Interview with Laura Stanfill, Publisher
How did Forest Avenue Press start?
Forest Avenue began in 2012 with an initial mission of publishing and promoting Oregon writers. My background is in journalism, page design, freelance manuscript editing, and public relations, and I have really specific taste in literary fiction, so I put those pieces together and started an independent press to support the local writing community. We earned national distribution at the end of 2014 with Legato Publishers Group, now owned by Ingram, and we opened for national submissions a month later. It’s been a grassroots, community effort as we have elbowed our way onto the national scene, month by month and title by title.
Tell us a bit about Forest Avenue. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Forest Avenue publishes page-turning literary fiction. Its titles are infused with a fresh, complex, sometimes nutty, and often-wondrous approach to storytelling. We like plot and characters with page presence. Our editorial board includes an organ grinder, a circus clown, and a tap dancer. We are fans of enchanting places, awkward characters, and whimsy, as long as those qualities are grounded in story—and by some measure of loss and darkness.
We feel very strongly about publishing debut novels, especially because we have the ability to get them into independent bookstores across the country. We continue to retain a spirited and often tangy Pacific Northwest flavor, but going national has allowed us to increase diversity, maximize sales and media attention, reach more readers, and discover amazing manuscripts.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
Our most recent release is Robert Hill’s ebullient second novel, The Remnants, set in the twilight days of the small town of New Eden, population three. Robert’s language has been compared to dark chocolate, Faulkner, Joyce, and fireworks. Nobody turns a sentence quite like Robert or strings clauses together with such fervent abandon—and he was a hoot to edit.
This fall season, we’re releasing two titles. Froelich’s Ladder, by Jamie Duclos-Yourdon, is a madcap nineteenth century adventure novel that has been likened to the work of Patrick deWitt. Jamie will be touring nationally once the book launches on August 9, 2016, so keep an eye out for updates to our events calendar. City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales, edited by Gigi Little, is a fantastical take on the much-discussed culture of Portland, Oregon. It’s due out in October 2016.
Debut novels forthcoming in 2017/18 include The Hour of Daydreams, Renee Macalino Rutledge’s reimagining of a Filipino folktale, and Queen of Spades, Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s sublime Seattle-area casino novel based on the two years he worked as a poker dealer.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Being part of the conversation.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Forest Avenue Press?
We must ask questions and work together—not just publishers, but authors and agents and readers and booksellers and everyone who has a stake in the literary community, in this era of content, content, content. Is the traditional publishing distribution model sustainable on a smaller scale, i.e. fewer than six to twelve titles per year? Why aren’t major awards moving the sales needle to a significant degree? If debut authors want independent presses to open more slots in our catalogs, then how can they help support our growth? How can we get everyday readers—people who aren’t industry stakeholders—reading more fiction?
Forest Avenue celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2017. Our primary goal for the next five years is continuing to grow sustainably. We print a large number of advance copies and engage in a heavy amount of in-house publicity and marketing, which means we have to sell a whole lot of books to break even. Our annual catalog size is limited due to the cost and the amount of hours required for each project, since I’m the entire staff. Having distribution means higher costs and return rates—more risk, but also more opportunity. We pay our contractors. We print offset runs. We set up bookstore events. We do not charge reading fees as a matter of principle, so the success of the press really does hinge on reaching readers one at a time. I’m so grateful that all my authors are willing to promote their books and to invest in community building by supporting other authors and presses. We’re all in this together.