Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Novella Project: Francesca Barbini Interview

Today for the novella project we're speaking to Francesca Barbini:

Francesca Barbini is the owner of award-winning Luna Press Publishing, a small Scottish press of SFF in fiction and academia. 

Roseanna speaks to her about her experience publishing novellas with a small press:

You’ve been running Luna for eight years now – what made you decide to set up a small press? And how did you go about achieving it?

I’ve always seen myself as a facilitator. I’ve a background in education and publishing feels very similar, in that I love accompanying people along their journeys, helping them to fulfil their potential. I started as a self-published writer, gaining first-hand knowledge of all the different publishing aspects; then I got a contract with a Canadian independent press for my YA SF series, which allowed me to understand its operation from an author’s perspective; finally, I had friends in Italy running small presses who showed me the inner workings. All this, together with a strong work ethic from my parents, went on to build the basic knowledge of what was required to start a small press on my own. After that came plenty of courses in all the various publishing aspects, as well as meetings with all the professionals involved in the setting up of a business – a steep learning curve for sure, but totally worth it!

What are the particular challenges of running a small press? Especially compared to some of the bigger publishers.

Generally speaking, all small businesses share similar challenges: time is a most precious commodity, budget is limited, reliance on one or two people to run the show (if something happens to them there is a real risk of closure), etc. It’s down to scale, I think. A legitimate small press broadly operates similarly to a traditional publisher, only on a much smaller scale. Just like small businesses are essential to the economy, so too small presses are an essential part of the publishing ecosystem. I strongly believe that, so challenges-be-gone! 

What is your favourite thing about running a small press?

Being a part of my authors’ journey, and having the freedom to publish what I love, without having to ask permission from anyone! I always say that at Luna, we publish ‘by heart’. It might sound cheesy, but when you are this small, and with finite resources, you really focus on what truly connects with you.

Every small press seems to have its particular unique flavour that goes into the works they publish and how they present to the world – what would you say is Luna’s? 

Small presses are often made up of one or two individuals, and therefore their books primarily reflect their taste. I keep mentioning the word ‘journey’ as I’m answering your questions, and that is because it’s an important and powerful word in my life, and so I am intrigued by stories with strong characters and their journeys. I also love to work with authors from different countries, and not necessarily anglophones. Writing in English should be seen as a bridge, not a criterion for the quality of the book. I am very proud of the “Luna Map of the World” on our website, where you can see all our authors and where they are from! As for the artwork, I have worked with amazing artists from all over the world, and I love it when authors introduce me to new artists they know! I like variety!

Does your experience as an author and translator feed into your work running Luna? If so, how?

They have certainly helped me grow as an editor, I’d say. I take care of structural edits before a MS is passed on to copy editing. My experience as a writer and a reader has shaped the way I see a story. And my experience as a translator helps me when I work with non-anglophone authors. Translating fiction is a whole different ball game, certainly a good place to hone editorial skills.

What goes into your process for finding new works? Do you think there’s a difference compared to the larger publishers?

Because of Luna’s size, I tend to plan open submissions: in November I normally update the website with the dates for the following year, specifying the type of submission it is. Our subscribers get heads-ups and special openings as well. Although I work with agents, Luna’s submissions are always open to everyone, and that has never changed. 

You have a particularly interesting and well curated selection of novellas – why is this something you’ve chosen to highlight? Is there something about the novella form that appeals particularly?

Luna Novella started in 2020. It was a response to a busy lifestyle and COVID-19 fatigue. I found that the more stressed I got, the shorter the fiction I read. I wrote an article introducing the series, for those interested, in which I reflected on the strength of short fiction. I wanted something pocket-size, that would showcase SFF and its sub-genres; something meatier than a short story, but that I could finish in one sitting if I wanted to. It must have resonated with many people, as the series was incredibly well-received. This year in particular, we have seen its success through several awards, with longlists, shortlists (Israeli debut author Or Luca, with Luca, at the British Science Fiction Association Awards) and a win at the British Fantasy Society Awards for The Queen of the High Fields by Rhiannon Grist.

What do you think makes a good novella more broadly?

Personally, I like small casts and small settings. Understanding that a novella is not the summary of a novel, it’s the first step. Resisting the temptation to cram in too many strands is also key. Focusing the reader’s attention on a contained space or cast of characters can add natural depth to the worldbuilding, something that may be perhaps harder to develop in a one-off short piece of fiction. 

Are there any misconceptions you think people have about novellas? Or about the ones published by small presses? And if so, what would you say in response to them?

Short fiction is fantastic. I even made a video on my top 5 reasons for writing short fiction. I hope people don’t think that ‘shorter’ means ‘less valuable’. I think the shorter the form, the harder it gets from a writing point of view, and as for the benefits to authors and readers, there are plenty.

With regards to your second point, as more and more traditionally published authors continue to develop their careers through small presses (in a sort of hybrid model), we witness a shift in perception: just like self-publishing (if well done) is now considered a perfectly valid career, so too is being published by small presses (not vanity presses). This in turn affects the perception of the books we produce, including novellas. 

If there are people out there who cannot see the point of small presses and their books, for whatever reason, and argue that if you are not traditionally published you might as well self-publish, then I think they are only seeing one piece of the bigger picture, and I would invite them to take a step back and admire the intricate jig-saw of the full publishing landscape - by no means a perfect landscape, but one enriched by the presence of small presses, where we can learn better practice from each other.

Can you tell us about any upcoming novellas you’re excited to be publishing? Or a few works you’ve published in 2023 that you’re particularly proud of?

In February 2024 we will be releasing three new books for the Luna Novella series.

CL Farley, is a debut South African author, and her story, The Invisible Girl, is about seeing the world differently, and society’s tendency to ‘other’ people who make them uncomfortable. Many different ideas and experiences inspired this story: life in a backwater city, victim shaming and the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and the search for community in a world that doesn’t tolerate strangeness well.

The second novella is also a debut, this time from Barbados. Knicky L Abbott wrote Tanglewood, a postcolonial gothic romance set in a fictional 1840s Barbados, that explores the isolation of the Irish Indentured and a unique origin story for the local folkloric legend of the Steel Donkey.

Finally, our very own Lorraine Wilson, with The Last to Drown. Beneath the spooky, this book is about grief, PTSD, and broken families; about how whole lives can be thrown off course by private cataclysms. It is also a deeply personal exploration of chronic pain. This is something Lorraine lives with, and The Last To Drown is her first time writing from that part of herself.

I am very much excited to help bring these new journeys into your world!

Thank you Francesca!

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea