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Being Bandersnatch



Just over a decade ago, I discovered the TV show Being Erica. In the heroine, I found a character who works through past regrets in order to move forward in her present life (by doing time-travel therapy, but that part doesn’t apply here). I was inspired by Erica’s career journey, first starting out as an editorial assistant at a major publisher, then moving on to start her own boutique publishing house with a friend. I never once suspected my own journey would even vaguely resemble Erica’s (minus the time-travel therapy).


I’d gone to grad school with the idea of getting into publishing and doing more of my own writing. I was even eyeing editorial assistant jobs in New York as I hit the halfway point of my studies. That fall, I did a presentation on how a writer could submit work to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, the publisher of greats like Madeleine L’Engle, T.S. Eliot, and Flannery O’Connor, and dreamt of submitting my own work there—or maybe even being on the other side of the desk.

By the time I graduated in May of 2009, every single point of my presentation from six months earlier was moot. The entire landscape of publishing had changed following the economic recession, and FSG was now a subsidiary of a larger company, no longer accepting submissions directly from authors. The same was true nearly everywhere, and with the consolidation of publishers came the disappearance of jobs.


I didn’t go into publishing. I turned to another skill and found myself starting a career working in the non-profit communications world, becoming facile in writing web copy and emails and social media marketing.


But the dream of Being Erica never really left me. The idea of helping good books make it out into the world continued to niggle at the back of my mind as I watched the detritus of the post-recession publishing industry collapse settle, and then reform itself in new ways. The new ways were interesting—niche genre publishers with the weight of a 25-year industry expert at the helm or low-overhead business models that shared profit with authors through immediate royalties rather than advances. There were so many new ways to make and release books into the world, and so many writers and readers for them. Some of the gates of the traditional publishing industry were knocked down by little upstart independent companies. The old ways were no longer the only ways, and over the course of a decade, a new publishing landscape—far more faceted than the old—developed.


But here’s the thing. Erica didn’t start her company alone. She had a partner—a frenemy of sorts—who had skills Erica didn’t, and who brought her own experience to the table. The vague idea that formed in my brain somewhere in the 2010s that I could start a publishing company always found itself face to face with the reality that there was no way I could run a business alone.

Also just over a decade ago, I discovered the Rabbit Room, and one of the greatest gifts I found in it was a new community. It was a community of people who not only enjoyed critically examining art and culture the way I did (like my friends in my AP classes in high school had) but also did so through the lens of biblical Christian faith (which I’d missed among those AP classes in my public school). Over the years I build relationships among the Rabbits and pursued creative endeavors with some. 


The key relationship that matters in this story was one that started in the old Rabbit Room website forums. Someone had set up regional connection points, and Rachel Donahue posted that she’d just landed back in the Charlotte, North Carolina area after living overseas and wondered if anyone else was nearby. She had just started writing and was looking for a connection.

I lived 20 minutes away, and we were both headed to an Andy Gullahorn and Jill Phillips concert the next week. We met there, set up a coffee date, and by the end of telling each other our stories, we were fast friends. Both of us had been praying for what I call a “soul friend”—a kindred spirit, to use Anne Shirley’s terminology—and God answered our prayers in each other. 


Those who love what is Good, True, and Beautiful often love small things—and that’s who we’re making books for. Carolyn Givens

Rachel and I began co-hosting quarterly writers’ brunches under the umbrella of an arts group here in the Charlotte area and through those I met Rachel’s sister-in-law Annie Beth, another writer. One Saturday morning our brunch was composed of five women who were all looking for a critique group—so we formed one. We started by reading Diana Glyer’s book Bandersnatch about how the Inklings influenced one another and shaped our writer’s group on the principles she explores in the book. For a year or so, we met monthly, reading our work to one another and giving feedback, drinking tea, and eating gluten-free snacks. 

And then the pandemic arrived.


Those early months of 2020 were mostly consumed with each of us keeping our heads afloat. I was running the website for a church that had moved entirely online. Rachel was homeschooling half her kids and trying to manage digital kindergarten at the local elementary for another while the youngest found herself bored with only brothers to hang out with. One of the women in our group had a young baby and a husband finishing seminary. We didn’t move our group online. It was just too much.


But when the seminary grad was called to a pastorate in the Midwest that summer, we knew we needed to meet one more time before our friend left. So, socially distanced in a hot garage with the door open and fans blowing on a North Carolina July day, we gathered for one last meeting of the Band of Bandersnatches.


Rachel, Annie Beth, and I each had a work that was about ready for publication, and our conversation that afternoon turned to how we could support one another in the work. Perhaps we could all self-publish, we thought, but help market each other’s books. And at some point, either aloud or in my head, I pondered, “Bandersnatch Books would be a good name for a publishing company.”


Like any good communications professional in the 21st century, I went home and bought the domain name and grabbed the social media handles that evening, and then wrote a long email to Rachel with a crazy idea: what if we started a publishing company together? We had skills that many of the areas of publishing beyond the writing—especially if Annie Beth joined in, too—and we knew so many writers with great work but none of those skills. Should we do it? Should we see if Annie Beth would want to be involved, too?


I had no sooner pressed send on the email to Rachel than a text from Annie Beth came through, “Twitter just informed me my friend Bandersnatch Books has a profile. Are we starting a publishing company?” I forwarded her the email and got a nearly immediate response. Yes, we should do it. Yes, of course she should be involved.


The journey of becoming Bandersnatch Books has been an adventure for all of us. Even with the skills we had, we found so much to learn. While Erica and her partner started out as frenemies and I began Bandersnatch with soul-friends, we still had to learn to work together well, to push each other forward and respect each other’s boundaries. We’re proud of the work we’ve done and the books that have found their way into the world through that work. We also each want to spend more time writing our own books, so we plan to slow down a bit next year. 


We’ve got dreams for the future, like a Classics set and a children’s poetry anthology, but we take every dream one step at a time. In our very first business meeting, Annie Beth pointed our attention to Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (NLT). It’s a theme for us—a reminder that we’re committed to the treasures found off the beaten path, and those are sometimes small things. But those who love what is Good, True, and Beautiful often love small things—and that’s who we’re making books for.

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