New Year, New Decade, New Imprint
By Andrew Gifford
When I started SFWP, everyone told me to “find a niche.” This was 1998, and it was a very different time for the publishing industry. It was a world before e-books, before the self-publishing revolution. As I stormed into the production of our first title, Moody Food by Ray Robertson, being a publisher was an extraordinarily expensive and backbreaking process. The old joke was that, in publishing, you had to spend a large fortune in order to make a small fortune. So, everyone from the authors I worked with to my friends in accounting and the legal field said: It’s all about the niche! A friend of one of my mentors had made millions reprinting books that had entered the public domain—this was before everyone was walking around with the internet in their pockets. When we all became more online in the twenty-first century, he closed up shop and bought a house in the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, I tried to start a traditional publishing company in my garage…and I didn’t even have a garage.
So, maybe there is something to the niche…
But, I got into publishing for different reasons. I mean, yes, I would like that house in the Virgin Islands, but SFWP came about more as a way to find my own internal strength and happiness. I often tell the story of how, driven mad by Trigeminal Neuralgia (a debilitating nerve disease that has since been cured), I went to Santa Fe to kill myself and, instead, “found myself.” And it really was as simple as that. I loved books, the craft of writing, and even the behind the scenes labor of love that goes into the creation of a book. The whole process had fascinated me since I was a child, but my parents always discouraged it. They always told me I would be a failure. (Spoiler alert: I’m not.)
So, there, under the big New Mexico sky, I stopped listening to the naysayers around me and in my head.
The idea of a finding and sticking with a niche repulsed me. Does anyone ever really just read one style of book? One genre? My whole life, I read fiction and nonfiction of every genre. I read whatever I could get my hands on. So, as a publisher, I would do the same. I would publish whatever I loved, regardless of genre. I surrounded myself with a team that doesn’t believe that publishers have to be specialized or limited. In 2020, I don’t think small presses can afford to be limited in their views. The industry is wild and unpredictable.
To the dismay of the sales reps, our catalog now ranges from fantasy epics to searing memoirs, from flash fiction to literary novels and short stories, from a collection of the 1980’s fanzine Pagan’s Head to cultural essays about the Chinese-American experience in the southern US. But, up until now, we’ve been missing one aspect of the industry. We haven’t worked with YA or children’s books. This was more by accident than anything else—the right children’s books just didn’t show up. After a while, we became known for adult titles; and the drawback of being all over the place with your catalog is that it’s hard for folks to understand that, yes, we’ll look at anything and, if we love it, we’ll publish it. After years of waiting for the perfect storm of talent and opportunity, it is with great pleasure that I announce our latest imprint, launching in September of 2020: City Different Books, which will focus on children’s and YA fiction and nonfiction, and will be dedicated to STEM/STEAM themes and diversity.
What I realized, as I moved towards founding this children’s imprint, was that I wanted it to reflect the same ideals of self-discovery that have fueled me these last 20 years. As a child, I didn’t have the best life. And there was no one there to really help me or guide me. There was no sense of empowerment and, now, I know that such negligence can be a disease that takes root in a child’s mind and grows into a bitter darkness. A fate I narrowly avoided. I want City Different Books to celebrate imagination, to say it’s okay for kids to be kids, and to feature characters, stories, and themes that aren’t all that common in children’s books. Themes that may feature children with disabilities or illnesses, children of color, children with body issues, or emotional trauma. There are children out there dealing with a difficult world, and children with immigrant narratives, and children who are confused about the troubling avalanche of images that fill all of our screens.
I want City Different Books to be the children’s imprint that understands a changing America, a diverse America, and our troubled times. Today’s children need to know that they can save the world, and that they—that anyone, everyone—are empowered to undo and reject the hatred and prejudice that is rife in our society. City Different Books looks to our children’s future, and will bring a message that should be simple but, sadly, is not: No matter your color, creed, or identity, you can make a difference. That’s something my parents never told me, but that every child should hear.
Stay tuned as we roll out new titles. And if you want to get involved—there’s room for you, too.
Andrew Gifford is the founder and director of the Santa Fe Writers Project. He is also the author of the memoir We All Scream: The Fall of the Gifford’s Ice Cream Empire.