A four part series providing lessons learned along the journey of independently publishing my children’s books.
Do Lived Experiences Even Matter?
A decade ago, when I launched Saffron Press, everything was an unknown. Self-publishing was frowned upon, it was seen as lesser-than. Kickstarter and crowdfunding campaigns were gaining traction, but perhaps considered a one-time deal. How many times could you keep asking strangers for money, I wondered? Yet, there have been amazing success stories, and Kickstarter continues to impress. Vanity presses were popping up but stories of danger pushed me to become more informed. The personal financial investment of every single avenue was daunting. The bias my work would face for existing without a traditional publisher was not the only obstacle. Nobody talked about how hard it would be to sell these books once published, or how impossible it would be to garner reviews that would actually be noticed, especially here, in the Great White North.
One of the very few people who were willing to share advice, stated that I would sacrifice all time for personal writing and creativity, should I choose to set up my own press. Apparently, it would not survive past a year or two either. Sadly, he was right on the first account. Setting up an independent press did steal away my time, a luxury I hardly had enough of to begin with. This is when I could have walked away, and I did, for a while. It was not until the urgency of our son’s needs reached the forefront, that I began writing once again.
As a south-Asian woman moving beyond stereotypical narratives, I knew my voice would have to be louder, more courageous. The disruption around the lack of diverse representation would need to be felt. Giving up on myself was not an option, and neither was devaluing my work. This was for our little ones, after all. We would have to establish solid platforms in order for these conversations to begin. And that was hard. Up until that point, I would have considered myself an introvert. But spiritual or energetic forces tend to lift you up, and out of your discomfort, when your need is the greatest.
Looking back, I see that the real issue was with the publishing industry as a whole, and its gatekeepers. Perhaps their status quo had never been questioned. They had not yet felt the pressing need for representing marginalized voices, because they had not felt the oppression of their actions directly. There seemed a resistance to change. Lived experiences offer deep insight into nuances that may otherwise go unnoticed. And perhaps, their current teams did not reflect a diverse set of those lived realities.
My entire school years were lived through books reflecting distorted and cracked mirrors. I was an avid reader, and jumped to novels when I’d read through enough Enid Blyton collections. Being an introvert further marginalized me, when teachers assumed, I couldn’t speak English and so placed me in an ESL (English as a second language) class. The silver lining was that I learned how to develop my writing from one of the best English Language teachers I’d ever experienced.
Traditional publishers at the time probably thought we were content with the books they distributed, written by people outside of our communities. They assumed our communities were not their target audience of book buyers. They concluded we were satisfied because our parents – early immigrants – wanted to show up as model-minority citizens, and were not prepared or comfortable speaking up on such issues. Instead, our community members went out of their way to offer education to our schools through free food and book donations, free presentations, free labour.
Decades later, there may be more awareness around diversity issues, but little has changed if children like my son still cannot see a single mirror within standard curriculum, or from the shelves and walls of their learning spaces.