Monday, April 14, 2008

drum roll please: seal studies is official

It was late 2004 when the Seal staff first started discussing the idea of launching an academic series for women's studies classes (with crossover potential). It was a good idea, definitely, but the books wouldn't be commercial. We knew we couldn't pay the authors much by way of advances. And so we sat on it for a while. But the idea kept resurfacing, and a few of us kept returning to it. And finally, in mid to late 2006, we signed our first authors to do A History of U.S. Feminism and Transgender History.

These two books arrived on my desk this morning, and I feel moved. They're smaller than our average books (though packed with content). Our best hope for them is that they appeal to young college students and that professors assign them as supplemental reading. The idea behind the series is to turn young women onto important topics and to provide easy-to-digest texts for students who will hopefully go on to read more in-depth analyses on the topics we're putting out.

Forthcoming books in the series include:

Feminism and Pop Culture
Women and Violence
Men and Feminism
Girls Studies
Women of Color and Feminism
Motherhood Studies
Hip Hop Feminism

If you have thoughts about issues you might like to see included in the series, we'd love to hear it. We'll be issuing two per season (four a year) through next year, after which point we'll cut back to one per season. Seal Studies is one of those projects that required a lot of people's commitment. Thank you Krista, Denise Silva, Rory Dicker, Susan Stryker, Jennie Goode, Karen Bleske, and Mike Walters, and also future editors (especially Anne Mathews) and authors (particularly Andi Zeisler and Barrie Levy, who have already delivered for fall) for making the next installments possible.



littlem said...

I've worked with some of the multi-platinum and Grammy-winning artists who pretty much created the genre of hip hop and have professional credits to that effect.

You have the nerve to add "Women of Color and Feminism" and "Hip Hop Feminism" to your curriculum when you haven't figured out -- as evidenced in some of your own blog threads -- how to dialogue with women of color without patronizing and denial?

Or are you going to start in with the "Small World" variations on "hip hop, as all art, belonging to 'everyone'"?

(And by the way, the author of that post is white - before you dismiss her article out of hand.)

Did it ever occur to you that if you condoned all copyright infringement to the extent that you've condoned the recent idea appropriation of one of your own authors, your press would have no revenue at all?

Or has your critical thinking on the topic not advanced that far?

The arrogance is staggering.


Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

I'm afraid I don't understand what you're worked up about, littlem. You think that adding Hip Hop Feminism to our curriculum is patronizing? The books I listed here are books we've already acquired.


Sarah said...

Oh, MY GOD, you people are clueless.

Maybe you shouldn't be publishing books on WOC and feminism, since you've shown yourselves to be so clearly ignorant on the topic and will likely end up doing a disservice to either the author, the reader, or both. As in, the author might write something excellent and you'll do a crap job promoting it (due to your cluelessness), or the author will write something palatable and white ladies like me will snap it up because we're always on the lookout for easily-digestible discourse on race. But as you've shown in the past couple of weeks, you're pretty damn tone-deaf on WOC, not to mention WOC and "feminism," so forgive us if we have little faith in your endeavors. You might as well publish something on the use of submarines in WWII, or 18th century French interior design - you probably have the same amount of knowledge on the subject, and are more likely to be "sensitive" toward its authors.

And you're likely to think, well there should be SOMETHING published on WOC and feminism and they should be grateful for that, blahblah. (Just a guess, based on your biggest-loser post, ie It's not as bad as the swan! therefore it isn't too problematic! Gotta appreciate those lil tiny drops in the bucket . . . ) A. this attitude is useless. Would feminism have survived if our foremothers had accepted the vote and a smaller chance of being beaten by their husbands? Settling for the crumbs dominant society doles out is never an effective strategy for social change. B. You guys? You're not the guys. You publishing books about WOC, particularly without re-examining your stance as a press and your treatment of WOC, WOC authors, and WOC books and issues, particularly after how you've behaved yourselves, is simply an insult.

So for you to say, oh, you think it's patronizing that we're doing X? Again, NO! X itself may or may not be patronizing, but what you don't get, what is so damn essential, is that it's part of a bigger pattern. It's about how you, your press, the publishing industry, academia, etc. interact with WOC. It's that you don't understand *how* using the frame of hip hop as the only way to understand WOC's feminism(s) could be problematic (or really interesting). It's that you don't understand hip hop (or other examples of different "cultural" phenomena) isn't the only avenue to WOC themselves. It's that you don't understand the recent kerfuffle over the appropriation of WOC's words has a historic context, that is the same bullshit WOC have been dealing with for decades now, and they might be justified in saying, Fuck It. It's all this and so much more, and as a press, if you really wanna tackle WOC issues in any real way, you gotta understand all of that. Or at least recognize and respect it, the history and the power and the weight of it, before you go charging around like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Just stop it. Just stop with the "why are you upset with us? We can't make you happy" and go educate yourselves, or at least have the decency to get out of the game.

Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

Sarah, you don't even know what the books are about. I'm not asking why you're upset with us. I'm simply stating what we have lined up for the series. I'm not an authority on Hip Hop Feminism. We have an author who is. These are academic primers that have been in the works for three years. We didn't just tag this on in the weeks since this all blew up. And a white scholar is writing the book. I feel like you're trying to pick a fight.


littlem said...

And a white scholar is writing the book.


I KNEW it.

And you're writing that like you don't even see what's wrong with it.

It's Amanda Marcotte's article and its attendant drama all over again.

And you're honestly wondering what people are upset about.


Let me ask you something, Brooke ... did you make any inquiries (because, like I said, I work in the community, and I sure as h*ll didn't hear any) -- formal OR informal -- to find out whether there were any scholars of color on the topic (several of whom already have books out, but not through Seal Press) before your acquisitions staff got a WHITE author to write a book on hip hop??

And if you don't, are you really going to tell Sarah, and me, and the other people who are confused that you don't understand this, that you don't see the problem??

Here’s someone who IDs as “white” talking about the issue. If you can’t hear me — perhaps because I’ve never actually said what color(s) I am *shock! horror!* — perhaps you can hear her.

I thought, at minimum, that your saying you were going to do better meant that you -- and your authors as proxy -- were going to stop speaking for people without giving them a chance to delineate their own experiences.

As Miranda Priestly would say, "NOT wonderful yet."

littlem said...

Let me put this to you in a context you might better understand -- one that's not white, or black, or red, or brown, or yellow -- but green.

I'm not sure whether your marketing division did any analysis at all on the demographics or the psychographics of the market that buys hip hop (particularly underground and progressive hip hop, where you're likely to find a substantial portion of your target audience for any such hip hop/feminism book).

Long story short, your potential (gross sales) market is in the millions, not the thousands.

However, if you put something out by an author that purports to speak to the community, instead of dialogue with the community -- in a community where one of the most valued currencies is "street cred" (as a representative example, I certainly didn't see any "Seal Press" books at the ABWC last month -- and I was there all week); in a community where violence against women and the attendant and related imagery are still, in large part, an underground issue; in a community where Ivy League scholars (and I'm a regular correspondent with several of them) that write and speak on hip hop not only have an enormous influence on what their own ethnic communities read, but also on what's adopted in and around the curricula at their schools, which could have been, potentially, your indepth secondary and tertiary markets --

Long story short, your author is potentially going to get pounded and drowned in the very communities where you have one of the best chances of optimizing sales.

Do you see at all now how you might be shooting yourselves right in the foot?

And do you see how, if you don't see it, you might want to put a big, red STOP sign on your wall, right where you can see it, prior to just wading in there??

I thought -- one of you wrote it here in some other post -- you were under pressure to bring in "big" books and maximize sales. Why are you -- seemingly blithely -- continuing to sabotage yourselves?

littlem said...

Even more succinctly:

You’ve admitted in some of these threads that you’re having trouble moving your titles.

It sounds as though you’re taking the word of your author -- as a purported “expert in the subject matter" -- as to what will sell, rather than fully investigating the way in which the subject matter needs to be approached to be viable, even palatable, to your target markets (which is generally standard for any publisher, any record label, any content distributor in the “art business” looking to maximize sales).

How is that good business practice?

I’m an admitted and involved member of the community that is a large part of your target market. I’ve worked in it for years. In more than one language. I’ve won awards. I’m connected to the artists, the businesspeople/content distributors, and the scholars.

By accusing me, however obliquely, of "trying to pick a fight"(:rolleyes:) you’re alienating an early adopter and a potential influencer (you read about those in business school, or in your continuing ed seminars on social networks, right?) right in your target market.

How is that good business practice?

bah said...

the goal isn't to sell copies. otherwise they wouldn't pick a bunch of white women who are like them in basic affect and persona.

the goal is to presume that white women's thoughts on any topic SHOULD sell and blame the patriarchal establishment when they don't. but the goal is not to actually make financially viable decisions, since they didn't get into this thing to turn even the smallest of profits.

how much you want to bet they don't rely on any income from seal press at all, and that it may very likely run in the red while they are subsidised by friends/family in other ways?

upper midde class white women have been playing this game for ages. i am concerned that some buy into the hype some of seal's authors have built up for themselves, thinking that whitegirl thoughts sell well. they simply do not. being a dime a dozen, they sink into the general morass. but due to white privilege, ADVANCES can be given (advances that never earn out, so you have to write more books and you don't get an advance on those or you get a tiny one-- a dirty little secret as to why it's easier to keep being published once you are the first time). And many people think an advance=success in the writing world.

no, this whole thing is about egos of white women, with the making-a-profit part simply not a factor. it would be, like, capitalist, or something. and require them to pick authors that don't look and sound just like they do, aversive racism and all.

we've seen how unprofessional seal press is, and it's costing them academic sales. but that just feeds their martyr complex about doing 'good in the world', so even not making money satisfies them. since they, like, totally would sell well if only the world would bend to their egos.

Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

I think you are missing the point here. These are academic primers. We are paying tiny advances for these books. We feel like they will provide important supplemental reading for women's studies and gender studies and other crossover subjects depending on the subject matter. End of story on our goals for the series. If we sell through our first print run that will be a success for these particular books.

On my acquisitions process. Ironically, this is a place where I absolutely did do outreach. We conceived of the series inhouse, and I placed a call on the WAM list and among various academic communities for writers, including women affiliated with NWSA. All of the women (I think Andi Zeisler is the only exception) are academics. I didn't judge the responses I got back based on the color of the women's skin. In fact, there was nothing in the two responses I got back that mentioned the scholars' race. One was spectacular, and the other woman was incredibly sporadic in her communication. I hired the woman I did based on her experience and her expertise. She will no doubt do justice to the book. I don't want to keep engaging the conversation that accuses of us of being racist because some of the books that we've acquired for or by women of color haven't done well. There have been many many books that haven't done well. Welcome to the world of publishing where 80% of all books fail.

We could have an entire thread about the realities of publishing. It's not necessarily easier to get a book deal once you've published. That's only the case if your first book did well. And publishing is increasingly requiring authors to have author platforms. Another topic for a whole other post...


diandra said...

Hi! I am just finishing up my thesis on third wave voice in the academy and have turned my thesis into a zine. .. I would LOVE to help pen one of these intro academic books on something like DIY and Feminism or Feminism and CRAFT?

I couldn't find an email so I hope this gets to someone.. thanks! Di.