, Q&A, postcards, BEA, Frankfurt, foreign rights, subsidiary rights, first serial, second serial, London, Bologna, Hong Kong, Beijing, Japan, publicity, libraries, 5X5 matrix, database management, fulfillment, credit card processing, web pages, e-commerce. The list goes on and on. Meanwhile, and never too far from the peripheral vision, is the perennial management nightmare of cash flow, budgeting and expense.
But I'm not going to think of all this at the same time, I tell myself. Right now the new title is safely tied up aboard the Ned Lloyd Yantain. Looking at the hundreds of containers that were stacked five deep and more than twenty abreast I secretly forlorned over never seeing them intact. I looked on with a nervous angst. Cranes drooped like huge storks over the vessel, plucking each precious cargo and depositing it onto flatbed articulated-trucks that rushed off like tiny roving ants. Heading for home, I stopped again in front of the city to marvel at the miracle of modern transportation. I comforted myself with the thought that the quality of the illustrations would be superb since they were done in Hong Kong. Little did I know then, that our books would share a space on board with a cage of scared and weary souls who were fleeing their homeland for the promise of this country where they could seek out a new and better life. North Flame came ashore with them in an auspicious beginning.
Two weeks later I'm lying on the flat of my back shunting cartons under my bed. They have already spent more than three days on the living room floor where Madeleine exclaims - what a great new place to hide and make secret rooms. She is new to the publishing business since she just turned five and has no front teeth. I feel like a tugboat as I manipulate and maneuver each box with my feet into its allotted row – three against the back wall and five rows to the edge of the bed. The comforter hangs down suitably and hides them to all but the wary. It took five days dealing with agents and customs brokers and trucking people before I finally touched any books.
Lying prone on the floor while manipulating boxes (with your feet) into tight spots is a skill of its own. There is a certain clarity of perception that often accompanies such moments. Things seem almost giant-like when viewed from a ground level perspective. The side of the carton under the bed read huge letters and numbers, some of which meant something to me and others I had to think about and wonder.
North Flame 64 copies ISBN # 0-944638-16-3 M. 43.5 X 33.5 X 22 CM G.W. 19.0 N.W. 18.0 KG.
I'm mulling over these substantive indices, when suddenly it comes to me. My life is a clear path for a split second. The questions that had bamboozled me of late were suddenly made clear and an answer was presented. I'll stay in this apartment until these cartons are gone, until all these books are sold. In other words I'm not moving these cartons again. The simplicity of it amazes me.
Therein lie two of the more agreeable benefits of owning and operating a small press. The first is the ability to make snap decisions at moments of pure clarity like I just described and the next is a reminder that life and business is ever so mobile. Of course it would be eternally wonderful if all my decisions came so readily and were in fact good ones, but a decision, good or bad, is a stake driven into the ground.
I hasten to add that mobility is a two-edged sword – a fact I learned mile by mile while schlepping books over the past ten years. I have shepherded my press, bags and baggage, kith and kin over the mountains to eastern Washington. And back to Seattle. I have ferried it south to Santa Cruz down through Oregon and past the Bay Area. And back to Seattle. And within Seattle, I have ushered it from Queen Anne hill to Capitol Hill. From Capitol Hill one winter's evening we trudged north to Greenwood and from Greenwood alighted, early last year, in Ballard.
On the road I have published books out of my bedroom, published out of three different basements and, once, shared an office with an acting company. Never again! Thankfully my phone and computer are now in a place I call - the office. It is located in 'The Ballard Building' - a turn of the century edifice that used to be a theatre. It is tall and regal-looking and feels good to be home for the office. Home is home and the office is the office and that is a good thing. I will not mention the books under the bed again. Office space is important to a small press. I think about some future date when one finds in the classified section of the Daily the following notice:
RENTAL Apt for rent. I bdrm W/D Hardwood Fl No Pets. No Smoking. No Small Presses.
So, there is the new title. And there is the added satisfaction and associated stability of knowing I will be in this apartment for a little while more. I place a new poster on my fridge door, because I like it and it creates a mystique that will tantalize any unsuspecting visitors. It must sit below the Joyce quote about forging at the smithy of his soul... What does it all mean?
He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth. Goethe