Michelle Tea always wanted to become a publisher. “Publishing has been my dream for decades,” the author and literary organizer confessed. But for most of her career that dream felt out of reach.
She started small, first helming her own imprints at established presses. In 2012 she founded the Sister Spit imprint at City Lights Press, and in 2016 she launched Amethyst Editions, an imprint focused on queer writing, at the Feminist Press. In these roles, she enjoyed championing the work of authors she believed in—“but I wanted more control,” she said. Now, as the head of her own nonprofit press, Dopamine Books, she’s finally in the driver’s seat.
For years, Tea, who lives in Los Angeles, had met with independent publishers whom she admired—Dave Eggers of McSweeney’s, Emily Segal of Deluge, Lauren Hook and Margot Atwell of the Feminist Press—in order to “learn their ways.” But a fateful encounter in May of this year with Hedi El Kholti of Semiotext(e) finally set her publishing dream in motion. “It was such an incredible connection,” Tea said of her meeting with El Kholti, “and he thought it could be very cool if we sort of joined forces.” With that, Tea’s idea for Dopamine was brought under the auspices of Semiotext(e).
“It’s amazing to get to learn all the mechanics of publishing with my hand held,” Tea said. “To have total freedom and independence to publish while being in collaboration with one of my favorite publishers.” Dopamine will have editorial and artistic independence, but will be part of Semiotext(e)’s catalog and go through its printing and distribution channels. (Semiotext[e] is distributed by the MIT Press.) “I feel like Semiotext(e) is our wild and worldly older sibling who has taken us under their wing,” Tea added.
As with Tea’s Amethyst Editions, Dopamine will publish queer authors and highlight queer writing. “We want to nurture emerging queer writers who might find themselves intimidated by the publishing landscape,” Tea said, “as well as grow to where we can be competitive in landing more established authors I love.” She added that it’s “queer and trans people whom the press will primarily serve,” through the books it publishes and programming such as reading series, literary workshops, and more.
“My greatest hope for the press is that it becomes a way for emerging writers who are a bit intimidated by or disconnected from publishing to find their way into print and kick off fabulous literary careers,” she said. “It’s also that we become successful enough to be viewed as a viable publishing option for writers who may have their choice of many independent presses.”
Tea plans to publish four titles per year, and is open to all genres. Dopamine’s first book, an anthology titled Sluts, is slated for May 2024, and three other titles—another anthology, Witch, as well as two debut novels—are planned for next year. Both Slut and Witch are part of what Tea called a “continuous collection of anthologies,” the third and fourth installments of which will be titled Clowns and Criminal. She sees the collection as “a way for me to get to work with larger writers I love and bring them into the Dopamine world while we’re not yet ready to bid on their book.”
Dopamine’s L.A.-based team comprises Tea, El Kholti, and Beth Pickens, formerly managing director at Radar Productions, the San Francisco literary nonprofit that Tea founded in 2003 and ran for 13 years. Dopamine is also working with freelance illustrator and designer Faye Orlove, who designed the cover of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died. “That’s it for now,” Tea said of the small staff, “but we’ll soon have to bring more on board.”
At the moment, Tea’s priority is getting Dopamine up and running. The press got off the ground with the help of an angel investor whom Tea said provided “a modest amount that is an enormous help.” As Dopamine is a 501(c)3, Tea will be looking for grants, as well as other donors.
Dopamine hosted its first fundraiser in Los Angeles on August 13, which Tea said “sold out beyond our hopes,” and made its debut that same week at this year’s L.A. Art Book Fair. “It’s been so, so rewarding to see how much support and excitement there is for Dopamine, whether it’s writers clamoring to contribute to an anthology or willing to participate in our fundraisers.”
In the 10 months between now and the publication of Dopamine’s inaugural title, there is still much to do. But between Semiotext(e), her own team, and the literary community—in L.A. and beyond—Tea feels fully supported in the endeavor. “I’m stunned and giddy with the amount of support the press has gotten and continues to receive,” she said.