Friday 20 April 2018

Signal 8 Press by Marshall Moore

Signal 8 Press (S8P) is an independent publisher in Hong Kong. The company originally published books focussed primarily on the Asia-Pacific region, with a particular interest in books that reflected an East-meets-West sensibility. Although Asia remains its top publishing priority, it has now branched out to publish books from and about other regions, in various genres and categories.

Marshall Moore is the founder and publisher of S8P. He here gives an overview of the company’s history, and of the problems of publishing in our grim old world.

Back in 2011, I was invited to contribute an essay to the journal Cha on the subject of starting a publishing house in Hong Kong. Seven years have passed since then, and although a lot has changed, S8P is still around. I’d like to take this opportunity to look back (or sideways) at what I have learned since then.

S8P itself has changed a bit. Although it might look the same on the surface, if you open the hood, you’ll see a different engine. My original business partner exited not long after that essay was published, and S8P became a Special Administrative Region of Ansh Das Media Inc. When that happened, there was no longer a need for Typhoon Media Ltd, the original parent company, so I wound it up. The name seems to be lingering even if the legal entity disappeared some two years ago. Our flirtation with multiple imprints has ended too. Although in addition to publishing our own books, we still distribute eBooks in partnership with authors and publishers, we shut down the hybrid imprint and distribution channel known as BookCyclone and our thriller imprint Lightning Originals. There were too many names. It was too complicated. People didn’t get it. Wherever possible, we have streamlined, and that process started with the names. Everything happens under the aegis of S8P now. I resisted all this at first because every single last ornate detail of the earlier way of doing things was my idea, but today I’m mainly enjoying the relief that simplicity offers.

I put S8P in suspended animation in 2016, because I was completing a PhD, but since then it has gradually been coming out of hibernation: we’ve begun acquiring books again, and we’re adding some new personnel to help manage them. My own stress level is gradually cooling down to a manageable simmer, as well. This is not to say I haven’t answered a few emails in haste and regretted them later, but lessons are lessons.

One other thing has obviously affected us: the political climate. Living in Hong Kong at this moment in time, one expects a certain amount of sensitivity. The case of the abducted publishers/booksellers  made international news when it happened, and there are still shockwaves echoing within Hong Kong’s small literary and publishing communities. As the publisher at an English-language press with very little interest in releasing the kinds of book that got those five unfortunates Shanghaied, I feel fairly safe from the long arm of mainland law. Still, as an expatriate American, I feel peculiar being in a position that requires me to self-censor. Despite the appalling summer weather here, the chilling effect is subarctic.

Things in the US aren’t much better. Mercifully, there’s little need for explication: unless you’ve been living in a utopian parallel universe for the last couple of years, you know why. Those of us who have lived overseas for more than a decade look back and see a foreign country whose passport we still happen to hold. For the ones still living there, one news cycle careens into the next. Scandal without end, amen. So many people are on edge; so many people are being harmed, or already have been, or are about to be. As a publisher, I see this in my interactions with authors. Everyone’s frazzled. There’s a definite sense of fragility, a craving for nurturance, for security, for reassurance. And lacking all of those, a modicum of sanity will often suffice.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I feel odd. I wanted to write several hundred words of happy chirpy neoliberal content that would make readers feel all warm and fuzzy inside and inspire them to finish their very wonderful books and send them to us. But then, things are messy these days, aren’t they? Read the news. The world is vile and the headlines leave bruises on the psyche. S8P is still here, though, and if we can help stem the rising tide of ordure in some modest way, we’d like to do that. We’re acquiring titles for 2019 and beyond, so please keep us in mind...

...Unless your book would get us kidnapped in the middle of the night!