Interview with Rosalie Morales Kearns, Publisher
How did Shade Mountain Press start?
I’ve been a professional copyeditor since the early 1990s, and a fiction writer all my life. When I was seeking a publisher for my story collection and later my novel, I would come across small presses that had been started by one person, working on a very modest scale but still putting out quality work, as far away from the corporate publishing world as it’s possible to get. I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, maybe I could do that too.” I started the process in 2013, with our first two titles released in 2014.
Tell us a bit about Shade Mountain. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Shade Mountain’s mission is to publish literary fiction by women, especially women from marginalized/underrepresented groups. Our books run the gamut in terms of subject matter and voice.
Personally my taste runs to long novels that are politically engaged, that challenge the status quo. But Shade Mountain Press has published short story collections, and has published work that isn’t overtly “political.” Basically we want to publish voices that aren’t heard, writers who aren’t finding the reception they deserve in mainstream publishing. For example, we rarely hear from writers who grew up in poverty as did Robin Parks, author of the story collection Egg Heaven (2014). We don’t often hear about women military veterans, the subject of Lynn Kanter’s novel Her Own Vietnam (2014). Women of color especially encounter editors or agents who “just can’t relate” to their characters. Or they’re told that their books won’t sell well, are too “niche”—but really, that’s based on the assumption that white readers don’t want books by or about people of color. But if publishers don’t publish books by writers of color, how will they know how they fare in the market? The prophecy fulfills itself.
I do love humor. I thought that many of the pieces in our anthology The Female Complaint were hilarious. In my description of the book, I wrote that the stories “navigate a fine line between anger and laughter.” But one reviewer felt that the stories were mostly on the “anger” side of that line. I thought that was very interesting. Maybe I’m laughing while other people are wincing.
When I taught creative writing I used to assign a fairy tale called “Mr. Fox.” In the last sentence, the guests at a wedding breakfast reach for their swords and hack the would-be groom to pieces. I would ask my students, “This is funny, right? Someone please tell me I’m not the only one who guffaws at this line.” Fortunately there were always a few who agreed with me, while the rest of the room looked worried. Humor is hard to explain. Humor in the midst of horror can be wonderful.
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?
The humor is front-and-center in our next release: Yi Shun Lai’s debut novel, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu. The novel is in the form of diary entries, written by a very excitable, high-strung young woman in New York City who’s dealing with all kinds of anxieties about where her life is going, how much she hates her job, how critical and disapproving her Taiwanese mother is. It’s a very witty, voice-driven novel, almost a picaresque, as the narrator bounces from one awkward situation to another.
Our next submissions call is for novel manuscripts by African American women. I’m really excited to see what we get.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
A small press has flexibility. There are no layers of bureaucracy that need to give their approval to every acquisition. We can plan for small print runs and reprint as needed, rather than put a lot of money upfront for printing and then warehousing. And there are at least some journalists, book review editors, and awards committees who like to spotlight small-press work and who appreciate what we’re doing.
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 Shade Mountain Press?
Since SMP is on a shoestring budget, reading fees are a very tempting way to raise funds, but then that closes the door on a whole lot of writers who are dealing with very real economic struggles. So no, that’s not an option.
I guess my main message for people thinking of starting a press is: it takes more money and more time than you think. You might think you can cut costs by doing e-book publishing only, but still, the work has to be professionally edited, proofread, and laid out; the cover has to be designed professionally; the file has to be converted to the e-book formats. You’ll need a website that has to be designed professionally and hosted. Those services cost money. And if you want your titles to have a chance at being taken seriously by book reviewers, bookstores, and libraries, they can’t be e-book only, and they can’t be print-on-demand. You need to make the effort to get competitive estimates from printers; start out with small print runs and see where it goes. Plus you need to factor in the warehousing/order fulfillment, the cost of mailing books to reviewers and to contests, and the cost of entry fees for literary prizes.
An ideal amount to aim for is to have $10,000 available to spend on each title. That might sound daunting, but it’s far less than the big publishers spend. How to find that money? I’ve read about presses that were started by individuals and couples, and a lot of them simply put up their savings or borrowed money from their relatives, and never quit their day jobs. I did a couple of Indiegogo campaigns and spent a huge amount of time shamelessly begging people for money. (But be wary of crowd-funding. You’re unlikely to get many total strangers chipping in. It has to be people you know, who’ll send you a check just to get you to stop badgering them.) If you’re lucky, you or you friends will have at least some of the editing/design skills you would otherwise have to pay for. But then that takes time, and can you afford to perhaps work less, earn less income, while you’re carrying out these tasks?