WOC ‘Engage best through negative discourse’: Seal Press

You know how Seal Press aren’t at all racist? And how these book covers[1] are just all mass-market-fun and goofball and ironic and hilarious and why must you always be so serious and critique-y and stuff anyway?

Well. The amazing Blackamazon had a very brief vent in her own space, in the midst of a post last week enthusing about WAM!2008:

Fuck Seal Press.

Now, if you were a white feminist publishing house who had had a prominent WOC blogger say that about you, how would you respond? Assuming, just for a moment, that you were passingly familiar with WOC critiques of white-centric feminism, would you barge in and say this?

Seal Press here. We WANT more WOC. Not a whole lotta proposals come our way, interestingly. Seems to me it would be more effective to inform us about what you’d like to see rather than hating.

Or this?

I appreciate the dialogue, ladies. First off, the blog feels very informal, and my language is in response to the language here:

1. You hate us.
2. We have nothing on WOC.

I get that you all engage best through negative discourse, but I find that too bad. It’s not servitude when we pay our authors advances. And book publishing is not an industry of outreach as much as it is editors being presented with an idea and engaging would-be authors in creative co-creation. I just find it curious more than anything that you all are wasting your time hating (yes, purposeful reuse of the word) rather than actively engaging in changing something you find problematic. I totally respect the creative space.

Or this?

[bfp] has the world gone mad?


They’ve had plenty of good advice – read the whole thread – but I’ll just quote part of BA’s response as the last word here:

You are right I said Fuck Seal Press.

but you with out even an y prior introduction went THROUGH ME to go fuck you to a whole world of folks.


heres all this stuff about me that makes it okay!

and now you don’t want to be boycoted suddenly you want to find commonalities , not that you basically disrespected my work that yes it’s ablog but i have cobbeled together through mountains and adversity to do so

But you ran fast and hard when it was shown



and we’re to trust you with OUR WORK?!






You can read SP’s attempts at damage control here.

Edit 10 Apr 2008: For a time, Seal Press’s attempt at damage control was at the above URL, and is temporarily cached by google (without the multitude of comments) here.

Their post, plus the first comment:

Thursday, April 3, 2008
Seal and women of color

I feel compelled to go public here since there has been a lot of important, though discouraging, conversation going on over at Blackamazon, and because of Angry Black Woman’s comment to yesterday’s post, which is off-topic there, but fits here.

Right now I am the sole acquiring editor at Seal. Krista is the publisher. The two of us are Seal editorial, and that’s all we got. I wrote yesterday, in response to Anonymous’s comment: “Seal’s got nothing on WOC” that we want WOC. I get now that I misunderstood the comment, that I took it literally to mean we’ve got no books on WOC. Of course, it’s not true. We have books, though mostly anthologies. Hijas Americanas, Voices of Resistance, and Shout Out are recent acquisitions that feature work for and about women of color. Seal is known for Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism. Regardless, I want to clarify and try to rectify this whole nasty thing that’s happening over there because I didn’t intend to offend so many people. I was writing off the cuff in response to the comment FUCK SEAL PRESS, which yes, I took personal offense to. The comments that follow the post are even harsher, and yet, what I really intended to say with my comment was this: Seal wants to publish women of color and issues that matter to women of color.

What I wrote in a later comment was that publishing is NOT AS MUCH ABOUT outreach AS IT IS about getting submissions from people who want to write for us. That doesn’t mean I don’t do outreach. I do and I have. But again, as the sole acquiring editor, there’s only so much I can do. I have to rely on people who want to get published, and who approach me. Right now I am doing outreach in the form of specifically acquiring for the Seal Studies academic series we’re launching, and I’ve been going about looking for women to write books on queer feminism, women of color and feminism, feminism and religion, and on and on and on. All this for books that we think matter, but which probably won’t sell very many copies in the grand scope of things.

I’m writing here today because I don’t want to be boycotted by people who took offense to my comments yesterday. Seal is actually barely surviving. This press, which has a thirty-year history of publishing books that no other house wanted to publish, means a lot to me and to Krista and to a lot of women. Seal has changed over the years because we’ve had to. We could not survive publishing only the types of books that Seal used to publish. There’s been a constant push to be more commercial, and we’ve responded to that. When it’s try or die, I opt for trying. I’ve been involved in the new direction the list has taken, and Seal is more mainstream than it’s ever been. And for better or worse, this is what’s allowed us to stay in existence. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care, or that we’re not open to hearing where we’re doing wrong, or where we could do better. And so even though I feel angry about the comments over at Blackamazon, and I admittedly posted somewhat defensively, the intention behind it was, “Hey, let’s work together to get published more of what you want to see.” It doesn’t even mean that can or will happen. I have higher-ups to answer to, it’s true. But it doesn’t change the fact that Krista and I are not intentionally fostering a “wall of whiteness” here.

So the fact that my writing “We want WOC”—yes, it was crass and quick, but I meant “Seal wants to publish WOC”—resulted in such backlash says to me that yes, people were offended, and I do apologize for that. I want to open up this discussion and do so productively. I do want to cultivate WOC authors. I always have. If I haven’t been successful or able it’s not for a lack of trying or ignorance to the situation out there. Which is why I appreciate Angry Black Woman writing something that opens up a space to have a productive conversation.

Signing off,


posted by Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner @ 12:05 PM Permalink


At April 3, 2008 1:11 PM , Blogger Lucy said…

Since you asked: here’s what you can do: start by not giving some asinine excuse about how we’re “dissecting your every word” and by:

1) Examining how you have created and/or contributed to the lack of women of color at Seal. This includes stopping with the “they don’t come to us” and asking first if that’s true or if it’s an assumption based on your erroneous perception of the problem and whose responsibility it is to fix it and second, if women of color aren’t beating your door down, why?

Because I’m just speaking for me here, but if I feel unwelcome somewhere, I’m not going to trust someone with my life’s work. I’m going to find a publisher who seems interested in what I have to say and, perhaps, gets it. Or at least shows interest in getting it. And I’m definitely not going to go somewhere that thinks I’m too negative, too angry, or just plain unpalatable. Because chances are if you can’t hear a critique of why WOC aren’t impressed with you, then I doubt you’re going to want to publish my work, seeing as it’s probably just as negative and angry as I am.

2) Issuing a sincere apology based on the insight you’ve gained in your careful examination of where you went wrong. Now, I realize it’s hard to be put on the spot like that, but you know it’s just a bad idea to stick with the “it’s not my fault” schtick even when it’s not working. The most graceful and respectful thing to do is to apologize and learn from your mistakes, even if they weren’t made intentionally. Because let me tell you, I can’t count how many times a white person/institution has unintentionally hurt me. Or how many times I’ve comforted a friend who’s been hurt–held their hand or given them a hug as they recount the painfulness of betrayal, ignorance, and hurt.

Chances are, if you’ve got a grip of angry brown women saying you fucked up? You fucked up.

Give it a few to think about it, will ya?

via She Who Stumbles.


Further followup 25 April 2008: More artwork from Seal Press book “It’s a Jungle Out There”, by Amanda Marcotte, is available here. It is plainly, obviously, and indefensibly racist.

Categories: gender & feminism, social justice

Tags: , , , ,

13 replies

  1. The SP damage control link appears to lead nowhere. There is a google cache:

  2. Thanks for finding that cache, anynom.

  3. I should have thought to grab a copy. There were something like forty comments when I looked at it.
    Guess that damage control isn’t going so well.

  4. We WANT more WOC. Not a whole lotta proposals come our way, interestingly. Seems to me it would be more effective to inform us about what you’d like to see rather than hating.

    Astonishing. I can’t believe she, a feminist press editor, used the same line I hear all the time from people in male dominated industries–“we want more women, really we do, but for some reason they just don’t submit/apply”.

  5. Thanks for that. I really hate those books… (Seal press)

  6. Thank you for posting their lame-ass response. I can’t believe how awful they had the audacity to behave on Black Amazon’s blog. I’m definitely boycotting their asses. If any of the books they’ve published do interest me, ‘ll sit at the bookstore and read the entire book before I put one cent in their pockets. Ugh!!
    bint alshamsa’s last blog post..Sub-Arctic Birds in Florida?

  7. I was *headdesk*-ing all over the place when I first read about this incident.
    There are no words, really.
    annaham’s last blog post..The NYT Still Kind of Sucks, Actually

  8. The combination of this arsehattery from Seal Press and then the stuff that led to BrownFemiPower taking down her blog makes it a really bad week for people refusing to own their privilege, and how that undermines any claims to ally status, when it’s pointed out to them.

  9. I find myself fascinated by the sight of yet another business entity (no matter how small) failing to comprehend the way the nature of business has altered since the coming of the blog. All of a sudden, the traditional “send out a press release to the media” response doesn’t work as well as it used to. Neither does the “come down from the mountain bearing two stone tablets” approach which is beloved of some political types with the journos. Instead, you’re faced with everyday people, who will raise day-to-day issues with you, and who will politely (or impolitely, depending on the location and the person) take your argument to pieces and then ask several pertinent questions regarding issues you’d really rather weren’t discussed.
    It appears to be something of a trend in the more fiction-oriented parts of the web, too. I’m somewhat engaged in the fanfiction writing community, and in the past couple of years, I’ve seen at least three instances of this sort of thing happening around the edges of things. The most notorious, to my mind, was FanLib – a multi-fandom fanfiction archive which marketed itself as attempting to link fanwriters with the creators of the things inspiring the fanwriting. They got themselves into a lot of trouble with the fanfic community on LiveJournal by underestimating their audience (they thought most fanwriters were teen boys, instead they’re usually adult women). The second was LiveJournal itself, which spent most of the past two years going through a “lose friends and influence people to leave” phase, inspired by a highly corporatised manglement. It appears their new Russian overlords aren’t much different. Then there’s groups like the SFWA, which tried to carry out copyright enforcement on an ebook site for a number of authors, not all of whom were on their rolls, or in agreement with the enforcement in the first place (not to mention their committee member who produced a highly publicised stomping of the feet which included the word “technopeasant” and caused all kinds of fun and games). I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by a publishing house joining the fun and games.
    Point being, the intarwebs has changed the way people talk to business, and the ways businesses can communicate with people. The PR reps haven’t quite caught on yet.
    Meg Thornton’s last blog post..Meggy Birfday Loot

  10. Not related to Seal Press, but on the subject of WOC-blogging, racism and ally-work: Angry Black Woman has called for a Carnival of Allies.
    Should definitely be worth reading. The comments thread is very interesting already.

  11. Looking forward to that carnival. Reading some more posts about ally work will be really helpful to me.

  12. Update: A new blog post from Seal Press.

    Thursday, April 10, 2008
    a response in the aftermath of listening
    Yesterday morning Krista and I decided to take down our blog post from April 3 after reading Bitch magazine’s post about our behavior online because we wanted to be done with it. I’ve gotten several appeals to put it back up and allow the conversation to continue. It’s not that we wanted to stop the conversation. From our standpoint it was more that we felt that the entire thing had gotten so far away from us that we were attempting to put an end to it. Krista and I are new to blogging. This is our first run-in with an entire segment of the blogosphere whose spaces and rules of engagement are far different from anything we’d known. I put the post back up to allow it to reexist here. The comments have been deleted, but I’m publishing them in the comment section of that original post. We were not interested in shutting down this conversation. Rather, we don’t want to continue to fan the flames or continue to comment. I have heard a lot of good suggestions. I’ve read earnest pleas, thoughtful commentary, and plenty of hard criticism. I read BlackAmazon’s post today, in which she explains why she wrote FUCK SEAL PRESS. As I said before, I took that personally. Too personally. I understand that there’s lots of emotional history and ill-feeling and feelings hurt on all sides. I am sorry.

  13. I’m pleasantly surprised that they’ve put the post back up, and at least the apology avoids any of that mealy-mouthed “if anyone was offended” crap: Brooke acknowledges the criticism and commentary, owns that she took criticism too personally, and actually links to BA.
    It’s a good start, Seal Books. Keep on listening.

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