Today, our Indie Press Corner series continues with an interview with publishing powerhouse Forest Avenue Press. Thank you to publisher Laura Stanfill for taking the time to correspond with us.
We put a lot of emphasis on strong relationships with indie booksellers. We get to know them, their tastes, and be sure that they get very early copies of the books, since they are literature’s greatest advocates.
We are longtime fans of Forest Avenue Press–a fellow Portland publisher!–here at The Masters Review. Can you tell us a little about the genesis of Forest Avenue Press, its mission, and what makes it unique?
We are fans of The Masters Review as well!
I started Forest Avenue in 2012, inspired by connecting with many local authors who had urgent, essential stories to tell—and recognizing that creating one more home for fiction could actually make a difference. Not necessarily in terms of quantity, but in terms of investing time and love and money in each book.
My background in journalism, public relations, and freelance manuscript editing gave me the basic skills to put together a small press. Local publishers agreeably answered my industry questions, giving me the courage to move forward with the business.
Two years later, I signed with a national distributor—Publishers Group West—and opened for national submissions for the first time, broadening our mission and our visibility, which in turn has exponentially grown our readership. Our core goal remains the same as in our earliest days: to bring authors and readers together in independent bookstores as a way of building in-person relationships, deep discussions, and a healthier literary ecosystem. We need each other, not just as book buyers or even book readers, but as human beings with stories to share. If we get together and make space for each other, whether that’s inside a library or bookstore, or through opening the cover of a novel and engaging with the characters, we won’t feel so alone. And we might be able, together, to change how the world works by making space for underrepresented voices and stories that affirm the importance of being present for each other.
What is your editorial process like?
We’re very hands on, starting with offering our authors a packet about how our business model works and what to expect during the contract phase. Many of our authors are debut novelists, so we build extra time into the pre-publication process to make sure we can help them transition successfully from working on a book to holding the mic—sharing their work with the public.
With each manuscript, we begin with a rigorous developmental editing cycle, which sometimes takes a pass or two, and other times takes a year or two. When we complete that process, we make a limited number of coverless galleys to send out for reviews; this strategy helps us earn endorsements from big-name authors who might not agree to review a PDF. It also confirms to the author and those we ask for endorsements that we are investing time and money in promotion.
Then we go through the copy-editing phase while our amazing designer Gigi Little creates the perfect cover to help the book reach its target market. We combine the edited manuscript, the new cover, and marketing data into ARCs that we send out to our PGW sales team, reviewers, the media, booksellers, and librarians.
Between the ARC and the final copy, we work on sales and marketing opportunities, including helping our authors drill down into their goals for the book and how we can achieve them. We organize a book tour, build on the author’s existing community contacts, and seek new opportunities.
How do you select which manuscripts you publish?
Our editorial committee convenes when we’re open for submissions—generally once a year for a condensed period of time of four to six weeks. We ask for query letters and fifty pages, and we try to be as clear as we can about what we’re particularly seeking and what we don’t like. This transparency and the national recognition we’ve been getting has helped us maximize the number of manuscripts we get that actually match our taste. And with this narrowed-down pipeline system, when we get manuscripts that are in our wheelhouse, but they aren’t quite right for us, we often have the ability to give individual feedback.
Not having to read through new submissions every week also allows me to go out and speak to writers and publishing professionals at colleges, universities, book festivals, and conferences. When pitches come in—and they always do—when we aren’t open, I try to be firm and polite in explaining our position.
What is one of your favorite things about being an indie press?
Publishing gives me a platform to help other authors. We only have a few slots in our catalog per year, but publishing those books means I can answer other authors’ questions and help cut through some of the haze and frustration about how the industry works.
Before I started Forest Avenue, I read everything I could on publishing and what it took to become a successful novelist. Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I can hold the door open, demystify the process, clarify some common misperceptions about publishing timelines and sales expectations, and help kindle gladness and excitement among writers, especially those who are reeling from rejections or self-doubt. In these times especially, I find myself encouraging everyone to understand why they are telling their stories, and why what they’re putting on the page might matter, and how it might effect societal change, if only by helping one reader at a time understand a different perspective.
What are some of your favorite other indie presses?
My favorite small publishers are those who open doors for lesser-known and debut authors, while competing against mainstream presses in terms of quality and raising up voices that might not otherwise be heard. Those include Shade Mountain Press, Prospect Park Books, 7.13 Books, The Innovation Press, Hawthorne Books, Microcosm, University of Hell, Future Tense, Perfect Day, Believe in Wonder, Overcup, Chin Music, and Catapult. I could go on—and on, and on.
And I truly believe that any time a reader picks up a small press book, it’s keeping the lights on in our community for all of us. Maybe not dollar-by-dollar on a financial level, but we are in it together. Whenever you spend time reading or attending a book-related event instead of watching a show, it’s a small victory for reading culture. It matters when you read. It matters when you share a book on social media. It matters when you walk into your local bookstore and see what’s on the new release table, which titles have shelf talkers, and browse shelved backlist titles. Because you’re committing time and energy to books. Every time someone tells me, “I never have time to read any more,” it’s gutting.
What cool new things can we expect to see from Forest Avenue Press soon?
Jackie Shannon Hollis’s debut, THIS PARTICULAR HAPPINESS: A CHILDLESS LOVE STORY, is forthcoming in Fall 2019. It’s our first-ever memoir. I’ve always focused on fiction, but when I found myself wanting to pitch Jackie’s project to nonfiction publishers, because I believed in the manuscript so much, I realized I should acquire it.
THIS PARTICULAR HAPPINESS is about the fracturing of identity when it comes to women’s bodies, generational expectations, societal expectations, and our own wishes for ourselves. Jackie’s one of the smartest people I know, especially when it comes to sorting through a life and mulling its twists and turns, and when she turns her introspection and curiosity on her decision not to have children, the result is a powerful, relatable exploration that touches on many facets of the human experience.