The Accidental Publisher by Fay Jacobs (an Out in Print exclusive)

I’ve got two cars on the driveway and a garage stacked with books. I’m trying to learn about the world of publishing as fast as I can but I’m drowning in sell sheets, ISBN numbers, e-books, backorders and other terminology from the publishing wars. Not to mention bubble wrap. I’m up to my ass in bubble wrap. I wish my mentors were here to help. But of course, they are not and I’m in this alone, unless you count my spouse Bonnie who now has the official title of Fulfillment Manager for A&M Books. That means she drags heavy book cartons to the UPS Store.

This isn’t the glamorous Vanity Fair book party kind of publishing, nor is it New York Times Best Seller kind of publishing and it’s certainly not the “Let’s option this for Julia Roberts” kind of publishing. But it’s the keep-the-legacy-alive kind of publishing and when I’m not too pooped to notice, I’m honored and delighted.

Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford, my mentors and the founders of the legendary Naiad Press, represented more than half a century in the evolution of lesbian literature in America.Their lives spanned almost the entire history of the gay rights movement in this country – thus far, of course. I was lucky enough to know them, love them, learn from them and agree to try, to the best of my ability, to carry on for them. 

They were Rehoboth’s Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, serving scotch instead of marijuana brownies. In the early 1970s, when no novels had happy endings for lesbian stories, Anyda wrote the novel The Latecomer and could not find a publisher. In fact, it was almost dangerous to submit something so outrageous to a main stream publishing house. The Latecomer was the tale of two women finding love together and, scandalously, it had a happy ending.

So Anyda decided to create her own publishing house. She and Muriel would call the publishing house Naiad Press,based on Greek mythology. Naiads were beautiful water nymphs and Naiad Press would allow lesbian feminist writers’ words to flow. Anyda and Muriel put up the $2,000 required to print The Latecomer, but no printer would touch a lesbian book with the proverbial ten foot pole. After several irritating encounters with insulting printers who refused the job, the women finally found a Florida company, whose only other big client was a Baptist Church. “It was a remarkable combination,”  Anyda said.

The Naiad Press was officially launched on January 1,1973, with the publication of The Latecomer a year later. The printer shipped the finished books to Anyda and Muriel, who distributed them from their garage. “We were shipping clerks,” said Muriel.

Anyda, ever the lawyer, saw to it that by 1974, Naiad was incorporated in Delaware, with Anyda and Muriel,Barbara Grier and her partner Donna McBride as shareholders. Thanks to the large network of independently owned lesbian-feminist bookstores and fledgling gay newspaper outlets cropping up throughout the 70s, Naiad Press started to make a name for itself.

Through the rest of the 1970s and early 80s, Anyda continued to write novels,with Muriel acting as a sounding board and informal editor. In addition to the early Sarah Aldridge novels, Naiad Press began to publish romances, mysteries and novels by other female authors–writers like Katharine V. Forrest, Renee Vivien, Valerie Taylor and many more. Anyda was most proud of the business as an incubator for lesbian writers who otherwise might never be published. She and Muriel never expected financial success and never cared if they got any money back on their investments. They used the money made from the sale of The Latecomer to pay for publication of the next book, which in turn financed another. And another.

Over the years, Naiad published eleven Sarah Aldridge novels and dozens of other books by lesbian/feminists—surprisingly growing from a small business in the back of a garage to an impressive feminist publishing company with its own warehouse,staff, author list and first-rate nationwide reputation.

In the early 80s, Naiad author Jane Rule, who had written the novel Desert of the Heart, saw the book turned into the now classic lesbian film Desert Hearts. Naiad Press was in the thick of it. In 1985, Naiad also published the ground-breaking and controversial book Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence, a collection of true stories. But by the late 1980s the Naiad partnership was on the rocks. “Too commercial, not literary,” was all Anyda would reveal.

It turned out that Anyda felt Naiad was retreating from its original goal – a publishing opportunity for quality lesbian/feminist writers who might not otherwise be able to publish. Also, as it turned out, the vision Grier and McBride had for the company took Naiad in a much more commercial and controversial direction. In fact, soon after Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence was released, Naiad Press sold the rights to one of the interviews to MS Magazine, which published it in August 1985.  Apparently, Naiad, with Grier and McBride at the helm, also sold other stories from the book to the men’s magazine Forum. The selling of the chapters to Forum deeply disturbed Anyda and Muriel on many different levels. Grier’s sale of rights to publish excerpts in Forum caused a firestorm of controversy within the feminist and lesbian communities but the controversy also served to make the book a best seller.

Eventually, Barbara Grier and Donna McBride bought Anyda and Muriel out of Naiad Press and in 1995 Rehoboth’s best known publishers started a new company, A&M Books of Rehoboth, once again, out of their home and garage. As part of the financial settlement with Naiad, A&M Books retained both the existing stock and the rights to all of the Sarah Aldridge titles. And Anyda, at 83, was still writing. If nothing else, A&M Books would be the avenue for publishing more Sarah Aldridge novels. Although by this time, the Aldridge novels were joined in gay and mainstream bookstores by an explosion of lesbian-written, lesbian-themed and lesbian-published novels, romances and the new hot genre, mysteries with lesbian detectives, cops and investigators.

Keeping with the style she knew, Anyda kept on writing. With the lesbian publishing industry growing so rapidly—by this time Naiad was joined by several other successful lesbian publishing outlets—the lesbian community had their own thriving literary culture . And the Sarah Aldridge novels were fast becoming collectible classics. While continuing to write her romantic novels energized Anyda, her goal was to bring A&M Books to prominence by finding other unpublished authors and letting their words flow as well. The publishers worked together on A&M Books projects every single day for over a decade, at a pace slowed by age, but with more gusto than most people decades younger. The thirteenth and fourteenth Aldridge novels were released and they worked to send out publicity, fill orders and keep the publishing business going.

Anyda’s fourteenth Sarah Aldridge novel, turned out to be her last. O, Mistress Mine, was released by A&M Books in 2004 with a big,celebratory book signing party in Rehoboth.. Lots of sales, lots of press.Happy, happy publishers. A&M also published two books of essays by this author, titled As I Lay Frying – a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and Fried &True – Tales of Rehoboth Beach. The latter was published just after the 2006 passing of both Anyda and Muriel within four months of each other—Anyda at age 95 and Muriel at 92. The book told the story of their lives, their adventures in publishing and their fifty-seven year romance.

And they left the publishing house to this writer to carry on their work. I was flattered, awed and very much a novice in the publishing world. So I rolled up my sleeves and became a publisher. Now before you start thinking I’m Random House, let me explain the realities of a tiny publishing house (or garage in my case). It’s almost impossible to sell enough books to make any money. Not that the books don’t sell. Anyda’s are still selling, and I’m luckier than I ever imagined, with my first book into a third printing. That’s a lot of books sold—all over the country, and I am so flattered. 

But the distributors, book stores and take a big cut (I’m not complaining—they get those books out there!) and shipping is so costly that this publisher earns just enough money to schlep the next carton of books to UPS and send them on their way. Okay, and maybe a little extra to help with travel to book events. It doesn’t hurt that those events are in gay Meccas, either.

The ladies of Naiad never cared about what it cost—their mission was to publish books written by lesbians and get them into the hands of lesbian readers—who often had nothing else in print that related to their lives. The A&M Books publishing house operated by me has no such luxury. We’re operating hand to mouth. Or possibly foot in mouth.But either way, investment money we do not have. Which is why I chuckle when I get several e-mail inquiries a week from writers eager to have A&M (that would be me and Bonnie) publish their gay or lesbian novels, self-help books, poetry, short stories and in one case, a children’s book about gay ferrets (really).

We’d love to. Even the ferrets. But until we win Powerball or Hollywood options As I Lay Frying for a major motion picture (that sound you hear is me exhaling, breath not held) all A&M Books can do is be keeper of the flame for the Sarah Aldridge novels. I was able to use some of the funds the ladies left me to publish my second book, Fried & True to tell their story as was their request. Although I cannot predict the future, I hope I can continue the mission of those early Naiad days and have A&M Books be a launching pad for female writers who otherwise would have no outlet. In 2009 I published the 35th anniversary edition of The Latecomer with commentary by well-known lesbian writers and icons.It’s been selling very well. This year, 2010, I published the novel The Carousel, by writer Stefani Deoul. It’s an exceptional story about strong female characters and I know that Anyda and Muriel would be proud. 

So here I am, with a teeny tiny publishing house. My den is my distribution center, with books piled four feet high and purchase orders, packing tape and the ubiquitous bubble wrap filling every available crevasse. I can easily lose a Schnauzer in the clutter. But I’m a very lucky writer. My third book is in the works and that bitch of a publisher is breathing down my neck. I expect For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries to be released in early fall, 2010.

And none of this would have been possible without the ladies of Naiad and their vision that there could and would be happy endings for lesbian literature. Cheers to Anyda and Muriel!

By Fay Jacobs

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