Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The demise of Blue Feather and the role of small companies

I've been thinking for a while about what to say about the news that Blue Feather is closing.  I keep trying to straighten out the jumble of thoughts I'm having.

First, like everyone, I'm sad to hear about Blue Feather.  I talk to Emily Reed a lot and I know she's been struggling to keep the company going by herself while she dealt with children and a full time job and life in general.  I thought highly of Blue Feather before I ever met Em.  She focused on quality and not quantity, which appeals to me more and more.  She also published "different" authors.  By that I mean those that didn't always fit the cookie cutter mold.  I didn't care for every book the company put out, but I found them refreshing in their uniqueness.  How can you argue with a company that brought us Joan Opyr, Kieran York, Chris Paynter, Erica Lawson, Kelly Sinclair and others?  And I would defy anyone to find a mistake in a Blue Feather book.  Yes, this is a great loss indeed.

I don't think we give our "smaller" publishers enough credit.  It's almost funny talking about smaller publishers among small publishers.  Even Bella and BSB are small in comparison to mainstream companies, but our small presses are truly small. 

My sister Leigh and I toured the Bywater plant when we visited Marianne Martin recently.  It didn't take much.  We stepped from the house into the garage and there it was.  There is a little office with a copier and then the books are stockpiled in another section of the garage.  If you order a book from the Bywater site, you might not know it, but it's sent to you by Marianne Martin herself.  Yet, when I looked on the shelves, there was Joan Opyr, Bett Norris, Wynn Malone, Jill Malone, Georgia Beers and Marianne.  I suspect there are similar setups at Affinity, Bedazzled, Sapphire and the others.

In the rush to self-publishing, we need to give the really small presses more credit.  They usually can't hire full staffs.  They hire editors and cover artists by the job and when you email the company, you're just as likely to hear directly from the owner.  They don't have warehouses, secretaries or whatever.  They may use a distribution company, but that's about it.  Yet, many of the words I used about Blue Feather would also apply to these companies.  Bella and BSB turn out huge numbers of books now, but, with a few exceptions, they have a disturbing familiarity.  It's the really small companies that are taking a risk on some of the more daring writers.  For that reason alone, I hope we don't lose more of them.

Chris Paynter and Karen Badger have already announced they're going to self-publish.  Karen has a snappy logo for Badger-Bliss Books.  I hope they do well.  Catherine Wilson gave a wonderful presentation at the GCLS conference about how time encompassing this is if you really want to sell your books.

To the other authors, don't disappear on us.  There are companies that will probably come to you.  Find a place where you are comfortable.  Let us know what you're doing and keep the books coming.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why you need to attend a GCLS conference if you read lesbian literature

In ancient times, it was common for tribes to split up their members and send them to live in different parts of the territory so that everyone would have plenty of resources to survive.  Once a year however, they would have a meeting of the tribe to reconnect with friends and family, celebrate accomplishments, perform important rituals and make decisions for the coming year.  It occurred to me today, as I began my journey home, that this is exactly what a Golden Crown Literary Society conference is about.  It is a coming together of a tribe.  We meet, we greet, we support, we laugh, we cry.  We hug, we argue and we tease each other.  Most importantly, we learn things about each other, the books and the components of putting them together.
I think this year's conference might be the best one ever.  I don't know if it was by planning or luck, but the sessions seemed to be very seriously planned and they provoked some very interesting discussions about the literature and where it is headed.  There were a lot of new people here and people who don't come very often.  I hope they're encouraged to keep coming after this conference.

The speeches by Ann Bannon (about what she went through to get published) and Lori Lake (about the history of the literature) were particularly effective and reached the crowd.  There was a powerful session where readers spoke out about what they wanted to see in the books.  I was very happy to see that a number of authors attended to hear what we had to say.  KG MacGregor facilitated a panel called "I Wish I'd Written That" that involved Georgia Beers, Katherine Forrest and Karin Kallmaker.  Salem West led a discussion about "Editors' Pet Peeves."  Excellent.

I attended the first half of a class by Lynn Ames and Sandra Moran on researching and writing historical fiction, then had to miss the second half to attend a session on character building given by Linda Kay Silva.  It's a shame they were against each other because every author could have benefited from them.  My sister attended the session about young adult literature offered by Andi Marquette and felt that it was very good.  I took notes on Katherine Forrest's Master Class about what has to be in a manuscript and there was a spirited discussion in the session on the role of tragedy in LGBT novels.  Catherine Wilson gave a commanding explanation how how to market your novel to the mainstream.  She had me convinced it could be done, if you're willing to invest the time.

Other sessions included writing freedom, how to write mysteries and horror stories, create cover art, researching complex issues in government, politics and law and many others.  There were also author chats and author readings.  There were things to engage a variety of people and, while a lot of serious discussion went on, there was plenty of laughter.  There was even a discussion about how to write about food, which I made a point to avoid.

After going through some shaky years, the GCLS seems to be on a firm footing and growing.  More importantly, it appears to be growing into the type of organization that I have advocated for over the years.  A number of the winners of this year's awards gave credit to members of the GCLS who mentored, beta read or edited for them.  They met at the conferences.  There are education programs being offered, online interview shows, and more and more books being nominated from companies and people not associated with the bigger publishers.  Now GCLS is going to make a push to add more diversity of all kinds to the membership.  We need to get those younger people involved.  GCLS can be meaningful for a lot of people.  My sister, who is the niece and sister of lesbians and the mother of a young gay man found Ann Bannon's speech especially meaningful.

GCLS is not cheap to attend.  There's the conference, room, food and other things to pay for, but the members didn't hesitate to dig into their pockets andto raise money to help support the programs and create scholarships.  A number of women attended because of the generosity of other women and even more will be able to do so next year.  It's not just a great learning experience, but where else can you get warm and strong hugs from so many women, many of whom are the authors you enjoy.  One young author said that, because of where she lives, she didn't think she'd ever been in a room with more than two or three lesbians at a time, so seeing 300 of them at once was a life changing experience.

The conference is in New Orleans next year during the last week of July.  That's the lower middle of the country, so most of us are within reach.  I feel pretty safe in saying that, once you attend a conference, you'll wonder why you didn't before.  Come and see if I'm right.