Routes to Publication: Co-op publishing


Hoping to get your book out there? There are three routes to publication: conventional publishing, publishing with a small press, and self-publishing. I’d like to share with you my own personal route to publishing, which involved finding a co-op press.

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Five Directions Press founders, from left to right, Ariadne Apostolou, Courtney J. Hall, and C.P. Lesley

Co-op presses lie somewhere between self-publishing, and publishing with a small press. There are only a few co-op presses in existence, and the two I know best are our own, Five Directions Press, and Triskele Books—both of which are at full capacity. Others out there, please speak up and weigh in. My guess is that co-op publishing is rare, because it depends on an enormous amount of goodwill, idealism, and trust. It also requires finding a group of people that have the diverse skills needed for publishing.

When it works, it’s great.

The idea behind a co-op press is that self-publishing is difficult. Each author not only has to write but to edit, typeset, proofread, and design her own books and covers, negotiate various online publishing services, and then market the books to a world of readers inundated with choices. In traditional or even small presses, the publisher provides most of those functions, although marketing has increasingly become the responsibility of authors. Self-published authors either have to learn all those skills or buy them, in which case those “free” books end up costing thousands of dollars. The market in “author services” is huge.

In a co-op press, the authors place their talents at the disposal of the group. Our press was founded in the Philadelphia region by three women: our romance author Courtney J. Hall provides us with professionally designed covers and prepares press releases and newsletters; C.P. Lesley copyedits and typesets our books, as well as providing tech support and maintaining our website; and Ariadne Apostolou does developmental editing.

All three of our founders write under pen names, for various reasons. They met in a writing group in 2008 and have worked together ever since. By 2012, Ariadne and C. P. had complete novels and Courtney was finishing the first draft of her historical novel Some Rise by Sin, set during Mary Tudor’s reign. The only problem was, as they discovered from agents and editors, that the books weren’t set in times or places that would make them desirable acquisitions for commercial publishing houses. No Jane Austen remakes, no zombies, even Mary was not the “right” Tudor on whom to focus. So the three founders decided to make a virtue out of necessity and established a press that would focus on “literary journeys less traveled.” Because it so happened that C. P. Lesley had 20 years experience as an editor/typesetter, Courtney J. Hall owned a graphics design business, and Ariadne Apostolou not only holds a degree in art history but has an extraordinary gift for identifying story flaws, they decided to self-publish together, and Five Directions Press was born. The name, which comes from eastern cosmology, refers to the creation of harmony out of diversity, which is our goal for the co-op.

From 2012 until 2016, the three founders published mostly their own work, although they did include several memoirs by friends and family who were not full-time members. I became the fourth active member. After querying more than fifty agents for my dark fantasy novel, The Falcon Flies Alone, I decided to concentrate on small presses. When I came across Five Directions Press, which reflects on the same eastern theme as my acupuncture business name, Five Elements, I took that as a good sign. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when I received a personalized response, and even more surprised when all three read and commented on my novel within a matter of weeks. When I was asked to join, I was delighted.

We now have seven active members. All of us place value on excellent writing, and none of us are looking to make a profit through the work we do for other members. We volunteer our services and pay our own publication costs, which remain minimal. We all have different motivations for our participation. Our press allows us to remain true to our interests and expertise, even when those don’t have mass-market appeal. C.P.s historical series is set in 16th-century Russia, while the geeky heroine of my fantasy series lives in 1950s Switzerland. (Don’t you want to rewrite it to be in the U.S., a prospective publisher asked? I didn’t.) Ariadne Apostolou writes rich character studies of contemporary women in transition. Courtney J. Hall loves the chance to polish her skills at cover design alongside her writing and enjoys being able to switch back and forth between historical fiction and her series of contemporary holiday romances.

Two of our newest members, lawyer Claudia Long and editor Joan Schweighardt, had fiction published with Booktrope. With the demise of Booktrope, Five Directions Press reissued their recent novels. Our other West Coast member, Denise Steele, is in a San Francisco book club with Claudia. She stays busy with her grandchildren and her non-profit but loves working with C.P. Lesley, because they both have a bond to Scotland.

Our press has almost no rules or requirements—just adherence to a high standard. Once a member is accepted and published, future work is still evaluated, just as it would be in any small press. We do all commit to improving our work, which generally means accepting and implementing recommendations. Further contact between members varies widely, depending on availability and common interest. Frankly, I think our process works as well as it does because our founding members have big hearts, and the rest of us try not to take advantage of their generosity. Each of us contributes what we can. For instance, I’m the PR person, mostly because we have enough editors.

The financial savings of the co-op press are definitely a plus, but the big hearts are what give me joy. My associates have enough belief in my work to donate their time and e-mail me when I’m down, and they trust me enough to honestly share their own challenges. I’ve made friends, friends whose work and dedication I respect.

We still have the challenge of getting our work to the public’s attention, like most writers do. Thousands of authors are self-publishing their work, and the commercial houses are scouring backlists for books to republish via print-on-demand, making the environment more competitive than ever before. But as a co-operative press, we maximize our marketing efforts by supporting each other, tweeting and posting about all the books we produce. Triskele Books hosts events as a collective; for example, literature festivals in the United Kingdom. With three Five Directions Press members on the East Coast, three in the West, and one in Europe, we’re not likely to show up all at one place.

Though you never know…

Perhaps now you’ll be inspired to start your co-op?

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The Kindness of Strangers

Solitude is a writer’s prerogative, and as my feet wander the earth, my brain wanders the terrain of my creations. It mostly works out. This last week was a challenge, with a painful falling-out with someone dear to me, and the supportive editor-spouse traveling to the land of his birth, to ponder on his origins and connect with his tribe. As usual, I packed my hiking pack, made some snacks, and got underway, ready to challenge myself with a difficult route. A funny thing happened though.

I was on the train which runs along the Walensee, the place I wrote about in my previous post. As I sat there, waiting for my stop, I heard voices—English speaking voices, some with American accents. It looked like a group was going on a hike. I curiously asked, and was invited along to the Zurich Outdoor Meetup excursion. Solitude is a prerogative, which also becomes a habit. I declined. I listened to everyone laugh and chatter. The leader asked me again to join them.

Underway by boat to the trailhead
Underway by boat to the trailhead

He made it easy to say yes to a route I’d already taken. (I don’t like to repeat routes or plots.) Well, this time, I wasn’t complaining about the crowd; I was part of the crowd. Two young American accountants from Zurich chatted easily with me; then I had an interesting talk with a doctor about how important it is for patients to assume some responsibility for their own well-being. It made me think again about differences in culture.

Like my heroine, Peppa Mueller, I’m Swiss in character and expectations, yet attracted to the ease and friendliness of Americans and other expats. The loose jokes, the voices ending on an uplift, the gangly ease of it all, creates a breezy feeling, sparkling like the lake of the water itself.IMG_4491

You have to write alone. But once in a while, it’s good to come out of your shell and gather impressions.

Playlist for Altering Your Consciousness

As a novelist, you need to open your mind and alter your consciousness. That’s especially true if you write fantasy with a shimmer of spiritual reverence.  Putting on my music acts as a cue to my psyche that we’re going to journey into that internal dream-like space where ideas and impressions assemble themselves into stories.

I’ve come across some artists whose evocative and trippy music is very special to me. They’ve given me permission to share their songs with you. Like most artists, they do it for the love, not the money, but if you like a song, you might consider buying an album.

Artist                Album                  Song

01. Govinda      Sound Sutras      There’s no one there

02. Digitonal    Save Your Light for Darker Days

Nothing Left to Say

03. Ikarus             Touch the Sun      Touch the Sun

04. Robert Carty    Garunda Valley   Serotonin Ashram

05. Magic Sound Fabric  Freedom Star    Perfect Light

Nightmare on Myrtle Street


The robot nation puts you in a barbed-wire pen. The snarling beast chews your arm to pieces. The masked man steals into your apartment, knife ready to slash your throat. And then the more plebian ones: you’re out in public, with no clothes on, or taking a final exam for a subject you’re unfamiliar with.

By now you know what I’m talking about. Not just altered consciousness. Nightmares. But when I lived on Myrtle Street as a young woman, I didn’t have just run of the mill nightmares. I had detailed vivid dreams, during which I even felt pain, or smelled strange smells. My lifestyle, hanging out with musicians and experimenting with various substances, fed the tendency of my nighttime psychic wanderings.

Once I became lucid in my dream-state, and realized I wouldn’t actually die, I enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to survive. I would wake to ponder the meaning of my latest sleep excursion. The nightmare about the poisonous hallucinogen, disguised as drink and served at a remote mountain inn while we waited for our meals, especially intrigued me. I got a glimpse of a sinister doctor lurking by the barrel which held the viscous dark liquid. The doctor and his associates were cannibals, who had waited for the full moon before unleashing their hellish concoction on the unsuspecting diners.

I experienced this dream as one of the poisoned subjects, a young woman on her own. I wondered at her predicament. How did she come to be in that isolated and dangerous situation? Why did she have to break a man’s neck? What was the meaning of the skull castle that she saw when she turned into a falcon and flew into the sky?

Once I started writing, I christened her Peppa Mueller, and her acerbic skeptical personality came into sharp focus. I took the journey with Peppa, and learned more about myself. I also discovered a hero in the story that wasn’t in my nightmare: Tenzin, a Bhutanese man of deep insights and compassion.

Now I’m ready to share the journey with my readers. The three books in the Falcon series have gone far beyond the original nightmare, evolving into a metaphysical exploration of the body/mind split.