Foreword This Week: Shining a Light on Local & Light Messages Publishing

May 14, 2015

A probably disproportionate number of authors choose to live here in Northern Michigan and, with the great lake shoreline and dynamic seasons for a muse, compose their masterpieces. Then our independent bookstores take it from there, hosting local authors and setting up special shelves for their books. We’re lucky. We have supportive local bookstores and bumper crop of talented writers hidden in the woods.

But life can be tough for an indie bookstore, which might rather see a product churned out by the Big 5 fly off their shelves rather than take a chance on a local unknown. That’s why indie publisher Light Messages is sponsoring the Read Local Book Festival in Durham, North Carolina, this week to let indie booksellers and authors know that it’s easier than they might think to work together.

It’s all part of the mission of Light Messages, which focuses on books that not only entertain, but contain meaning, that shed light on deeper issues. Senior Editor Elizabeth Turnbull hopes the festival will spread to other local communities. Recently elected to the board of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Turnbull talked to FTW about the role of indie presses, local bookstores, and her INDIEFAB-nominated titles. Our conversation can be found below the news update.

[Read the full article at Foreward This Week]

Elizabeth Turnbull


Elizabeth Turnbull

First, congratulations on two of your books, Anung’s Journey and Crossing Savage, making the list of finalists for our 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. Tell us how those two books fit into the overall mission at Light Messages.

While Anung’s Journey and Crossing Savageare both very different in style, audience, and content, they both have one thing in common. They are what we at Light Messages call “meaningful books,” which is to say that while they tell an entertaining story, they also have a greater truth, a greater purpose, and they drive their readers to ask important questions––questions about our world today, where we’re headed, and where we’ve come from. We always say that we’re a small, family-run press who prides itself on “meaningful books by emerging authors.” While most of our authors are still building their careers, every single one of them is writing books that matter––and I’m grateful I get to be a part of their journey.

You tell authors on your website that not everything is going to be a best seller, and that’s OK. Some books have a very specialized audience. But if not in potential sales, how do you judge the value of a book?

At the beginning and end of every day, we’re a business. We need to sell books to bring in revenue, and we need that revenue to keep the doors open. One of the advantages of being a small press is that we can run a lean business, so we don’t have to look at huge sales numbers to have a book that makes sense for us to publish.

How we ultimately judge the value of book ties in to our mission. Does a book contribute something to the reader, something beyond pure entertainment? We call the press Light Messages because, in a way, we hope that each and every book we release will help to enlighten the reader about an important issue. That being said, our books aren’t all heavy—far from it. The books we publish are packed with drama, action, love stories, but if you peel back the layers, you’ll find something more. That’s how we judge the value of a book.9781611531183_IMGJPG_FrontCover_0

You’ve been elected to the IBPA board of directors. With the recent rise of independent publishing, what kind of role does, and should, IBPA play in the industry?

Independent publishing is experiencing a surge, which is bringing a lot of new energy to the industry––energy that has to overcome huge learning curves. The business of publishing has so many more components than choosing good books and working with authors. There are issues of paper, binding, design, typography, distribution, shipping, analytics, and so much more. IBPA works with its members to lessen the learning curve and provide vital information and access to resources in the publishing world. As the largest association of publishers, IBPA has an immense bank of human capital to tap into for its members––that means that in addition to serving as a resource, IBPA is a leader in the publishing industry, helping to set important trends and fueling its members to stay ahead of their competition.

You sponsor the Read Local Book Festival in Durham, North Carolina, this week. How important are local independent bookstores to independent publishing in general?9781611530797_IMGJPG_FrontCover_0 (1)

This question is so well timed, and it addresses an issue that’s very dear to my heart as a partner at a small press. I believe independent bookstores and independent publishers are hugely important to one another. Absolutely crucial. But I also believe we aren’t doing nearly enough to work together, to help one another thrive.

I often hear indie publishers complain about how little shelf space they get from their local bookstores and about how hard it is to work with their local booksellers. I understand it, I do. We’ve been there. It is hard, and in speaking with booksellers, I’ve come to understand a little bit about why. There are so many complex issues that come into play, from distribution to wholesale discounts to returns––there are a lot of industry details that need to get worked out. The Big 5 have a smooth mechanism to get their books into the hands of small bookstores, and they have the marketing dollars to convince bookstore owners that their titles are worth the shelf space. Independent publishers need to get more creative about how we do business and how we can partner with independent bookstores.

Likewise, indie booksellers need to stretch beyond the comfort of the Big 5 and begin to see themselves as one piece of the literacy ecosystem––one very vital piece, but a piece that will cease to exist if the other members of the ecosystem aren’t also given the environment they need to grow and develop.

That’s the mission behind Read Local. The immediate emphasis is on connecting readers to their local literary community, but it also goes beyond that. Anywhere in the world is local to somebody. So wherever you go, visit the local bookstore and read the area’s authors. Your world will be richer for it.

Name some upcoming Light Messages titles you’re particularly excited about.

9781611531121_IMGJPG_FrontCover_0As an editor, I shouldn’t play favorites. In fact, I often joke that I’m a midwife for books, and I do love all my book babies. But if you were to twist my arm a little or perhaps buy me a drink, I’d confess readily that our two lead titles for Spring/Summer hold a very special place in my heart. These are books I still wake up thinking about with main characters I’ve come to see as friends, and I’m especially grateful that I can now count their authors among my nonfiction friends.

The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley
by Susan Örnbratt was released in April and has been met with great praise from trade reviewers and readers. Gillian Pugsley is one of most vibrant characters I’ve encountered in a lifetime of reading, and her “Gillianisms” are phrases I can only hope to have the opportunity to use in casual conversation. The prose is rich, the characters are deeply moving, and the story is everything that a life well lived should be.

The other book I find myself cherishing is A Theory of Expanded Love by Caitlin Hicks, which has garnered terrific trade reviews. I’ve been captivated by Annie Shea, the main character who is a precocious, sometimes tragic, always hilarious twelve-year-old girl who’s not afraid to ask the hard questions and then seek out the answers for herself when the adults in her life inevitably disappoint.

What keeps you up at night?

I’m the senior editor at a small press, which means I wear a lot of hats, from reviewing manuscript submissions to editing our next lead title to working with authors to maximize our marketing efforts. And when I don’t have my nose in a book I’m working with my husband to start a small farm that will serve the restaurant where he’s chef and owner. I wake up excited to go to work each day, but when the end of the day comes, there’s no worry my pillow won’t absorb for me.