Today I am delighted to welcome Francesca T Barbini of Luna Press Publishing to the blog. I’ve long been a fan of Francesca and the books she publishes, so it’s been wonderful to get an insight into the workings of the press and how she decides which manuscripts to take on and publish – particularly as Luna Press’s submissions window for novels will soon be opening. Huge thanks to the ever-busy Francesca for taking the time to answer my questions.
1. Why publishing? Or, to put it another way – if, a decade ago, you were asked the question: ‘What do you see yourself doing in ten years’ time?’ would you have answered ‘managing an independent press’?
That would be a no! Back then I was surrounded by the pieces of the puzzle, scattered all over the place. It took me a while before I was able to assemble them and see the bigger picture!
I think of myself as a facilitator; I connect people to their goals, or at least try help them along the right path. Plus, I have an entrepreneurial spirit. Couple this with my passion for writing, editing and translating, books and SFF, and this led me to Luna.
I like to experiment with new projects, work with charities, and explore the non-fiction side of SFF. Luna is me, so those three aspects are very important in my life as well.
2. You (and your press) are based in Edinburgh. What’s the Scottish independent publishing scene like?
I think it’s a like a hidden treasure! All eyes tend to be turned towards London when it comes to publishing, but Scotland has built a very strong scene overall, and it’s growing. On top of this, indie presses will always have the advantage of following their instincts and act outside of the restraints which affect the big 4. This keeps the scene fresh and constantly evolving.
3. Luna Press publishes in a range of genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, non-fiction, Tolkien-related works, even children’s books and highly illustrated books. Is there one thing that links all the books you publish, do you think? And what makes a manuscript a good fit for the Luna Press list?
The link, as simple as it may sound, is that the books I’ve published were the books that spoke to me.
I think what I consider a good fit for Luna has changed since 2015, when we started. When you read hundreds of submissions a year you become attuned to what you like and what you don’t. The first thing for me is the writing style. I’m not sure I can explain this one, but I recognize it when I see it. It feels flawless, captivating, fresh, daring; it takes you straight into the story, it doesn’t ask you to stop while exposition takes over – a skilled writer finds a way to tell you what has happened, whilst telling the story. There is also an element of subjectivity, of course, as I have to like the story itself. I don’t publish “by trend”, but “by heart”. So, something in the content has to speak to me, for whatever reason, and at the same time it needs to feel fresh and original.
4. Do you read all the submissions yourself? Or do you have a team of readers who sift through submissions? And how much of a submitter’s manuscript do you actually read?
Even when others are involved in the early stages of the submission process, I am always personally involved. We require the first three chapters of a novel, and although after all these years it takes a page or less to identify a MS you want to know more about, I make a point to reading them fully. I think three chapters is a nice amount to highlight style, flow and pace, originality.
5. Which brings me nicely on to my next question:
You’re soon to be open to novel submissions (21–27 June). Why should a writer submit to Luna Press?
I would turn the question around: why do you (writer) want to submit to Luna? What have you seen, or felt, when reading my blog, looking at the website, scrolling through our socials, watching our YouTube channel, that made you go, ‘I’d love to be part of the Luna Family!’?
My commitment to the Luna family is there for all to see. Luna is small, but fierce, and I like to think that an author will submit to us because they have felt something, a connection, the feeling that we are the right place for their work.
(Aside from Teika: Francesca has made a brilliant series of videos about the publishing process. Do check them out!)
6. What has been one of your greatest challenges while running the press? And greatest successes?
Challenges: Stealing the Time-Turner from Hermione Granger. Now that I can travel back and forth in time, I am able to have two full time jobs, to maintain meaningful relationships with other humans and own beagle. Actually, the beagle owns me.
Successes: Every first time we’ve ever had. First author signed; first book published; first review; first time seeing your books in a store; first award nomination and first win; first time selling and buying international rights; first time supplying libraries; first time working with a charity; first time working with an agent; first time watching one of our debut authors being welcomed by a much bigger publisher and the other way around. Every first time is a step forward and it feels me with excitement and joy.
7. How much of your week is spent working on the press? Do you have a team about you?
Every day, including weekends! I guess when you are a small business owner it’s harder to switch off. I have become better at planning “me time”, but I can still improve on that! I run Luna by myself primarily, but there are awesome freelancers who help me out and others who take care of certain aspects of the production process. I couldn’t do it without them.
8. Any hard-won wisdom (about life or publishing!) that you’d like to pass on?
When your heart and soul are in a project, it will never feel like a chore. The moment you lose that drive, be honest to yourself, reassess and get back to the drawing board. Running a small press is really hard, so when I feel overwhelmed, I stop and take ‘my pulse’. As long as the flame is still burning, I can rally and carry on. I need to give 100% to my authors, so my commitment needs to be unfaltering.
9. As a former publisher myself (and now editor-at-large) I know it’s hard to single out any one title as being a ‘favourite’, but if there is one Luna Press book that we should all go out and buy right now, what would it be?
Lorraine Wilson’s This Is Our Undoing. Lorraine is a Scottish writer and this is her debut. The book is a marvellous speculative mystery. Yvonne Battle-Felton wrote the blurb for it, and described it as a touching experience, “… about the costs of accepting everyday violence, losses of privacy, intrusions on wildlife, human trafficking, the legacy of harm, loss, and trauma. It’s also a story about family, healing, forgiveness, and possibilities.” The book is in pre-order and will be out on the 3rd of August.
10. Lastly… tea or cappuccino, a Bellini or Chianti…?!
Cappuccino and Bellini sounds good to me! But Chianti with my meals (with or without the fava beans).