So today's guest is pretty rad because we actually got a chance to meet her this year at Kidlitcon. Her name is Jessica Powers and she works as a publicist for the ever famous Cinco Punto Press who has been publishing diverse lit far before any diversity movements. She also writes under the name J.L. Powers, so talk about multi-tasking!
*Libertad with Jessica at Kidlitcon*
1. You are a first timer on Twinja Book Reviews, Jessica! With all your accomplishments, it's hard to know where to start first. Could you tell us a little more about yourself, as well as Cinco Puntos Press? What journey did CPP take to become a reality?
Hello Ladies! I'm so honored to be here.
I guess I'll start with myself but briefly since we're really focusing on Cinco Puntos here. I am a young adult and children's author (www.jlpowers.net) with 5 children's/y.a. books out. My books all deal with characters who are diverse in one way or another and I'm a big believer in featuring characters who are not often represented in fiction. I myself grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is 80% Latino/a, and my reality was never featured in books when I was growing up. Thank goodness, things are changing--for the better--even though we still have work to do.
I work as a publicist for Cinco Puntos Press.
Cinco Puntos Press was started in 1985 by Lee and Bobby Byrd, a wife-and-husband team who live in El Paso, Texas. They will tell you themselves that they didn't know what they were getting into. They wanted to work for themselves, they both loved literature (Bobby is a poet and Lee is a fiction writer), and they loved the U.S.-Mexico border. Next year will be 30 years of publishing books they love best. Very early on, it was obvious that publishing Latino/a writers and bilingual children's books would be the way Cinco Puntos made its mark on the world. This was only natural because they were publishing books that emerged naturally from the context in which they already lived--the border.
We like to say that we are the house that La Llorona built. La Llorona is the famous weeping woman of Mexican ghost stories. One of Cinco Puntos's first books was a bilingual re-telling of the La Llorona story by author and master storyteller Joe Hayes. That book has been our all-time best-seller.
Lee & Bobby tend to say that if they'd known what they were getting into, they might never have started. I've heard other publishers express similar sentiments. But they love what they do and they just keep chugging along. The world is a better place because of the books they publish and the things they do.
2. What are the pros and cons of being an independent press?
Well, a big pro is that we are not as constrained by market forces as the big New York presses. By this, I mean that we are willing to publish books that may only have a market share of a few thousand copies--whereas they may have books that only sell a few thousand but they will not knowingly go into that situation. Many worthy authors who have written beautiful books can tell you their book has been rejected because "there's no market for it." We don't have that problem. What the big New York presses consider as "no market" looks like a compellingly large market to us!
But a big con is that we're constrained MORE by market forces than the big New York presses. We don't have as much money for advertising, so we are less likely to be reviewed, which means fewer people know about our books and fewer people buy our books, which results in our having less money to publish the next round of books. We face cultural censorship too. Because we aren't publishing books that reflect the status quo or try to maintain the status quo, a lot of people simply aren't interested in our books. And this too results in a sort of economic disparity.
I wish more people were willing to consider a wider variety of books and didn't simply want the most popular books or the books that emerge from the mainstream. There is a depressing similarity about many of those books. But I think there is a growing trend that is looking favorably on the kinds of books we publish so yay! happy happy day!
We're lucky that we get to publish books that are truly different, that we get to meet and know the interesting authors that we publish and represent.
3. One of the things that really stood out when we met, was that it sucked that people ask for diversity in books, but that you've been doing so for years. What are some things you wish people knew about Cinco Puntos Press?
I think we'd be really happy to have the media and bloggers and writers and others begin to celebrate those presses who have been publishing diverse, multicultural books for *decades.* We've been slogging through the trenches for years, happily so because we *love* what we do and we *love* the books we publish. But what tends to happen is that the media prefers to write a story that screams "nobody is publishing books with diverse characters" and "nobody is publishing diverse authors" while we're waving our hands as hard and as high as we can and saying, "Hello! We are! We're doing it! And we've been doing it for a long time! Could you please pay attention?"
What the media really should report, if it was being accurate, is that New York publishing houses are not, for the most part, publishing books about diverse characters (of course there are exceptions) or by diverse authors--but independent presses sure are!
Maybe negative stories are easier to write or get more attention than positive stories. But it'd be nice to see people begin to talk positively about this issue. If the media would pay some attention to this fact--focusing on what IS being done rather than moaning about what ISN'T being done--we'd sell more books and that would allow us to publish even more books.
If people really want to see more diversity in publishing, then they need to support the publishers who are already doing it. Then we can do more of it. Any camper will tell you that it's much easier to start a fire where the embers are already glowing rather than starting a fire from scratch where the wood is cold, possibly wet, and there's no tinder around. Keep blowing on that cold, wet wood of publishers who aren't doing it and you'll soon get out of breath. We small presses are already glowing embers. If you focus your efforts blowing on these glowing embers, you'll soon have a fire.
And the truth is, if more attention was being paid to the books that ARE out there and the presses that ARE publishing diverse books, then the market will change. When more of these books are selling more copies, then quite frankly, New York publishing houses will get on board and start publishing more of these books too. They'll catch a fire. So it's a win-win for everybody involved.
We just started an author conversation series to focus some attention on the publishers who are already publishing diverse books, in fact. Pan Dulce is a monthly live video conversation between two authors at indie presses. It occurs on the second Friday of the month, at 12 noon Mountain Standard Time, on Google Hangouts--live on air. All video chats are archived on Youtube on the Cinco Puntos channel: https://www.youtube.com/
You can watch the first one already archived there and join us for
the second one in December.
We have a great list of authors lined up from Cinco Puntos, Running Press Kids, Groundwood Books, Akashic Press, Curbstone Splendor, and others. In addition to our regular monthly round, we also plan to do a special live Pan Dulce from the Midwinter-ALA conference, featuring Pat Mora and Claudia Guadalupe Martinez.
4. What is Cinco Puntos Press' submissions policy? Are there themes you look for, or will not accept? What can an author do to get the attention of anyone on your team who looks manuscripts? (I can actually re-word this question if you'd like. I wasnt sure if you accepted unsolicited work, so anyway you'd like to answer it is fine)
Our submission policy is here: http://www.cincopuntos.com/
I think the basic upshot is that we publish books we like and if you want to know what books we like, go read some of our books! But to go a little bit beyond that, we tend to like books that open up a world to us that is new, fresh, and different. We aren't looking for books that are "like" some other books (fill in the blank of the title) already out there on the market.
5. Finally, where can anyone go to learn more about authors you represent, current and future book releases, or just anything and everything Cinco Puntos Press?
*Guinevere with Jessica @ Kidlitcon*a Rafflecopter giveaway