Check it out! Bella Books agreed to answer a bunch of questions that I sent (MUAH HA HA!) and below, you will see the results.
Bella, as you’ll soon discover, was founded in 1999, publishing its first book in 2001. Linda Hill became the president in 2005, and worked to bring the former Naiad Press’s catalogue on board. That’s nearly 20 years of lesfic publishing (and here’s hoping they have a big party for their 20th). Many of you also know that Bella also serves as a distributor of lesfic books, and we’ll find out more about that, too. So let’s go see what the women at Bella are up to!
Bella Books was founded in 1999 and published its first book in 2001. It was named after the Jack Russell terrier that belonged to one of the founding partners. The company was established in Michigan and with mentoring from the team of Barbara Grier and Donna McBride — the storied owners of Naiad Press in Florida. Bella Books has always been about providing lesbian readers with the books they like to read, featuring lesbians who are the heroes of their own stories.
Some readers may not be aware that Bella keeps quite a few lesfic classics in print (and we’re so glad you do!), whether through acquiring backstocks of defunct houses like Naiad to distributing for houses like New Victoria. Did Bella set out with the idea of keeping classics available as part of its mission or did opportunities present themselves?
Because Naiad Press was in the process of closing due to retirement plans, a number of the authors with Naiad, such as Karin Kallmaker and Frankie J. Jones, contracted their future work with Bella in a seamless transition. Bella also sought out new works and proudly published authors like Gerri Hill and KG MacGregor. Bella’s catalog has grown to include work by more than 100 authors.
Was Bella Distribution always a part of Bella or did that come along later?
Linda Hill, who had worked closely on Naiad’s online presence, became President of Bella Books in 2005. She expanded Bella’s vision to include the purchase and distribution of Naiad Press’s entire stock, acquiring rights and reprinting classic Naiad or other publisher’s novels before they were lost to time, and creating Bella Distribution to expand access to cost-effective distribution for other small, lesbian-focused publishers. She relocated the corporation to Florida where warehouse operations were. Bella Distribution directly supplies books to retailers and customers, and also ships books onward to other distributors who service their own client base.
Over the years, as other presses run by some of the trailblazing publishers of the women-in-print movement began to retire, Bella Distribution acquired their in-print inventory of lesbian books to keep them available to readers as well. In the case of Spinsters Ink, not only did Linda acquire the printed stock, Linda kept the brand alive and continues to publish Spinsters titles—featuring women but not always lesbians—in concert with supervising editor Katherine V. Forrest.
Along those lines, Bella states that it now partners with a number of other publishers. Can you tell us how those partnerships work?
Bella Distribution contracts individually with both companies and individuals for a variety of services, most commonly the final stage of releasing a book for purchase in both physical and digital formats as the client requests, and then delivering that book to the customer (a person, retailer, another distributor, etc.). For example, printing, warehousing, formatting to eBook and marketing via the extensive Bella D email list are services available. Bella Distribution is the actual operator of the BellaBooks.com webstore and Bella Books is one of its client publishers.
So a potential Bella author follows all the submission guidelines and sends in a project. What does a manuscript go through once it’s been submitted (prior to contract)?
The very first step is making sure we have everything we need, and then that the submission is something we publish — you’d be surprised how many proposals we get that don’t even have lesbian characters!
After that the proposal joins the queue for a scrutiny of its skill level. Does the craft in the opening demonstrate basic competence at novel writing? Again, you’d be surprised how many manuscripts we get from writers who don’t know the common conventions of novels, e.g. that two people don’t speak in the same paragraph, that a novel is broken up into chapters, etc. Poorly written manuscripts are obvious from the first pages and regardless of a brilliant concept, we have learned that no amount of editing can compensate for a writer not knowing how to construct a novel, or failing to have a basic grasp of grammar and punctuation.
About 15% of our submissions survive to a full reading of everything in the submission package. The content of the cover letter, the author’s thoughts about why the book would appeal to our market, and the manuscript itself are closely read. Consideration of the potential market for that story and an assessment for the editing that might be ahead to bring out the best in the author’s intentions are part of the evaluation. Every project is unique to us and we approach each potential story on its own merits with respect for the author’s vision. Ultimately, we ask ourselves if that story is one our readers will welcome.
Let’s say a manuscript has been accepted and is now under contract (yay!). For our readers who are not authors, can you reveal a bit about what a manuscript goes through at Bella to turn it into a book?
Every manuscript is assigned to a single editor who works directly with the author from start to finish. Every book has unique strengths and weaknesses, and no editing phase is ever the same. That said, there’s a different intensity for the debut author versus the veteran, but our editors are skilled with working with both types of authors. Along the way we seek out the author’s input for marketing and cover ideas. At the final stage the book is proofread, reviewed again by the author, and finally released.
What are some of the best things about being a publisher?
Most of us are writers ourselves and publishing a book is a close second to the experience of seeing your own book go out into the world. Pure happiness in every box.
Anything you’d do over if you could with regard to publishing?
There’s nothing on a large scale we’d do differently. There are always individual projects that don’t work out for one reason or another — that’s the nature of the business. But we’re as committed as we’ve always been to publishing about lesbians, for lesbians. Everything else is details in service of that mission.
What sorts of things are next on the horizon for Bella?
We continue to refine and respond to changes in distribution channels and growing our reach for direct marketing. With a decade and a half of adaptation behind us, during some of the biggest changes in publishing since moveable type was invented, we’re still listening to our readers about what they want, and looking for creative, enthusiastic stories we can offer them.
Anything else you’d like authors/readers to know about Bella?
Running a small publishing company in this day and age is a labor of love, first and foremost. We are as passionate as they are about books! And lesbians!
And there you have it, friends! Thanks SO MUCH to Linda Hill, Karin Kallmaker, and the women at Bella for taking the time to hang out with us a bit here at Women and Words.
Happy Friday, everybody!