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MEET THE PUBLISHER – Lacuna Publishing

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Linda Nix, Publisher and Editor, Lacuna

When and how were you established?

I have a long-standing fascination with how words and ideas are disseminated and become part of society’s cultural fabric. After years working in the industry, I realised my dream was to run a small press. In 2010 I set up a freelance editing, production and consulting business, Golden Orb Creative, and after a year took on my partner, Chris Mitchell, to help run it, with the plan to put the profits back into the business and to establish a publishing imprint within the next couple of years. We created the imprint Lacuna in July 2012, opening ourselves to submissions and publishing our first book in December the same year.

What were your aims when you first started?

We aim to publish books of a high quality that are bold and original, and that contribute to our cultural and intellectual lives. We think there are two trends developing in publishing, particularly in Australia. The first is mainstream commercial publishing’s focus on ‘brand’ authors and ‘proven’ genres and stories, at the expense of new authors and books that challenge people to think. The second is the rise of vanity publishing (re-branded as self-publishing or, incorrectly, independent publishing) that takes advantage of writers’ desire to publish, regardless of whether their work is good enough or ready for publication. We aim to fill that gap – the ‘lacuna’ – by investing our own time and money into developing and publishing work that is better than ordinary, that questions the status quo, that might not be considered ‘safe’ or commercial enough for mainstream publishing despite its literary qualities.

Can you tell us a little bit about the culture of your publishing house?

I’m not sure we’ve been going long enough to have an identifiable culture, and it’s hard to separate this from our mission. Our focus is on quality and high standards in all that we do and especially when it comes to our books. Every book spends a lot of time in development, editing and proofing in all formats. We also try to be open to new ideas, which is of course easier when you’re a startup. With only two of us on a permanent basis, we work collaboratively with each other and with our authors. We’re also very project-based – work is done when it needs to be done.

What advice would you have for writers looking to get published and for potential publishers looking to get into the industry?

For writers, the advice is simple: tell a story or present an argument that is worth publishing. Have something new to say, or say something old in a new way. Understand your craft and work at it. Draft and re-draft. Work with your editor. Read widely: especially in fiction, writers must be readers first.

For potential publishers, my advice is to be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances, and to be professional in all that you do. Learn from others in the industry. Treat your authors and your readers with respect. Revisit your assumptions every now and then, and if something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something different. And unless you have an endless supply of funding, diversify your business. Publishing is a tough industry and the biggest rewards tend to be intangible rather than financial.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have very little time for reading for pure pleasure these days. Perhaps editors too need an award like the one Eleanor Catton has established for writers that allows time devoted to reading! I’m reading manuscripts we have under consideration for publication, and an advance copy of a novel published by a small start-up publisher in the UK with a view to Australian rights. The books I’m currently reading to take my mind off work are Vikram Seth’s Sacred Games in paperback and Lynda LaPlante’s Prime Suspect series as ebooks. I have a much longer ‘to read’ list: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Germain Greer’s White Beech, and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

What was the last great reading, writing, publishing event you went to?

The recent Write Edit Index conference in Canberra in May 2015. Before that, I’d say Tools of Change in New York in 2012 was the most inspiring publishing event I’ve ever been to. We don’t have nearly enough industry development events like these in Australia, although the ‘academic’ day of last year’s Independent Publishing Conference came close. At Tools of Change I was most inspired by one of the speakers’ messages about not publishing what readers think they want, but publishing what they need. Market research and sales data shows that cookbooks, celebrity authors and established authors sell, but as publishers we should ask whether that’s what the country needs right now. That event crystallised my thoughts on what we should publish – Australia, now more than ever, needs books that are thought-provoking and that encourage more marginal voices.

What have been some projects you’ve really enjoyed working on?

Every book is a project in itself, so one reason for going freelance, and then becoming a publisher, was to pick and choose books I’d really enjoy working on. Aside from books, I’ve really enjoyed researching and implementing new systems and processes for a previous employer: their ONIX system in 2003, a digital publishing platform in 2008 and an XML-based production system in 2009. Getting our own e-commerce site up and running in 2014 was a great little project, even more satisfying when those sales started coming through in response to marketing campaigns. More recently, I’ve started running some workshops: editing within and for mark-up languages, and getting your manuscript published for authors (run via the NSW Writers’ Centre). I’ve enjoyed putting these courses together but I discovered I also enjoy the experience of teaching more than I expected.

What are you currently working on?

For Lacuna I’m editing our forthcoming title The Orchid Nursery and putting the marketing plan into action, as well as reading manuscripts. I’m also doing some freelance editing on a crime fiction novel and legal documents.

What is the next release you have planned? When is it coming out? How can I get a copy of it?

Aurealis Award-winner Louise Katz’s dystopian novel The Orchid Nursery is publishing in October 2015. We’re in the process of organising a debate by well-known speakers around the themes of the book: the abuse of religion to perpetrate violent extremes of misogyny and cultural obliteration. The book will be available at this event (likely October or November in Sydney), directly from our website, online bookstores, and whichever physical bookstores choose to stock it. The ebook will be available simultaneously from all ebook platforms. We haven’t set a price yet but all our fiction is under $30 for paperback and under $10 for ebook.

[Update: Full pricing and information for The Orchid Nursery is now available here!]

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