Working in publishing, in my experience, provides an opportunity to think about what it means to be “independent” in a way that supports the life of the mind and of the writer. Although I’ve been an editor for nearly ten years, I still think of myself as a writer first. From both of these perspectives within the publishing industry, I sometimes think too much can be asked of writing: to make a writer’s life easier or their career more sustainable. But I would invite a writer to think beyond these pressures, to find editors and publishers who are willing to consider and enact different ways of thinking and imagining, together, how best to transform a manuscript into the book it should become. Such collaboration offers a more affirmative, sustainable way of working, and it gestures toward community, I’ve learned. It’s empowering.
At Soft Skull Press part of our editorial work is to empower writers, which is directly relevant to how writers experience the publishing process. Empowered writers participate in decisions that most benefit and respect their future published books. These decisions are very important, very vital, and feel weighty, serious. But there is also sometimes a feeling of arbitrariness. These decisions often yield little profit. They might help a book earn an award, a long-list nomination, a nice review—if anyone even notices it. After all, it is just a book, one among millions, billions, in the world. This contradiction—between the writer’s great expectations for a title and its modest reality—is somehow essential to this whole artistic process, I think, though it seems absurd. But, to me, publishing is serious work. So I wish for more writers to take it and themselves, as writers, seriously, then set out to find fellow agents, editors, and publishers willing to collaborate according to their principles and vision.
—Mensah Demary, editor in chief, Soft Skull Press