On Small Press.


Peter Cole of Keyhole Books has been showing his concern here and there over the last week about the state of small press publishing. Brief summary:The last two discussions I’m aware of concerned two things 1) the support structure of small press books, how it’s the same people buying the same things and how eventually this structure could collapse and the multitude of small press imprints out there will get washed away and 2) authors using small press imprints as stepping stones to bigger publishing houses instead of growing with the small press.

Pete, I feel you. The limitations of a small press are often frustrating and disappointing. But there’s a reason they call it small press. We don’t have marketing and publicity armies at our disposal that can go out and find an audience for a new title. Usually it’s just one dude working on it in his spare time, wearing all the hats.

Regarding the support structure, the problem is us small press publishers looking at the online writing scene and seeing it as a viable market, instead of looking for an audience outside of that scene. Regarding the stepping stone effect, Annalemma is in a somewhat different position. Traditionally, lit mags have functioned happily as a conduit for writers to travel beyond small press land. I’m hard pressed to find a problem with this. The reason small presses publish someone is because they love the writing, not because they think it will sell 10,000 units. If it sold a shit ton of books then they’d cease to be a small press. And if there’s a writer you publish that goes on to the bigger houses that wouldn’t be a boon for all parties involved?

Big time publishing works just like Hollywood. They spend a lot of money on a lot of titles (most of them garbage) in the hopes that one of them is a hit and can pay for the ones that flopped. By that point it’s just gambling, hedging bets, fully diluting that feeling that a small press gives you of presenting work to the world that is worth reading.

The point: There comes a time when you need to embrace where you’re at. Small press publishing will always be hard and never lucrative. To fight against that is a recipe for burnout. But there’s advantages to small press. We’re agile. We can shift course and pivot focus almost effortlessly. We’re able to experiment at relatively low risk. The prospect of something we put our hands on hitting the Bestseller list is laughable, but never impossible.

The greater point: you keep trying until it works or you run out of gas.



  1. Peter C. says:

    Some good points.

    I should add that the things I’m saying aren’t necessarily related to Keyhole or its state of success or its impending doom or even its authors.

    The things I’m concerned about are the state of literature as a whole and the impact small press COULD make if it weren’t so poorly executed by those involved (Not to say that some aren’t doing fine regardless). So I’m disagreeing with your final statements. There are different kinds of small. And really, I’m against the wording “small press” anyway. Because it’s stupid. Who decided on that term anyway? Independent is what I’m interested in, not necessarily staying small. The goal can be to succeed, but that goal should be to succeed where you are, or else you are just using people as stepping stones. If it’s impossible to “succeed” on a “small press” then why do it at all, if your goal is to succeed. If your goal isn’t to succeed, then you’re probably fine here anyway. (by “you” I mean anyone). But if everyone’s not in it for the success, then man everyone is just way too serious and needs to lighten up and have more fun. And quit sending me rude email for not responding to you fast enough.

    Something fun shouldn’t be stressful and so focused on big blurbs (which are stupid no matter who writes them) and big reviews and, well, success.

    The thing that bugs me is we all delegitimize small press by the way we view it ourselves, and by the way we deal with it and within it. And by leaving it as soon as the opportunity arises. We should be more angry at review outlets that only ever pay attention to the big publishing houses. Express outrage. Get out more and make people pay attention to us. We should be at least a little angry at those that DO move on the big publishers. I’m working hard here for small press and all the best writers plans are just moving on up? So of course I’m angry at those people. Am I really the only one that’s angry about it? Is it because I’m not a writer? Because most small presses are run by writers and even they are really thinking, “yay if that writer can make it to the majors…so can I!”

    Change is possible, but if everyone’s fine with the way things are then nothing will change. And I think: if you’re not burning yourself out then you’re simply not doing something worth burning yourself out for.

  2. chris says:

    Hey Peter, thanks commenting.

    I’m with you on the “small press” misnomer. It’s a bit condescending if you take it the wrong way, but in the end it’s semantics and we’re all talking about the same thing.

    Everyone’s got their different version of success. For you, I’m guessing it’s a title that sells out, requiring repeated print runs. For a writer it’s probably getting the most people possible to read their work and getting handsomely paid for it. I can’t imagine why anyone would participate in publishing for anything less than these reasons. Regardless of what side we’re on, we should be thankful for the luxury of being able to participate in it at all and never, ever, narrow our view of the world enough to be stressed or upset about it.

    If anyone sends you a rude email for not getting back to you faster then they are a clueless asshole on a fast track to disillusionment about how publishing works, thus, not worth your time or energy.

    I agree with you on the perspective of the scene toward publishing, but for different reasons. I feel the majority of writers are too focused inwards and should instead set their focus on others. If more writers are writing about other people than themselves then we open up the interest to a group outside of the writing community, civilians I like to call them.

    I don’t think it’s worth it to get mad at writers for taking a deal from big houses. A writers loyalty rests with herself and her work, first and foremost, not publishing. The goal of a writer is to make an impact on as many people as possible. The easiest way to do that is with a big house. It would take a lot of balls for a young writer to turn down a book deal for the sake of independent publishing. I’m not saying it’s right, just saying that’s probably the general consensus.

    And who’s to say that the writer couldn’t open up the door for independent presses when and if they get their druthers?

    Anger’s a good way boost you off your ass to do something, but if you let it fuel you for too long then it runs the risk of turning into bitterness and resentment. People are attracted to positivity, turning a bad situation into something good. And I think: Operating from a place of positivity is the key to longevity.

  3. Peter C. says:

    I agree on what you said about positivity. Disagree with everything else.

  4. Peter C. says:

    oh and also that part about email ๐Ÿ˜‰

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