Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Indie Spotlight: Red Lemonade

One of the things I adore about the indie market is how on top of their shit they are! Forever thinking outside the box, indies are unapologetic as they push and mold and shape and redefine the future of publishing.

Red Lemonade is one of those publishers. Come, meet them, and fall in love with the ways in which they challenge the current world of publishing.

The Man Behind it All

Red Lemonade is the brainchild of Richard Nash , an independent publishing entrepreneur, presently launching Cursor, a platform that will power the world’s next 50,000 independent publishers, the first of which, Red Lemonade, launched in May 2011. For most of the past decade, he ran the iconic indie Soft Skull Press for which work he was awarded the Association of American Publishers' Miriam Bass Award for Creativity in Independent Publishing in 2005.

Books he edited and published landed on bestseller lists from the Boston Globe to the Singapore Straits-Times; on Best of the Year lists from The Guardian to the Toronto Globe & Mail to the Los Angeles Times; twice on the cover of the New York Times Book Review; the last book he edited there, Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys, was selected as a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

In 2006, Publishers Weekly picked him as one of the ten editors to watch in the coming decade. Last year the Utne Reader named him one of Fifty Visionaries Changing Your World and picked him as the #1 Twitter User Changing the Shape of Publishing.

Birthing a Publishing Company

Richard explains how it all came to be: "While working at Soft Skull, juggling the little details of running an independent publisher, I became aware that the only thing we knew for sure about what we were doing is that we had to connect writers and readers. Going through the slush pile, speaking with folks who read our reading letters to our writers- it was the interaction of the people around the books as much as, more so than the books on their own. This idea was crystallized in my mind by a comment by a reader in England, commenting on a blog post in The Guardian asking what books got you laid. “Anything published by Soft Skull.” That kind of power comes from more than just thin paper surrounded by cardboard sheets. It’s well known, an oft repeated, that writers are often great readers, but readers are often more than not writers also, it’s a continuum. I realized that that the content provides the energy for the connecting line between all the parties involved in making, producing and reading books.

I left Soft Skull with this idea in mind, surrounded by the rise of technologies on the internet that can facilitate and encourage these kinds of connections without geographical limitations. We all wish we could be part of a group of creative individuals, the Beats in the 50s, Paris in the 20s, Soho in the 70s, and have a meeting place that can facilitate conversation centered around the creative process and the books themselves. My business partner and co-founder Mark Warholak was actively engaging travelers at a major travel site. As we discussed these ideas about connecting and engagement, our company Cursor took shape. Red Lemonade is the first imprint of Cursor, that is an online application and site that provides content to allow for community, people connecting with people. So, Red Lemonade has been percolating a long time from my experiences with readers and writers, but our beta site didn’t go live until May 2011."

Dotting the I and Crossing the T

For Richard, putting it all together - the book production process, the software technology, and the community - is the key. He says, "The means of production, the creation of books is something that our world has spent five hundred years refining and has gotten pretty damn good at, like making chairs and tables. E-books just add more content to the abundance of data. The vastness of supply shows that the desire for books, story, content is not the issue- what’s at issue is the ‘rest of the iceberg’ so to speak, getting all the bits in line, working together with the audience, the folks buying the books, the individuals talking about books, sharing a favorite line, quote or short story from a favorite author. Red Lemonade and Cursor hope to restore the reader-writer equilibrium."

Pulling the Readers into it

In his speeches, Richard shows a slide which is a quote from E.M Forster’s novel Howard’s End: “Only Connect.” Those two words say a lot about what Cursor stands for and believes in. He continues, "As for Red Lemonade, its “edgy alt lit,” literary fiction that takes on questioning cultural assumptions, rethinks memory and examines how we come to understand our understanding. Our first three authors, Kio Stark, Lynne Tillman and Vanessa Veselka flesh and flush out the early gleanings of what we are about and serve as a guidepost for what the community will produce. And that’s been thrilling: it’s one thing to yap about the future of publishing, or post on the blog about how Cursor works, or berate the industry for overlooking the very folks who keep them in business- but to flip the switch and open the doors, terrifying and magical, exhilarating and nerve wracking! Members are joining, they are making comments and they are going into the manuscripts on site and making comments, editing, and asking authors questions—connecting in ways that have gone on for hundreds of years, but now online with easy access.

And we’ve already had our first success. Matthew Battles, whose book, The Sovereignties of Invention will be published this January 2012 by Red Lemonade started as an uploaded manuscript like hundreds of others. Our members liked it—they read it, they commented on it, they asked questions, they suggested re-workings and re-writes, the work ‘gurgled up’ from the community and it was the members of Red Lemonade who selected that title, I simply encouraged and agreed with the “maddening crowd.”

And that’s why other readers and writers and people who like to discuss books, or fans of literary fiction, or even more technical folks interested in online communities are flocking—and will continue to flock to Red Lemonade. And later on, to community specific sites which will generate their own content and their own reader-writer relationships! I'd add, for the sake of clarity, that the value is in the community, because it is uncopiable. You can get content on a torrent site, but to connect around content, you need community. There are lots of tools and online applications out there and I see new publishing platforms almost weekly, but Red Lemonade is founded on the idea of community, even that human connection between book lovers which enlightens your mind makes you question your belief/maybe even helps you get the girl/boy of your dreams."

The Power of Community

Community is such a buzzword, though, that Richard warns, "We have to be extremely careful to live up to what the term promises. Critical in that is to ensure that we can all speak truth, not just to power, but to one another. We have a feedback form, or entry panel on each of the sites pages, and members can easily report issues or make suggestions. Members— I’ve christened them The Fizzy Ones, as Red Lemonade is an actual drink that happens to be carbonated—post comments on people’s work, make announcements about their current projects or ask about current reading material or magazine. We’ve included book tour dates and even interviews with authors. Red Lemonade is reaching out through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to speak with the world outside; you can easily tweet or like a manuscript right from the page. While we are still in Beta our goal is both help Red Lemonade thrive and provide information, strategy and guidelines for creating further sites on the Cursor platforms."

A Powerful Statement

"...Red Lemonade is not just another indie press, it’s a prototype for publishers to come."

1 comment:

  1. this is so exciting! i myself have been writing an interactive novel that relies on reader input -- i had no idea there was a publishing house doing the same thing. very cool.