One of the things I love most when ordering a book from Amazon.com or a subscription from one of the well-established literary magazines is I know I can trust I will receive what I ordered in a reasonable amount of time. I know I am not just throwing my money into the wind and hoping for the best. Often times, however, when I order books and magazines from smaller outfits, it feels like a real crapshoot. Maybe I will receive what I ordered, maybe I won’t. Maybe what I ordered will arrive during the timeframe promised, maybe it won’t. More often than not, it feels like I have to track down small press books and magazines I’ve ordered and if I forget I’ve ordered something, I’ve essentially donated that money with nothing but, perhaps, good karma, to show for it. I’ve contributed to several Kickstarter projects and only received what was promised by two. I don’t really care but still, if you say you’re going to do something, you should do it otherwise you really undermine yourself and lose potential customers.
At times, I feel like we eschew professionalism. We don’t use contracts. We don’t stick to timelines. We don’t send out review copies in advance. Sometimes, I think we don’t bother trying to do what the bigger presses our doing because we think we can’t. Word Riot has proven that wrong. Paula Bomer’s book, for example, was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and had a mention in O Magazine. We don’t communicate effectively. We don’t update our websites or we delete our archives without notifying our authors. I’m generalizing here, but these things happen all the time and it can be frustrating, as a consumer, as a writer, as an editor.
I wonder if this is a matter of logistics and expertise, small presses run by people for whom that press is not their primary vocation. As an editor, I know firsthand the challenges of distribution and order fulfillment. At PANK, we’re okay at getting things out but we could be much, much better. It’s not for a lack of wanting to be better, though. We want to be a model of efficiency. When you’re doing all the work though, efficiency is difficult. Perhaps if more small presses worked together, combining what they’re good at and ceding control to others for what they’re not so good at, we could all be better and working more professionally.
All of this, in a way, connects to something Molly Gaudry who runs Cow Heavy Books, blogged about, and something she and I have discussed recently—how small (micro) presses might work together more effectively and efficiently. If I remember correctly, the guys at Barrelhouse have also been interested in this idea of collective for quite some time too.
Sometimes I feel like all of these micro-presses are trying so hard, and yet doing things so inefficiently. We all work our butts off, and we all do everything: We all do all the editing, all the design (well, I hire David McNamara of Sunnyoutside to do my prepress, but I know a lot of you do your own design); we all do all the publicity, all the marketing, all the packaging and shipping, and all the web stuff, too. Dark Sky’s website is really great-looking, right? And we all know that some other presses’ websites aren’t so great (I mean, I did my best with the Cow Heavy site and it’s okay, but it’s not great by any stretch). So why don’t we all come together and have one big website to showcase all our books? ISBNs are expensive, right? So why can’t we all come together and instead of each of us forking over $325 (which is a lot of money, right?) for ten ISBNs, why aren’t we buying a block of 1,000 and splitting the $1,075 like 20 ways so that we each end up with 50 ISBNs for what comes out to be about dollar a pop? Yes, they’d need to be owned by the same purchaser, the same “group,” but there’s nothing stopping us from forming that group. An association of sorts. With each of the publishers being a member of the board. And of course the board would have to vote and decide on things. But we’d still be able to maintain our own individual presses, aesthetics, and operations. I mean, obviously we’re all control freaks and that’s why we’re all doing our own little niche things in the first place, but on some practical levels it only makes sense to come together and pool our resources and be a little more efficient, which is only in all of our own best interests.
The whole post is worth reading. This idea of a publishing collective is a really good one. Individually, we are so very small, but if a group of micropresses worked collaboratively, curating their own editorial lines but sharing other responsibilities, we might do something really interesting and get better about doing what we love so much. The Dzanc model, as I understand it, does this to a certain extent and it would be great to see other presses trying to replicate that model.
Amber Sparks wrote an excellent post over at Big Other about social media and the modern Internet-based writing culture and the anxiety inspired when we’re constantly bombarded with writers talking about all the ways in which they are being writerly. I could really relate to what she wrote. It is really easy to start to feel like you’re being left behind when there are people who are publishing four or five books a year and doing a million other things, no matter what you might be doing.
Suddenly, what had seemed awfully productive to me now seemed like pure laziness and inefficiency. This person wrote 3 million pages of a novel yesterday. That person stayed up all night long writing six essays for various prestigious publications. This friend was somehow interviewed by three publications while managing to read and review four books simultaneously and dash off a few dozen short stories and her sixth novella to boot. They’re giving readings! They’re planning readings! They’re selling books! They’re stacking up publication credits like cord wood! The as-of-late familiar feeling came rushing back, and I found myself panicking, thinking, I’m so behind! I need to catch up! I found myself thinking about pulling a few all-nighters myself (as if my old-ass body could handle that anymore), about all the books I still need to read, about the growing list of story ideas and the novel that I have no time for and the short story collection I need to put together–and then I glanced at my giant, mutating to do list for work and I was totally overcome by the whole thing.
Yes, some of you will say “You do a million things, Roxane,” and it might seem like that but I feel way behind in the book race and it stresses me out and then I remember to just write and the rest will come which is what Amber ultimately concludes.
Why is The Kenyon Review’s Short Fiction Contest limited to entrants under the age of thirty? Why isn’t it the Short Fiction From Young(er) Writers Contest? Why is the judge older than thirty? Do you have to prove your age with a birth certificate? (I enjoy reading TKR; I’m mostly curious.)
Several new magazines are making themselves known. Midwestern Gothic, a new print journal, focuses on writing from Midwest writers or set in the Midwest or otherwise evoking the region. Wonderfort, which has a really whimsical design, will feature one piece a week. The debut piece is a story by JA Tyler. Palooka (an interview with one of the editors is forthcoming), bills itself as a journal of underdog literary excellence. I’ve been reading through their first print issue and it’s really good. I’m also excited by MAKE, which is celebrating its fifth year and is gorgeously designed (interview with editors also forthcoming). I recently read an issue and was particularly amused by an e-mail exchange instigated by Fred Sasaki.
I started a micropress, and decided to work with Sunnyoutside to print the first title. They facilitate printing via their Cloudy Outside branch. David McNamara who runs Sunnyoutside is a paragon of professionalism. He responds to e-mails quickly and thoroughly. He anticipates potential problems with your ideas, offers workable alternatives if you have big ideas and a small budget, and makes it seem like it’s pretty damn easy to publish a book. I’ve been working with printers for years and have never had such a pleasant and seamless experience. I’m honestly a little emotional about it because working with printers, in general, sucks so goddamned much. On their website, they say, “For projects from business cards to books, our sole purpose is to help you make your work better. So go on and be creative—we’ll sweat the small stuff.” I could not agree more. They sweated all the small stuff and one day I came home from work and a box of pretty books was sitting in front of my front door. I am definitely going to use them again and if you’re looking for someone to work with for small run projects, give them a try.
Eddie Murphy was pretty glorious when he sang “Party All the Time.“