Start Small, Make Mistakes

“This tiny size is a good place to start–with a small desk in your living room and a clear idea of what you want to publish.”

Joe Biel, A People’s Guide to Publishing

My desk is a drawing desk from a high school art room. I picked it up on the side of the road about twelve years ago. One corner of its scratched surface taunts, “EAT ME.” Across the way is an inscription honoring “KEN N DAWN,” may their love endure forever. Small desk, check.

The words "Eat me" in all caps, scratched into the wood veneer of a desktop.
A daily provocation from my work surface

And I do have a clear-ish idea of what I want to publish: zine-sized little companions, how-tos for transformation or staying put (or both at the same time). Voices of ministers (broadly defined) who are making space for other voices. For your voice. Clear idea, check.

I want these voices to sound playful, poetic, practical. One thing I’m looking forward to is putting together a publishing program over time: a mosaic of different voices all showing by example that there are a thousand ways for light to shine through us.

Why books, why pamphlets? (A question I keep asking.) Here’s a few more reasons: I’ve been grateful for the conversations I’ve gotten to have with people I’ve never met, people who have died, people someone else made up. Grateful for the serendipity of finding the right words at the right time–that book in the library, or waiting on my shelf, or given to me by a friend passing through town. I’ve been grateful to sketch my reactions in the margins with my own idiosyncratic pencil notation, which somehow still conveys meaning back to me years later.

I want to publish works that are small enough to fit in your pocket, and that open up vast worlds for you to find belonging, adventure, and rest in. That are pleasant to look at but not too nice to scribble in. That facilitate impossible conversations. Onward.

The words "Ken N Dawn" scratched into the desk surface.
Memento of a lost love

Minimum Viable Pamphlet

Some pamphlets I've folded in various sizes, with various margins, some with French folds, some without. Notes on one of them remind me that I folded three sheets at a time and trimmed the inner vellum by a quarter-inch.
Some pamphlets I’ve made in different shapes and sizes.

I honestly don’t have a great reason why pamphlets, why books. Or not a single, great reason. I just like them. They’re fun to me. I like holding them in my hand and marking them with a pencil, and of course I’m not alone in this.

So yes, I’m exploring publishing, which means the behind-the-scenes stuff: finding authors whose voices I want to help amplify, helping them shape their words into a compelling and useful form, deciding what physical form that will take (and having some other company print it), and connecting that physical thing with people who find it similarly useful and compelling. In short: acquisition, editing, layout, production, and marketing.

At the same time, I’m also exploring bookmaking: folding, scoring, creasing, playing with paper and printers and staplers. Blades and bindings. Fun stuff, physical stuff.

Call it prototyping. I certainly don’t want to make all books by hand that I’m going to publish. One of the fun things about business is scale: making enough of something at once that each thing is affordable. Enough that it can reach a lot of people, be recommended and passed along, gotten as a gift. Enough to spread a little of what seems to be missing sometimes: love, hospitality, playfulness, depth. (Or whatever it is you’re hoping to spread in the world.)

There’s this idea from Lean Startup methodology called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It’s one step above slapdash, and has to do with putting skin and bones on an idea and seeing how the world interacts with it. Then, it will be time to iterate: change this or that aspect of the product, and send it out into the world again.

That’s part of what this blog is for: to show the process, regardless of the end result. (Where even is the end?) It may be a risky move–should I do all the creative, iterative work in private, and then pretend like the finished product just sprouted up fully formed? I, for one, tend to forget that no creative thing is like that. It’s always a process.

And as someone who values connection over content (and I loooove content), I’m hoping that this ongoing log (web-log, blog) of the process will connect with you, if you are interested in doing something at all similar. Like any creative pursuit, this one (including the learning, trying, failing, iterating, re-doing, learning, etc) is a little terrifying. Destabilizing. Delightful.


Advent 2

A new moon this past Friday, the new church year a week ago. Six months flew by, and it’s time for another blog post. No time like new.

I’m grateful this morning for the livestream of Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia. Pastor Tyler asked us to examine how we value time. It’s more than money, and more finite.

A white and brass clock face with black roman numerals on a brick wall. A black rectangle below the clock contains the inscription, in golden letters: Son, observe the time and fly from evil. Ecc.IV.23
© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

I think of the clockface and inscription on Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco’s Chinatown: “Son, observe the time and fly from evil.” It’s not enough–what are we supposed to fly towards?–but still, a good place to start. Not ignore the time, but observe it. Look how fast it goes. And do something now–not out of desperation or a manufactured urgency, but with a sense of gratitude that anything is possible at all.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve been playing around with publishing little booklets, and eventually not-as-little books. It’s entrepreneurship, design, craftsmanship, decision-making, community building, web developing, and more. It’s a lot of things that a lot of people know about already. But I don’t know as much yet.

I’ve been helped and heartened by the examples of Joe Biel and Elly Blue at Microcosm, and Anne Trubek at Belt. These are publishers who write and talk about what they do in a way that makes me think I could do it, too. That there’s room for more voices in print, and that I can help make that room.

But I realized that these folks write from the perspective of publishers who are publishing. Which is great. Very helpful and inspiring. But I thought it could be fun to be similarly transparent, and much earlier in the business life cycle. So others can see a little more, hopefully, about how one publishing company comes into being.

Observe the time. Six months flew by. What will we make of the next six? Stay tuned…