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.

Norm Phelps (1939–2014)

Norm Phelps—the author of four books (The Longest Struggle, The Great Compassion, The Dominion of Love, and Changing the Game), all of which were published by Lantern—died on the last day of last year, less than a year after the passing of Rynn Berry: another writer,  independent scholar, and friend of the company. We were proud to be Norm’s publishers and learned a huge amount from his work and his insights. He was an exceptional writer. Not only was his prose clear and passionate, but he presented his manuscripts with the highest degree of professionalism. They were accurately footnoted and properly formatted, which saved us a great deal of time and gave us extra confidence that Norm knew what he was talking about. He received my editorial suggestions gracefully and willingly, again demonstrating how good a writer he was. (In my judgment, those who accept editorial suggestions are usually the best writers; those who refuse to change a word are the worst!)

Most importantly, Norm had something to say—and he did so with compassion as well as passion. He struck us as a very reasonable man: someone not interested in the petty brouhahas that bubble up constantly in the animal advocacy movement. He took the long view and we very much appreciated that. In fact, we thought Changing the Game precisely encapsulated his thesis that animal advocacy needs to place itself within the long arc of social justice movements and not worry about immediate success when other movements took many decades to do so.

We will be forever grateful for Norm’s vocal and demonstrable support for Lantern, which he championed at every opportunity. Norm truly appreciated independence of thought, and put his time and money where his mouth was. He took books seriously. In recent years, illness had hampered Norm’s ability to attend conferences and meet his fans. Our company, the movement, and the world are much enhanced with Norm having been a part of all of them.

The Two-Week Rule

everytime-you-make-a-typo-the-errorists-win

We have a rule in our offices at Lantern Books that no copies of a book newly arrived from the printers are to be scanned for typos, verbal infelicities, or solecisms. It’s hard to do: the eye roves over the page like a klieg-light, casting into sharp relief the typefaces chosen, the leading and kerning of letters and lines on the page, the running-head format, the dimensions of the book, the thickness of the paper, the margins, and so on. We’ve poured our hearts (and not an inconsiderable amount of money) into the book, and it’s beyond disheartening to be confronted with mistakes that somehow bypassed the author, editor, copyeditor, typesetter, and proofreader.

After fourteen days, however, we can view the errors with more equanimity than despair; and exasperation and self-loathing have been replaced by a shrug of the shoulders and steely determination not to do it again. Thankfully, technology has helped us experience fewer unwelcome surprises. Not only can we do a dummy run with one or more copies of the book, just so that we can get the three-dimensional item in our hands before committing ourselves more fully to print, but the actual print run can be a matter of only a few copies, allowing changes to be made quickly, with relatively little expense, and with relatively few tarnished copies out there in the world.

We still think the two-week rule needs to be applied—and not just for publishers. An author recently told us that she’d sent her mother a copy of a book over which she’d labored mightily for many years, only for her mother to reply immediately that she’d found three errors of fact—and that was just for starters. Of course, it is the ordained role of parents everywhere to remind their children that, no matter how much they may feel they have accomplished, they’ll always be in the wrong. So, authors: make sure you tell your readers (and especially your supposedly nearest and dearest) that for fourteen days you want nothing but unconditional love and support. After that, one’s fragile heart might be strong enough for the uncomfortable truth.

The Future of Publishing

Ten years ago, Lantern was asked (along with others) to form a panel on writing and publishing for an animal advocacy conference. We panelists were so gloomy and downbeat in our presentation that we were never invited back again! What a difference a decade makes: We’re actually very positive about the future of book publishing. The reasons why are contained in this fine extended essay from The Economist (kindly sent to us by Cassandra Greenwald), and which is worth reading in full. There are, however, three  paragraphs that distill just about all the “wisdom” that we impart to would-be authors, which are worth me quoting in full. In the future:

While there will be more books, there may be fewer people who can make a full living as writers and publishers, says Mike Shatzkin, an industry analyst.

This too could be in part seen as a return to previous eras, when people did not expect to earn a living by writing books but used books as a means to advance their career or as a creative outlet. It is clear that most self-published authors are not doing it for the money they can reasonably expect to get—they are doing it to leave a mark, if only a digital one. Those who make a living too may increasingly be the ones who become marketable personalities online, on the festival circuit and elsewhere, rather than just being faded pictures on the inside back cover.

And writers who are not also performers may find that new opportunities arise. People with an idea for a book they cannot afford to take the time to write no longer have to go to a publisher. They can offer something like old-fashioned subscriptions to prospective readers, either on generalist crowdfunding sites, such as Indiegogo, or through specialist firms such as Pubslush and Unbound. Many will not get funded; some will succeed beyond their dreams.