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Seal Press's Bestselling Book--After 15 Years

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a reminder that the problem of domestic abuse still exists. After 15 years, Getting FreeGetting Free: You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life remains Seal Press's bestselling title. Despite many changes in the perception of and laws against domestic violence since the book's initial publication, the facts remain daunting; it is estimated that in the time it takes to read this paragraph, 4 women are severely beaten; every 15 seconds, an act of domestic violence occurs somewhere in the United States--a total of 2.5 million victims a year. Domestic violence tops the list of injuries to women between the ages of 15 and 44--more frequent than auto accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. One woman dies from domestic abuse every 21 days. In light of these statistics, just imagine the combination of courage and acuity that it took for Seattle's tiny Seal Press--then a regional publisher of short fiction and poetry--to publish one of the first books on the subject of domestic violence. Amazon.com talked with Faith Conlon, publisher of Seal Press, about Getting Free's circuitous and utterly meant-to-be-path to publication.

Question: Seal Press took a chance on publishing Getting Free. What was the big deal?

Faith Conlon: Publishing it was a long labor of love. We had no resources, but there was no other book available to abused women. Nicarthy's book, though agented, had been turned down everywhere in New York publishing. Their overriding concern was that there wasn't a sufficient market. Because we were in the community more, we could see that there was, and you could reach that market in nontraditional ways.

I was working in New York, and when I came here, Barbara (Wilson) and Rachel (da Silva) [the original cofounders of Seal Press] were working on the book. We all had other jobs, so we edited it in our free time and raised the money for the actual production. All of the design and editing we did ourselves. At the time, we were a collective and not even paying ourselves.

Question: When was that in Seal's history?

Conlon: The end of '80. We started working on it in '81 and published it in '82.

Question: And when did Seal start?

Conlon: Seventy-six. They'd been publishing fiction and poetry for five years. Getting Free was the first huge editorial project. We did a lot of fundraisers to print the book, and our first run was a large one--5,000 copies. We raised the money for that with community fundraisers and an advance-publication mailing to battered women's shelters nationwide. That was a very nontraditional way of marketing. We got a huge response, a literal flood. We knew this was going to take off. We did a press-release mailing to features editors all over the country, and got the story picked up by the daily New York Times. They did a feature story and the phone just started ringing off the hook. It went through the first printing in two months. We were somewhat unprepared for that. For us, it was unprecedented. Things really changed for the press at that point. And the book grew, although we were initially selling mainly to the shelters. But once the word got out and the publicity started rolling, it went right into the bookstores. We've sold, to date, 150,000 copies. And 15 years later, it's still our bestselling title.

So that makes roughly 10,000 copies sold each year. It just continues to go. The new edition features a new introduction by Nicarthy. Typically in publishing, publishers see a bestseller and they jump on the bandwagon. That didn't happen for some time; the issue was still unfamiliar. Over time, as public awareness about domestic violence grew, a number of books were written for battered women. Ours was the first. There's still something about Getting Free that really stands out. It's remained a favorite of the shelters because it speaks directly to the women.

Question: It reads as if it grew out of problem-sharing sessions among the women, as if they're working, in the moment, toward solutions and their own empowerment.

Conlon: Yes, and the book was a catalyst for many changes. It pushed Seal to think big and realize that we had a new mission--we could do more books about domestic violence. There was indeed an audience, and we could reach it. So we started to think about other under-served populations.

That Getting Free story is a great one--both for Seal and for the author, whose book, you know, went to 24 publishers and--rejection, rejection, rejection.

Question: It really changed the nature of the press and your perceptions about who your readers were.

Conlon: Exactly. We began to identify ourselves as a national feminist press publishing books for a national audience. But domestic violence has always been an area that's stayed with us. Our newest book is a bit different--Vera Anderson's A Woman Like You, which is a photo-essay about women who have escaped domestic violence--very inspiring. Our goals are two-fold in doing these books: to provide information and support to women in abusive relationships, and to educate the general public.

Question: How do you measure that?

Conlon: Sales and what we hear from professionals. And letters written to us personally, from women who have read the books and been helped. Last summer, for example, I received a letter from a girl I'd grown up with, who I hadn't seen since high school. She said she'd seen my name in the Getting Free acknowledgements and just had to write. A friend of hers had been married to a dangerous and abusive man. In helping her, she'd gotten Getting Free out of the library. Her friend read it over time--and on the fly, trying to keep it away from her husband. Finally she found the courage to leave. And she did--she left this marriage. And her husband went on a sort of violent--whatever--rampage and shot and killed himself. And my friend wrote to say, "I know, without a doubt, that had my friend not gotten out, she'd be dead now. And I want to thank you."

Very powerful. Someone I hadn't seen in 22 years. So, they're out there everywhere. I was just someone who, because she knew me personally, [she] picked up the pen and thought, I've got to tell her that someone's life has been saved by Ginny Nicarthy.

Featured Titles

Getting Free : You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life by Ginny Nicarthy
A Woman Like You : The Face of Domestic Violence (New Leaf Series) by Vera Anderson(Photographer)


The Human Nature Review
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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