Ten Years and Counting
Updated: Jul 1
Five Directions Press’s Big Anniversary
C. P. Lesley
Five Directions Press marked its tenth birthday this month. On June 3, 2012, we published our first novel, my The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel. Since then, we have doubled our number of authors and produced more than thirty books. Nowhere near Big Five territory, of course, but that was never the point. The fact that we’re still here, still writing, and still friends is worth celebrating. And celebrations naturally invite reminiscences, so in the spirit of the coop we have created, we’re sharing our experiences in this joint post. As the historian in the group as well as one of the three co-founders, I volunteered to kick off the discussion.
I had been thinking of something along the coop lines for at least six months before proposing what became Five Directions Press to the two other members of my writers’ group early in 2012. We’d been meeting monthly for four years by then, and each of us was nearing completion of a novel that the others had read and commented on through various drafts. I happened to be the first one to finish, in this case The Golden Lynx, and I was shopping it to literary agents. But while waiting, I finally figured out how to handle The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel, which I’d worked on for years before I joined the writers’ group and set aside until I could bear to look at the book again. I knew I couldn’t shop two novels at the same time, and I had a friend who’d enjoyed some success with self-publishing, so I was tempted to give it a try. But since I didn’t like the idea of going it completely alone, I’d been dragging my feet, reaching out to various small presses and other self-published writers for help.
After a while, light dawned, and I realized that right in front of me was the perfect small publisher: a writer with an art history background and an ear for developmental editing (Ariadne Apostolou); a writer who was also a graphic designer (Courtney J. Hall); and a writer who knew the mechanics of editing and book production (me). So I asked Ariadne and Courtney what they thought about working together to publish our books, and after a bit of discussion we settled on the basics. Because we were friends, we preferred to avoid the conflicts money can introduce to a group, so we chose the co-op format, in which each author pays her own way and collects her own royalties. No one else needs to know how well a given book is doing, so there is no space for jealousy and resentment to rear their ugly heads.
Thus Five Directions Press was born. To give it the best start possible, I pulled The Golden Lynx from agents, and we put out two books that year. In 2013, Ariadne published her first novel; Courtney completed hers in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, we expanded dramatically, with Claudia H. Long, Gabrielle Mathieu, Joan Schweighardt, and Denise Allan Steele all joining us in the space of not much more than a year. And here we are, five years after that, still going strong.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. It’s been everything I hoped for when the idea first came to me, and more. I’ve made new friends and strengthened my connections with the old ones, I’ve ushered twelve novels into the world, and even if I never become a household name or get my books onto the bestseller lists, those experiences and learning opportunities have proven more valuable than I can say. And with that, I’ll turn over the keyboard to the other members and invite them to share what Five Directions Press has meant to them. In alphabetical order, here they are.
Ariadne Apostolou: Long before I met Carolyn, I lived in New York and in Geneva where I belonged to various local writers’ groups and took workshops as I practiced the craft of writing. I had lots to learn before tackling something as demanding as a novel. Moving back to the States, settling down to life with my new daughter, I kept writing. I searched for a writing group in my new neighborhood, knowing I thrived on the camaraderie and sharing that writing together inspires. Once I’d met Carolyn, it made sense to work together. Courtney joining us made a good group. These ladies focused me. They were kind about my work, supportive in their ideas and thinking. They pushed me to rewrite and rethink. I learned from them and grew confident that I could do this—that I was in fact a writer.
Carolyn’s idea ten years ago, to start a coop seemed like a natural next step to expand our vision and possibilities. We became a group of generous, like-minded women. It has been a delight to collaborate as Five Directions friends.
Courtney J. Hall: In 2008, I achieved the unachievable (for me, at least)—I finished writing the first five chapters of a novel. Until that moment, Chapter 5 was right about when I would start to lose the story, along with the interest in telling it. But this one? It kept going, demanding to be told. It was on me to make sure that happened.
To maintain my newfound momentum, I went searching for critique partners, other writers to keep me in check and from whom I could learn and grow into the novelist I’d dreamed of being since I read my first Babysitter’s Club book. I hit the jackpot on my first try when I found a group that included C. P. Lesley and Ariadne Apostolou. We were all local, we were all writing, and almost immediately, we were all friends. And though my goal had always been traditional publishing, when the idea of forming an authors’ cooperative came up after four years of writing together, I immediately loved the idea of being able to tap into a graphic design background I hadn’t had much opportunity to use, to help my friends see their own books published, and to have full control over what I put out into the world.
It would be another three years before my debut novel was ready for prime time, and though it’s hardly set the world on fire, I never could have done it without the support and friendship of the group. And as we’ve added both members and books, expanding across the United States and beyond, I’ve learned more about writing, publishing, and everything that comes with it. Best of all, the little community we’ve built together and which I’m proud to be a part of is what keeps me going even on the most frustrating days, when the words just won’t come. With such an amazing group by my side, I’ve been able to do what not everyone can say they’ve done—realize my biggest dream.
Claudia H. Long: Sometimes the rug is pulled out from under you, and in publishing it’s terribly common. But what’s rare and wonderful is when the hand reaching out to catch you is better than you could have imagined. Okay, we’ve got a mixed metaphor going here, one that our sisters at Five Directions would point out and ask if you really wanted to say it that way. Maybe not! But for my story it’s perfect.
My first book was published by Simon & Schuster. When I turned in the next one, my editor already had her bags packed, and the manuscript became what's called an “orphan.” Not for long, because the “committee’ simply said, “No.” Without my editor to champion it, it had no home. My agent quickly regrouped, and we landed at another largish publisher, who brought out the second book. Sales were very strong, and the third book was in the editing stages, but the company was not, and without warning, at 5 pm on Friday, they shut their doors. A mad scramble for our rights and revenues, and once again we were out on the streets.
My agent called. “It's going to be hard to place Duel for Consuelo again. And Chains of Silver can’t come out if Duel is gone. But I know a wonderful group of writers who’ve formed a co-op, their books are beautifully edited and produced, and you'll have full control of your manuscript.” I was intrigued. I’d done the Big 5, I’d done the largish, but I hadn’t done co-op. I called Carolyn. She was beyond gracious. She’d read Duel for Consuelo, and thought we’d be a great fit.
And so I went from one of the largest publishing houses to a co-op. Sales are strong, the books are beautiful, and I am eternally grateful to Five Directions Press and the women who are part of it for having an outstretched hand to catch my books when we were in free-fall.
Happy 10th anniversary, Five Directions Press! And here’s to another decade of quality book publishing.
Gabrielle Mathieu: When my husband, dog, and I moved to Switzerland in 2009, we rented the furnished apartment of a Swiss writer who spent most of the year in New York City with his American wife. The apartment was in the basement of his mother’s villa. His writing room was the biggest room, with a space for two antique desks and a huge bay window framed by climbing roses, which faced out to the garden. I was determined to get published, just like he had, so I set up my computer and brewed up a fantasy about an androgynous girl scientist in the 1950s, who has a life-changing experience after being poisoned with a hallucinogen. Since the story was so original, set in an unfamiliar part of the Swiss countryside, I was sure this suspenseful tale would take the publishing world by storm. After a year of querying that attracted negligible interest, I tried marketing directly to small publishers. I did have a droll experience with a former executive at Disney, a canny lawyer who was publishing his wife’s gritty memoir of her work as a bookie. Our association ended when I realized he wanted to do a rights-sweep and would give little in return—not even the assurance that there would be physical copies available.
By the time I discovered the Five Directions co-op press, I was frustrated and despairing, though still intent on exhausting every available possibility. What a nice surprise then, to get an e-mail answer within the week from C. P. Lesley, saying the members would like some time to read the book before considering publication. I was even more surprised when they all read it within a reasonable time frame and gave me their opinions, which were overwhelmingly positive.
Then it was time to get to work. Ariadne Apostolou, who had been to Switzerland, had questions about the characters and why they acted as they did. Courtney J. Hall patiently delivered mockups of covers, as we tried out idea after idea. C. P. Lesley explained the publication process with Amazon and helped me decide on practical matters such as pricing, as well as doing an exemplary job with the typesetting, together with Courtney. Never was a decision reached without the team first presenting me with various options about how it could be done. The Falcon Flies Alone, and the subsequent books in the series, didn’t take the publishing world by storm despite everyone’s best efforts, but I learned so much in the process and felt so supported that my husband and I even flew from Europe to meet the original founders in Philadelphia. Ariadne hosted a lavish Chinese food party with absolutely everything, where we all got to know each other, and the next few days were filled with good conversations. One day I also hope to meet Joan Schweighardt, who became a dear friend through her honest and optimistic e-mail exchanges. What a great group they’ve been.
Joan Schweighardt: I could fill a book with how I found my way to Five Directions Press. But I won’t; I promise. Suffice it to say that over the many years I published a variety of titles with a range of small and mid-sized publishers. And while some experiences were good, none was perfect. One book in particular, a novel called The Last Wife of Attila the Hun, had a rough time of it, bouncing through two launches with two different publishers who were eventually forced to close their doors. During the short time the book was in its second rendition, C. P. Lesley, who not only writes and publishes but also interviews writers for her New Books Network historical fiction podcast, read the book and invited me to interview with her. She liked the book enough to suggest her friend and fellow co-founder Ariadne Apostolou read it too. When they heard the bad news about the second publisher, they contacted me and invited me to publish a re-edited third version with them—and third time, everyone knows, is charmed.
Even so, when the manuscript I was working on at the time—Before We Died, the first title in a historical trilogy—was ready to go, I turned to a literary agent. The agent did her best, but the big publishers (most agents don’t bother with the small ones) are inundated with queries, and it takes a very long time for them to get back to the agent so that she can get back to the author, who is generally only one of the many she is representing. I found the process agonizing—especially since by then I was already working on the second book in the trilogy and envisioning the third—and withdrew my manuscript.
And then it hit me: I really liked working with the Five Directions Press team. C. P. is an amazing editor and layout artist; Ariadne can read a manuscript and point out precisely what passages (or characterizations) are lacking; and Courtney is a fabulous cover artist. So I submitted Before We Died to them, and then books 2 and 3 as well. I can’t even begin to tell you how much support I got. I’ve never had that kind of support with any of the other publishers I’ve worked with. And unlike my older books, which are gathering dust on their respective virtual shelves, I have full control with the titles published by Five Directions Press. Co-op is the way to go—if you’re lucky enough to find a great co-op, which I have.
And although we didn’t plan it that way, the perfect sendoff for this post comes from Denise Allan Steele.
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”—Coco Chanel
Happy birthday to Five Directions Press!
This wonderful, woman-led publishing co-op has allowed authors and readers to be who and what they want for ten years now.
I have loved working with these talented women and reading their original and captivating stories. I have been transported to the Amazon jungle during the rubber frenzy of the early twentieth century, to medieval Russia as a passionate noblewoman following her heart, and to the world of an eighteen-year-old Girl of Fire as she eludes a clever Water Demon.
Five Directions Press authors have also taken me on the journeys of a highborn young woman living precariously as a secret Jew in Colonial Mexico and to Reagan-era Manhattan, where a group of radical young women forms a feminist co-op.
I am forever grateful to Five Directions Press for publishing my own novel—they published it, people liked it, and my dream came true!
I wish Five Directions Press many more years of success in showcasing talented authors!