In the summer of 2017, I announced first to authors, and later to the general public, that I was closing submissions due to time limitations. I have found time now to put together some background thoughts about this move–which, like all decisions in my life, is not taken lightly. I have been having a great time at Moon Willow Press in the last decade. I’ve been overwhelmed with so many great submissions, whether fiction or nonfiction, that create awareness of our environmental reality in the Anthropocene. The submissions I receive are engaging and include elements of hope, caution, humor, and great insight. My work in this field has grown large over at dragonfly.eco as well as at the related Facebook. Through the websites and outreach communities, I’ve been so lucky to have established a wonderful network–no, network sounds too technical–a growing friendship with individuals working in the field of nature-related literature, whether they are authors, readers, or publishers. I cherish these relationships dearly.
It was the same kind of relationships I had while running Jack Magazine between 2000-2010 (now archived at Stanford University). I transformed the concept of that magazine into a place where authors could make royalties rather than just volunteer their pieces to a magazine that would, in turn, promote their work. The literary journal was also highly inspired by nature writing.
Now, going into the decade mark (2019) of first opening Moon Willow Press, I have constantly appraised the press and its outreach. Being a tiny press with a large environmental ethic has been tough. I’m basically a tiny fish in a tiny current surrounded by a vast sea. I have published authors from all over the world, from Australia to Japan to Mexico to the US to Canada. I started out small, with the hopes to help authors publish their first books and gain some professional publishing experience, which is hard for debut authors. In 2013, I went from home distribution, sales, and shipping (and sometimes even binding at home!) to Ingram printing and distribution, following a non-wasteful print-on-demand (PoD) model. I still recall the big rolls of recycled corrugated cardboard I had in the basement for packaging books. Always calling myself a tiny or niche press–or at times a micro-press–I ensured that authors knew up-front that their books wouldn’t make it into chain bookstores unless a miracle happened–though, often, small bookstores will carry books if the author is local.
When I began the press, I had just gotten permanent residency in Canada and worked part-time at a non-profit river stewardship organization. I did this until 2012. Each year, the numbers of books I published increased (from 2 a year to 5 a year). I began working full-time in 2012 and tried to maintain publication numbers, but then soon also began a Moon Willow Press outreach project that would archive and explore novels in the category of eco-fiction, which went from being database-driven to more in-depth very quickly, as I incorporated author interviews and guest posts in the mix, as well as started a Google+ group and the Facebook page.
While these projects take considerable time, as does continuing a “day job,” even when reducing the titles per year at Moon Willow Press, I found it still took an extraordinary effort to edit, format, design covers, prepare a book for pre-flight, publish, advertise, and do all the accounting for even a handful of books each year. I had been writing my own novels, too. Something has to give, but I did not want to close the press just yet since author contracts extend into the future and I feel committed to these books.
Over the summer, however, I decided to close submissions and editorial services, in order to work on my own novels. This decision is partly a time and energy solution. However, from the beginning, I have created an editorial mission, which strongly clings to an ethic that does not waste natural resources. In turn, I’ve donated to organizations each year to give back to the planet. Every year, based upon a percentage of book sales via the summer reading program and other incentives, I have worked with tree-planting programs to plant non-invasive trees in economically and ecologically depressed areas. This effort has amounted to over 1,110 trees so far–and more to come later this year. I am finding, however, that if I, as a business owner and product maker, want to continue contributing any resource/energy use at all, I will always question the impact. When books ship around the world (and they do), it costs fuel. When books are made, even though paper comes from sustainable forest management, is that management better than just leaving trees as they are? There are other processes as well, as Macmillan (I used to be a managing editor there!) states: Paper, cover stock, foil, glue, adhesive, ink, cover coating, casemaking board, banding, headbands, tailbands, resin primer, hot melt, tape, banding, CD, batteries are all materials used in books. In shipping any product, there are just so many concerns, ranging from ballast water (which carries invasive bacteria, plants, animals, and viruses–and thus endangers native species) to pollution, wildlife collisions, oil spills, greenhouse gases, etc.
Trees are renewable, but it’s good to look at all factors involved. When I began the press, I did some studies and published a few editions of the Moon Willow Press Toolkit (now outdated) that looked at the environmental impact of publishing printed books and ebooks. Huffington Post shows that all books, whether print or digital, have impact, which is really no surprise. Though ebooks had a sharp rise in sales a few years ago, now print books are dominating again. A lot of this is for obvious reasons: Ebooks, which have such low overhead to produce, sometimes cost nearly as much as, if not more than, print books, which do have overhead. I personally prefer holding a print book in my hand, though also have a Kindle!
The gist of it is that, as a very small publisher, and with sales of hundreds (not thousands or millions) of books per year, I insist on the best environmental model as is possible–even though my impact is tiny in the sea of much larger publishers, it still matters. It can also be argued that novels with environmental narratives might help create more of an awareness of issues of planetary health, which may effect readers to the point of doing something positive for the environment, which might possibly offset some production and shipping impacts.
The press’s environmental ethics really have little to do with my submissions hold–which is mainly the result of a time limits in the life of a sole-proprietor–but I have been asking questions to myself: what does the future of publishing mean to the world? I still believe in the book–something hand-held that I can take with me into the forest to read. In the evolving age of information, what kind of stories will take place in the future? Nowadays, a few characters or headlines are stories–maybe call it the age of distraction. When the top stories of the day come from a president’s tweets, what does that say about us? Oh, yes, I believe in the power of books, and it is obvious that books are still here for a reason, and that is because billions of readers are still finding hand-held, novel-length stories useful, entertaining, informative, and powerful. I recently watched the documentary 13th, and it was pointed out that visual images can also help change the world because shock affects people so drastically that a little light goes on inside when they see people being pushed, kicked, hung, slaughtered, abused–people of different skin color, gender, faith, ethnicity–and realize how absurd this treatment in, how utterly wrong. Environmental novels (which can contain images) also can impact people heavily, not just with shock but with warmer emotional connections with the reader.
Anyway, these are background thoughts as I move forward into finding time to publish in the future. With the press submissions on hold until further notice, I can think more about Moon Willow Press: its place in the world and its potential impact on the planet (small I know, but everyone’s small things add up to big things). Are the books I’m publishing getting to the right audience? Are they affecting people? Are they truly giving authors a good experience in getting that first novel published? Will publishing/distribution models ever change to be affordable for niche micro-presses like mine? Should I instead do something that is like a hybrid of Jack Magazine and Moon Willow Press–offering online reading but with author royalty? (I’m testing one such project at Green Reads now, which allows self-publishers and corporate publishers to freely promote green books by submitting excerpts and links to find out more. This takes the center of my work out of my own press and into a more worldly cultural and literary center, working with others in the field. And the current Green Reads is not set up for royalties, but there is free promotion and awareness-creation.) Will books ever be able to be easily printed and bound at home to the satisfaction of readers? Do corporations like Amazon, which hold such strength in book-selling and distribution markets, have good ethics toward the environment, toward their employees? There’s so much to ask and consider.
If you had read this far, thank you! This article gives a more thought-out reasoning for closing submissions temporarily (while not closing the press). I still have three more exciting novels planned, which will fulfill the publishing platform until 2020. And then I need to take time for my own writing, both fiction and nonfiction. I need to consider the state of publishing and how it fits into my own concerns about the planet. I want to see how publishing evolves. I want to explore local selling and book fairs vs. large corporate distribution. I want to consider the possibilities of bringing on a business partner who can take over financial services, such as marketing and bookkeeping, while I concentrate on book content. I want to look at the nature of the business and other possibilities for funding, such as a grant or kickstarter. I’m also committed to continuing to expand eco-fiction.com, a lifelong project. I will keep everyone up-to-date about whether or when submissions will open again.
Owner, Moon Willow Press