As she prepares for her keynote speech for this year’s 2021 SPN Independent Publishing Conference workshop day, Terri-ann White speaks to Holly Hendry-Saunders on launching Perth-based publishing house Upswell Publishing during a pandemic.
Her life before Upswell’s inception
White, a veteran in the book industry, began her career as a bookseller at eighteen, and at 23, she opened up a bookstore in Perth. Her impressive resume consists of roles such as lecturer at The University of Western Australia where she taught writing and literature and became the founder and director of the Institute of Advanced Studies, as well as publishing four of her own works. Her latest book, Sharing Stories in an Ancient Land: The Western Australian Museum, was released along with the July 2021 opening of WA Museum Boola Bardip. In her last role, White was director of The University of Western Australia Publishing, where she published over 450 books through all types of genres over fourteen years. Terri-ann was faced with a crisis in 2019, when the university announced the closure of UWAP, which came as a complete surprise to the staff. The decision was received with outrage from the community and employees and the battle to save UWAP was fought heavily. After much push back from the literary community through petitions, lobbying and open letters, the university decided not to close. However, due to White being very opinionated about the matter, her 25-year stint at UWA came to a bitter end in June 2020.
‘It was a hard fight, and it took a toll on all of us. They revoked their decision to close it down, someone had to go, and they decided it was going to be me because I had been quite outspoken about the plan to close it down,’ White stated.
The rebirth of Terri-ann’s career
However, the events that unfolded were simply a bump in the road for White’s career. White has successfully birthed Upswell this year and has been mothering it fondly since its inception.
‘The moment it started to become real that I wasn’t going to be sticking around [at UWAP], I had some incredible suggestions from a couple of publishing colleagues on the East coast who said don’t stop now, think about how you might continue the work that you’ve been doing.’ White said.
These words of encouragement from people she admired inspired her to continue her work and ultimately, to found Upswell. Through her career, White has been able to give a voice to minorities and share stories that were perhaps unheard.
She states, ‘The way that I worked with authors, over my career was that I made selections of manuscripts that came my way which weren’t part of the mainstream. They were part of that long tradition of literature that mixes things up, mixes up form, mixes up approaches to how language can work. None of the books will get on the top ten list, but they are books of great value for our culture and for that sense of how innovation operates in human brains and language.’
Since its launch this year, Upswell has released three titles: The Dogs by John Hughes, The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong and Imaginative Possession: Learning to Live in the Antipodes by Belinda Probert, all of which are selling successfully in the market. The imprint has a promising future and will be publishing around fourteen titles next year, from both emerging and veteran authors.
‘Each of these books, for me, speaks to the others, so there is a real strong sense that these are not books that stand alone, they are part of our moment in making art, making expression into books,’ White says.
The imprint will be providing a subscription service for readers, and they have entered into an agreement with Black Inc Books for Upswell to be distributed within their list by Penguin Random House.
Challenges faced creating Upswell
Although White isn’t in it for the money, finances play a large part in running a publishing house. ‘Thinking about how this can work financially. I’m not paying myself for the first two years. I’ve set it up as a not-for-profit company because, frankly, there isn’t much money to be made from independent publishing, so why not be completely upfront about that.’
Due to her location in Perth, and the publishing industry concentrated mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, White explains that being away from the East coast makes her feel like she is on two different continents at times, and the inability to travel there does not make things easier. However, thanks to the internet helping the industry stay connected, she says that ‘I’ve just got so much support. I don’t use this language usually, but every day I feel blessed. I feel like people have got my back and are very complimentary towards my taste; that makes the hard stuff easy.’
In the next article with White, we will delve into the world of publishing and discuss topics such as marketing in the digital world, the importance of the community in independent publishing and the longevity of books. Terri-Ann will be the keynote speaker on industry day for this year’s SPN’s conference.