June Newsletter and SOS!

This is the first time that I’ve shared my publishing struggles in our newsletter so I decided to post this here in the hope that it’ll reach even more people. Thanks!


Dear Supporter,

As I’ve probably said countless times, running a small press is hard work. There are a small (but goodly) number of us publishers, founders, editors, fools, visionaries — call us what you will — across this small island and each individual brings their own unique identity to the press that they run. So the press, and the books that it publishes, is a reflection of, or perhaps a conduit for, its founder’s voice (political or moral), artistic taste and literary leanings.

All of us founders are so very different… (I’m the breastfeeding mama if you want to label me thus. Or you might know me as the one who’s got a Ph.D. in chemistry. Or the one who is mad keen on fairy tales and whose name means ‘fairy tale’ in Latvian. Or the one who pours far too much double cream into her coffee and wonders why her hips are swelling in her age-old tracksuit bottoms.)

But one commonality between us is that we’re either poorly paid or not paid at all (I fall into the latter category) and that we’re vastly, eminently, amazingly passionate about the books we publish.

Recently, two articles by fellow publishers (whom I greatly respect) – Helena Nelson of Happenstance Press and Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press – made a deep impression on me.

In Helena’s Poetry Campus pub chat interview, when asked, “Do you make any money from publishing?” she answered: “The right question would be, ‘How much do you lose?’”

And in Sam’s newsletter/SOS, he wrote:

“We’ve brought quite a few new and glorious novels into the world and really don’t want much more than that. Although we’ve had it….

….Yes, this is a begging letter.”

He then proceeded to explain in great technical detail about the state of UK publishing:

When Sam wrote, “Although we’ve had it.” I admit, I shed a tear or two. I think that he unwittingly prodded an emotional wound in me. You see, I’m no longer as youthful, energetic and optimistic as I used to be; I’m very, very tired as a result of fitting in the work of the press around family life; and the financial debt that we’re in is a constant strain. There are many days when I want to say, “Enough!”.

And yet, and yet… I’m still just as passionate about the books I’ve taken on and am going to publish. These books absolutely deserve to be out there, and I so desperately want readers to find them.

But I can’t produce and market these books without sales and pre-orders. The press simply won’t be able to survive and take on new authors without people buying/pre-ordering our stock, reading our books and recommending them to others.

So to quote Sam, “Yes, this is a begging letter.”

If you’ve only got a couple of quid to spare, you can help us out by buying a card or two. Or a beautiful pamphlet of poetry duets or an almost-sold-out Writing Prize anthology.

If you’ve got a couple quid more you can pre-order/order Oy Yew. This is not a book only for children, it’s a book for all ages, which is absolutely up there with what I consider to be the greats: His Dark Materials and Harry Potter.

Or for the same-ish amount you can buy a gorgeous print to frame and hang on your wall.

Or you can buy a book of fairy tales for an adult audience, or a collection of poetry by one of these two well-loved poets: Angela Topping and Cathy Bryant.

Or you can buy our bestselling and critically-acclaimed anthology Musings on Mothering.

Or you can invest in a unique handbound copy of Musings on Mothering or Letting Go.

Or if you’re feeling particularly generous, you can make a larger donation. (You may need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the donate button.)

Femininity. Empathy. Normalizing breastfeeding. I want to keep on producing books on this theme. If you’d like to help out, or know a person or two who’d like to help out, please do spread the word.

With many, many thanks for taking the time to read this,
best wishes from Teika (and Helen, who’s been my absolute cheerleader throughout) xxx

And p.s. if you’re in Nottinghamshire this Saturday (27th June) don’t forget that we’re launching Oy Yew at the Lowdham Book Festival, 11.00 – 12.00. Come along and say hello. Or buy me a coffee with plenty of cream in it. 😉
p.p.s. and yes… I know that this newsletter is going out ridiculously late for some of you to catch the last-minute reminder about Lowdham, but I had to see a man about some books today… (Photo courtesy my little son.) [Russell Press are our fab printers by the way.]

Launching ‘Hearth’ at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Last Sunday, Sarah JamesAngela Topping and I arrived at The Playhouse in Cheltenham to launch their pamphlet of poetry duets, Hearth. Although we had a small audience (the clash with Wenlock Poetry Festival no doubt decreasing numbers) they were a great audience. They listened to Sarah and Angela’s poetry reading with appreciation, and then afterwards the Q&A discussion about creative collaboration, motherhood and how to find time to write amidst busy family life was lively; in fact, we nearly ran over our allotted time slot!

As the publisher of Hearth (and as a reader for one of the parts of their collaborative poem, ‘Crow Lines’) I got one of the best seats in the house – right beside the poets. For me, it was brilliant to actually hear these poems being read by their creators. As the publisher, editor and typesetter I knew these poems well on the page, but when they were read they somehow flew and further life was breathed into them. And when I heard two of my favourite poems from the pamphlet, ‘The Washing Line’ by Sarah James and ‘Hooam’ by Angela Topping being read, I felt a tingle of magic running up and down my spine.

The Washing Line

The sister I never met hangs out my sheets,
pairs socks, dries my husband’s shirts
— sails smoothed towards the sun.

Sleeves brush against sleeves;
their unfleshed white flutters free.
Dropped pegs scatter on the grass.

I clip three together: a plastic family.
That’s Mum, Dad and me;
pinched tight without her.

She has polished the kitchen surface.
My unwashed potatoes
are peeled moons in her hands.

Her cheese soufflé rises from liquid velvet.
Always ready, the ghost of her absence
blurs my face from our photos.

Her dead baby lungs filled with water,
my chest aches where they buried her smile;
its sickle scrapes my ribs.




Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
                      Thomas Hardy

Me mam’s clatterin in ower kitchen
me dad’s at work. Am on me tod
playin in living room. Fire’s in.
Ah sit on floower, spread farms
on carpit, cows n pigs n sheds
all mine t’ rule ovver an all.

Now ah’m grown, owen haaus to rule ovver
me dad’s gone, so’s me mam.
Bring em back, yem days, gimme back
yon carpits, gawdy nick-knacks,
an brassoed stuff, fireplace an all.

Gimme dem days back, ‘ow it was
an me not seein it were passin.



After our event I was busy with our bookstall – all those in the audience came to buy a copy or two of Hearth, which was really lovely. Then, the poets for the next reading came in to set our their books and to mingle and chat. There was a lovely, friendly atmosphere – with many of the poets being firm friends and I must admit that I felt quite at home!

Sarah, Angela and myself then attended the next event – a reading by poets Adam Horovitz and David Morley. This was pretty packed, and I sensed a crackle of excitement in the air. Adam and David, very different poets, were absolutely riveting. And just as with Angela and Sarah’s reading, their poems seem to fly off the page and swirl around the room, coming to rest in the audience members’ hearts and minds.

I am absolutely convinced that anyone with an interest in poetry would love to come to an event like this. These poets showed me that poetry is very much alive and well, and absolutely itching to be discovered and shared.

After the event and packing up the bookstall, Angela, Sarah and I (as well as Angela’s lovely, supportive husband) enjoyed a pizza and talked more about poetry. All in all, it was a great day, and I am already looking forward to the next time I get to go out on a poetry ‘junket’!

We currently have a limited number of copies of Hearth (18 at the moment) that have been signed by Sarah and Angela in our online store. Do snap them up before they all go!

p.s. I’ve already got an eye out for another brilliant pair of poets to come together for another pamphlet of poetry duets. Please do check out the submissions if you’re interested. And if you’d like to suggest any pairings, please do leave a comment on this blog post. Thank you!

Cue long pause and me thinking… (the random thoughts of a publisher)

When a friend recently asked me what was involved in publishing, it took me a fair while to reply.

Cue long pause and me thinking…

We’re all consumers, in one way or another. When I eat my toast, I don’t think about how it got on my plate. I’ve got a vague idea about wheat being harvested, flour being milled and then voila! it’s bread and it’s in a bag and then it’s on my plate…

Rather like consumers of food, it’s not often that ‘consumers’ of books consider the book-production process.

Before I became a publisher I had no idea of what was involved in the making of a book. The writer writes, right? And then the publisher does some talking to the writer. And then the printer prints the book and voila! the book is now in my hands and I am free to criticize it endlessly, with not a thought for all the effort that has gone into its making.

Now I know. I really do truly know what goes into publishing a book because I’ve overseen every step of that process. And although I haven’t counted the number of steps involved it’s probably about a fifty-step process! (And that’s not even including all the work of the author, by the way.) There’s simply so much involved. It can (roughly) be split into: 1) book acquisition 2) editing & proofreading 3) book production i.e. typesetting, cover design, printing 4) marketing, promotion & advertising i.e. getting the book known, and 5) book selling. Number 6) is the whole business end, which includes the writing of contracts, long-term publishing plans, selling rights, finances, accounting, website maintenance. And of course there’s all that reading to be done…

Although I pretty much like all the aspects of publishing, the one thing that really excites me is this: reading a manuscript that I fall head over heels in love with. I also get pretty excited about getting just the right image for a book cover (pairing art with words is my thing!). And planning which books I’m going to publish in the coming years is also very exciting, but much more fun when you’ve got someone else to discuss it with.

So after I’d considered all the above, I finally gave an answer to my friend, and probably rather bored her with all the details!

Recently, I had to admit that I was becoming overwhelmed by the amount of ‘to-dos’ on my to-do list. I really needed someone else to be involved with Mother’s Milk Books. It was time (and this is where I get to feel very grand) that I got an Editorial Assistant.

So today, I am welcoming my new Editorial Assistant, Helen Lloyd who, as you can imagine, is passionate about breastfeeding and great literature. I am incredibly delighted to have her on board.

Over the coming months I’m going to be shining a light on all those wonderful folk involved in Mother’s Milk Books, from the incredibly important tea boy to the Editorial Assistant, as well as all the many, and varied, fabulous authors whose books I am going to publish in the coming months/years. Some of you may be familiar with them already as Mother’s Milk Books authors and some of them will be new to you. So welcome, Sarah James, Angela Topping, Ana Salote, Rebecca Smith and Alison Lock. I am super-excited to be working with you all! So if things seem quiet, in reality they’re not. I’m either busy actually doing the things on my to-do list, or conversing with Helen, or drinking tea and chatting to the lad who makes my tea.

Thanks again to all those who support Mother’s Milk Books. If it wasn’t for the readers (or should that be book consumers?!) who actually part with cash to buy our books we wouldn’t be able to keep this whole show on the road.

p.s. there is also the brilliant book of fairy tales taking shape in the background (more on that later!) and

p.p.s. I’m also running a giveaway on Facebook right now. Why not pop along to our Facebook page and enter to win some lovely (and new) greetings cards?

The Lowdham Book Festival 2014

On Saturday 28th June Mother’s Milk Books (aka me, my husband and our two children!) set off early in order to set up our stall at the Lowdham Book Festival. This was the first year we’d attended, so obviously, we were a bit unsure of what to expect. However, as soon as we discovered there was a playground right next to the village hall where the stallholders were (and lots of interesting tents outside full of activities for children) we knew that everything was going to be okay… I admit it was a long day (especially for a highly sensitive person such as myself who likes nothing better than to stay at home all day) but it was a very rewarding day. I met with lots of readers and local writers – Paula Rawsthorne and Megan Taylor were wonderful to chat to – as well as other publishers and the wonderful folk (such as those involved with Nottingham Writers’ Studio, Writing East Midlands, Five Leaves Bookshop and of course Lowdham’s The Bookcase) who all help writers and publishers get their books ‘out there’. I also particularly enjoyed listening to the song ‘The Box of Delights’ (written to celebrate 15 years of the Lowdham Book Festival) when it was sung on stage – it was performed with real enthusiasm and is incredibly catchy!

My three assistants – husband, daughter and son – had fun doing a treasure hunt, playing Pooh sticks at a nearby stream and of course, eating plenty of snacks (!) and browsing the stalls. I bought our daughter a skirt and matching headband that was handmade locally – and my husband bought ‘The Old Woman and her Pig’ from a secondhand book stall for our son. It was a book that I’d owned as a child, and it was really wonderful seeing it again – the illustrations had really implanted themselves in my memory! My daughter also had a go at a real letter press (run by Nick Birchall of Cleeve Press) and was delighted with her own hand printed creation.

Our cards and prints were popular with those who showed interest in the Mother’s Milk Books stall (which also included a selection of books published by Lonely Scribe) and our book covers, as well as handbound books, met with many compliments. We didn’t sell as many books as we’d have liked, but we covered our costs and made some over, which was good because sales in the last part of June have been (expectedly) quieter.

There’s no doubt about it – book selling is hard. Particularly in these difficult economic times it can be hard to justify spending money on books when there are so many other much more ‘practical’ things that need to be bought. And I know that as much as I love buying books myself I also find it hard to give myself permission to simply read for pleasure.

But, but, but…! I am in the ‘business’ of publishing and selling books. Although I sometimes wonder why I decided to walk this sometimes challenging path, deep down I do know why. It’s because I’m in love with stories. I love being gripped by a story so page turning, so thought-provoking that it keeps my everyday worries – about accounts, website management, dirty carpets and overflowing laundry baskets – at bay. A good story will take me to another world, and yet it will also teach me something new about myself. Yes, publishing is not easy, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing else quite as magical that I’d rather be doing.

So fingers-crossed (and as long as the wonderful stories keep appearing in my email inbox) we will be at Lowdham Book Festival next year with more wonderful books!

Writing Prize, books and submissions

Thank you again to all those who entered the inaugural Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. It’s been great to collect (and have a sneaky read!) of all the great entries, and I’m probably just as keen as the entrants to hear who the winners will be! We will have to wait patiently though as the judges, Angela Topping and Susan Last read and read and read… and then make their final decisions. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

As well as receiving a cash prize and a year’s worth of Juno magazines, the winner of the poetry competition will receive a limited edition hand bound hardback of Letting Go by Angela Topping. This book has been hand bound with such care and attention to detail – it is simply beautiful – and I’m sure the winner will appreciate the beauty of the words within and the beauty of the book craft too.

If you’re not sure about your chances of winning (!) or perhaps didn’t get around to entering the writing prize this year there is another way to get hold of this lovely book… We now have 2 copies for sale in The Mother’s Milk Bookshop, so if you’re looking ahead to Mothers’ Day and want a special something this could well be it! (With the JANSALE code you can also get 20% off your entire basket too.) The sale ends 31st January though, so if you’d like to stock up on breastfeeding-friendly books, mothering/new baby or general greetings cards, or art/poetry prints now is a great time. (Susan Last’s book Breastfeeding: Stories to inspire and inform is also available in the store. The prose winner will get a signed copy of this fab book, but again, if you’re not too sure that’s going to be you, you can get hold of a copy here!)

Thank you again for all your support and if you’re just as keen as me to find out who the winners will be, WATCH THIS SPACE!

p.s. we are also now open for submissions, so do check out our guidelines if you think your writing may well suit our publishing interests.

Happy 2014! and The Latest News

Our big news so far is that there are only 4 days to go until the Writing Prize comes to a close. We’ve received some great poetry and prose submissions so far but would always appreciate more! We also really need more contributions from children; this category is free to enter and any amount of lines on the theme of parenting (silly, funny, serious or sweet!) would be very welcome.

We also have our January sale now on, which means that you can get 20% off your shopping basket when you use the code JANSALE at The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (a good chance perhaps to get some early Mothers’ Day gifts in?).

We’re also now open to submissions, hooray! If you’re interested in submitting your work please do read the submissions guidelines carefully and email me if you have any queries.

Thank you so much for all the support and encouragement you’ve given me over the past year, and I wish you all a very healthy and happy 2014, with a good dollop of soul-enriching creativity thrown in!

Best wishes from Teika x

When they’re gone, they’re gone!

Back at the start of the year, Barb Sheppard, a long-term LLL Leader and supporter, hand bound a copy of Musings on Mothering (with accompanying handmade box) to auction off through ebay for the charity La Leche League GB. It raised over £70 for the charity – 100% of the proceeds from the sale going directly to LLLGB – with various interested parties making a bid for it at the last minute!

I had a few spare copies of Musings left in loose-leaf form after the original litho print run, so I thought it would be lovely to get them hand bound and offered for sale via our store The Mother’s Milk Bookshop – particularly for those who were interested in the auction. Barb kindly agreed to putting in the necessary work, so here they now are! We did have 7 but one has been snapped up already… I hate to say it, but when they’re gone, they’re gone! There are no loose-leaf sheets left and no plans on any more print runs so that’ll be it… a true limited edition. 🙂

If you’d like any more details about the book which has an RRP of £35 feel free to email me on: teika [at] mothersmilkbooks.com

And if you’re interested in doing some Christmas shopping over at our store, please do use the discount code PARENTING to get a further 15% off the price of your basket (valid until the end of November).

Thank you for your continued support, and happy shopping!

Looking back at the 2013 LLLGB Conference

I like the idea of getting dressed up smartly and then going to publishing events, launches, conferences etc. to mix and mingle with the aim of letting the world know about the books and cards I’m producing and selling. The reality though is far different…

There are oh-so-many things to consider now that I am a parent: a breastfeeding little one who, although completely happy with his grandma, likes to check in with his mama from time to time for milk and cuddles; school drop-off and pick-up times for my big girl; a suitable child’s car seat for my mum’s car; enough refreshments, nappies and entertainment to last the day; and the practicality of lugging boxes of heavy books around when trying to hold my little one’s hand AND cross a busy road safely!

So at present ‘events’ don’t fit in easily with family life.

But the annual La Leche League GB conference is, for me, the one big annual event, and I start to think about this months in advance.

Why is this then?

As many of you know, LLL is a charity close to my heart, and their events are, of course, completely child-friendly and mama-friendly. So my little one, grandma in tow, came and went as he pleased – completely fascinated by going up and down the hotel lifts and then exploring the many corridors, then it was back to my stall…

When we had a nappy leak, a friendly mama offered baby wipes which I didn’t have to hand, and my friend, LLL Leader Lois Rowlands (who is also the creator of the image on Letting Go) carried boxes with me and then helped me to find a trolley to transport the rest.

At the end of the second day of the conference my little boy, completely exhausted from all the hotel exploring and excitement fell asleep nursing just as I had to pack away my stall and send my mum off to get her car out of the expensive car park, seconds ticking away… I hadn’t brought a sling with me or anything so knew I would have to ask someone for babysitting help. A friendly Leader offered to sit with both my little ones as I packed up the stall and then ran up and down stairs carrying half-empty boxes, my mum in her car waiting outside.

That’s what I love most about LLL – if you need a hand, a little support when you really could do with some then they are there for you. So this conference will continue to be in my events diary for the foreseeable future. 🙂

And by the way, the mixing and mingling was fun, and it was lovely to hear so many positive comments about my books, cards and prints. I am though looking forward to a rather quieter weekend this weekend… 😉

My daughter’s salt dough decorations – she’s a budding entrepreneur too!

Stall at local LLL Nottingham workshop

Here is a photograph of my little stall at the local LLL Nottingham workshop that I attended on Saturday 4th May. It was really great to meet up with so many lovely La Leche League ladies from various parts of the Midlands (and other parts of the country), and to see so many happily nursing babies and toddlers in the meeting room. LLL get-togethers always have such a lovely atmosphere about them, and of course they are a place where breastfeeding is the ‘norm’ and treated as such – which is refreshing!

Although my stall wasn’t heaving with items, I’m so proud to see it growing… Last October at the LLLGB conference it had one book on it – Musings on Mothering – and now it has greetings cards (20 designs), sold individually and in multipacks. My daughter and I spent many, many minutes (!) folding and packing the cards and envelopes into cellophane bags. I’ve also stocked up on The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which I think is a great book to have in my online store. I’m also looking forward to adding art and poetry prints to my growing list of products. I’m getting there slowly…! (Though I’ve still got lots more product details to add to the store.) Check it out, and if you have any sales questions, don’t hesitate to email me here: [email protected]

What’s it like to publish a book?

In the past year I’ve often been asked, “what’s it like to publish a book?”. At the moment my response is to mildly grimace… You see publishing a book is difficult; it is time consuming and can be expensive. And so much of one’s heart goes into it.

After going through many, many months of ‘bearing’ the book i.e. deciding on the final content, editing, copy-editing, typesetting, cover design, proofreading, organizing ISBNs and liaising with printers you finally give birth to your ‘baby’.

Now come the questions. Who’s really going to be interested in your book? What will they think of it? And crucially, who will actually buy it?

It may be rather unpleasant to have to ask yourself these questions, but they do need to be considered carefully before deciding on how you wish to publish your book.

The good news is that there are so many resources out there for people who want to self-publish a book, and resources too, for someone interested in establishing an independent press.

Two excellent books that will give you plenty of useful information are here:

How To Publish Your Own Book by Anna Crosbie (published by howtobooks)

Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (published by A&C Black)

I would suggest that it’s a good idea to be ruthlessly realistic. How many books do you think you will sell? If it’s not many (say, on the scale of tens, or perhaps hundreds) and you like the look of books that have been digitally printed, then POD (print on demand) may be your best option, since the books are only printed and bound when they’re bought. This means less upfront costs (good!) and less worries about distribution and storage of books (good!), but I believe that margins are not so good with this method. And I’m not sure what a full-colour POD book would look like. There are a number of companies out there who produce POD books.

Perhaps you think you’d like to get a printing firm to print a few hundred and you’re happy to sell and distribute it through your own networks – be they electronic or real (!). Printing copies of a text-only book using digital printing could work well, although there’s still the upfront printing costs to consider.

Lastly, there’s the larger scale litho printing (which produces hundreds and/or thousands of books) which incurs large upfront printing costs, but it does have that beautiful ‘whiff’ of a traditional printing technique.

So… having a realistic answer to the question ‘how many books will I sell?’ will give you an idea of how you want to print (and distribute) your book, and how long it will take to pay back the upfront costs of producing a book. It’s worth bearing in mind that some self-published titles do not cover their production costs. Grimace.

As to the production of the book – well, there are many companies/freelancers who provide the services that will get words/pictures into a book format i.e. graphic designing/typesetting/desktop publishing. Or you can teach yourself, like I did. *Gulp!*

Editors, copy-editors and proofreaders also carry out an essential job, and if you have the funds it’s well worth employing them. They really help to make a book look professional.

Selling and distributing your book is a whole other matter…!

If you’re thinking of publishing a few more titles ‘and setting up shop’, this quote may be of interest:

“Starting an independent publishing company is not for the faint-hearted.”

[from The Insider’s Guide To Independent Publishing (published by The Independent Publisher’s Guild)].

But hard work and faint-heartedness aside, producing – and publishing – a book is incredibly exciting and rewarding. Which is why, I guess, so many people wish to take matters into their own hands and get their work published themselves.

If you’re one of those persons, I wish you the best of luck!

And if you’d like to remove the grimace from my face – come visit my store and buy a book! 😉

p.s. [November 2015] Since I wrote the above I have often been asked for help on others’ book projects. If you’re interested in having me involved in your project, please do contact me.

Thank you!