Thomas Keating (1923–2018)

Thomas Keating
Thomas Keating

By Martin Rowe

I first encountered the work of Fr. Thomas Keating in 1994, who died on October 26, aged 95 as the newly minted promotion manager at Continuum Publishing Company (an independent press based in New York City). Among my tasks was publicizing three Keating titles that Gene Gollogly, Continuum’s sales manager and eventual vice-president, had recently acquired from Element Books: Open Mind, Open Heart; The Mystery of Christ; and Invitation to Love.

Gene recognized not only the centrality of these books to the burgeoning interest in “centering prayer” and Contemplative Outreach, the organization that Keating had helped birth, but ecumenism as a whole. Over the next five years, Continuum published many titles on the traditions of Christian contemplative prayer and lectio divina that Keating—and his fellow monastics Fr. William Meninger and Fr. Basil Pennington—had revived in the 1970s at St. Joseph’s Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. In addition to books by Keating, Continuum brought into the world A Taste of Silence by Fr. Carl Arico, two titles by Fr. Richard Fragomeni, a book by Meninger on the fourteenth-century text The Cloud of Unknowing, and Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry, a volume of writings by Keating edited by Gustave Reininger.

When Gene and I left Continuum in the summer of 1999 to found our publishing company, Lantern Books, Keating had no particular reason to follow us. He continued to write for Continuum, which was eventually bought by Bloomsbury, and for Crossroad (which was acquired by Herder, a German Catholic publishing house), but I think he appreciated Gene’s enthusiasm for Christian spirituality and my practicality, even pragmatism, when it came to publishing.

Gene and I had also attended two of the first three Gethsemani Encounters at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky (the home and final resting-place of Thomas Merton). These meetings of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu monastics at the turn of the millennium were held under the auspices of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID), in which Fr. Keating played a role. It was through these encounters that I became acquainted with other monastics—such as Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, Fr. William Skudlarek, and Ven. Yifa—who were to play a large role in my life and in Lantern’s development over the next ten years. Gene and I appreciated the honesty with which Keating and these other monks and nuns whom we published confronted the human condition—our vulnerabilities, dependencies, cravings, and self-delusions—even (or perhaps especially) within the context of a life of faith and ritual.

We had another connection as well. Keating’s readings of Matthew 6:6 (“Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”—NRSV) was, in addition to being an invitation to apophatic prayer in the manner of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila, reaching back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, paralleled by the intimacy and stillness of reading itself. In both, one’s own voice was silenced and you paid attention to another’s experience and wisdom. Through both, you opened up the possibility not merely of persuasion but transformation through the word. Combined with the work of MID, Keating’s commitment to interreligious dialogue—an outgrowth of Vatican II’s recognition of other world religions as valid pathways to the divine, and the engagements of Thomas Merton with other faiths—echoed Lantern’s own orientation to interdisciplinary work, in which we produced books that combined animal advocacy with social justice or religion, or social justice with psychotherapy or religion, and so on.

Over twenty years, we’ve published nine titles by Keating, three edited anthologies featuring his work, nine more volumes inspired by centering prayer, fourteen books on interreligious dialogue, three memoirs, and, for a while, we printed the MID bulletin and hosted the organization’s website. Although I only met with Keating on a handful of occasions, we talked on the phone regularly. His wit was sharp, even piquant; his concern for clarity in his writing and thinking was unrelenting. Manuscripts would undergo numerous revisions: a delicate penned caret inserting a key detail here; there, a spidery rephrasing placed on top of the offending sentence. Always apposite, always authoritative, always a refinement.

In his last years, he relied on me and his editor Bonnie Shimizu to tell him if he was repeating something or saying nothing. I think he felt relieved when after he submitted a slender set of thoughts for possible publication in early 2018, we told him to put down his pen. He’d done all he could in forty years of writing to explain what centering prayer was and how it fitted into the Christian contemplative tradition, we said. Those who took his words to be a salve without the necessary contrition or repentance; or thought he was peddling “new age” ego-boosterism; or even discerned a blasphemous syncresis that threatened Church teachings—none of these individuals would be convinced by yet another dissertation on our relationship with God.

Bonnie and I concurred that an honest reading of Keating’s work would encounter a seeker deeply committed to a humble recognition of a loving and intimate God, a Divine Healer who cared for our human failings and demanded that we face them, even as He (and we) recognized our utter helplessness. Thomas Keating didn’t need to prove to anyone that he’d lived his faith, or that his mind wasn’t bent toward God.

A contemporary of my father, Keating was like him a person to admire for his discipline and authority, as well as his humor, even though we were very different. Keating was a Catholic man of faith, I am a Protestant agnostic; he was an omnivore, I am a vegan; he was someone who’d committed himself to a formal institution for more than seventy years, I had fled the institutional life at the same age as he entered one. Yet we both performed our daily disciplines, based on a belief in a calling greater than ourselves; and we both tried to do our best in the face of our (no doubt) regular infractions of that vocation.

Before the release of The Rising Tide of Silence, a documentary film on Keating’s life by his nephew, Peter Jones, I hadn’t thought that the Keating I knew (avuncular, easily amused) might be very different from the younger man. According to the documentary, the desiccated austerities practiced by the Trappists before Vatican II demanded self-effacement; the order restricted what it was permissible to read (no psychology, for instance); and it along with the Church discouraged the contemplative life or apophatic prayer. As a young monastic, Keating had (the documentary asserted) vigorously toed that line. Vatican II (1962–66) took place when Keating was an abbot. Its loosening of monastic strictures, and its opening up to other modes of knowing God as well as other religions came as a massive shock not only to the system that Keating had spent almost two decades enforcing, but to the man and his monastery.

Keating appears nonetheless to have grabbed the opportunities presented by Vatican II with both hands. He reconnected with the long-suppressed Christian contemplative tradition partly to enable young people fleeing to the religions of Asia to reconnect with the inner world of the Divine. He engaged with some theories of human consciousness and psychology that emerged during the 1960s and 1970s to give practitioners a contemporary language by which to understand the often-overwhelming emotions (even terrors and despondencies) those earlier mystics had experienced during contemplative prayer. He honored the expressions of humility and self-emptying (kenosis) that could be found in other faiths, while sticking resolutely to his own via negativa.

When my wife, Mia, and I went to see him in hospice at St Joseph’s Abbey over the summer, he was lying in bed, thin but with a lively look in his eye. He was characteristically wry-humored and curious—pressing me to practice contemplative prayer, asking Mia about her work, and reflecting on his literary estate. I thanked him for what he’d brought to Lantern, and to Gene and myself; he expressed his appreciation for my labors on his behalf. There was nothing to lament; death held no terrors; and nothing more had to be said. After an hour, he said he was getting tired, and we left.

Perhaps I was lucky only to know this older Keating; perhaps the younger man would have left me cold. But he was never pious or pompous with me; he never complained about my edits (at least to my face) or told me how little I understood; he never pulled rank or faith or his closeness to God to silence my reservations. I like to think his generosity was because, like most monastics, he knew that the rigors of a life of work and prayer would ultimately expose Pharasaism. Each day held a potential revelation of how weak one was before God; each day was a struggle to rein in one’s ego, ambition, and pride and recommit oneself to the order, to the superior, to the faith. Thinking of him in this way helps me to grasp the magnitude of the vocation to which he gave his entire adult life; it also allows me to glimpse the frail and flawed human being beneath the robe—one whom Keating and his works cherished, sat with, and loved.

Self-Publishing Now *Is* Publishing

Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the United States, recently sent out a newsletter with the following startling declaration:

2017 was an important year for self-publishing, when, for the first time ever, self- and indie-published books surpassed the market share of big publishers, with 42% of the market, as compared to 34% held by big publishers.

 

One caveat: it’s not entirely clear to me why “indie-published” should be bracketed with “self-published,” since there are plenty of medium-sized independent publishers who don’t consider themselves to be vanity operations, and who have had their share of bestsellers. That said, this statistic is a further indicator of the turbulent literary and commercial currents eroding the foundations of Big Publishing, with its large overheads and entrenched business patterns.

The statistic is also a recognition, as Ingram’s newsletter points out, that the stigma that used to adhere to authors who published themselves or who were published by small presses is disappearing, except perhaps within the well-guarded walls of the literary-industrial complex. A minuscule number of people may be able to make a living from their writing (’twas ever thus), but it’s now at least theoretically possible for many more people to try, without having to go through the obstacle course set up by agents, editors, and marketing divisions.

Lower production costs due to technological advancements; many more channels and platforms by which to reach readers; and a communications landscape that allows authors and readers to interact more democratically—all these have made publishing a less intimidating, hierarchical, and culturally niche activity.

As Dorothy found out in The Wizard of Oz, the demystification of pompous glamor and intimidation may lead to disenchantment, but it can also foster self-reliance and help you find your voice.

You’ve Published a Book . . . Now What?

We at Lantern like to imagine we have no illusions about how hard it is to squeeze a book past the gatekeepers of mainstream, third-party publishers. It’s a long, arduous, and dispiriting process courting agents, or failing to hear back from editors, or figuring out just where your manuscript is in the slush pile on someone’s desk—or even whether it made it there in the first place. That’s why we understand how self-publishing is a viable option for many folks: it’s technologically never been easier, nobody gets in your way, and you can get virtually instantaneous gratification by developing a product you have full control over. It’s a big thrill when copies of your book arrive at your house. But then comes the next question: Now what?

Let’s assume you mean distribution. If you’ve used CreateSpace, you have Amazon as your fulfillment house—and you can always pay for more and wider services. If you’ve published with IngramSpark, you have Ingram. Xlibris offers its own distribution services as well, and other options exist. You could try to persuade another publisher to distribute the book for you, but nearly all publishers only want to distribute other publishers. It’s too much hassle and costs too much (in accounting, mainly) for us to bother ourselves with single-book authors.

You then confront the issue of publicity. How are you going to let people know about your book? You can buy Google or Facebook ads. You can put up a cheap website. You can let people know through social media. You can do a giveaway on Amazon. But you have to work hard, and you have to be relentless and comfortable with self-promotion. No one is going to pay attention to you unless you make them: that’s just the truth.

Lantern recommends authors think of their book as a big calling card. Use it to get speaking engagements, or bigger speaking engagements. Disaggregate your text into op-eds or articles for magazines. Turn your book into a 20-minute lecture, or an hour-long seminar, or a weekend workshop, or a two-day intensive—and then take it on the road. If you use the knowledge you’ve distilled in the book in a multitude of ways, then the definitions of success become more numerous, and therefore more likely to happen. The book, therefore, is the beginning of the process by which you communicate to your audience, and not the end.

Of course, it’s possible that if your self-published work is a huge hit, an agent or editor will hear about it and propose they take the book off your hands. Indeed, several well-known writers began their literary lives as self-published authors. Or, you can keep control and make a ton of money. As with everything to do with publishing, however, there are no guarantees, and the vast majority of folks will never be able to give up their day jobs. But if you’re shrewd enough, you might just make a go of it.

WeChat Discussion with Alex Lockwood

Recently, a Brighter Green–sponsored discussion was held with Lantern Books author Alex Lockwood on WeChat, the popular messaging app used in China. People were able to ask him about his recent book, The Pig in Thin Air and about veganism, animal rights, and activism. Below is the edited transcript of this discussion.

Alex Lockwood WeChat Discussion

Publishing Your Thesis

Origin of the ThesesAt Lantern we receive many requests to publish masters’ theses and the occasional doctoral dissertation—or, more accurately, requests from newly minted M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s for us to read the document and make recommendations pending a decision on whether to publish or not. As you can see, the burden of work is almost wholly the publisher’s. We’re expected to put in the hours reading and make suggestions without any remuneration, and, frankly, we’re busy enough without offering free editorial advice which, as often as not, is not taken because the author doesn’t want to do the work: he or she wants the editor to do it for him or her! Nonetheless, assuming the best will in the world from an author, here are three pieces of consecutive advice for any academic seeking to publish a work, at any press let alone Lantern.

Figure Out the Purpose of Publishing Your Thesis
Lantern has published a number of books that are regularly used in university and high school courses. However, we are not an academic publishing company: we do not employ representatives to visit colleges to encourage scholars to use our books; we do not attend academic conferences to display our titles; we do not advertise in scholarly media; we do not seek reviews in academic journals. If your aim is to bring your work to scholars in your field then you need to find an academic press—one that publishes in that field.

Furthermore, if you’re using your thesis to further your academic career, you may not want a general trade publisher to publish it, since (sad to say) that might be taken as a sign that the work lacks academic rigor. Therefore, it may be strategic to publish with a university press or an academic publisher, such as Greenwood or Mellen, to burnish your academic reputation or simply get your thesis bound between two covers and given an ISBN and made available through the academic lending-library network.

Now for a little uncomfortable truth-telling. Is your quest for publication because you feel you put a lot of work into your thesis and you’d like it to be printed as a memento and/or so you can move on with your life? If either or both of these are the case, then go to Amazon or any vanity press and print a couple of copies on demand: one for your mother and one for the bookshelf at home. If you really couldn’t be bothered about the subject to work on your book or promote it, why should the publisher?

Of course, it’s conceivable that you genuinely want to make your work accessible and you believe that academic publishers make their books too expensive for the general readership, which is why you’re looking at a general trade publisher. In that case, you need to . . .

Mind Your Language!
In order to complete your thesis, you’ve had to jump through a lot of rhetorical hoops: you’ve had to describe what your argument is and then rehearse it deliberatively and thoroughly—showing that you know your area of expertise. You’ve had to fill your text with academese and other technical jargon that illustrates your command of your discipline’s argot. You’ve had to provide extensive footnotes or endnotes, supplementary material, and appendices and charts and diagrams to dazzle the examiners. All of these are necessary for you to gain your accreditation, but may not be desirable in a book for the general public. The ordinary reader won’t be interested in what might be called “methodological throat-clearing” (all of the prefatory material that defines the scope of a thesis) and will certainly not want a lot of inside-baseball guff that academics love.

So, if you’re committed to a general trade publisher, you’ll need to strip that material out of your thesis. You have to simplify, clarify, and unpack the ideas that you’ve labored over for the last year or two to make as dense and concise as possible. Now, if you don’t want to do that because you’re feeling inadequate to the task then you should hire a freelance editor—because your would-be publisher is not going to do it for you. Period.

Lock Your Thesis Away
There is another option. Lock your thesis in a drawer and start again. You know your material (after all, you wrote a thesis about it), and now you need to expatiate on why you were drawn to it and why it was important. Tell the reader who you are, why the subject fascinated you, and what we need to understand about it. Give us stories, characters, and arguments and lay them out simply and straightforwardly. You can always go back to your thesis for essential data, but that’s after you’ve bypassed all the academic folderol in favor of an explication of its ideas. It’s a good bet that, if you do that, you’ll be surprised at the voice that emerges and the further thoughts and observations that arise—ones that were suppressed or edited out of the original thesis.

It’s at that point—after the honing and editing and rewriting that you would normally do for any work of prose, right?—that you should approach a general trade publisher like Lantern. What’s more, it’s a fair bet your work will be in a much better condition than it was at the outset of your venture.

Beyond Good and Evil: Jens Soering

Jens Soering
Jens Soering

Jens Soering, the subject of a profile by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker (“Blood Ties,” November 9, 2015), and a convicted double murderer, is the author of four titles for our publishing company, Lantern Books: The Way of the Prisoner (2003), The Church of the Second Chance (2008), An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse (2004), and One Day in the Life of 179212 (2012).

The first two books are part of our publishing program in centering prayer and Christian spirituality. Jens first came to us through the auspices of another of our authors, Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk who lives in St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, and who is known as a pioneer of centering prayer. Jens had found centering prayer to be an effective method for dealing with stress, depression, and violence in prison, and had sent the manuscript of Way to Contemplative Outreach, which had an active prison ministry program. Keating then commended it to our attention.

Not only was The Way of the Prisoner a guide to centering prayer practice, but it, and Jens’ other books, fit into a number of our other programs—particularly on matters of criminal justice, law and order, violence, and trauma. In the last decade and a half, we’ve produced titles from law enforcement professionals attempting to tackle the problem of PTSD in their officers and in controlling potentially life-threatening situations before they get out of hand (Force Under Pressure by Lawrence E. Blum, and Sound Doctrine and Field Command by Charles “Sid” Heal). Lantern published a book on the Columbine school massacre (No Easy Answers by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt) and has also examined the criminalization of dissent regarding animal and environmental activism (Muzzling a Movement by Dara Lovitz, Burning Rage of a Dying Planet by Craig Rosebraugh, and Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? edited by Anthony J. Nocella II and Steven Best). It has also produced efforts to extend racial justice (Nonviolence Now! by Alycee Lane and Sistah Vegan! edited by A. Breeze Harper) and reduce trauma (Aftershock by pattrice jones).

Jens is far from the only one of our authors to be in prison or who has served time. The Terrorization of Dissent, edited by Anthony Nocella II and Jason Del Gandio, includes interviews with prisoners convicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) and earlier legislation. The late Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai (author of The Green Belt Movement and the subject of Wangari Maathai) was imprisoned more than once during the regime of Daniel arap Moi, and Hector Aristizábal was tortured in prison in Colombia, an account he writes about in The Blessing Next to the Wound. Our publishing company is actively involved with an organization called Books Through Bars, which sends books to prisoners that they may not otherwise have access to.

But, we hear you say, none of these were convicted of murder, as Jens was. To which our reply is, so what? The literary world has been populated by writers who were, to put it mildly, morally compromised. Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Anne Perry were killers, as was William Burroughs. Norman Mailer (who stabbed his wife), championed the release from prison of author Jack Henry Abbott, only for the latter to commit another murder within weeks. T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Céline (to name only a few), were explicit, even vehement, in their anti-Semitism; Knut Hamsun, W. B. Yeats, and Gabriele D’Annunzio were Fascists; Jean Genet was a thief. And, as for the Marquis de Sade. . . .

Indeed, Jens confronts this issue of guilt and innocence in Church of the Second Chance. He describes the numerous criminals, murderers and would-be killers, adulterers, and other sinners who populate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and yet who are all redeemed, even though they may neither confess to their crimes nor even be held accountable by their own for what they did. He then relates stories of those who, like their biblical counterparts, are criminals and yet have not found redemption in a prison-industrial system that is dedicated to punishment and has no interest in mercy.

Is this special pleading? Is Jens trying to cloak his refusal to admit his guilt (having revoked the confession he made before the trial) in these stories of holy men and women who committed crimes? Perhaps. But simply to dismiss what Jens has to say because one assumes his guilt merely draws attention to our blithe and blinkered assumption that only “good” people have valuable lessons to teach us, or, conversely, that “bad” people cannot learn the errors of their ways and offer service to the society as a whole—even if posterity (as with Moses or the writers above) whitewashes or downplays their “crimes.”

We certainly have no qualms about being Jens’ publishers. We’ve learned an enormous amount from him; we’ve read the stories of individuals we’d never have ordinarily encountered; and he’s persuaded us of the prison-industrial complex’s gross inefficiency and numerous cruelties. Like many of the people he writes about in his books, he is merely being warehoused, even though we’re convinced that he (unlike Jack Henry Abbott) poses no threat to the citizenry at large.

We understand the simple attractions of retribution: that life in prison should mean life; that the more Jens proves his worth, the more exquisite and torturous will be his continued and perpetual confinement, and the more profoundly will be understand the consequences of his actions. Such justice has all of the stringency and sharpness of concentrated chlorine on a public washroom’s floor. Yet, after a while, the pungency makes you gag, or fades and the original stench appears.

So, given our intimate knowledge of Jens’ situation and our role in his rehabilitation, what course of action would we recommend? It seems to us logical and compassionate that the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia should be relieved of the burden of keeping this German citizen in prison, and that he should be returned to his home country to serve out the rest of the sentence, which may or may not be curtailed under German penal laws. Even if he were to be freed, Jens wouldn’t pose a threat to the U.S. since he’s indicated he would welcome a ban on ever visiting again the home of the brave and the land of the free. He’s spent more than enough time in the U.S., he says, and has no wish to return. Keeping him in Germany seems to us a reasonable outcome to this three-decades-long story.

Acceptable Ways to Change Identity in Non-Fiction

What do you do if you’ve sensitive information about individuals or locations that you need to have in your non-fiction story, and yet you’re worried about lawsuits or giving away details that might expose that individual or location to prosecution of even violence. Well, the world of non-fiction has long provided conventions that writers can use to avoid incriminating identifying information. These can include (in no particular order):

  1. Changing the individual’s name, and if necessary age. It is not generally considered proper to change the sex and race. However, it is entirely appropriate not to assign sex or race. For instance, an investigator can be called “L.” throughout and no instances where a “he” or a “she” is required in a sentence need to be used. If the individual’s race is an essential component of the story—that the workers relate to the investigator because he is black, for instance—then other identifying characteristics would have to be blurred so that the investigator is not compromised.
  2. Changing the individual’s body size, color of hair and eyes.
  3. If the location or property involved is easily recognizable from descriptions, changing its location or features of the property.
  4. For ease of telling a story or disguising individuals, create composite characters.

It is not generally acceptable to change the action involved: in other words, going undercover in a chicken slaughterhouse can’t become breaking into a laboratory. The reader needs to feel that they are being provided with the essential truth of what happened and that the characters’ actions and reactions were accurately reported. The author must tell the reader whether individuals, places, or other identifying features have been changed, and why.

Call for submissions: Vegana

latina_veganaAre you Latina* and vegan?

What makes our experiences as Latinas possibly different than others? Or have you found it to be harder to be a Latina in the vegan world?

Lantern Books is looking for contributors to an anthology on the experience of being both Latina and vegan. It is time for our voices to be heard!

Your piece should be a personal story rather than an academic paper—you don’t need any footnotes or references. Rather than a chronological recounting of how you became vegan, feel free to write about connections between your veganism and your culture, or any conflicts. You can write about animal welfare/animal rights, your experiences in activism, food justice, worker’s rights, sustainability, or how you have woven family recipes into vegan masterpieces. The more specific your story is (tell one story), the better.

 

For example, one contributor relates the racism encountered while working in animal rescue:

“Living in a low-income area, I often acquired stray animals or animals from a plethora of problematic situations such as neglect, abuse, and backyard breeders. When I reached out to the animal rescue community for help, the first thing I often heard was, “The owners are Hispanic, right?” It was not until I was involved in this world that I began to understand some of the sentiments that motivated the anger toward these people, toward my people. The situation was so overwhelming that at times it was easy to fall into the these people discourse. But I knew better, I was these people.”

 

Another contributor talks about the food made by the women in her family:

“In my family food was, and still is, a token of affection and love. If we weren’t feeling well, my mom’s caldo was the cure. My great-grandmother, Abuelita Martina, would say, “Always keep salsa on your table, mija. It’s our secret to looking young.” And my grandma’s tortillas could always make everything right in my world. As a Chicana, I felt like I was rejecting all that these women had given me by going vegan. As though I was judging them and their ways by refusing their dishes. But I wasn’t judging them by no longer wanting to contribute to a social construct that I found heartbreaking, or at least I wasn’t intending to.”

 

A third discusses the the impact of language on how we see animals, and how we view “Mexicans” whose families lived in Texas since Texas was part of Mexico:

“The way we all use language is incredibly important, and not just in describing ourselves and our culture. For an organization like Food Empowerment Project, a food-justice non-profit that I founded in 2007, we take this very seriously. Clearly, we try our best, but we know that there is always more to learn regarding how we use certain terms, especially when it comes to issues involving animals and humans. Although many animal people do understand our need to avoid referring to animals in laboratories as “lab animals” or cows raised for milk as “dairy cows,” not everyone understands our need to be careful with words like “America.””

 

To get more ideas, please refer to Lantern’s 2010 anthology SISTAH VEGAN: Black, Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society.

The piece should be between 2,500 and 5,000 words, and in English.

Regrettably, we cannot offer payment, but royalties from sales of the book will go the Food Empowerment Project.

Please send your questions and submissions to martin@lanternbooks.com.

*We are using the term Latina to refer to those with Mexican, Central and South American, and Caribbean backgrounds. If you don’t love the term “Latina” but this description fits you, tell us all about it in writing!

The Little Connections in a Small World

Jens Soering
Jens Soering

It’s sometimes hard as a publisher to gauge how your books change or affect people’s lives and how widely they are dispersed. Occasionally, however, you get a glimpse of the potential importance of your work in the surprising connections that your titles make. I received an email from a supporter of Jens Soering, an author of ours who is currently in prison. Jens was the author of four titles—two on faith and Christian prayer (The Way of the Prisoner and The Church of the Second Chance) and two on the prison-industrial complex (An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse and One Day in the Life of 179212). Another supporter had sent Jens a letter detailing that yet another supporter—Fr. James Wiseman, an abbot at St. Anselm’s Abbey, Washington—had recently walked the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. (You may know of this particular pilgrimage through The Way, the movie made by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez).

Fr. Wiseman had told Pat that at Compostela there was a very small English-language library for pilgrims, in which he found a copy of The Way of the Prisoner. Jens himself speculated that Martin Sheen may have left a copy there himself! What Jens doesn’t know is that Fr. Wiseman is also an author published by Lantern! He was involved in Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) back when Lantern began to publish its bulletins, in the early 2000s, and was the co-editor of volumes on the first and  second of the Gethsemani Encounters—the meetings of Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian monks and nuns that took place at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, in the 1990s. These volumes, which were initially published by Continuum and Doubleday respectively, went out of print, and we republished them as The Spiritual Life: A Dialogue of Buddhist and Christian Monastics and Finding Peace in Troubled Times: Buddhist and Christian Monastics on Transforming Suffering.

But the connections don’t stop there. It so happens that I (Martin) was in London in early June, where I attended the third annual Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly. Lantern and I were deeply involved in the life and work of the late Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts in conservation, democracy, and peace. Lantern had published her first book, The Green Belt Movement (the name of the organization she founded), and a book about her life and work, called Wangari Maathai: Visionary, Environmental Leader, Political Activist by Namulundah Florence, a fellow Kenyan and educator.

At the event, there was a musical interlude by a cellist called Michael Fitzpatrick. He told me that he had met me before: at Benedict’s Dharma, a conference held the week after 9/11 at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, under the auspices of Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, an author at my former company (Continuum) and an author at my current one. That event, so weighty given its proximity to 9/11, had been where I’d been introduced to Ven. Yifa, a Buddhist nun who was to write four books for Lantern. Also present was, of course, Fr. James Wiseman. It seemed especially poignant given how Wangari Maathai had herself been educated by Catholic nuns in Kenya and in the United States that it should be the Catholic faith and the church in general that tied these disparate threads of our publishing program together over such temporal and spatial distances.

We send our books out into the world and they are carried into unlikely places. To that extent, our books are all on pilgrimages, accompanying our life’s journeys, whether in our imagination or with one foot in front of the other. It’s also an example a vibration—the strings of a cello echoing across the distance of a decade and a half—holding these stories together; and at their heart, if you’ll forgive me, a wise man!

 

Twelve Tips for Successful Crowdfunding

For decades, publishers have avoided finding out whether their readers want the books that they painstakingly and expensively produce. We’ve conducted no customer surveys or marketing, and have relied instead on editorial hunches and the occasional word from our sales reps about what genre or works are exciting the general public.

Now, however, publishers have not only a means of not only determining just whether anyone is interested in the book we’re thinking of producing, but of removing the risk of producing it in the first place. We can now ask readers to invest in the book’s creation. This is crowdfunding, and it has opened up new possibilities for publishers everywhere.

My publishing company, Lantern Books, has now used crowdfunding—in our case,Indiegogo—to produce four books. The first, We Animals by Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, was a 208-page, full-color hardcover, the production of which (from writing the text to distribution) we budgeted at $35,000. After a 60-day campaign, 680 individuals bought 1280 copies and we raised $51,007. This allowed us not merely to cover the costs of the creation of this book but to print 1250 more copies than had been pre-ordered. These copies were effectively cost-free, and their subsequent sale through the usual book-distribution outlets allowed us to generate enough revenue to cover the costs associated with a conventional printing of another 3000 copies. We are currently selling down this inventory through standard publishing–retail means.

The second and third titles—American Icarus and America on the Couch by depth journalist Pythia Peay—were also budgeted at $35,000. Although these were not photo books, they required substantial editorial and production work. Once again, we made our budget, although we relied on a couple of large donors at the end of the 60-day campaign to take us over the top. These books are currently being edited and will be available in Spring 2015.

The final book is The Art of the Animal, edited by Kathryn Eddy, L. A. Watson, and Janell O’Rourke. Like We Animals, Art is in full-color; unlike with We Animals, we assumed a much smaller market for the book, and so the budget was less: $13,500. We ran a shorter campaign (45 days) as a means of intensifying interest, and pulled in $14,190.

Before the advent of crowdfunding, none of these books would have been feasible for a small, independent press such as Lantern. Certainly, the greater availability of short-run printing and higher-quality print-on-demand technology now make it possible to produce few, full-color books. But the creation of these works still requires editors, designers, and typesetters, all of whom need to be paid. Simply put, these titles’ size and complexity would have made them too expensive to produce.

That said, crowdfunding is not a sure-fire means to raise adequate revenues. Indiegogo,Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and other sites are full of  projects that didn’t get anywhere near their goal (at which point, they either forfeited nine percent of the revenues they earned or, in the case of Kickstarter, didn’t receive any of the money pledged). So, what have I learned in these campaigns that might help you lessen the chances of not making your goal?

  1. Set a reasonable target. Unless your project is very high-profile with a huge built-in fan-base, be very hard-headed about how much you can raise. If in doubt, only use crowdfunding for a part of the project. It’s better for your morale, for your customers, and for your bottom line to meet the smaller goal than fall far short of the bigger one.
  2. Orient the campaign toward a thing. Kickstarter began as a way for artists to raise money for their albums, books, shows, and so on. If you make the goal vague or numinous, it has much different expectations. To that end, therefore . . .
  3. . . . Don’t think of your campaign as charity. Yes, folks may want to support you in a general sense, but you need to think about the campaign as delivering a product. Use words like pre-order, investment, buy. Resist using words like donate, charity, give. Change your attitude, and that of your customers. They are getting something, and not just being kind.
  4. Make a movie. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a movie (three minutes or less) that explains your project—where you’re talking directly to your audience and making your pitch clearly and concisely—is fundamental to a campaign’s success. It doesn’t have to be a Hollywood production, and it absolutely should not be long, but it helps. Here, here, and here are some good examples of what to do.
  5. Consider your audience carefully. Is your community enthusiastic but poor or hard-to-reach but rich? How is your product generally valued in the marketplace? These considerations will enable you to choose and price accurately the perks you offer, in addition to branding the product in a way that speaks to your audience’s aspirations and self-image.
  6. Make the perks count.  The “perks” are those items or services that people can purchase in addition to the thing you’re trying to create. In our experience, you need to offer people a way to send you a small amount (because they want to be involved) as well as a large amount (because they want to feel like a sponsor or patron). Some campaigns, such as this one, rely on lots of small purchases; others need a blend of $30 and $500 ones. On the one hand, you need to ensure you can earn enough through the simple acquisition of the product and not rely on the big buyers. On the other, it’s advisable to provide folks with the option of purchasing something expensive.
  7. Budget for distribution. Your biggest headache is likely to be fulfillment. People are going to order your item from all over the world. Lantern’s solution has been to estimate shipping at one rate: the relatively many who live nearer your distribution point will pay more to compensate for the relatively few who live further away, who will pay much less. We’ve found that the costs work themselves out in the wash. Another option is to charge more for overseas shipping.
  8. Have a back-up plan. Use your credit card; engage a wealthy relative to step in; bring in some really amazing perks half-way through the campaign that are guaranteed to get you over the finish line. You do not want to fall short in your campaign.
  9. Send bulletins. Regular messages describing the campaign, expressing thanks, and telling folks about how the production is coming along are essential. Just because somebody’s already paid for something doesn’t mean they won’t buy another copy or let their friends know about their campaign. Don’t bombard your backers with messages (that’s irritating), but coddle your customers.
  10. Don’t just use social media to get the word out. In our last campaign, nearly half the money came from those who had been emailed, as opposed to accessing our campaign through Twitter, Facebook, and so on. That suggests two things: (1) people want to be approached directly; and (2) crowdfunding is now becoming so common that people are zoning it out. You need to be persistent, polite, and persuasive. Targeted emails may take longer, but they may be more remunerative than generic blasts or posts.
  11. Don’t do it all yourself. Make sure you have a group of folks responsible for reaching out to the community—preferably people who are networked to people in networks. In the case of The Art of the Animal, three well-connected and committed individuals were responsible for a third of the purchases made. In the case of We Animals,  the author could tap into organizations who knew her work and were willing to spread the word about the campaign to their networks. This meant that our outreach grew exponentially.
  12. Be positive. People don’t want to see your panic, smell your desperation, or hear you moan about a lack of support. They have plenty of other things to spend their money on. Make them feel part of something bold and exciting.