Netta Johnson is the Publisher at one of Edmonton’s newest Publishing houses, Stonehouse Publishing. She loves coffee, tea and a story well told. In her fleeting free time, you will find her curled up with an historical novel, putting everything else on hold until she has finished. Aside from being a writer, editor, reader and lover of literature, she dabbles in bread-making and stone masonry. Netta currently serves on the board of the Book Publishers Association of Alberta and the Waldorf Education Society of Edmonton.
Lisa Murphy-Lamb began her career as an elementary teacher, inspiring young students to put words to page. Then one day in her jam-packed grade 5 classroom, Lisa realized that she could trade in the life of a teacher for the glamorous (and silent) life of a writer. So she did. But not before she moved cities, went back to university and began her family. Lisa Murphy-Lamb is a writer, educator, and the Director of Loft 112, a creative space for writers in Calgary’s East Village.
Netta: When we first started in 2014, it was to see more historical-fiction in Canada, including historical fiction about other parts of the world. We still love to look at the broad world of history, but we have also found ourselves drawn into the many incredible stories set in Canada in this past, along with a number of thrillers. Starting out, we didn’t realize how much we love thrillers.
2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Netta: So many things! Who doesn’t want to be in publishing? Well, for starters, we were/are inspired by the idea of publishing first-time authors, and making decisions beyond the p/l calculation. Sometimes this means that decisions don’t make financial sense, but in some ways, that is the charm of it all. In other ways, we are still struggling to pay ourselves. A connection?
3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Netta: Representing community. This was something we did not fully understand to start with. Publishers have to give people/readers/writers a reason to support them, and in that way they are symbiotic.
4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Netta: Well, my deceased cat, Unsworth, is one of our acquisitions editors. Who else is doing that? But perhaps more seriously, I think all publishers are unique, and in that way, they are all bringing something unique to the marketplace, and Canada is better with more publishers operating than less.
5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
Netta: Choose books you sincerely love so your advocacy for them is so genuine, readers know it, and trust you to bring them to continue to produce good books.
6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Netta: It depends on the book, but we have done both. I would say sometimes we ask questions about things, which lead to redevelopment, but mostly we ask for smaller edits, and are more likely to say 'this scene is weighed down by details; trim this section by 1/3’ rather than ‘get rid of this character’.
7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Netta: Through LitDistCo in Toronto. 1,000 is our average, 500 is the lowest, and 2,000 is the highest ever.
8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Netta: There are many people involved in editing and production, but I am sorry to say that there are not too many people paid throughout that process, including us. The larger first edit is always done in-house, by either Netta, Lisa or Julie, and sometimes all of us. Small errors are caught by everyone and anyone, on the way to the final print. It takes a village to remove typos from a manuscript.
9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Netta: It has made me realize that writing really is just the first of many needful steps on the way to broad readership and material success.
10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
Netta: We give it a fair amount of thought, and try to ensure some sort of objectivity enters the decision. We want it to be more than just a ridiculously easy submission process… We can see many upsides and downsides. It is way easier to promote others, for example, than to promote oneself, so if the book is mine, the promotion really suffers.
Lisa: I published my novel, Jesus on the Dashboard through Stonehouse Publishing and through this relationship as writer/publisher I was asked to join the Stonehouse team when a third member was required. If I ever get my second novel published, we will have to have this discussion…publish in house or look elsewhere! But Netta is right. I spend a lot of time looking at ways to support the writers of Stonehouse and then forget to apply these opportunities to myself as a writer of Stonehouse.
11– How do you see Stonehouse Publishing evolving?
Netta: This may sound trite, but I see it making money someday. But honestly, that is part of a mature organization, and we have had an influx of energy in the past few years (mostly due to Lisa coming aboard!), so our outlook is quite positive and hopeful, despite all the rational reasons to feel glum (COVID, lack of money, closed bookstores, etc…)
Lisa: As we’re preparing for our Fall launch, we are also, of course, reading through our submission pile. I think the first 7 years of establishing Stonehouse as an exciting publishing house is beginning to pay off. We’re actually asking more writers to send in their full manuscripts then not. The quality of submissions is really exciting.
12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
Netta: I think I am most proud of starting a publishing house in the first place. It is a gargantuan effort, and sometimes I sit back and thinking about how much it took to do. I don’t think we are overlooked, but I do think that because we started from scratch, rather than acquiring an existing house and backlist, we have pursued an unusual path and are harder to categorize.
13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Netta: We didn’t start with a model in mind, only the idea of what might be possible. In starting out, we had many mentors and many other generous publishers who were willing to sit down and have a coffee with us and tell us some of the things we didn’t know. The publishers we met with often did things differently from each other, and were very kind in explaining which ones of their processes they had created and still liked a lot, and which ones were more historical, and had begun to feel like restraints upon them. This was incredibly helpful.
14 – How does Stonehouse Publishing work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Stonehouse Publishing in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
Netta: Our community involvement mostly comes via the groups we are members of, like the Book Publishers Association of Alberta, the Literary Press Group, and so on. We are always happy to accept invitations to be on panels, or help with workshops. We know this is vital.
15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Netta: We hold one group launch for all of the authors/books we release each year, and we think they are very important. This year will be our first virtual launch, so we are looking for other creative ways to involve community and support the forthcoming titles.
16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Netta: By communicating via social media and selling from our website. It is very important, especially in times where bookstores are closed or limited.
Lisa: We also communicate a great deal with our writers via email. We have an active relationship with many of them, some less so, but we like to offer different ways to keep sharing their books, or what’s happening in the publishing world or what we are doing as a publisher on their behalf.
17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Netta: We do take submissions. What aren’t we looking for? I suppose we aren’t looking for poetry or short-stories, or anything too formulaic or cynical. Or gratuitously violent.
Lisa: We also don’t publish non fiction or children’s books.
18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Netta: While our minds are taken up with our 5 upcoming novels Humane, Rough, Censorettes, Fall of Night and All the Night Gone, it would be impossible to limit the list to 3, so I will take some time to send some more love towards our previous 3 books, released Fall 2019:
The Wheaton: The rare novel set in a senior’s home, both funny and poignant. John, recently retired but still young and healthy enough to work, takes a job at 'the Wheaton’ while grieving for his late wife. The reader develops a bit of a love/hate relationship with John, as we re-live his memories, and discover the insular and sometimes selfish way he had lived his life.
The Work: This novel looks at the longing inside each of us, looking for meaning and community. The setting, a theatre troupe which bears more than a passing resemblance to a cult, brings so much of our (often hidden) lives into view. Toronto arts scene in the 80s comes to life in this clever book.
Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers: The sudden death of Margot Morris and her two young daughters in a house fire sends shock-waves through a small rural community. The Morrises are a close-knit family, long associated with the mysterious arts of taxidermy and bee-keeping and the town is enveloped by speculation about this eccentric family whose close bonds are now being tested by tragedy.
12 or 20 (small press) questions;