Thursday, April 3, 2008

Seal and women of color

I feel compelled to go public here since there has been a lot of important, though discouraging, conversation going on over at Blackamazon, and because of Angry Black Woman's comment to yesterday's post, which is off-topic there, but fits here.

Right now I am the sole acquiring editor at Seal. Krista is the publisher. The two of us are Seal editorial, and that's all we got. I wrote yesterday, in response to Anonymous's comment: "Seal's got nothing on WOC" that we want WOC. I get now that I misunderstood the comment, that I took it literally to mean we've got no books on WOC. Of course, it's not true. We have books, though mostly anthologies. Hijas Americanas, Voices of Resistance, and Shout Out are recent acquisitions that feature work for and about women of color. Seal is known for Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism. Regardless, I want to clarify and try to rectify this whole nasty thing that's happening over there because I didn't intend to offend so many people. I was writing off the cuff in response to the comment FUCK SEAL PRESS, which yes, I took personal offense to. The comments that follow the post are even harsher, and yet, what I really intended to say with my comment was this: Seal wants to publish women of color and issues that matter to women of color.

What I wrote in a later comment was that publishing is NOT AS MUCH ABOUT outreach AS IT IS about getting submissions from people who want to write for us. That doesn't mean I don't do outreach. I do and I have. But again, as the sole acquiring editor, there's only so much I can do. I have to rely on people who want to get published, and who approach me. Right now I am doing outreach in the form of specifically acquiring for the Seal Studies academic series we're launching, and I've been going about looking for women to write books on queer feminism, women of color and feminism, feminism and religion, and on and on and on. All this for books that we think matter, but which probably won't sell very many copies in the grand scope of things.

I'm writing here today because I don't want to be boycotted by people who took offense to my comments yesterday. Seal is actually barely surviving. This press, which has a thirty-year history of publishing books that no other house wanted to publish, means a lot to me and to Krista and to a lot of women. Seal has changed over the years because we've had to. We could not survive publishing only the types of books that Seal used to publish. There's been a constant push to be more commercial, and we've responded to that. When it's try or die, I opt for trying. I've been involved in the new direction the list has taken, and Seal is more mainstream than it's ever been. And for better or worse, this is what's allowed us to stay in existence. This doesn't mean that we don't care, or that we're not open to hearing where we're doing wrong, or where we could do better. And so even though I feel angry about the comments over at Blackamazon, and I admittedly posted somewhat defensively, the intention behind it was, "Hey, let's work together to get published more of what you want to see." It doesn't even mean that can or will happen. I have higher-ups to answer to, it's true. But it doesn't change the fact that Krista and I are not intentionally fostering a "wall of whiteness" here.

So the fact that my writing "We want WOC"---yes, it was crass and quick, but I meant "Seal wants to publish WOC"---resulted in such backlash says to me that yes, people were offended, and I do apologize for that. I want to open up this discussion and do so productively. I do want to cultivate WOC authors. I always have. If I haven't been successful or able it's not for a lack of trying or ignorance to the situation out there. Which is why I appreciate Angry Black Woman writing something that opens up a space to have a productive conversation.

Signing off,

Brooke

2 comments:

Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

From Brooke. These comments were deleted when we took the post down yesterday. Here they are, though the hyperlinks are gone:

42 Comments:

At April 3, 2008 1:11 PM , Blogger Lucy said...

Since you asked: here's what you can do: start by not giving some asinine excuse about how we're "dissecting your every word" and by:

1) Examining how you have created and/or contributed to the lack of women of color at Seal. This includes stopping with the "they don't come to us" and asking first if that's true or if it's an assumption based on your erroneous perception of the problem and whose responsibility it is to fix it and second, if women of color aren't beating your door down, why?

Because I'm just speaking for me here, but if I feel unwelcome somewhere, I'm not going to trust someone with my life's work. I'm going to find a publisher who seems interested in what I have to say and, perhaps, gets it. Or at least shows interest in getting it. And I'm definitely not going to go somewhere that thinks I'm too negative, too angry, or just plain unpalatable. Because chances are if you can't hear a critique of why WOC aren't impressed with you, then I doubt you're going to want to publish my work, seeing as it's probably just as negative and angry as I am.

2) Issuing a sincere apology based on the insight you've gained in your careful examination of where you went wrong. Now, I realize it's hard to be put on the spot like that, but you know it's just a bad idea to stick with the "it's not my fault" schtick even when it's not working. The most graceful and respectful thing to do is to apologize and learn from your mistakes, even if they weren't made intentionally. Because let me tell you, I can't count how many times a white person/institution has unintentionally hurt me. Or how many times I've comforted a friend who's been hurt--held their hand or given them a hug as they recount the painfulness of betrayal, ignorance, and hurt.

Chances are, if you've got a grip of angry brown women saying you fucked up? You fucked up.

Give it a few to think about it, will ya?

At April 3, 2008 1:32 PM , Blogger Magniloquence said...

One might find assurances of your attention to this issue more convincing if, say, you'd managed to get easily available details like ABW's address correct.

At April 3, 2008 1:42 PM , Blogger Michelle said...

I'm a regular guest blogger at ABW. I also run a feminist community on Livejournal for WOC (sex_and_race) and I have to ask if you're really looking for more WOC writers why not solicit suggestions on topics important to us to be presented to your superiors? Or put out a call specifically for submissions by WOC? Other publishers do so, some have gone so far as to create whole imprints specifically targeting black female readers. If Kimani Press can do it for romance novels, why is it that Seal Press isn't actively working to attract the population they claim to find so desireable?

At April 3, 2008 1:52 PM , Blogger Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

Magniloquence, thank you. I fixed the link. I took the link from ABW's Blogger profile, the one she posted with.

Michelle, thanks for the suggestion. We'll take it under advisement. We aren't in a place to create an imprint. Posting, though, we can and have done.

---B

At April 3, 2008 2:05 PM , Blogger Michelle said...

At the moment your only post in the Submissions area is looking for people to write about BBQ, camping, home repair, or car repair. While I could certainly write a book on BBQ I have to ask if these are the only topics you're interested in (and not say YA fiction aimed at WOC, or womanism, or relationships, or politics, or a 1,000 other topics that have got to be more interesting) then what would be the point of someone like me who writes about other topics bothering to submit to your press?

At April 3, 2008 2:28 PM , Blogger Renegade Evolution said...

The truth is your conduct on Black Amazon's blog was not only really unprofessional, it was downright rude and dismissive. If that is the kind of treatment you hand out to WoC on their Own Spaces...well, is it really any wonder why people are upset about it?

At April 3, 2008 2:34 PM , Blogger bah said...

all i know about seal press is that you guys solicited a blonde white woman on livejournal and have since solicited another book from her, which is coming out soon.

so apparently you have time to outreach to some bloggers, but not WOC. they have to submit proposals with the right tone or else be told they aren't financially viable, as you've implied strongly here.

except when i looked up sales figures for the blonde in question, they were very low (well under 5k as of mid 2007-- something like 1-2 copies sold per week). that you believe no WOC can possibly match even those figures is pretty appalling.

there are plenty of WOC bloggers with hundreds or thousands of readers who could probably sell a few thousand copies, too.

i bought the book in question. it's all right. but i would have loved to have bought a book about sexwork from a WOC's perspective. that's a perspective that is extremely rare to see in print. it would have been impressive and probably saleable for a small feminist press to put something so groundbreaking out there.

something to think about. try asking some of these popular WOC if you can publish them instead of going on their blogs and telling them how mean they were to poor little white you, so you can't be arsed to publish their work unless they beg just right.

if you can solicit a blonde white chick TWICE, i think you can try it with a WOC blogger ONCE. just maybe.

blaming others when you've shown your biases so clearly is wildly unprofessional and the sort of thing that cuts into sales longterm in other industries, and quite likely this one.

At April 3, 2008 2:35 PM , Blogger E said...

One of you wrote, "I get that you all engage best through negative discourse, but I find
that too bad. It's not servitude when we pay our authors advances. And
book publishing is not an industry of outreach as much as it is editors
being presented with an idea and engaging would-be authors in creative
co-creation. I just find it curious more than anything that you all are
wasting your time hating (yes, purposeful reuse of the word) rather
than actively engaging in changing something you find problematic. I
totally respect the creative space."

That is the outside of enough. Your manners are terrible and your commentary appears disingenuous at best. If you stand by what you wrote, as individuals and as representatives, then stand. But I take a dim view of apologies for how other people feel when the insult and offense given was plain and still stands.

Also, how do you find my tone?

At April 3, 2008 2:51 PM , Blogger LadyJ said...

. This press, which has a thirty-year history of publishing books that no other house wanted to publish, means a lot to me and to Krista and to a lot of women. Seal has changed over the years because we've had to. We could not survive publishing only the types of books that Seal used to publish. There's been a constant push to be more commercial, and we've responded to that. When it's try or die, I opt for trying. I've been involved in the new direction the list has taken, and Seal is more mainstream than it's ever been. And for better or worse, this is what's allowed us to stay in existence.

As someone who worked in a feminist bookstore and saw presses both rise and fall, I find it interesting that you could not find any way to keep publishing the types of books that Seal used to publish. I say this to point out that presses like Firebrand, Spinsters Ink., Aunt Lute as well as others, went under, came back, found distribution deals that suited them and their audiences and still kept a core of books that reflected the audiences they served. Bella Books alone provides distribution for books belonging to houses that went under just to keep them in print.

I find it deeply ironic that you tout the publication of "Colonize This" and yet it's out of print. That says a lot about Seal Press' present priorities in terms of publishing and audience and that makes me very sad. As I commented elsewhere, I have Seal Press books on my shelvesl; I used to review them regularly for our bookstore newsletter.

This is not to say that Seal can't change because I would hope that a publisher would recognize a changing landscape. At the same time, going more "mainstream" for your survival might carry a higher cost in the long term.

Perhaps you'll take the time to think about what WOC (some of whom are angry - me included- and quite frankly are really tired of white women telling them to tone it down) are trying to say to you before you keep trying to comment about it.

At April 3, 2008 2:54 PM , Blogger whatsername said...

If you're feeling defensive about something, maybe it's time to analyze in YOURSELF what made you feel that way, and not the actions of those whose words brought up this reaction.

At April 3, 2008 3:28 PM , Blogger Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

Colonize This! is not out of print. It's very available. And I'm not asking anyone here to tone it down. If I wanted that I would never have brought the discussion over here. I'm hearing the anger loud and clear.

And Sarah Katherine Lewis, who I love very much, came to me on recommendation. And I specifically said I do and have done outreach. I never said we don't do outreach. Our calls for submissions are what we're looking for right now, so as I said, Michelle's advice is good advice.

---B

At April 3, 2008 3:40 PM , Blogger Capsicum said...

I have two comments.

First, I find it interesting that in your two responses, you've said nothing to or about Lucy's comment. When I first saw this (after seeing the, frankly, embarassing dustup in Black Amazon's blog), I was all set to write a long and thoughtful comment, but then I saw that the very first commenter had said just about everything I was planning to say. I've been checking back to see your response.

Secondly, it doesn't matter what your reasons were for reaching out to Sarah Katherine Lewis. Really, WOC can't be expected to know everything about your motivations, especially not after you've invited yourself into their blogspace and proceeded to insult them and their friends. Here's what matters: we see you making offers and actively pursuing blonde white women. Meanwhile, you insist that it is our job to write you proposals and beg you to take our concerns seriously. And if we don't, we get heaped with abuse, told that "we all" can only engage "negative discourse." Do you really not see that this is a huge double standard?

Here, let me make an analogy. I am a successful engineer, a field dominated by men. I have a prestigious degree from the top school in the world and work experience at one of the best, most cutting edge research labs, again, in the world. About a year ago I was on the job market and had two serious offers: one with a corporation that went out of its way to recruit female engineers, has a strong internal mentoring system for women, and sent me several glossy mailings depicting women in positions of authority. The other did not have a single female employee except the receptionist, actively pursued several of my (white) male colleagues, and only grudgingly granted me an interview after I aggressively contacted both their HR department and their lead design engineer with my portfolio. Now, which company do you think looked more attractive to me? Does it really matter that the second company "only actively recruits engineers who have a personal connection to the company, via a summer internship or personal reccomendation"? Which one would you want to work for? Do you even understand the analogy I'm making?

At April 3, 2008 4:06 PM , Blogger LadyJ said...

Colonize This! is not out of print. It's very available. And I'm not asking anyone here to tone it down. If I wanted that I would never have brought the discussion over here. I'm hearing the anger loud and clear.

Apologies the, but where is it in the catalog? Because when I did a search for it, it doesn't show up.

(PS - it still being in print doesn't make up for the fact that you don't have more diversity - not just color mind you - on your roster)

You say you're hearing the anger. Okay, fine. However, are you coming close to understanding what might be at the base of it?

And I'd be interested in any answer you might have for the suggestions Lucy posted as well.

At April 3, 2008 4:18 PM , Blogger Andie East said...

Hi All,

Sorry to join the discussion so late in the game. My name is Andie East and I work for Seal Press as a publicist. I'm a woman of color.

I would like to address some of this discussion. I can understand that there is a lot of anger and upset feelings around these issues. There is a lot of discussion and feelings about feminism and the fact that women of color often seem left out of the discussion. I can't say I'm an authority, but I have read about this from a few perspectives.

First of all I would like to address the fact that brooke's comments came off as negative to many people who comprise the readership of Blackamazon. I would have to say, if you did a search and found on the Seal Press blog, F*ck Blackamazon, I don't think you would be very happy. It's hard when you love something very much, and then you find someone saying something disparaging about it. I think anyone can relate and empathize with these feelings. I have to say that I love Seal Press and I became very emotional to read that at the end of Blackamazon's post. It was upsetting to me. Especially if it was the first blog post I had read from this person and I did not understand the dialogue that had come before.

I can understand the desire not to submit to a press when you do not feel comfortable or relate to the vast majority of books that they publish. I think that is very valid. What I will say about most presses, are very few have open submissions. Most publishers only accept agented submissions. I think it's wonderful that Seal still accepts open submissions, so anyone with a book proposal and a great market can submit. And even though it came across as rude, or inappropriate, all that was said was we'd love to have more submissions from women of color.

And the submissions that are on the page reflect series they are working on right now. I don't know if anyone understands how hard it is to survive as a publisher in today's marketplace. Across the country, independent bookstores are closing, bookstores that cater to a very specific audience, an audience with a strong amazing voice, and I don't understand why this stores are closing. Stores like Eso Wan Bookstore and Sisterhood Bookstore in Los Angeles. Stores like the Karibu Bookstore chains. I know these stores are not only women of color bookstores but in some ways, they are the stores left.

It's not just bookstores, it's independent publishers as well. Many small publishers are non-profit, because frankly, profit isn't going to come into it. And they believe in what they publish and just struggle to stay afloat. I feel proud of us here and what we are trying to do. I'm not saying we coudln't do it better, but I'm saying that we do it to the best of our ability. And if you are not interested in submitting, if you don't feel comfortable in our space, if you are really upset beyond belief that a group of people who have worked so hard for something, who have sacrificed so much, who have spent so much time staying in an industry that they love, trying to reach out to people in the only ways they can, the only ways their job permits, and that when they see someone just say something that hurts them really really deep in their hearts, maybe you should take another look and see how you would feel if the things that you loved, the things that you have sweated blood and drowned in tears, were so simlarly dismissed, so callously disparaged.

At April 3, 2008 4:29 PM , Blogger bah said...

how do you feel about the fact that the people you work with don't believe women like you (other WOC)can sell even a thousand copies of a book?

how do you feel about the fact that white women can simply be 'recommended', but WOC have to send in proposals?

how do you feel about the fact that this press would reject YOUR writing, based on their recent statements and presentation?

why are you happy to defend white hegemony when WOC critique and question its saleability and utility?

seal press has behaved far more callously towards WOC. that there is such a massive hissyfit over a single person's comment (not even the whole blog post, just a couple words in it!) kinda shows where the real callousness and disregard are coming from. hint: it's not from the WOC offering assessment and critique and advice.

At April 3, 2008 4:41 PM , Blogger Andie East said...

Actually the last women of color anthology we did, Shout Out: Women of Color Respond to violence was upon a reccomendation from someone else and then they submitted a proposal. It's done really well! I worked on the publicity campaign and they've been reviewed in Publishers Weekly and Left Turn and they have been at venues across the country. It's really an amazing collection. So it's not really going to be an only situation, there is a range of situations, all of which are different. Hungry for More came to us through an agent, Waking up American through a friend. All different situations. Working Sex: Sex Workers Talk about a Changing Industry also includes discussions of sex work from a women of color perspective.

And in regards to writing, I tend to have some problems with self discipline and the act of sitting down and writing every day often overwhelms me. So I applaud all the writers out there who take the time and effort to dedicate them to an industry that is difficult, taxing, trying and oftentimes only about subsistence. I know things are hard for you guys as well and I love working with all of you.

I am defending Seal Press because I believe in them, I work hard for them, I believe in my authors and I appreciate their message. It's okay if you don't agree with some of them, or don't love them or feel that what I'm doing is wrong. I suspect your viewpoint. But I happen to love what I do.

And I wasn't trying to deny that some comments came off badly. I was just trying to ask you to see it from your perspective, if that happened to you, how would you feel?

At April 3, 2008 4:44 PM , Blogger belledame222 said...

What they all said.

I'm sure it does hurt to see "fuck Seal Press" on a blog, but again: here you are saying that you -do- have an interest here, you -do- have something to gain, you don't want to be boycotted, you want to attract more WoC to submit work to you. O.K. Then, you start by addressing people as equals. The tone of "after all we've done for you, how ungrateful you are, it's all about us" has compounded this whole mess considerably and is -exactly- the sort of thing the women in question were objecting to, I suspect, in the first place. At WAM, in dealings with any number of mainstream white feminists and/or carrot-danglers.

The thing is--this whole dynamic is very familiar, I think, to the WoC you were or rather weren't really engaging, as well as those of us who aren't WoC but have been following along. It's not really about the publishing industry, point of fact. This is more or less exactly the same "discussion" that comes up on the mainstream blogs, at events like WAM, in the public square, at universities...

Very basically, WoC object to something, or make a critique (usually far less harsh than a simple "Fuck ___," even, which in itself is, you know--well, we'll get to that), and the very first (and second and third and fourth) reaction out of the gate is this out-of-all-proportion defensiveness, coupled with a high-handed sort of, "yes, well, you need us more than we need you, so play nice.."

Then, when the WoC are very clear that in fact they do -not- need the white feminist in question more than the other way around, tears and backpedaling and "come, let us reason together, we're all sisters here," more or less. And yet, still, at the same time: not really listening to the original complaints/critiques, or indeed really demonstrating -why- they "want more women of color." Is it for their own sakes? Or...?

To get back to the matter at hand: personally I do not know what, specifically, brought on "fuck Seal Press." I am a friend of Black Amazon and was waiting to hear more details about the event. Had the editors here come in with something like, "I'm really sorry to hear this, as an editor of Seal Press, may I ask what brought this on?" I would have been sympathetic. I imagine a lot of other people would have been as well. Instead--well, as everyone else said. Very much including: it's not professional; and at this point, honestly, I think your best way forward, if you -do- want a dialogue, is not a continued defense but a straightforward "okay, we're ready to listen now." And then, -do.- Even if it hurts. What you do with the information is up to you; but just, you know, P.R.-wise: this is not helping anyone. Just saying.

At April 3, 2008 4:47 PM , Blogger belledame222 said...


And I wasn't trying to deny that some comments came off badly. I was just trying to ask you to see it from your perspective, if that happened to you, how would you feel?



Okay. Again: you don't need to ask this as a hypothetical: the women in question are very familiar with harsh words flung in their direction from people they don't even know.

Again: if y'all have something to gain here, just start by dropping the defensive posture and listening. Maybe you'll find out -why- some people have all but written you off. Maybe you'll be able to keep that from happening with more people.

At April 3, 2008 4:52 PM , Blogger bah said...

it happens to WOC every day, actually.

to me, it's quite telling that we had to wait for a WOC employee to show up to receive information that is different than 'we don't publish WOC writing currently because we think it doesn't sell', which is what underlay the talk of 'having to go more mainstream to stay afloat'.

it's cool that WOC have been reached out fairly recently. but that is certainly not what was presented today. it was strongly stated that WOC writing was not marketable/sellable (i.e., not 'mainstream') and that it was a mighty struggle to accept recommendations of WOC writers to publish.

they could have started out with what you just listed. instead we have to wait to hear about recent books including or written by WOC from...a WOC employee. it reeks of tokenism, whether it is accidental or not.

At April 3, 2008 5:11 PM , Blogger Andie East said...

I get your point in regards to negative comments on a daily basis, and that asking how it would feel was redundant. I don't actually think this should marginalize someone's feelings. Just because one person deals with it on a daily basis and is hurt by it, does not discredit that someone else would also be hurt. But I understand the discrepancy.

And I noticed on Blackamazon that Krista and Brooke are being portrayed as PR people. Krista is actually the publisher and works as an editor and Brooke is the senior editor at Seal Press. I am the publicist. We also have other publicists working on our books, none of which have commented. I just wanted to rectify that.

As one of three supporting Seal press, I don't really feel token. I feel like an important and integral part of my company, as any of my authors will attest. And also, in defense of the fact that I was the first person to be talking about our titles, well hey! I'm the publicist, it's my job!

And I don't know what definition of women of color is being used is but my background is Serbian, Mexican, Irish, English, heinz57. But mostly Mexican. So I don't want to offend anyone or make anyone feel like I have not been honest about who I am. Although I do consider myself a woman of color, though I recognize in many ways I pass and that leads to me having an easier time, but that is another discussion.

Wishing the best to all of you in your discourse. I'm going to be signing off now. Thanks again for the comments and the opportunity to discuss something we all feel passionate about.

At April 3, 2008 5:20 PM , Blogger LadyJ said...

@ andie east

Andie, I can answer at least part of your question in regards to independent bookstores because I used to work in one.


I am also a woman of color so this whole subject is near and dear to my heart.

In the early 90s (circa 1993-1994), independents in many areas found themselves targeted and under siege by the influx of big box bookstores like Barnes and Noble. They started carrying books by independent publishers (but tellingly, little to no backstock or older titles from the catalog), and larger publishers like Harper Collins gave them seriously deep discounts for orders. It was enough that at one point the ABA (American Booksellers Association) took them to court.

Bookstores started closing: Clairelight in Sacramento, CA, Old Wives' Tales, in San Francisco, Mama Bears in Oakland (where I used to work, closed and reopened under another name then closed again a few years later) any number of feminist stores on the East Coast. Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minnesota actually fought off Amazon.com from taking away their name. This fight has been going on a long time. The same goes for indie publishers, including feminist ones.

Are some WOC angry at Seal? Yes, as am I. One person expressed some serious sentiment about how they felt like the press treated them and when I read that, I went to find out exactly what she was talking about. Needless to say, I was disappointed that Seal had changed so much, that crucial books that were mainstays were no longer considered viable and marketable because they'd gone mainstream.

Because I really have to ask - is going mainstream just to remain viable worth it?

At April 3, 2008 6:03 PM , Blogger belledame222 said...

as per the women here not being P.R. people: O.K., but even so, I think you really don't want your senior staff doing -negative- P.R., do you? Because essentially that's what's been happening. Seriously, if the bottom line here is the bottom line--even taking a really cynical approach to the idea of what sells and what doesn't? I can't -imagine- how this is going to -help-.

LadyJ, that's really interesting, thanks for sharing. Yeah, I think this happens a lot a lot in general in this our corporate culture. It's part of what drove me crazy about theatre. Or any number of nonprofit or "alternative" ventures, I guess, really, especially in the arts: the "nonprofit" sector basically becomes almost as conservative as the "for profit" if not more so; they "have to," to stay alive at all. At the same time, they're drifting farther and farther from the original impulse that drove them to separate from the "mainstream" in the first place. And: they're still barely a blip on the radar; and: they're still hardly making any money.

No, I don't have any brilliant ideas either.

At the same time, though: yeah, I do think it speaks to more than just brutal pragmatism that "higher-ups" in various capacities might have so much of a harder time seeing WoC authors sell well. I think it has at least as much to do with peoples' unconscious attitudes and beliefs, same as always, and I think we're seeing some of this play out here.

At April 3, 2008 7:01 PM , Blogger Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

LadyJ---in regards to your question about whether or not it's woth going mainstream just to remain viable, i personally think the answer is yes. i'd rather that seal existed, publishing books for women, than not exist at all. i would love to be in the position to ONLY publish books that i was 100% passionate about. i've published a lot of books that i've liked but not loved, but me & krista & whoever else has been involved in the editorial decisions here over the years have always maintained the goal of publishing books that inform women's lives. we admittedly do not publish enough women of color, but we never have. seal was always seen as more of a lesbian press back in the day. I get that I made generalizations yesterday, but so have a lot of people in this exchange, really. i don't pretend to understand the struggles of women of color, so i thank each and every one of you who's posted here for all of the feedback. we're taking it and hearing you, but it doesn't mean that this still isn't an uphill battle. at the end of the day we're book people. we're people who love words. and we are actually trying to publish books that matter. i feel like this sentiment at least is a place where we have more commonality than divisiveness.

--Brooke

At April 3, 2008 7:14 PM , Blogger Lucy said...

Brooke--

I don't think I can eloquently express how disappointed I am that you refuse? don't know how to? respond to my 2-step process (so to speak). I understand your need to do damage control, but I don't understand the tactic you're using to attempt that damage control.

Trying to find the commonality is something that is more effective once the wrongs done have been acknowledged in more than a flippant "that's the way it's always been done" way.

I'm deeply disappointed, once again, in white people's inability to stand still and take it when women of color say, "Hey! That hurts!" much less examine how they might have been hurting us and might be continuing to do so by attempting to diffuse anger that you clearly see as disproportionate to the situation at hand.

But hey, that's what we're used to getting from white people. I suppose I keep thinking, "If only I say it just right, they'll get it." But that's the same thinking that's gotten me and the people I love a whole lot of hurt, frustration and anger. It's not like this is some unique thing here. We're awfully used to this sort of nonresponse from white people. When you say "it was seen as more of a lesbian press" I hear the very clear implication that lesbian excludes "lesbian of color." Because, hey! I'm a lesbian! So you're saying if I publish something as a lesbian, but not a woman of color, then there's less of an issue? It's more marketable? That it appeals to you more? Or what? That doesn't make any sense to me--it's privileging the struggle for gender and LGBT equality ABOVE race and in the process, erasing me and all women of color and lesbians of color in the process.

I seriously doubt you'll see it that way. But that's precisely my point.

At April 3, 2008 7:14 PM , Blogger belledame222 said...

well. matter to whom, is the question, isn't it.

sigh.

At April 3, 2008 7:57 PM , Blogger Ravenmn said...

Brooke,

I would have a lot more faith in your willingness to dialogue if you could choose not to misrepresent Black Amazon and the women who are commenting on her blog.

BA wrote a post about how wonderful it was to meet strong and amazing women at BAM who left her feeling "alight on air". You took one throw-away line from the entire post, "Fuck Seal Press", and chose to make the whole thread about you and your pain. You had a lot of choices. You picked the wrong one.

Next, you admit you misunderstood Adele's (not anonymous') comment that "Seal's got nothing on WOC". But instead of apologizing to Adele for the misinterpretation, you instead focus on disproving your misunderstanding and disproving an accusation that NOBODY made about you or Seal Press.

Next, you pimp your own books with handy links to the fricking AMAZON pages that sell your books. Are you serious? Do you not know how many independent bookstores, like the one to which I devote my time and effort to, are out of business because of Amazon.com?

It is common practice among independent publishers to provide a link to Booksense so that people who are interested in their titles can find a local, independent bookstore in their area to purchase their books. Is there a reason why Seal Press does not follow this practice? And why should independent bookstores like my own carry Seal Press titles if you choose not to support us in return?

Further, you characterize comments at BA's as "even harsher" and "such backlash". And you sign off with " I appreciate Angry Black Woman writing something that opens up a space to have a productive conversation." So that's clear: BlackAmazon=bad; Angry Black Woman=good. Sounds like a common white tactic: sorting the good WOC from the bad WOC. Is that the basis for a "dialog"?

It's gonna be a long time before I purchase any more books from Seal Press for the store. At BA's I mentioned I'd find it difficult. This post is making it much easier.

At April 3, 2008 8:14 PM , Blogger onebigunion said...

After referring back to the thread on Blackamazon's page, I think the folks from Seal Press missed the point. The comment "Seal Press has NOTHING on WOC" was not, in my reading, a comment on the company's business practices or "outreach" (or lack thereof). Rather, it was clearly a shout-out, a statement of solidarity.

That the folks from Seal Press would immediately take it as a criticism indicates that perhaps they have a guilty conscience. Then again I'm not a shrink, I'm a rocker.

And by the way - writing "yes, people were offended, and I do apologize for that," is annoying as hell. I hate it when people shirk responsibility for what they say, and instead put it on the recipient of their actions/words. "Oh, really? That pissed you off? Well I'm so sorry you're pissed off." Bleah.

Peace.

At April 3, 2008 8:18 PM , Blogger Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

Thanks everyone. There's nothing else I can say. I really am trying to say I hear you. I'm not shirking responsibility. When standing up and saying that this has all gone too far and that I do apologize to those of you who have taken offense is wrong then that's where I officially say, Okay.

Peace back atcha.

---B

At April 3, 2008 8:24 PM , Blogger angry black woman said...

I don't have much to add to the many comments here about the apology/explanation and further discussion. I am glad that there's a post here on this subject. As I said, i was actually looking to email you directly, but all of the addresses I saw were for submissions and suchlike.

As to what you've said about outreach -- I realize that you're only a two person team, but there's still plenty you can do to encourage more WOC writers. For instance, you obviously have the time to read blogs. i don't know if you found blackamazon's post because you read her blog regularly or what, but it would probably do you well to read some WOC blogs. I see fodder for books every day on the black blogosphere, many of which would fit into the category of books for women, by women. just looking at this conversation, i think a book on how WOC react to/interact with feminism would be useful.

Another form of outreach is taking part in interviews, conferences, discussions, etc. with or about WOC. If I kept seeing one of you mentioned or interviewed or on panels or something, I would assume that you're interested in hearing my POV and perhaps send you a book proposal. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

As to your last comment: "we admittedly do not publish enough women of color, but we never have. seal was always seen as more of a lesbian press back in the day."

I'm not understanding the 1:1 here.

At April 3, 2008 9:06 PM , Blogger Julia said...

I have to say, I'm really baffled by how you, as a professional organization, are handling this situation. Regardless of how it feels to see someone say "fuck [insert company]", as professionals you can not post angry or upset comments just because. Do you flame people who leave negative reviews on Amazon.com?

I also am utterly unable to find "Colonize This!" in your catalog. I searched it using your search engine. Browsed through by title and publication date. It's nowhere to be found.

I'd also point out that when you go to browse by subject, race, ethnicity, and religion are not possible topics.

Also also, I think it's great you're publishing Rachel Kramer Bussel and Audacia Ray. They're both writers I enjoy a lot. Why don't you seek out simliar books by WoC? I know their are sex bloggers who are WoC. Not a lot, but they are out there. There are erotica writers who are WoC. Where are they in your catalog?

OK. One more also. I don't actually enjoy seeing a feminist press fuck up like this. It's pretty depressing. What is also depressing is when feminists toss WoC under the bus. If our issues are important to you, then they're important enough to publish. They're also important enough not to toss aside in an attempt to get more mainstream of an audience. Unless by "mainstream" you mean "white." It's depressing to see a feminist press think it's OK anti-racist principles to stay afloat.

At April 3, 2008 9:07 PM , Blogger Blackamazon said...

you are really upset beyond belief that a group of people who have worked so hard for something, who have sacrificed so much, who have spent so much time staying in an industry that they love, trying to reach out to people in the only ways they can, the only ways their job permits, and that when they see someone just say something that hurts them really really deep in their hearts, maybe you should take another look and see how you would feel if the things that you loved, the things that you have sweated blood and drowned in tears, were so simlarly dismissed, so callously disparaged.


First off it is taking all I have in me to stay calm. But here goes. Hi my name is Blackamazon the person you're kind of talking around and ofr the record since it seems to be relevant I am African Carribean, Native South American, Indian, Portugese/Irish/Dutch and Chinese/Javanese but as pictures of me will attest well I actually look liek all those things, the only thing I have ever passed for is Brazilian or Dominican but being 6ft and dark skinned somehow does not grant me a perch with which to distance myself or assert anything OTHEr tahn being identified as a WOC all day every day. But the assumption that any woman has to justify herself to me is something that as you said cna be addressed later.

Hi you see that description you gave that you wrote so heartfeelingly as a way to try and get us to see your side. Welcome to my blog , the network of blogs i blog with composed of all sorts of people. People I don't agree with on everything, of all different creeds colors, peopel i love peopel i don't like peopel I have over two years built through respect if not commonality, shoot women who have had it OUT on my blog also regularly wish each otehr the best.

This is what we made with OUR time our creative spaces , not just in between the " industry" but in between OUr VERY LIVES. It's not hard if you read my blog for naything but refrences to yourself to piece together the amazing stories of so many people on my blog CONnected to many otehr blogs

but to address obviously what concerned you : yourselves

My problem is that if you HAD jsut went BA your an asshole for saying that , you'd be right but of course you didn't you as is often happens elected me a vocie of what you understood to be a monotous univoiced group that you could sweepingly characterize and didn't bothe rto read cause the " anonymous " comment whose vernacular you missed so terribly,

was signed

but in doing so you made nasty , deflecting , hurtful comments about these people and teh very work they have scraped together with tehir fingers and keyboards not in their industries but in the spare minutes they have in tehir lives, learning growing changing. I am sorry mountains of privilege has not led me to your door. I am even more sorry you ASSUMED i was coming anyway , but as we said niether here nor there.

You are right I said Fuck Seal Press.

but you with out even an y prior introduction went THROUGH ME to go fuck you to a whole world of folks.

and THEN TRIED TO SAY BUT BUT BUT

heres all this stuff about me that makes it okay!

and now you don't want to be boycoted suddenly you want to find commonalities , not that you basically disrespected my work that yes it's ablog but i have cobbeled together through mountains and adversity to do so

But you ran fast and hard when it was shown

that

SOMEONE W OULD TAKE AND EXPECT A PUBLISHER TO BE RESPONSIBLE AND ACCOUNTABLE FOR HER WORDS

and we're to trust you with OUR WORK?!

and teh apology that is phrased ever so carefully to say

I am sorry if you wre offended because really being that disrespeced WE ChoosE to be offended it's something we choose to do to you and not in defense of our lives

our work

or the very personas and ideas we are trying to create

but hey teh intimations taht we have no where really to go and iT's HARD and teh fact we won't roll over are us being unreasonable

what else is there to say.

You're right you do NOT seem to have a reall stake in engaging in while difficult a dynamic and necessary conversation in any way that doesn't preserve entitle and teh ability of you to control teh discourse and maybe it would be best if you jsut went in peace

and let those of us who see each other as peopel continue.

We wait and hope for your return when ready.

At April 3, 2008 9:39 PM , Blogger Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner said...

Wow. 31 comments. Thank you.

A couple of things: This is a new website since the Perseus transition, and backlist titles haven't been manually entered into the system yet, and so they are not searchable. Not just Colonize This! No backlist titles are searchable yet, but we'll get there.

And really, we did take it personally. And we've learned something as a result. It's just us. It's not the same as saying Fuck Wal Mart. We're it.

K.

At April 3, 2008 10:15 PM , Blogger Deoridhe said...

So, this is you officially saying you're not going to even acknowledge, much less respond to, Lucy?

Some "taking it personally". If you really took it personally, then you would have a stake in examining your own assumptions.

At April 3, 2008 11:22 PM , Blogger LadyJ said...

we admittedly do not publish enough women of color, but we never have. seal was always seen as more of a lesbian press back in the day.

You do realize that women of color can also be lesbians, right? Like me?

I know Seal's history and I also know that as a feminist publisher, Seal has published WOC in the past. I still have those books on my shelf. I used to handsell them to my customers.

Your response to my question about mainstream viability pretty much sealed my thoughts about this whole matter. So, I say goodbye to Seal and move on to other publishers.

At April 4, 2008 5:28 AM , Blogger Capsicum said...

You know, I am BEYOND disappointed in Seal Press right now. Not only have you steadfastly refused to reply to Lucy's TWO very well-worded (if I say "articulate" will that get y'all's attention?) comments. But then you go on to say "When standing up and saying that this has all gone too far and that I do apologize to those of you who have taken offense is wrong then that's where I officially say, Okay."

That is passive-aggressive, deliberately provocative, and incredibly immature. I expect a sulky nonapology like this from my three year old niece, not from a grown professional adult.

I purchase my books from my local independent bookstore (NOT from Amazon, regardless of how convenient the links may be, because I believe in inconveniencing myself to actually, you know, support the causes I say I support), and have never paid much attention to what press they came out of. Well, I've just checked my bookshelves, and have chucked Go Your Own Way and Full Frontal Feminism. In the future, I will be checking the publishing house before purchasing books.

At April 4, 2008 5:57 AM , Blogger angry black woman said...

And really, we did take it personally. And we've learned something as a result. It's just us. It's not the same as saying Fuck Wal Mart. We're it.

And? Do you think that if I were to ever say Fuck Wal-Mart it would be better or I would feel less guilty because Wal-Mart is made up of a bunch of people? they're still people.

Do you think that, just because you're a two-person operation that we need to modify our opinions because it might hurt your feelings? You seem to be missing the point. Whether there's one, two, ten, 59, 1001, a million of you, whatever makes women feel upset or disappointed in your press is STILL VALID. If someone feels that Seal press is fucking up, ignoring WOC, whatever, that opinion does not change depending on how many of you are involved.

You continue not to get that it doesn't matter how personally hurt you are/were, you're a business, damnit, and you're acting like internet teenagers, instead, which is really disturbing. It doesn't give WOC or readers in general confidence that you all know what you're on about over there. It certainly doesn't give me confidence that I could work with you in an editorial capacity.

Now I don't personally have a dog in this fight. I don't know why Blackamazon said Fuck Seal press. The only thing I really know about you is your behavior in this discussion. You can probably tell that it hasn't made a good impression on me. So let me give you some advice, as a disinterested party: instead of trying to worm out of it, just apologize for acting like 12 years olds on the internet. Instead of trying to explain all the ways in which you were wronged, provoked, and under siege, just admit that your actions were unprofessional, regardless of how hurt you were. Instead of being passive-aggressive, just don't be.

And instead of loudly insisting that you WANT more WOC, go do something about it. I already made some excellent suggestions, who knows if you'll listen. One other I thought of last night -- don't you know any agents or have any contacts in that arena? if you don't, you should. Let it be known to the agents you know that you're looking for works by WOC. Agents are pretty good at prodding their clients to make money.

At April 4, 2008 10:56 AM , Blogger belledame222 said...

tangentially, can I just note that on the whole, even the layout for this blog is deeply annoying; and, I wouldn't have said anything just about the scrolldown thing?

but so just now, I'm going to click on peoples' profiles from the comment thread, because if there's one silver lining from blowouts like this it's finding new (to me) people that I want to talk to, I mean in general I think that's true, you know;

and lo and behold, apparently y'all have frames, so that even when I'm trying to look at, say, Julia's profile or her group blog, the address still says Seal Press.

that just seems...profoundly apropos here, somehow, symbolic, like.

"sure, we'd love to talk to you, just as long as it's within our framework and our name-stamp's always overriding you. Even if you find it annoying and inconvenient and rude and would really rather go off to talk amongst yourselves at this point."

le sigh.

At April 4, 2008 10:59 AM , Blogger belledame222 said...

and btw, I'm a lesbian too, and I'm well aware it's all too easy to keep that world as racially segregated/white as anywhere else.

and, while I appreciate "Whipping Girl" and "Nobody Passes" (both recent purchases, p.s., although given all this it may well be a while before I buy anything else with the Seal imprint, dismaying as I find the prospect of passing up a book like "Whipping Girl"), I can't say I would have necessarily pegged Seal as a primarily lesbian press at -this- point, considering that the best-sellers/star books are pretty damn hetnormative, I found. In itself, wouldn't have meant I didn't buy books from Seal; just saying, I find that news surprising.

At April 4, 2008 11:01 AM , Blogger belledame222 said...

lesbian or queer, I really should have said, per those two books. And yeah, I do appreciate the queer/trans/sex-positive slant of the press, on the whole. Which is why I'm as disappointed as everyone else with this development. People shouldn't have to choose, you know?

At April 4, 2008 11:04 AM , Blogger belledame222 said...

The other way in which this isn't like saying "fuck Wal-mart," I gotta say, is: I can't -imagine- that they'd be okay with employees running around and picking fights with potential customers like this. Which is not to say Wal-mart is morally superior, because it isn't? but, um. in -that- regard, I gotta say, that's just smart business sense.

At April 5, 2008 11:36 PM , Blogger Fire Fly said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At April 6, 2008 7:26 PM , Blogger Charity said...

I am not a WOC nor a blogger, but I read Blackamazon regularly, as well as the blogs of others who have posted here. I am nothing short of apalled at the language employed by Brooke and Krista on the original thread, and equally apalled at the disingenuous non-apology / further defensiveness I found here. Get this: people were 'offended' because you WERE OFFENSIVE. And hostile. And it got "nasty" at Blackamazon's blog because YOU brought the nasty. "Unprofessional" doesn't even begin to describe your conduct and I don't care how "personal" it feels to be one of two individuals heading a company. I am an individual contractor (i.e., I AM my business) and so by your logic if I am critiqued or dismissed (for good reason, by the way, but that's another story) I have the right to take it TWICE as personally as you have taken BA's comment, and be twice as reactive, which I guess could only be accomplished by falling to the ground and kicking and beating my fists in a full-on tantrum. And then getting defensive when someone identified my behavior as inappropriate. Yeah, that would be great for my business.

I have been a Seal Press customer but no longer; it's a shame but I'd rather read the writings of the activists who have posted in this thread, anyway. Also: you're not going to build any bridges by continuing to draw distinctions between WOC issues and white feminists' issues, or between matters that concern WOC and matters that concern white feminists, or by claiming you aim to publish books that "inform women's lives" in one breath but acknowledging you exclude WOC in the next. Who are the "women," then? What concerns WOC should be of concern to white feminists. Further, one shouldn't plead ignorance of WOC issues or "struggles" when one has so many resources at one's fingertips, as a BOOK EDITOR and proficient Internet user, for crying out loud. And to claim a lack of understanding when one's behavior is indicating there is no real desire to understand...well, that really seals the deal. So to speak.

cwistomoweina said...

I also do not have a dog in this fight, have learned a lot about privilege and racism from this "situation", and will never EVER buy a Seal Press book. Also, I help run a radical lending library that has a "Wish List" of books we want people to donate; I will take a look at it and petition collective members to remove books Seal Press books from the list, if there are any.

That how offended I am by your behavior as women, as professionals, as people pretending to do something that "matters", and just as fucking humans beings.
I am offended.