Out of Print

How I Started My Own Publishing Company

by Anna Canlas

Dream houses, unfamiliar contexts, and coming of age. 

Ever since I was a little girl, writing, as opposed to other forms of expressing myself, has been my home. Speaking gave me a real performance anxiety, a fact made clear when I lost a spelling bee in senior kindergarten on a word I knew how to spell.

“The word is bounce,” said the spelling master.

“B - O - U - Nhgulp (I swallowed mid sentence) - N (thinking no one heard me the first time) - C -E,” I said, so weak, the word shrunk away from me. “Bounce.”

Writing, on the other hand, could be done in private, and I didn’t have to show my work till I was ready. Of course, I loved reading, too. In grade school, I got a rush from seeing how fast I could fill up the rows of my library card on a steady input of Sweet Valley Kids, then High, and The Baby-sitters Club. I still like these types of stories about relationships between girls, and coming of age.

Last year, by accident, or circumstance, I put up a small publishing unit with the help of my sister Dani under our family’s holding company, where I was biding my time between quitting corporate jobs and figuring out how to return to writing. Because of all my “practical” choices in my mid-twenties, it seemed like a dream out of reach. But Dani brought me an opportunity to write and edit some books for the Department of Science and Technology. It wasn’t really my beat, but studying journalism in New York made me quick to judge any situation, around which I let facts magnetize or oppose, and I end up with a pretty interesting piece just from doing what the magazine writing faculty at NYU would tell us: notice what you’re noticing.

Portrait of the author by Sarah Canlas. Courtesy of Anna Canlas.

Mostly I work alone. Even staring out into space counts as pre-writing, which is when I gather and edit my thoughts. I read somewhere that an article is your best idea of the week, and a book is your best idea of the year. And that’s true. The work I’m proudest of from 2020 is an essay that I sat on for seven months.

What’s been helpful is taking a walk in our village in Antipolo with parcels of DENR-protected forest, or reading a book outside on top of a boulder, or else by the river that froths by the foot of our house in a pool of soap bubbles like a giant washing machine (people do their laundry along its path). When the thoughts empty out, I either run to my typewriter, a baby blue Olivetti that my older sister gave me last year for Christmas, or I record audio notes on my phone, Felicity-style.

Playing back the notes made me realize two things: that when I talk, I still take a really long time, like the sentence is a string of beads but I want to make it a bracelet. Secondly: I have a talent for random thoughts. I remember my boss Harvey at a voice and LTE company messaged me to ask my favorite color, and what my medium or long term dream was, and I texted back: Blue. And to own a house of my own, close to the ground . And he replied, I have a feeling you’ll get that blue house. That’s the genesis of the name, by the way, of my small publishing house: Anna’s House .

I figured I’d use one dream to get to the other dream. If in my early twenties I thought, I can live without owning anything, I’ll always be a renter, in my thirties I think, a house I acquire for myself is a powerful commitment to the act of gathering. Who do I want to invite in? What is it that I want to keep?

In the meantime, my older sister Sarah, an architect, has offered to build me a writing shed out of GI sheets out by her swimming pool on her own property, and I’m so excited because I finally get to write out of something that looks like a Luis Santos painting. I accept.

Structures, 2013, Oil on canvas (diptych), Luis Antonio Santos

I’m still paying for my main piece of equipment, a MacBook Pro, on a 24-month scheme on my Citibank card for ₱1437.50 a month, plus rent of a small office space sublet from our family’s holding company (I really need it more as a business address since our condo association in the city wouldn’t allow me to declare our unit as an office space), and negotiating my contribution to the Internet at home.

Administratively, I’ve had to register the business name with the Department of Trade and Industry online and a sole proprietorship with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. It took three and a half months. The composer John Cage once said, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” The same is true for government filings. I used all that time in the queue to write story outlines, and towards the end whenever I’d get to the window the woman at my local BIR office would wave me over to the glass partition, Bebe, before telling me what I still lacked. I appreciate her.

In the submissions form for Anna’s House, a call for people to come to me with their dream book projects, there’s a field that asks: What is this about? Then under that: What is this really about?

So far, apart from the popular science books, I’ve edited two memoirs called “Little Book of Flowers” and “Party of Forever.” The latter recalls a life and times with Upsilon frat brothers, and along the way becomes a front seat to student radicalism in the seventies. I’m interested to publish stories like this, that are lived, and not necessarily by writers. Maybe it’s my background as a magazine editor, but I want to perfect as many voices out there, and to work with as many photographers, illustrators or even artists’ estates for the book covers. That’s the reason why it doesn’t really make sense for me to have a permanent staff.

I’ve become so sensitive to talent placement—I used to be what human resources called floating at the LTE provider (did you know it meant Long Term Evolution?) and my first day with my boss two bosses before Harvey, she forgot she was meeting me, said she liked to work with self-starters, then made me write my own job description. I had never felt more unseen at a job, which is not how creatives like to be treated. The upside was I found out I had a knack for writing job descriptions and to this day at my holding company and our businesses within it I still write the JDs. There’s something energizing about the process, like how some people glow when they make lists about their “type”.

They say there are two kinds of managers: task managers, who focus on getting things done, and people managers, who want to develop talent while getting things done. I love to be (and this will surprise anyone who has met me in a social situation) a people manager.

I have an art director intern whom I’m about to propose to be my employee number one. Her name is Zoe and I love how when I send her pages or a title phrase, she responds with artwork or image research from the artsy corners of Instagram, which I’m always trying to quit? Sitting on my hands trying not to post Stories, I’m so grateful for her endurance in that medium.

Not that I don’t find expression in it. But I’m always dropping out of crowds so I can feel things again. I need that push-pull.

may dalawampu’t apat na santelmong lumalabas tuwing ikalabing-isa ng gabi, 2018, graphite on paper, Jo Tanierla

Most days of the week, I live outside the city in a house my sister built, then drive in to dine, see a skyline, or visit a gallery. Every center has its own swirl that undoes me, or an individual that I end up interviewing for no official business other than I’m really, really curious. I’ve chatted up Clyde at the bottle shop about what’s selling in quarantine (champagne) or the girl who books the timed appointments at Silverlens (she said she wanted to try her hand at writing), and before I know it forty five minutes to an hour have passed and I have some new information, contact, or context in which to edit a piece I have open. This is always the case, since a book project takes at minimum a year from outline to publication, and I try to have two things going on at once in different stages to keep me limber.

Speaking of unfamiliar contexts, I’m trying to work my way up to something I learned from an artist whose work I saw at the U.P. Vargas Museum—direct engagement. The kind of show that stayed with me, it had graphite drawings of underbridges and nipa huts and St. Elmo’s fires along a journey from Tayabas to Rizal, which was cool, because I hike those kinds of terrains in Rizal, as well as typewritten journal entries of a fictional character, a boy named Gelacio.

Gelacio. Gelacio’s story is that his eyes are opened by a woman, Manta-tio, who teaches him about class struggles and the ideas of thinkers before her, like: “No uprising fails. Each one is a step in the right direction.” Sitting outside the museum eating burgers and hotdog sandwiches after the artist—his name is Jo—toured our group, I told him my years in fashion magazine work made me feel like an imposter sometimes and he asked me if I ever watched Dear White People on Netflix, because he picked up from that show that fashion was a way that black people stood up to oppression, and I lit up and said yes! I could understand. And to this day I always try to catch his talks and learn from him and not be shy about trying.

Jo’s friend Likha, who is, surprise, a friend I made on Instagram and was the one who invited me to Jo’s show, inspires me with his own ideas of art making. To him, art making is transmission, like messages are just flowing through us, and I can relate to that as an older writer and editor trying not to say too much. Apart from piecing together sculptures from found pieces of santos—a wood obelisk he paints a scratchy white, or just a hand of Baby Jesus in peace sign—Likha likes to draw fragments of sentences and images all over paper like they’re writings on a wall, and take photographs, which is a favorite medium of mine.

Hustisya, 2020, Mixed Media on Handmade Paper, Likha Camacho

A friend messaged me earlier this year about living in the city and periphery, love it, such an 18th century approach to life. And I do lean into that. I think books, or any piece of writing that you gestate, can transmit what you’ve lived, and learned from other people. And that printing the pages honors what you’ve infused into it, and ask from the reader: T - I - M - E. Time. But also, bravery. ︎

Anna Canlas is a writer and  editor based out of Antipolo, Rizal.