A Feminist Publisher

Last Friday, I spoke with Krista Lyons, Publisher and Vice President of Seal Press, one of the only remaining presses dedicated to women.
Last Friday, I spoke with Krista Lyons, Publisher and Vice President of Seal Press, one of the only remaining presses dedicated to women.

The same year that Seal Press was founded as an independent publisher of books “by women, for women,” the first class of women was inducted into the United States Naval Academy and Barbara Walters was named the first woman co-anchor of the nightly news. Women Studies programs were populating across the country and more woman authors were gaining notoriety and publication.

When Krista Lyons, now Vice President and Publisher at Seal Press, first noticed this publisher, it was about ten years after the company’s creation when she was earning her BA at UC-Santa Barbara.

“I couldn’t believe how amazing Seal was,” she said of her initial look at the publisher. “I definitely considered myself a feminist at that time. Many of some of Seal’s earlier titles were really groundbreaking and even transformational within the Second Wave and Third Wave Movements.”

After college, Lyons gained her MA and then worked in several different jobs before becoming Editorial Director at Avalon Travel Publishing for about six years. Eventually, she moved to the publisher she’d had her eyes on for so long.

Lyons said that she feels a “passionate connection” to Seal Press, as an independent publisher “that was able to make its living only publishing women’s voices.”

“And really trying to only publish books that need to be published and messages that need to be heard,” Lyons added.

Seal Press’s selective acquisitions means that most of the manuscripts that come to Seal Press are submitted as proposals by agents. Only about one percent of the manuscripts from the slush pile end up being accepted.

“A lot of people don’t take the time to review what it is that we do,” Lyons said of Seal Press’s unsolicited submissions.

After Lyons and the other deciding editors accept a manuscript, she and the executive editor will provide developmental edits to those 26 to 30 books that Seal Press publishes each year.

“I started out as an editor,” Lyons said. “I want to make sure I’m still hands on in the field.”

Backlist Publishing

Just walking through a bookstore or browsing an online bookseller’s catalog usually illustrates which theme of books will be popular this year. Recent trends have included the popular science books by Michael Pollan, Malcolm Gladwell, or Bee Wilson, and the celebrity memoir. Publishers and booksellers latch onto the timeliness of those themes in the hopes of landing the big one, that is, the bestselling title that will enable them to keep their doors open for another year.

At Seal Press, however, Lyons describes an “evergreen” popularity among readers that seek out certain books in the press’s backlist over many years and subsequent editions.

“We do have to publish some books that are more frontlist-oriented in keeping with current events and trends,” Lyons said. The audience that Seal Press is striving to please, however, will search for the books that they know this publisher will produce.

For Women, By Women

Though the numbers of women at the senior levels within publishing are small, Lyons said that, overall, the industry seems to employ more women than men. She likened the numerous middle management-type positions held by women within publishing to the look of much of the workforce in the United States: The majority of senior-level positions are held by men.

InvisibleGirls

Lyons describes her role within the publication of the 2005 book, Invisible Girls, as being a distinct honor. (The first edition was published in 2005.) This book by Dr. Patti Feuereisen, with Caroline Pincus, shares stories of sexual abuse and provides guidance and support to its survivors. “It’s a book that has helped a lot of young women,” Lyons said.

Lyons said that she wished that Seal Press was larger and could publish more women writers. She recommended that both established and aspiring women writers become involved in writing communities with other women. Lyons especially spoke favorably of She Writes, an online community of women writers, and the OpEd Project, an organization that encourages women to submit their own opinion pieces.

Lyons said that women need to send their writing “everywhere. . .and to not be their own saboteur.”

“We get in our own way a lot,” she said. “The more encouragement women can receive from one another, the better off we’ll be.”

A Resilient Industry

One of the most important lessons that Lyons has learned about the publishing industry is to be flexible and open to the field’s dynamics.

“[Publishing] is a really vibrant industry,” she said. “It’s important to know that there’s a lot of change in publishing all the time. . .That can be difficult for someone who’s drawn to words and to careful crafting. The industry changes so fast and you really have to be OK with that. That’s something to think about before you get into the industry. Being resilient and flexible is probably the most important quality [of a publisher].”

This ability to evolve is reflected in Lyons’s own career within publishing. Her position with one of the only remaining presses dedicated to women requires that she balance the necessary evolutions of a publisher with its original mission.

“Part of my job and my vision is to stay true to the grassroots sensibility that Seal established in 1976,” Lyons said.

“There are some days when I think, ‘Why did I decide to go into this industry,’” Lyons said. “Being the publisher at Seal is closely aligned with what I believe in. I’m doing important work.”

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