When the Student is Ready

Bencke & Scott. (1872) Little Students. , 1872. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2003680088/.
Bencke & Scott. Little Students, 1872

Beth and I will be the first to admit that we have no idea what we’re doing we are new to the worlds of entrepreneurship and publishing. Yes, we’ve been steeped in the culture of literature, writing, bookselling, gaming, and customer service all our lives, but when it comes to starting and operating a small press, especially at a time when the publishing industry remains in constant flux, the prospect is both exciting and terrifying.

Just last week, Baker & Taylor, one of the biggest names in book distribution, announced that it is ceasing its wholesale trade to booksellers. Yikes! They are going to focus on textbooks and school libraries, leaving a void in distribution to brick and mortar retailers. At first we looked at this news as a possible harbinger of hard times for the book world, but then we noticed a quote by B&T’s president, Dave Cully, who said that one of the reasons for their withdrawal is the increasing number of publishers who are selling their books directly to stores, without the need (and expense) of a distributor in the middle. It seems that there may be some daylight in there after all for small houses to carve out a space in the market to find their readers.

Long before we decided to take the plunge to form Northwest Quest Publishers, we had been learning everything we could, attending as many industry events as possible, saying hello to old friends and making many new connections with people who’ve been doing this for a while. One resounding message that keeps bobbing to the surface, whether we are hearing it from the members of a panel at the AWP conference or within the musings of an independent publisher’s Facebook timeline, is that this business is a labor of love, that funding is hard to come by, that Amazon’s digital empire is an existential threat, that no one reads anymore or wants to spend even a minimal cover price that would barely pay for a book’s production costs.

Yes, we know in our heads that at least some of those statistics and analyses are accurate, and financial planners may consider us crazy to even attempt this venture. But you know what? As English majors and artists, we’ve been hearing these warnings and seeing these societal disparities throughout our educational and professional lives. We’ve long lamented the difference in how much our culture values the work of engineers, programmers, and skilled trades over academics, artists, and other creative workers (celebrities and in-demand decorators notwithstanding.) However, what we instinctively knew about ourselves back then holds true 30 years later: happiness and fulfillment require that we follow the path of our hearts. We’ve succeeded at lucrative professions that exist at the periphery of our bliss in order to pay the bills, but then the days – and then the years – have flown by and where is the creative life?

Beth is much better than me at compartmentalizing her life. Her day job only interferes with her art in as much as the actual workday requires its number of hours. I find it remarkable, but she shrugs this skill off as merely a short attention span. I don’t know whether my own approach to work should be viewed as commendable dedication or an ineffectual character flaw, but I am a one career at a time kind of girl. I am always all-in, always completely consumed by the task at hand. The higher the level of responsibility I take on, the harder it is for me to ever disengage. Needless to say, throughout my four wonderful years of running a busy code school, the writer and artist in me began to feel ignored and disrespected.

Here’s where Northwest Quest Publishers will bridge those two worlds of art and technology. It will demand a keen business acumen, creative editing and story skills, and a technical familiarity with a host of tools. Our intention is indeed a labor of love, one towards which we’ve been building our entire lives. We are beyond excited about bringing forth under-represented writers and characters in GameLit, folklore, and historical interactive fiction. We know there is a desire for this work (in addition to our own) and we think we are uniquely qualified to help shepherd this “micro niche” to its rightful place on the shelves. In the meantime, we have a lot to learn! We are at the starting threshold of this journey in many ways, and I am overwhelmed at the breadth of resources out there for new entrepreneurs, small press publishers, and curators of our genre. As we work our way through them (bird-by-bird, as Anne Lamott would say), I will be sharing the insights I glean from them here. It will help me to chronicle our company’s history along with my own evolution. I sincerely hope sharing my experiences, the good and the bad, will help other aspiring dreamers in their own quest for fulfillment and self expression.