By Stephanie Fullerton-Cooper
In 2008, the publication of the now popular “Christian Lifestyle Magazine” started with a bang!! It was well received in the Cayman community, especially among the Christian fraternity. Founder and Director of CLM Publishing Ltd, Karen Chin, nostalgically recalls how she moved, within the same year, from being a magazine producer to a full-fledged publisher of local books. She recalls that a writer “passed through” the Cayman Islands, and saw her magazine. He really loved the cover and thought that image of a chain would have been ideal for a book he was about to publish in the USA. Before she knew it, his publisher reached out to her, and Chin generously shared the image with him at no cost. When the publisher asked what else she published, Chin responded, “Just the magazine”. He told her she should be publishing books as well, and, thinking his comment had value, she expanded her business. This very publisher sent her her first client. She published Finding the Child Inside by Cody Waldroup that same year and the rest, as she said, is history!
Leading local publisher of local writers and writings, Karen Chin, admits to still being amazed at how publishing “fell into my lap” and how it has grown to be the CLM Publishing Ltd that has become a household name for many of Cayman’s writers, fledgling, and established, who never quite allowed themselves to dream that they would see their creative thoughts in print. Though CLM started off slowly in 2008, today Chin admits that “I have my fingers on the pulse of Cayman writing, and also have my fingers in a number of local pies”. When she started out, some local writers thought CLM only published Christian writings, and not many approached her. Chin admits that “we do focus on family-friendly, PG-rated works, but we are open to and have published far more than Christian authorship”. Once this was realized, and with her genuine interest in helping individuals discover their talents, CLM today catalogues approximately 80 local books that it has published, ranging from children’s stories, memoirs, inspirational texts, fiction, autobiographies, and other genres. Chin is understandably proud of this, admitting that “we have never marketed aggressively, but as each author has been published, they have spread the news about the experience they had, and we have grown slowly over time”.
And just what is this experience the local writers have had in their relations with CLM Publishing? Well firstly, they have the joy of speaking with a publisher directly rather than just sending funds overseas to someone they had never met and taking a risk with their hard-earned cash. The disembodied and often mechanical voice on a phone does not compare to being greeted by a smile, a warm handshake, and discussing dreams and aspirations with someone who not only published, but who also writes as well. According to Chin, “Being able to walk into an office, relate to a person, and share ideas with someone who showed them possibilities is preferred by many local writers”. It does not hurt either that CLM’s rates are comparable, and the quality of the books are always commented on. CLM’s standards are no less than that of overseas small publishing houses. Chin admits that some local writers who have sought to publish with CLM Publishing have also commented, to their credit, that if writing about Cayman, they are more comfortable with a Cayman publisher, as to their minds, this further authenticates what they are doing.
The pivotal role of CLM Publishing in the Cayman community cannot be underestimated. In a research article titled “Literary Colonialism: Books in the Third World”, carried in the Harvard Educational Review, American researcher Philip Altbach, expresses the view that people in ‘minority’ countries have limited access to the world of knowledge. He believes one reason is that most publishing houses are either located in or controlled by larger, industrialised nations. He describes the difficulty of publishing in one’s home country and suggests that one way to expand a country’s autonomy is in knowledge production. Local publishers contribute to their country’s development as they are “not just cultural and intellectual ambassadors, but key intermediaries between author and reader”. It is they who disseminate information by discovering and endorsing authors.
CLM publishes books and magazines but has promoted local writings and writers in other ways. Three times, it has offered literary awards to local writers in a writing competition from which Cayman writers, Janet Dash Harris, Kathleen Bodden-Harris, and Douglas Schofield emerged winners. It has offered workshops on creative writing, hosted creative writing competitions, and awarded local graduates with a demonstrated affinity for writing and education. Chin has also attempted to promote Cayman overseas by submitting local writings, to Trinidad and Tobago’s Bocas Lit fest, and CORE, a Canadian/Trinidadian Literary Society. It is a feather in its cap that CLM Publishing, through the submission of Janet Dash Harris’ Frankly Speaking to Christian Indie Publishing, an American Literary Society, won the coveted title of “Small Publisher of the Year” in 2017. Chin remains elated even today, as, “for a small publishing house in Cayman to be recognized in the US, and to have them comment on and applaud the quality of the work we produce, is a feeling that cannot be easily captured in words”.
Though she wishes bookstores on island would give local books better placement in their stores, that schools would incorporate our literature more, and that local writers would better support each other at book launches and other such events, Karen Chin, and by extension CLM Publishing Ltd., have done what authors Poirier and Genet have described as the role of the publisher – “By putting his name or that of his firm at the bottom of a book, the publisher plays an active role in public life … mediates with bookstores and the public to market a work he has helped format and produce … promotes literary values, an aesthetic vision, an artistic movement ... In short, he plays a social role by helping develop and maintain his society’s intellectual, literary and cultural life”. This is what our local publishing house has done, and in part two of this article, we will see what Karen Chin has also accomplished as author.