Last week, we revealed the cover of Michael Nava’s newest Henry Rios book, Lies With Man, and today, he’s back to talk about the imprint publishing that book, Amble Press! Amble Press is a new LGBTQ imprint of Bywater Books, noted lesbian publisher of such titles as Jericho by Ann McMan, I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif, Compass Rose by Anna Burke, and Bury Me When I’m Dead by Cheryl A. Head. Now they’re going beyond the L, and as Managing Editor, Michael Nava’s here to talk about how it began, what’s coming up, and what they’re looking for!
Independent presses have been the life-blood of LGBTQ literary culture for decades. Scrappy small presses in the 70’s and 80’s published the first works of Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Allison and Alison Bechdel, as well as trailblazing Black and Latinx writers like Larry Duplechan, James Earl Hardy, Jewelle Gomez, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. Firebrand Books published Stone Butch Blues, a pioneering work of work of trans literature and Alyson Publications dared to publish gay and lesbian childrens’ books – most notably Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman – at a time when gay people were demonized a pedophiles who recruited children into their ranks.
These presses existed because, by and large, New York publishers were hostile to queer writers even though it was an open secret that there were gay and lesbian editors at those big publishing houses. My own experience is instructive: in 1986, I submitted my first novel, a mystery featuring a gay, Mexican-American criminal defense lawyer named Henry Rios, to 13 New York publishers. It was rejected by every one of them. The editors who responded with more than a form letter rejection said essentially the same thing: this is a well-written book, but there’s no market for it. I found a home at Alyson Publications, which was then the preeminent small gay publisher. (Eventually, I would be published first by HarperCollins and then by Putnam until, in 2000, I began a fifteen-year break from writing and publishing.)
Small queer presses continue to be an essential part of our literary landscape because they remain necessary. Although the Big Publishers roll out the occasional LGBTQ book, queer writers, like writers from other traditionally marginalized still have a harder time getting their books published by an the increasing cautious and profit-driven mainstream publishing industry. A quick Google search reveals there are many small queer presses and to those already existing ones I want to introduce Amble Press, an imprint of Bywater Books, where I serve as managing editor.
Bywater Books is a respected lesbian press founded in 2004 that boasts among its award-winning roster of writers Cheryl Head, Ann McMan, Paula Martinac, Penny Micklebury and many more. In 2018, the Bywater’s leadership, publisher Salem West and director of operations, Marianne K. Martin, decided they wanted to start a new imprint that would expand their reach behind the lesbian community to other queer writers, and especially writers of color. They named the imprint Amble Press and their first acquisition was Alan E. Rose’s novel As If Death Summoned, a moving novel set in the last days of the worst of AIDS epidemic which reviewer Grady Harp calls “a beautiful, involving novel,” and about which Jerry Wheeler says in Out In Print “I couldn’t put it down.”
I was tapped as Amble’s managing editor last spring because of my interest in giving back to the queer literary community the same boost I had received when I was a young, emerging writer. Part of the agreement was that Amble would publish the next Henry Rios novel, Lies With Man, which appears in April. My first acquisitions will be published in the summer of 2021; Matthew Clark Davison’s debut novel Doubting Thomas in June, 2021 and Joe Okonkwo’s collection of short stories, Kiss the Scar on the Back of My Neck in August.
These books illustrate the great range of excellent queer writing out in the world that is not finding homes in the risk-averse culture of Big Publishing. Neither Davison nor Okonkwo are first-time, inexperienced writers. Davison teaches in the creative writing department of San Francisco State University, has published widely in places like Guernica and The Atlantic and anthologies like Empty the Pews and is the recipient of a number of literary awards and grants. But even with this pedigree and a literary agent, he struggled to find a publisher for his first novel about a gay teacher at an elite, private school falsely accused of inappropriately touching one of his students and its aftermath. Okonkwo’s first novel Jazz Moon, won the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for outstanding first novel and he too was represented by a distinguished literary agent for his superb collection of short stories.
Thirty years ago, both these writers may well have found homes with one of the big publishers. Of course, big publishing’s loss in Amble’s gain and, ultimately, also benefits queer readers who might otherwise be deprived of the work of these brilliant writers.
Amble Press is currently accepting submissions and is, as I said, particularly interested in queer writers of color. You can see our submissions information at https://www.bywaterbooks.com/amble_press_submissions/