Deadlines, Delays and Delight: A Year in Independent Publishing

In case the rule-of-three title didn’t tip you off, I’m quite fond of sequences. Not in a mathematical sense so much as a rhythmic one, the way sounds and words come together to create wholes. It’s little wonder, then, that when we first started Taproot Press in the summer of 2020, we had a running joke that our publishing schedule would follow a kind of Fibonacci: one book, two books, three books, five, and so on. This seemed a decent model, gradual enough to manage alongside our studies, parenting and part-time dayjobs. But then an unexpected submission came in, and what were meant to be two books in 2021 became three. This was my first experience of how easily plans in independent publishing are rendered totally irrelevant. Not that this posed a huge problem; we soon set about establishing a firm schedule that would allow us enough time between each book to focus on our other responsibilities. All we needed was for the production of each book to go according to plan. And so began my second experience.

It wasn’t so much that I underestimated the ways in which publishing can throw you off course; rather, it was how much I overestimated the stability and reliability of our day-to-day lives. One month after announcing our three 2021 titles, The Other Side of Stone, Hard Roads an Cauld Hairst Winds and Open Secret (more on those later), we found out we were having another baby. Brilliant, beautiful news. Once more, schedules were reworked and refitted, with the fortunate blessing of the birth being due two weeks after my MScR thesis deadline. The months wore on and, for once, things appeared to be going according to plan. Our first book of 2021, Linda Cracknell’s The Other Side of Stone, was published on schedule and to great reviews, with the hardback run selling out within months. A joyous process from start to finish, it convinced us not only that this was something we wanted to do but that it was something we could do. Meanwhile, our application for funding to publish Hard Roads an Cauld Hairst Winds was completed and almost all work gathered for Open Secret, our anthology of poetry and prose by those involved in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Things seemed to be going smoothly. But then the summer hit.

A combination of events came together to throw everything off course. As I entered into the last two months before my thesis deadline, Taproot was eased further and further into the background, as the due date of our baby – soon born Lourenço – loomed. During this time, we received word from the Scottish Book Trust that decisions on the grant we’d applied for before had been delayed due to Covid, a delay that pushed the calligraphy we had commissioned for the book back by a number of months. Things started to seem a little less smooth. It was also at this time that the National Security Law in Hong Kong was being implemented with brutal force; key figures including Benny Tai and Jimmy Lai were jailed and the pressure on Open Secret’s editors reached unprecedented levels. Legal advice had to be sought on what was safe to publish, and contributors understandably had to pull out.

It seemed at points throughout the summer that something had to give, and so it turned out. With uncertainty over a premature birth stopping us in our tracks, I had to take out an interruption of study. Two weeks later, Lourenço was born, and for a month life came to a stop. Around this time we began to select from the submissions we’d received earlier in the year, and as we still awaited the calligraphy we’d commissioned, this was as much work as could be done with Taproot. There was a serenity to the lack of activity at this time that only a new baby can bring: mornings fold into nights, days into weeks, and the whole world reduces to the size of your home. But as the months wore on and the end of the year approached, the serenity turned to stress, and while production did eventually resume on Hard Roads, we couldn’t shake the thought of the writers and readers who we’d let down. Promises had been made to contributors and dates had been set, and while the delays were out of our control, the buck stopped with us. This was a kind of responsibility I hadn’t dealt with before, and one that I’m still learning to handle now.

As it turns out, we never published our third book. Work on Open Secret continues behind the scenes, and despite the desperation of the situation in Hong Kong, we remain committed to publishing it in 2022. Without intending it, we stayed true to the Fibonacci, which, despite my regrets over a year of delays, brings a smile. I’ve learned now that this is par for the course: plans are made to be ripped up, and like with life you just have to take things as they come. As it stands, we have four titles set for 2022, brilliant texts we’re proud to turn into books including Open Secret and this wonderful and important anthology of writing on youth homelessness. This would spoil the Fibonacci of course, but if I really believe things will go exactly to plan, I haven’t learned anything, have I?

2 thoughts on “Deadlines, Delays and Delight: A Year in Independent Publishing

  1. Taproot Press is a vital and necessary new voice in publishing. It’s rooted in Scotland but international in outlook. You are doing a brilliant job among and along with all the other pressures of family life and of just being alive in these trying times. Be kind to yourselves. The mountain will still be there to climb tomorrow.

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