“I’ve got a story to tell.” Kristina Blank Makansi and her daughter, Amira, hear those words a lot when people find out they publish books. Their publishing company, Blank Slate Press, was founded in 2010, and is steadily building a list of novels that it has brought to market.
The list includes the debut novel of Fred Venturini titled The Samaritan—a book that so impressed the William Morris Agency that it put Venturini under contract. Blank Slate also is seeing notable success on the St. Louis Best-Seller List with KMOX reporter Kevin Killeen’s novel, Never Hug A Nun.
Kristina, the editor and publisher of Blank Slate, founded the company with her husband after she spent many years as a copywriter and freelance author. Most of the company’s day-to-day work is done out of their home on historic Flora Place in South St. Louis. But Kristina and daughter Amira also spend plenty of time in local coffee shops, where there are always people with noses pressed into books.
Today, it’s The Gelataria on South Grand Boulevard, located in the kind of eclectic neighborhood where you might expect to find aspiring authors if it were in any city other than St. Louis—a perception that Kristina finds completely invalid. “People should think of St. Louis as a hub for publishing,” she declares. “It has one of the richest literary traditions of any city in the country. We have a long history of fantastic, notable authors that have come out of St. Louis.” She adds that what the city lacks is a traditional commercial literary press. “That’s what Blank Slate Press is trying to be.”
Amira already has the look of a CEO and, unlike her Mom, is drawn to the business side of publishing. She studied history at the University of Chicago, but says she started writing and wanting to be in the book business long before she even graduated from MICDS in 2007. “It was a natural progression for me because I have always loved to write. I started to work on my first novel when I was 8. I wrote the first 50 pages by hand with a glitter gel pen.”
Amira’s job title now is editorial coordinator. ”When I tell my friends that I’m working with my mom at a small press in St. Louis, they say, Wow, that’s amazing! A lot of my friends are looking for jobs, are under-employed or not doing what they want to do, so I have the luxury of doing all these things and being intimately involved with it.”
The Makansis jumped into the publishing business during what Kristina describes as a period of disruption in the industry because of new media sources and an ever-changing technology. “There are some in the business who say the sky is falling, but there are a lot of others not wedded to the traditional way of doing things over the past 50 years, who see this as a great opportunity.”
They already are expanding their footprint with a second company called Treehouse Publishing Group. It’s what Kristina calls a ‘hybrid’ publishing concept. “In traditional publishing, the publisher takes all the risk, so they will only take on books that they think can sell,” she explains. “In the hybrid model, the author takes on the risk and does it all themselves or they pay experts to help them put out the best book possible.”
Kristina says even if someone is a novice writer and has a story about, say, for example, their grandmother’s cat, she may be able to help get it published, but it will take money to get it done. However, depending on the ability of the writer, she says it may take less money than one thinks. “Treehouse provides someone to hold your hand and walk you through creating the best book that you can create. Some people just want to give the book to their grandkids, not everyone wants to be on the New York Times best-seller list.”
Blank Slate Press, on the other hand, is out to get as many authors as it can on as many best-seller lists as possible. When the Makansis are not working on other authors’ books, they are working on their own. All four members of the family (Kristina’s husband, Jason, and youngest daughter, Elena) together are writing a trilogy novel they’ve titled Seeds. “We’ve all been working on the novel, that’s the common thing,” Kristina notes. “Some families go to the park on Saturday; we might go to the park, too, and play some tennis, and then we all go home and work on our novels.” When Seeds is finished, it’s not likely going to be the ‘storybook ending’ for this family because—as they often hear from prospective authors—there are many more stories out there that are yet to be told.