by Mary Breaden
In 1976, the same year that Seal Press was founded as an independent publisher of books “by women, for women,” the first class of women was inducted into the United States Naval Academy, Barbara Walters was named the first woman co-anchor of the nightly news, and a record number of women authors were published.
Recently, I interviewed Krista Lyons, current Vice President and Publisher for Seal Press, which is now one of the only remaining presses dedicated to women.
Lyons first noticed Seal Press while she was earning her BA at UC-Santa Barbara.”I couldn’t believe how amazing Seal was,” she said, recalling her initial look at the publisher. “Many of Seal’s earlier titles were really groundbreaking and even transformational within the second wave and third wave movements.” Lyons still feels a “passionate connection” to this independent publisher “that was able to make its living only publishing women’s voices.”
Seal Press’s selective acquisitions process means that most of the manuscripts that come to Seal Press are submitted as proposals by agents. Only about one percent of the manuscripts from the slush pile end up being accepted. As a former acquisitions manager here at Ooligan, I was interested to hear about this independent publisher’s selectivity. A similar problem seems to exist across slush piles, which is that an author will submit their manuscript without following the press’s submission guidelines.” A lot of people don’t take the time to review what it is that we do,” Lyons agreed.
After Lyons and the other deciding editors accept a manuscript, she and the executive editor will provide developmental edits for the 26 to 30 books that Seal Press publishes each year. “I started out as an editor,” Lyons said. “I want to make sure I’m still hands-on in the field.”
Though the numbers of women at the senior levels within publishing are small, Lyons said that, overall, the industry seems to employ more women than men. She considers the numerous middle management positions that are held by women within publishing as similar to the much of the workforce in the United States.
Lyons said that she wished that Seal Press was larger and could publish more women writers. She recommended that both established and aspiring women writers become involved in writing communities with other women, such as She Writes, an online community of women writers, and the OpEd Project, an organization that encourages women to submit their opinion pieces for publication.
Lyons said that unpublished women need to be confident about sending out their work and should not fear rejection. “We get in our own way a lot,” she said. “The more encouragement women can receive from one another, the better off we’ll be.”
Regarding Seal Press’s target audience, Lyons describes an “evergreen” popularity among readers that seek out certain books in the press’s backlist over many years and subsequent editions.” We do have to publish some books that are more frontlist-oriented in keeping with current events and trends,” Lyons said. The audience that Seal Press is striving to please, however, will search for the books that they know this publisher will produce.
One of the most important lessons that Lyons has learned about the publishing industry is to be flexible. “[Publishing] is a really vibrant industry,” she said. “It’s important to know that there’s a lot of change in publishing all the time….That can be difficult for someone who’s drawn to words and to careful crafting. The industry changes so fast and you really have to be OK with that. That’s something to think about before you get into the industry. Being resilient and flexible is probably the most important quality [of a publisher].”
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on the PDXX Collective.