Tu Publishing is a new small press trying to raise enough money through donations to buy their first manuscripts. They are focused on promoting multi-cultural Science Fiction and Fantasy in Young Adult Literature, a goal that A Working Title fully supports. Stacy Whitman is the Editorial Director. They have 18 days left for their fundraiser at KickStarter and still have a lot of money to raise. I hope the readers of A Working Title will do what they can to help get this small press off the ground.
Q1: What drew you to create Tu Publishing?
TP: Several things, really. I’d been looking for the next step for a while, after freelancing for about six months after a layoff, and a friend actually suggested it one night—let’s start a small press. I thought she was joking, but in fact she was serious. We started putting together a business plan, and looking at niches we might be able to fill. I wanted to work on fantasy and science fiction because that’s what I love. I’ve always tried to seek multicultural characters and settings as an editor, and I’d become even more aware of the issue because of the RaceFail discussion. While RaceFail mostly addressed adult fantasy and science fiction, the discussion carried over into an awareness of how few multicultural settings and characters we really have in YA SFF, too. So it seemed quite natural to investigate how the small press I wanted to start might be able to fill at least a little of this gap.
Q2: What is the idea behind the Multicultural aspect? Do you feel that Young Adult fantasy and science fiction is currently lacking in diversity?
TP: Yes and no. A number of really great fantasies have come out lately with diverse characters—Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, and Alison Goodman’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn to name a few. Yet these books might not be as well-known to a general audience as some other middle grade and YA fantasy titles, and there are fewer of them. It’s hard to get solid numbers on fantasy, but if you look at the CCBC’s numbers from 2008, out of 3000 books that year, only about 3% of those books had significant African or African American content that wasn’t a geography book, and 2% were Latino.
It’s hard to say how many of those were fantasy, or if the CCBC counted fantasy separately from multicultural books, but another list that was recently put together by Elizabeth Bluemle, a bookseller (I’m looking for the link, but I believe it’s waaay back in my Twitter feed), of recent books featuring African American or other characters of color, and about 24 of over 600 books were fantasy. Even adding in the 50-some books we listed in separate book list blog posts, that’s not a large number.
We often have “diversity” in fantasy in the different kinds of fantasy species we run into—whether that be elves, dwarves, pixies, or dragons. But often the main human character is white, and the folklore upon which the story depends is Western European. There are so many cultures from around the world, and so many different kinds of foundations upon which a fantasy story can be built. I think it’s important for us in publishing to remember that. And we’ve got great examples of this kind of storytelling, but we need more of them.
Q3: What do you hope to accomplish through Tu Publishing?
TP: To publish great stories that entertain and inspire, and for those stories to reach a wide audience, including an audience that might not have seen themselves in fantasy before.
Q4: Why focus on YA and children’s books?
TP: Why not? Children’s and YA is the place to be! I love what a renaissance we’re going through in YA right now. Stories for young people tend to focus on the story more than in many adult genres: they’re more about characters and plot and less about showing the reader how artful the writer can be with a sentence. And I think this makes for better writing. Now, there are a number of adult books that I enjoy. But I love seeing individual child readers light up at finding a story they really connect with—stories that make them lifelong readers.
Q5: Why science fiction and fantasy?
TP: While realistic novels and picture books have plenty of publishers making sure that a wide variety of stories get told, with a wide variety of cultures and people represented in them, fantasy tends not to get this kind of attention. We still have a long way to go on many fronts, don’t get me wrong. But fantasy is a genre that, due to my experience and qualifications, I can do something about.
Q6: Who are some of your influences?
TP: There are so many, it’s hard to really pick! A major influence on getting started on this project in the first place would be my friend Charisa, who is the friend whose joke started the whole idea. She’s a huge anime fan and got me watching a lot of it this last year or so (I have liked it for years, but never knew where to start beyond Miyazaki and Avatar: The Last Airbender), and my awareness of anime and manga got me thinking about what I now know to be interculturalism (see below for more on that).
Robert Jordan was one of the first authors I read who created a world inspired by our whole world—not just European culture, but Asian culture, African culture, a wide range of mixing and matching of different influences. I loved picking out possible inspirations for all the different cultures he created, and I loved yelling at his characters and telling them to just talk to each other—as I kept devouring volume after volume. I’m actually in the middle of a reread of the books, because I haven’t read them for a few years and the newest volume is out now, and it takes me back to 1992 when I first picked up The Eye of the World as a freshman in college, wide-eyed, from a farm town in western Illinois where I could count on one hand the people of color I knew. As a kid, I’d always wondered why I wasn’t born Japanese, and in Jordan’s books I was able to explore a multitude of cultures.
But most of all, I blame my college roommates. Over the course of a few years, I lived with two Laotians, two Brazilians, two Koreans, one black Englishwoman, three Canadians, one Puerto Rican, and one Mexican (the last with whom I plan on eating Thanksgiving dinner with on Thursday!). That doesn’t even count those who came in later years. These strong, intelligent, awesome women, and many other neighbors and friends over the years, taught me about their cultures and helped me to see beyond my own. I always joke that one day I’m going to go on a world tour and never stay in a hotel, but really, they gave me a world tour by being my friends. Why shouldn’t everyone get to have a similar experience through reading?
And, of course, I hope that our books, in some small way, also might influence people to find more of a reason to seek out friends of different backgrounds from themselves in real life.
Q7: What has it taken to get Tu Publishing started? Can you walk us through a little of the process?
TP: I’ve been working on the business plan since March of 2009, and registered the business that summer. I’ve been working with a Small Business Administration coach to help me navigate the parts of starting a business I’m not as familiar with (accounting, for example), and she’s been a huge help in the process. As I built my business plan, I also have been learning Illustrator, because though I have a designer friend who will help me, I’ll be implementing a lot of his art direction. I’ve been putting together a marketing and PR plan, putting together financials such as P&Ls for sample books, cash flow statements, and budgeted income statements, and basically doing the footwork for planning a business—and of course, being in publishing makes it that much more complicated. I’ve had to calculate royalties, plan for how I’ll handle advances, and explore accounting procedures. I had to decide whether the business should be an LLC, S-corp, or C-corp. I’ve been reading a LOT of business and marketing books to be sure that I’m well-grounded in the areas of the business I’m not as familiar with.
The biggest challenge has been funding, of course. It takes a lot of money to start a publishing company. We’ve been running a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter that has about 18 days left to go (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1586632165/tu-publishing-a-small-independent-multicultural) and to support that, several friends have started an online auction (http://community.livejournal.com/kickstart_tu/) to benefit the Kickstarter. I’ve applied for grants, and I have had a private investor approach me, as well. Between all these and a small business loan, we hope to be open for submissions come January 2010.
Q8: You are relying on donations to buy your first manuscripts. How much do you still need to reach your goal?
TP: Right now, our Kickstarter is 31% funded. So we need another $6900 to reach our goal by Dec. 14. The best part about this kind of fundraising is that, much like a PBS campaign, everyone who donates–whether it’s $5 or $50–gets a reward for their donation. Bookmarks, advance reader’s copies, books donated to their library, that kind of thing.
If we reach our goal, everyone wins. If we don’t reach our goal, no money exchanges hands. It seemed like a great way to get started and to get the word out about what we hope to accomplish at the same time. We’ll also be approaching banks for a small business loan, but we’ve all been hearing about how few loans are getting made in this economy, so we hope that between the Kickstarter and a few other resources (including, of course, money out of my own savings account and out of my pocket going forward–$10,000 is only the beginning of what a company like this will need) we’ll be able to show a few sales to the banks first.
Q9: Do you have any particular authors or future authors in mind for your first purchases?
TP: I have several authors in mind, and many more who I’ve been talking with, but I’m not at a point yet where I’m ready to talk about specifics. I’ve worked with a number of authors in the past who I’d love to continue working with, and hopefully some of those authors will have something that will work for us.
Q10: Who makes up the staff of Tu Publishing? Can you tell us about some of the backgrounds of your crew?TP: I am the editorial director, of course. In my day job, I’m the publication manager for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, as well as a freelance editor working with Mirrorstone, Marshall Cavendish, and a number of other publishers. Prior to going freelance, I spent three years as an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. I hold a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Before that, I edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller.
I’ve worked with authors such as James Dashner and Tiffany Trent. Some of the titles I’ve edited include The New York Times best-selling picture book A Practical Guide to Monsters, the acclaimed YA series Hallowmere, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series that debuted with Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham.
My art director is Isaac Stewart, who designed the maps for the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson and draws the Rocket Road Trip webcomic (http://rocketroadtrip.com/). He’s a talented artist and designer—he designed our logo—and I’m excited to work with him.
I also have a number of talented freelancers I’ll be relying on for editorial and marketing/PR help. Mostly, though, as with most startups, I will be wearing a lot of hats while we get started, until I can hire full-time helpers. I’ll also be relying upon interns for manuscript reading, for example.
Q11: Do you have any available staff positions open right now? When will you start accepting manuscripts for consideration?
TP: Not at the moment. I already have a number of friends in the industry who have offered their assistance, and I have contacts at the local universities with whom I’m working to arrange intern help when it’ll become necessary. I hope that these freelance gigs will turn into full-time jobs for some people, but that will take time. We’re only going to publish two books our first year, so I’ll be the only full-time staff member—and I won’t be taking a salary.
Q11: Have you received support or negativity for this project?
TP: I’ve received a lot of support—overwhelming support. It’s been a good experience. My friends and friends of friends and people just out of the blue continuously encourage me and tell me that they think this is a great idea.
I have had one or two people tell me that they feel that “multicultural” to them means an attack on white people, but I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I’m white, and I don’t feel like exploring other cultures is any way an attack on my cultural heritage. I love that I’m Swedish/Irish/Scottish/English/German/Prussian—and I love exploring my heritage. Perhaps that’s why I love asking other people about theirs? I’m not sure. But I hope that the stories we publish will appeal to a broad range of people, including white people. I think that there are emotional experiences that resonate across cultures, and I think it’s entirely valid to say, “Where’s the Latino Harry Potter? Where’s the African American (or Ghanan, or Iranian) Twilight?”
On the flip side, some have suggested that the word “multicultural” might be past its prime, and that we should be able to publish a wide variety of characters and stories without having to label those stories into a ghetto of sorts. I agree that this is a niche that should appeal to everyone, and I intend to acquire books that have a wide appeal. Personally, I think fantasy and SF are a great place for expansion of the niche, because of their detachment from the real world—often, fantasy and SF can explore issues that have emotional baggage in the real world—and I hope that the stories we publish will bridge the niche to a wider readership. We don’t want to publish African American stories only for African American readers, and Asian stories for Asian readers, and so forth.
I love the term “interculturalism,” actually (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interculturalism), as a way of explaining the kind of reach we hope to have across cultures—as Wikipedia defines it, “an inherent openness to the culture of the ‘other.’” Aren’t we all “other” in some way to other people? And one way of bridging that divide is to explore stories from perspectives not our own. Check out Renee@Shen’s Multicultural Minute on the subject: http://www.shens.com/blog/2009/08/the-multicultural-minute-2-int.html.
Q12: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?
TP: I’m really not sure I could pin it down to just one. I think every time someone retweets what we’re talking about, every time I see that someone has linked to us and said they’re looking forward to seeing us succeed, it gives me confidence. We’re not the only people to think of this, and certainly not the first—we’re part of a huge team of people and hope to be one more force for good.
Q13: What are some ways besides donating that supporters can help get Tu Publishing off the ground?
TP: Right now, the best thing you can do is spread the word. Share links to our site with friends on Facebook, talk about it with real-life friends and on Twitter and wherever you’re having conversations. Read our blog (http://www.tupublishing.com) and comment, and point out to us people who we might want to interview for the blog. And as far as the reality of making sure we have enough money to get off the ground, the more people who know about us, the more a few people who might have an extra $20 might think, “Hey, I like this idea, and I can totally spare that much to get a coupon for a book.” Once we’re open for submissions, they can tell all their writer friends about us too (well, and that one doesn’t have to wait until we’re open, either!). We know how tough the economy has been on people—I myself made do without insurance while barely getting by as a freelancer for a year after getting laid off—and we know how much of a sacrifice even $20 can be, so we appreciate those who can spare even a little, and understand how few people might be able to do that much.
Q14: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?
TP: We’re at a point where a lot of people are thinking about race in children’s books—not only RaceFail but Justine Larbalestier’s Liar cover controversy has brought up the issue in the collective consciousness. So I think a number of people are thinking more consciously about the issue than they perhaps might have been in the past, and I hope that more people are paying attention to the books they buy.
But publishers publish what the “market” demands—they publish where book sales are greatest. Bookstores, of course, have a huge part in this, as do librarians, and I hope that the Liar issue helped us all in the book business to become more aware of it. What it comes down to is readers demanding books that reflect a wide variety of people by buying good books with diverse casts of characters, and publishers making sure that we pay attention to this issue.
All that is to say: Yes, I think speculative fiction is going to become more diverse. Or really, at least as far as science fiction goes—to become diverse again, because if you read Heinlein, he believed the future was a lot of shades of brown. I hope that the leaders in writing diverse fantasy will have many followers in their footsteps, too. But it will only happen if readers look for those books, and if publishers publish those books.
Q15: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?
TP: Thanks so much for the interview! Also, feel free to check out our blog at http://www.tupublishing.com, follow us on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/tupublishing), or fan us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tu-Publishing/112191230046). Keep an eye on any of those venues for announcements of submission guidelines, contests, and other news.