By Colleen Anderson | WestVirginiaVille.com | dec13.2020
A new publishing outlet and writing resource has opened in West Virginia. The brainchild of writer and educator Andréa Fekete, Guest Room Press is a hybrid press—a breed that lies somewhere between the worlds of traditional publishing and self-publication.
There are many increments along that continuum, so I asked Fekete to define her “hybrid.” It turns out that Guest Room Press is not only hybrid but fluid, depending upon an author’s goals and needs.
“There are benefits and drawbacks to both worlds. I’m here to help each author determine which world is best for them. Like a traditional press, we are very selective,” she said. “No one will be able to tell the difference in quality or that we are a hybrid.”
One significant difference between Guest Room Press and traditional publishers is that Fekete’s press does not pay royalties. Instead, authors receive all the sales revenue except printing costs. Before she accepts any author, Fekete negotiates a one-time fee for her company’s services. “I review the work, and if I think I can offer services, then I talk with the author about their goals and we discuss options.”
“As a response to the pandemic, I can bring ‘guests’ into the chaos of our current social climate—like bringing them up to speak on a stage—inspiring people who can bring out the light in all of us during this time of darkness.” ~ Andréa Fekete
The options might include publication, website design, private consulting, marketing and branding advice, or proofreading. “Depending on what service package authors choose, the services and prices vary. It’s all very personalized and tailored to each author’s specific needs,” said Fekete.
Writers should note that Guest Room Press works with manuscripts once they are completed, she said. “As long as it has been completed, we can work with it: light editing, close reading/line editing, polishing, and revising. My initial discussion with people is about what their goals are.
“We figure out the best way to serve the specific client based on what they want and need. As long as I or one of my subcontractors have a strong interest in the work, we can absolutely work with it.”
Fekete emphasized that people don’t have to publish with them to work with Guest Room Press.
“We aren’t going to publish everything we receive. We vet manuscripts because I am limited on what I can publish. It’s a very small operation. So, I have to really pick my battles, and choose manuscripts I really believe have a fighting chance to make a significant contribution to the literary landscape in a way that is close to my heart or the heart of one of my expert friends.”
Another big difference from some other publishing options is that Guest Room Press authors retain all the rights to their work. Fekete feels strongly about this distinction because of her own experience publishing a novel.
“I was only 30 when my book was released from a small press in 2010. But when an agent approached me wanting to represent the book, a New York agent, and they found I did not own the rights—which is how it works in traditional publishing—I lost that opportunity.
“I asked my publisher if I could have them back. I begged. She angrily said no. Then the agent said, regrettably, they don’t work with publishers, just authors. It really left a sour taste in my mouth that made me want to try to change the publishing landscape.”
Fekete eventually negotiated to get her rights back and re-published her book, “Waters Run Wild.” The literary novel of women’s and immigrants’ lives in the coal camps of West Virginia won rave reviews from the American Book Review and other publications and has been used as a course textbook in colleges as well as middle schools and high schools.
“I did it on my computer in the guest room of my small apartment. When I was designing the copyright page, I realized I didn’t have a name for a press. I thought it was funny—and technically not a lie—to name it ‘Guest Room.’”
When she decided to publish the writing of others, the name took on an additional meaning. “As a response to the pandemic, I can bring ‘guests’ into the chaos of our current social climate—like bringing them up to speak on a stage—inspiring people who can bring out the light in all of us during this time of darkness.”
‘A springboard for emerging voices’
The press hopes to work with both experienced and established authors, but also forgotten voices or ones not heard, said Fekete, who is on the lookout for specific literary voices. “I’m interested in publishing working class people, women, people from backgrounds that you just don’t hear a lot from. I’d really like to publish Appalachian or Southern writers, but I’m also interested in voices from the inner city—anyone who has a voice that is often forgotten in publishing.
“Historically, it has been a lot easier to find a memoir written by a rich white person than a working class person or person of color. Other perspectives are left out because the big companies don’t hire people that look and talk like you or me. I don’t think this is intentional or malicious. It’s just the way the market is currently and has been. But I think there’s a conversation ongoing now about that market, and things are starting to change. Hybrids and boutique presses are really taking off.
She would love for the press to be “a springboard for emerging voices. A very small Appalachian press called Iris Press discovered Ron Rash, who is a pretty big seller now. I’m certain Iris is extremely proud of that fact. I’d love to be that publisher.”
In fact, Fekete sees her press as a place where accomplished writers can boost their relevance to larger publishers.
“That helping hand is a powerful tool and what makes hybrid publishing different.”
“Agents and the big publishing houses don’t just want a good book, they want to know the author knows how to market, to revise, to perform at a reading, etc. We teach all of that. Our products will rival the quality of traditional presses. You’ll be on the map. And that’s where you begin. You start where you are, as they say. That’s where my motto comes from: ‘Where writers become.’”
The website makes clear that Guest Room “is not a vanity press. We accept only quality work we are passionate about bringing into the marketplace. Publishing everyone who pays us isn’t our vision.”
The press also promotes its authors and sticks with them for the lifetime of the book, Fekete said.
“We offer much more personalized marketing and promotion support via phone and email. I outline very specifically what actions we take to promote the books, unlike a traditional press that pretty much just prints it and leaves it all up to the author—who has not a clue what they’re doing. They’re authors, not marketing specialists. Then the press loses interest after the first year. Some authors are then left with a measly $400 advance for their rights, which means they can’t sell it to anyone else now, and a dollar in royalties per book. Ouch!
“I’m always open to a phone call a year later if the person wants to revitalize their marketing approach. I don’t print it and abandon it. Distribution will be available, but it’s up to the authors to market the book and market it hard, of course with our help. That helping hand is a powerful tool and what makes hybrid publishing different.”
‘A beautiful activity’
Fekete is a native West Virginian and granddaughter to Mexican and Hungarian immigrants. She earned her MFA in creative writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College and her MA in English from Marshall University.
In addition to her historical fiction novel, she has two poetry chapbooks, “I Held a Morning” (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and “Dear Lovely” (Guest Room Press, 2020). Her poetry and fiction have been published widely, with an excerpt from her newest novel, “Native Trees,” chosen as a finalist in “Still: The Journal’s 2019 Fiction Contest.”
At Guest Room Press, her main interest is literary fiction, though she also works with non-fiction and poetry. But if something isn’t right for her own tastes, she contracts with other specialists to review submissions in other genres, including humor, young adult, memoir, and poetry.
“Publishing isn’t the end-all be-all reason for writing. As authors, we should discourage terms like ‘wannabe writer.’ If you’re writing, you’re a writer.”
One of these others is Lara Lillibridge, Guest Room’s nonfiction manuscript and marketing consultant and author herself of the memoirs “Mama, Mama, Only Mama” (Skyhorse, 2019) and “Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home.” (Skyhorse, 2018). Recently, the two co-edited the anthology, “Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility” (2019), which took the Silver Award for Foreword’s Indie Book of the Year in women’s studies.
What if an author submits a book that’s not right for Guest Room Press? If she thinks the manuscript would work for another publisher or consultant, Fekete will try make a referral. Even beginners can expect a gentle reception.
“I always encourage every writer who approaches me to continue writing. I would never discourage anybody from writing. It’s a beautiful activity. Publishing isn’t the end-all be-all reason for writing. As authors, we should discourage terms like ‘wannabe writer.’ If you’re writing, you’re a writer. If you read enough and you write enough, you will develop talent.”
That conviction has roots in her own life and teaching career. With an MA in English and an MFA in creative writing, she’s formally qualified, but she said: “Everything I know how to do as a writer and educator has taken me decades to learn. I began writing when I was seven years old.
“I had a brain infection called meningitis, the more serious, bacterial kind. That’s when I started writing. I had mood swings, trouble expressing myself. I wouldn’t find out about my brain injury until I was an adult, but I was able to connect the dots and understand why, at only seven years old, I was writing poems. I had a deep yearning to connect with others. I write because it’s who I am, and for no other reason—because I must.
She has studied with Irene McKinney, Karen McElmurray, Sara Prichard, Carter Sickels, Doug Van Gundy. “Some of the best Appalachian authors you can find,” said Fekete. “I was in a poetry group for twenty years with some pretty amazing people—John McKernan, Art Stringer, Ron Houchin. My next project is a novel by Ron Houchin.”
And she loves teaching, she said.
“That it is one reason I got into this, as well. I like to workshop manuscripts, and have plenty of experience as a professor and member of writer’s groups. Motivating people motivates me, so I enjoy coaching. I’ve been told I’m extremely motivating, and I can really help people finish a project they’re struggling with. Just ask Chet.”
That’s Chet Lowther she’s talking about. This month, Guest Room Press published the Charleston WV artist’s book, “Trumpty Dumpty and the Great Wall: A Cautionary Tale.”
When I asked Lowther to categorize it, he said, “It’s illustrated like a children’s book, but it’s geared to adults.” Lowther’s talent at capturing personalities with wit and humor is on display in the likenesses of Donald Trump (of course), Mitch McConnell, Rudy Giuliani, Stormy Daniels, William Barr, and many other political characters.
He is grateful to Fekete for her guidance.
“She prodded me to finish it. I don’t think I would have gotten it done, otherwise. I started this thing three years ago. I had it planned, page by page, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I knew Andi was a writer, so I just called her for advice. She looked at it, called me back, and said, ‘I want to publish this.’ And she worked with me to get it done.”
In addition to its book titles, Guest Room Press plans a quarterly, Guest Room Journal, and boasts a stellar lineup for its Winter 2020 issue. Visit the website at guestroompress.com for information about submission policies, new releases, holiday specials, and more.
Colleen Anderson is a writer, performer, graphic designer, artist and origami fan, based in Charleston WV. See our may28.2020 “5 Questions” with her about The Art of the Op-Ed Limerick” in the Trump era.
READINGS | “Please Take Care of My Friend: Heart Advice from a Stranger” by Andrea Fekete: July 27, 2020: “Don’t drive if you’re upset. Don’t beat yourself up. Know you’re lovable and inspire others even if you’re not feeling it. Meditate. Sing. Even badly. It changes the brain right away “
READINGS: ARIE MANILLA | Part 2: “Madness”: July 11, 2020: “Bev screamed: “It’s Joey!” The sweet boy so many girls loved. Did he even drive a white car? I think we all knew it wasn’t Joey asphyxiated inside that vehicle, but it could have been him. It could have, and it felt good to whip ourselves into a frenzy—yet another asylum-able offense.”
MARIE MANILLA | Part 1: Driving By Her Own Headlights: July 11, 2020: Huntington WV native Marie Manilla is an award-winning fiction and non-fiction author. In a “5 Questions” interview, she talks about the highs and lows of writing; the ‘snotty literati,’ who use labels to belittle writers; and the novel she scrapped after hearing pre-publication reactions by African American and transgender sensitivity readers.
VIDEO READINGS| “Terracotta Tile,” a prompted tale by Connie Kinsey: July 6, 2020: “He was rage and she was ennui. She picked up her glass and took a sip. The wine tasted bitter. She couldn’t remember when he had last been happy. He stood in front of her. Silent, but radiating a need to speak. “What?” she said softly.
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