January 28th, 2011 / 2:31 pm

There Are Always Things On My Mind


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.

Molly writes:

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.

She says:

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.

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  1. davidpeak

      if david mcnamara ceased to exist, a good-sized chunk of the independent press world would just collapse. talk about giant people. mcnamara is due some due.

  2. davidpeak

      if david mcnamara ceased to exist, a good-sized chunk of the independent press world would just collapse. talk about giant people. mcnamara is due some due.

  3. Amber

      Three things: 1) Thank you for the mention–I think it’s really fascinating how much attention that post has gotten which to me proves a lot of people feel crazed the same way I do. There was actually a related piece at Slate yesterday about how Facebook makes us all unhappy because everyone compares their own (real) life with the (idealized, best-face-forward) lives that most people showcase on FB. Interesting and maybe we’re all making ourselves crazy and competitive without even really being conscious of it. 2) Molly’s post is fantastic and the collective is such a good idea–why NOT pool talents and resources more often to save money and time and offer better products/more professionalism. Yes yes yes. 3) Party All the Time is honest to god the song I get stuck in my head more often than any other. Many of you are probably too young to know this, but Eddie Murphy was so hot back then. WTF happened? Also this: “Put a little tree in your butt. Put a bumblebee in your butt.”

  4. Anonymous

      I once subscribed to a literary journal and, even though they cashed my check, I didn’t receive any issues. Finally, after months of contacting them, they sent me my first issue — nearly a year after I’d subscribed. They included a note promising that the next issue would be out soon. I never received it, even after querying. (They didn’t close shop, either, and kept putting out new issues.) I don’t think it was malicious; they were just extremely disorganized. But it’s still inexcusable. At the very least, a lit mag should be able to get issues out to paying subscribers.

      On the flip side, I once wanted to order a very obscure book put out by a tiny and equally obscure press. It wasn’t available anywhere else, and they clearly weren’t expecting anyone to order this particular book. I sent some emails and the editor of the press actually called me to discuss the book. I wanted it for a Christmas present and by then it was too late for me to mail in payment and wait for the book to arrive. So they just went ahead and mailed it to me that day, trusting that I’d send a check (which I did, of course). The book arrived on Dec. 24. That story makes up for my no-show lit mag subscription, at least.

  5. David LeGault

      I’ve paid for lit mag subscriptions that have never arrived, even after countless emails that they eventually stopped replying to.

      It’s one of the reasons I’m so pumped for AWP every year. I can pay money for a book and have someone put it in my hand. I’d probably buy more literary journals if I trusted them to deliver.

  6. Richard Thomas

      Great stuff here, Roxane. Love hearing what’s on your mind.

      Say, squeeze it, please it, but don’t tease it
      Put it in your butt.

  7. Martin Macaulay

      To the small presses I’ve known and loved or known and cared less about, I bow completely in your company. Respect to your toil, sweat and Tippex. It takes sheer dedication and time I could not devote. Thank you.

      I really enjoyed this post Roxane. As e-readers take off in popularity, could this provide a new revenue stream that could be reinvested in a co-operative’s infrastructure? I mean digital distribution is nothing new but this could be the equivalent of what the 7″ single was to music 30 years ago?

  8. Marcelle Heath

      Thanks for this great post!

  9. Sean

      I get all my small press books on time and I order a bunch. Just saying.

  10. M. Kitchell

      i don’t know if i can even call my “press” a small press or even a micropress, but man, i get like hella anxiety if i don’t make it to the post office within a week of someone ordering something from solar▲luxuriance. i wonder if i did shit on a larger scale if this anxiety would decrease or increase

  11. stephen

      * sheepish face * Your magazine is finally getting mailed next week, Roxane. I would offer an excuse/explanation, but I’ll save it. Sorry :/

  12. Sean

      I’m actually wildly impressed by what small presses DO get done. It seems like every time I order a book it comes with a bunch of extras, broadsides, notes, flasks (thanks Hobart), personal touches I don’t get with Amazon.

      I mean I guess I’m arguing for Hold On Now.

      If everyone joins I still want a small press feel to this thing. I still want the difference valued. That’s a commodity, too.

      An analogy might be coffee. I try to support the small shops in my town but 2 FuckBucks loom over everything. But the smaller coffee shops do extra things, and make great coffee, too.

      I do occasionally drink FuckBucks, but I try to channel my money to the smaller shops.

      I suppose my point is to reiterate Molly’s comment: Each press will retain it’s identity.

      But the terms “a board” frighten me. A board conjures up Big Press ideas. Mahogany meeting tables, etc.



  13. Sean


  14. Mike Meginnis

      Tracy and I talk about ways to do this sort of thing. We had ideas about combining printing and online sales for a wide variety of presses — would be a lot of efficiencies in something like that — but I doubt we’ll have the capital for anything like that for a LONG time. I continue to dream.

  15. Roxane

      I think those of us thinking about how we can work together better while maintaining our individuality are all for what small presses do but there are some KEY areas where more people working together is useful–getting better rates for printing and distribution, off the top of my head. I think its quite remarkable what small presses are able to do with so few resources but everyone I know running a press is stretched so thin they’re about to snap. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way is all I’m saying. It’s not at all about trying to be a Big Press. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this.

  16. Sean

      Yes I can see overlap of ALL presses, needs, printing, etc. I suppose identity is more what is published, the design, the take/tude of the readings, publicity, etc.

      I mean presses have identities, clearly, but there are certain practical tasks that could maybe be bundled?

  17. Roxane

      Yes, absolutely. I also think a collective approach could make it possible for people to contribute what they do best. Some people are great at networking, some people are great at design, some people are great at [insert valuable skill here]. When people needed help in those areas, they could tap the collective. This sort of already happens but maybe it would be great if cooperation became more widely practiced. This is all just speculation, of course, but it is interesting to think about and try to work through.

  18. Roxane

      I was speaking generally but I look forward to receiving Pop Serial #2.

  19. Roxane

      I think that there are a lot of e-options that could be valuable revenue streams. I’ve noticed, over the past couple, weeks, a few outfits that are selling stories on Kindle for $.99 a pop and such. I don’t know how well they are doing with that approach but there are some good ideas fermenting.

  20. phmadore
  21. phmadore

      The only way a collective effort like this will work is if it’s instigated by someone all the dominant personalities can agree to submit to, which won’t happen. This “community” is typically so disorderly and disheveled that it cannot be bothered to even begin a collective historical narrative on how we got here. I’d spend a few hours writing this very clever comment about the whole thing, but that’d be a waste of time I owe.

      You’re losing touch when you start to say things like “are making themselves known.” This pedestal here, this Giant thing, it’s not near as giant as anyone thinks it is.

      And the idea of this collective, while noble, here’s the problem with it: it wouldn’t solve the age-old problem of ins and outs. It wouldn’t make anything more accessible. There’d still be outlying scrubs. And somehow I know I’d be among them, which doesn’t defeat my point.


  22. phmadore

      In the big leagues they just use order fulfillment houses.

  23. M. Kitchell

      surely you’ve overstayed your hour and a half between here & bigother this week already

  24. jesusangelgarcia

      I think this is important, Roxane. Solidarity across the entire country without sacrificing artistic autonomy. It’s doable, I believe, if everyone acts professionally like McNamara. Combine the publishing angle with “franchised” or traveling or sister reading series, like Lit Death Match and Last Rites and Vermin on the Mount and a transcontinental circuit of hospitable venues w/ built-in audiences for readers/multimedia artists, and guerrilla marketing like Christopher Newgent’s Vouched or Is Reads, and a publicity database of indie book reviewers and TV/radio/podcast contacts, and storming academia (w/ profs who teach indie lit) and the library system (I just got the Bay Area libraries to buy an armful of indie books simply by sending a professional-sounding email request to the acquisitions managers, who said they’re eager for more recs). The old publishing model is all but dead. We can create a new one that’s more respectful and beneficial to both writers and readers. The time is now. It feels like it’s possible.

  25. Guest

      “We want to be a model of efficiency.” Is that what we want?

  26. Kevin Sampsell

      I do all the shipping of Future Tense orders when I get them and, like Sean says, I always try to throw in some extras (a pin, a postcard, a flier, etc). It helps to run an orderly email box.
      Also, I recently wrote this piece about starting your own micropress and it may be helpful to newcomers. http://centerforfiction.org/forwriters/the-book-business/
      Thanks, Roxane!

  27. herocious

      Yeah, within 1 week is what we try to do at Tiny TOE Press. I’d say we’re more of a hand-press, or jig-press, rather than small or micro.

  28. phmadore