September 22nd, 2010 / 10:16 am
Behind the Scenes

Keyhole Book Submissions

Kudos to Peter Cole for writing the best submission guidelines since those at Muumuu House. From

Books. Fiction Collections, Novels, Novellas, etc.

We are not accepting book submissions. Really, we can’t do much for you that you can’t already do for yourself. We encourage authors to release books independently.

Right on. I am for that too, once he convinced me of it. I called Peter a while ago and asked him to put the Keyhole logo on Say, Poem so that later I could put it on a CV saying I had a book from them. He basically said, why bother? He said, get a backbone. Make self-publishing worthwhile and legitimate. If you’re smart, he said, that’s the way to go.



  1. Kyle Minor

      Of course, if you publish with Keyhole Press, you will benefit from their distribution arrangement with Consortium/Dzanc and maybe your book will appear on the shelves of bookstores where people you don’t know and may never have heard of you might find it. If you publish with Keyhole Press, Peter will make sure your cover is beautiful, your e-platform is solid and well-made, and you’ll benefit from his network of contacts. People who like other Keyhole Press books might take a chance on yours. Certainly those who believe in things like external validation will be more likely to read or read and review your book. When it’s time to collect money, Peter will take care of that and give you a big chunk of it. All the time Peter spends on your book will be time you can spend promoting your book alongside Peter, or, better, writing your next book. I don’t think Peter is giving you good advice. You’d be better off with Peter.

  2. Fawn

      If you actually read the guidelines, they’re differentiating between books and ebooks. They are still taking eBooks, just not subs for print books. Now, in that case, Peter is doing something for me that I can’t do, since I don’t have $1700 for CS5 to do the layout for print. I can do my own digital in my sleep…

  3. Adam Robinson

      I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don’t think there is false modesty here. With work, a smart person can do as much for his or her book as Peter can. Sure, he has built up an infrastructure to make it a bit easier, but I think what happens is that while an author is expecting to be working to promote a book alongside Peter, Peter is busting his ass trying to get things in order for the next book he’s putting out, or a book he put out last year, or a tour he’s trying to put together for a different writer. Maybe his “guidelines” are meant to level set expectations for people who get their book accepted.

  4. Kyle Minor

      That might be true, but if it is, then the advice is serving Peter, not you.

      Last Saturday, Mike Young and Rachel Glaser came to Ann Arbor. I went to hear them read. I bought two copies of Rachel’s book, and Mike’s sold out before I could buy a copy. They’ve been reading all over the place, and working hard to get their readings and do a good job with them. I don’t know, though, if it would have been as easy to do (I’m not saying it’s easy) if they weren’t umbrellaed by Publishing Genius, which in certain circles (here, for instance) conveys instant credibility and interest (if Adam liked it, maybe I will, too.)

      There is no magic bullet, but there are benefits to not self-publishing, and not just because of the stigma, which, although it may be waning and although it may be unfair or whatever, is still very present and will probably continue to be so for a long time.

  5. Lincoln Michel

      Pretty much agree with all this. Well said.

  6. Adam Robinson

      I think this stigma is where Peter’s point hinges — it’s too bad that all the smart writers are getting picked up by very small houses like PG, whose limited resources don’t do enough to promote them — when they could be doing (nearly) as much for themselves AND giving legitimacy to self publishing, which will bring more attention to small publishing in general. (I’m getting confused by trying to argue a point through Peter’s eyes, though, and I don’t think I’m doing him any justice.)

      Thanks for the scene report from Ann Arbor. Very glad to hear that, and to hear it framed in that way.

  7. or here

      Well, all the major reviewers won’t review self-published books. Which means, even if you bust your ass, most likely you’d sell a couple of hundred copies at the most.

      Self-publishing isn’t bad necessarily. But it’s gratification, I imagine, is limiting.

      If you are happy selling maybe 200 copies, not having your book reviewed much and not having it be in libraries, then indeed it might be the way to go.

  8. Lincoln Michel

      The problem though is that there is simply far more fiction (or for that matter film or music or anything) popping into existence than anyone can read. So people tend to require some kind of filter to determine what to read. So as much as we like to rag on critics or editors, they really do provide a nice first filter to hone down the unending sea of work.

      Steve Almond had an essay about self-publishing recently, but its one thing to self-publish when you are already successful and have already passed through the filters and quite another to self-publish before you have. And that’s before we get into the points Minor raises about how a publisher helps you.

  9. Gabe

      I’m not as into print self-publishing. I read and write self-published web stuff all the time. I like that at least one person who is not the writer has gotten excited enough about the writing to put in the work to put it out. I also feel better, cleaner when buying a book from someone/anyone who is not the writer.

      Keyhole Magazine subs open back up in a month or two. Start polishing, submitters.

  10. christopher.

      I would agree with this, and actually Adam and I had an email exchange regarding the vetting processes in the music and publishing industries.

      To add to this, even with this classic editorship vetting process, there’s still a ridiculous amount of content out there. Just today I had to mark read at least 60 items in my Reader because I finally admitted to myself that I’ll not have the time to read them anytime soon.

      And, like you say, it’s much easier for a writer like Almond to self-publish, given the fact that he’s already been through the classic vetting process and made a decent rep for himself.

  11. Denise

      Among those who read CVs (like… for a university position?)… very few would be impressed by a Keyhole logo. Which, let me add, is terrible–I love Keyhole. If it’s not a university press or a major/semi major (FSG… Dalkey-A) publisher–its nothing–to most readers-of-CVs. For teaching jobs, schools are inundated w/ CVs by writers w/ 3, 5, 11 books! But all the publishers are small and obscure, so they’re akin to self-publishing. I know–I’m a secretary-type in an English Dept. w/ BFA/MFA program and if you don’t have a book or three by a university press AND a PhD in CW–no chance. But, maybe you’re sending your CV elsewhere. Where?! Please, help me!

  12. Adam Robinson

      Right, “they’re akin to self-publishing.” That’s the gist of “why bother.”

  13. Adam Robinson

      Outside of academia, there might be reason to bother, as Kyle and Lincoln have shown.

  14. Peter

      I didn’t read any of these comments aside from the first one, because really there is only going to be one opinion or the other.

      The infrastructure that is small press/micro press is actually hurting literature in its current state. If you publish with Keyhole (for example), you will have a false sense of being attached to a network, my contacts, Keyhole’s fan’s, etc. When the reality is that every small press is supported by the exact same people, and it’s a small group of people, and those people can’t support everyone, so at some point, statistically, something here or there will collapse. Eventually it will probably be Keyhole.

      My reason for pointing this out and for pushing for self-publishing is that authors would HAVE to work harder just by default. And the reality is, if you want to sell any copies at all, you have to work harder ANYWAY, whether you’re on a press or not. Because the reality is that no one will buy your book unless you promote it. And authors are more likely to do that when they don’t have a false sense of whatever you get by someone else putting out your book. Plus, reviewers aren’t going to review small press books anyway. If you think that’s not true, then you can start your own press and put your own book out if you need to have some umbrella name to trick people into thinking you’re bigger than you are. That’s the game anyway: tricking people into thinking you’re bigger than you are.

      The stigma attached to self-publishing is total bullshit. And really, you think people outside of the small press lit circle can differentiate between small press books and self-released books? Kind of doubtful.

      And finally, the fact that I had no idea how to edit, layout, design, distribute, sell online, select, curate, etc, really knew absolutely nothing about making and selling books 2 years go (and probably even STILL) is my reasoning for saying authors can do it themselves. The product I produce only happens because I will it to. And anyone can do that. And you can do it almost for free if you already own a computer and know how to steal software. Or if you can’t do it on your own, hire an editor. Hire a designer.

      Ok I’m done. bye

  15. Peter

      oh and thanks Adam. xoxo

  16. Mykle

      Many years ago I learned and adopted an awesome motivational trick for getting more stuff done: involve other people in your projects. That way you can’t just quit, or postpone, or forget, without the fear of letting someone else down. I recommend this trick to every independent artist.

      In publishing, that means I’m now published by a small press (Eraserhead) run by one amazing woman (Rose O’Keefe) who believes in her writers and works hard on their behalf. Even though we have zero promotional budget, she keeps me organized and focused and easily doubles my ability to promote my own books. That’s a super-valuable thing for a flaky artist-type like myself.

      Even if Peter doesn’t have bandwidth for new fiction works, there are probably other publishers out there who do. Maybe you can find one of them, maybe you can’t. The searching-for-a-publisher process is confusing as hell, plus finding a publisher is no guarantee of finding a great one.

      There’s no shame in self-publishing. I wouldn’t have found my current publisher if I hadn’t self-published first. But if you want to do it you’d better have iron discipline, huge reserves of energy, brilliant marketing ideas, and be immune to discouragement and loneliness. If you already feel connected to a community that appreciates you, that will help a lot.

      Then, in lieu of a publisher, you should hire a life coach or a personal trainer. Or just get married.

  17. jesusangelgarcia

      I’m convinced that authors must promote their own work just like an underground band. Seems to me we have to be hungry for our audience, if we care at all about being read, and we have to innovate — in both presentation of our work and in the way we let others know about our work — if we’re going to get anyone we don’t know personally or haven’t “met” in online forums like HTMLG to take notice.

      On one hand, I see exactly what Adam’s talking about (and I had a similar conversation with Peter at AWP last year). To add to Adam’s point: I don’t think (m)any potential readers are going to buy a book at a bookstore just by browsing, just by seeing the spine of a book (you likely will not get a spotlight on a table, let alone a display). As Lincoln indicated, there are way too many “entertainment” choices.

      So… along with interacting online, handselling at shows/readings/on the street (Ginsberg style… it goes back to the Beats, no… to Whitman, right?… no, to William Blake!) is going to be our best bet for getting our books out there and building an audience. At least that’s my best guess.

      However, Kyle’s got a point about “legitimacy.” Thing is, based on my own anecdotal research, the only readers who pay attention to the name of the publisher are writer-readers, i.e., probably people you’ve already gotten to know to some degree online or on the lit scene at readings, etc. Non-writer readers don’t usually pay attention to that sorta stuff, as I understand it. However, they won’t know about your book unless you put it out there. How? Well, that’s where the innovation comes into play, I believe.

      Of course, industry connects from an established press — however small — are better than no connects or limited personal connects, maybe. But my guess is that both the publisher AND the author need to beat the street to find the readership for their work. And from what I’ve read, it’s the author’s responsibility these days to do most of the work, whether you’re on Harper, FSG, Keyhole, or self-published.

      SELF-PROMO SPOILER ALERT: Of course, I don’t know anything about this stuff, really. It’s all a great experiment at this point. But I’m gunning full-stream and anticipate a May print-pub release date for my “badbadbad” novel (on deviant micro New Pulp Press). I plan to tour the country all summer. Anyone who wants to lend a hand in setting up gigs, etc., please drop a line. Email’s on the home site. Thanks.

  18. Mykle

      Re: reviews — do you think the “major reviewers” drive more sales than the reviewers? I’m not sure if that’s still true.

      Re: libraries — okay, here’s a trick for the desperate and self-published. Create a form letter your friends can use to request their local libraries purchase your book. Organize a campaign and you might make 100 sales this way. Libraries almost always fulfill such requests from their members — they take higher precedence than the reviews in Today’s Librarian Today.

      Certain channels are totally closed off to self-published works, yes. But other channels exist.

  19. Lincoln Michel

      Man, I hope they drive more sales than reviews. “Crowd sourcing” reviews is cool in theory, but mostly a disaster in practice. I find stuff like Yelp and reviews to be completely unhelpful. People are far too petty in the way they rate things.

      Which is not to say that major reviews drive sales that much anymore. I’m really not sure.

  20. Lincoln Michel

      “And from what I’ve read, it’s the author’s responsibility these days to do most of the work, whether you’re on Harper, FSG, Keyhole, or self-published. ”

      I think you’ve hit on it here and I think this was Kyle’s point. EVERYONE has to hustle non-stop whether you are on a major, a big indie, a small press or self-published. So, having a press do some of the work for you and be working alongside you just makes the hustling go further.

  21. Roxane

      You don’t need to spend $1700 for CS5; there are many ways to get software more affordably, namely, asking a friend who works at a university to buy it for you at the very steep academic discount. Of course, you need a friend who works at a university but that said, there are also websites of an indeterminate legitimacy where you can acquire such products for less than the extortionist prices charged by Adobe.

  22. or here

      I know, from experience, the big review places sell many many more books than Amazon reviews. One decent review in Publisher’s Weekly should sell at least 200-300 books to libraries. A lot easier than getting your friends, aunts and uncles to request at a library.

      Also, you can only ask so much from friends. If you have books coming out regularly, they will lose their enthusiasm to be out beating the streets for you.

  23. christopher.

      I would agree with this, and actually Adam and I had an email exchange regarding the vetting processes in the music and publishing industries.

      To add to this, even with this classic editorship vetting process, there’s still a ridiculous amount of content out there. Just today I had to mark read at least 60 items in my Reader because I finally admitted to myself that I’ll not have the time to read them anytime soon.

      And, like you say, it’s much easier for a writer like Almond to self-publish, given the fact that he’s already been through the classic vetting process and made a decent rep for himself.

  24. John Minichillo

      There were more self-published books last year than from the presses. Smashwords has 15,000 self-published books and if you look at the most downloaded it kind of tells a story.

      Two of the top ten are advice about how to have a successful self-published book. 90% is offered for free, a lot of it is pulp and/or lit-porn (haven’t read them, but that’s the impression I get).

      How does anyone navigate that, and why the hell would a legitimate author with a good book throw it into that pile? And why would a legitimate author with a good book have to publish their own book and sell it themselves through a website and/or through readings?

      Because the other problem is that the filters are broken. Big houses require agents. Agents are swamped with submissions and may only take on one or two new clients per year. Big houses are owned by the same people who own MTV and Fox News. They are used to getting returns on their money, not long-term intellectual / artistic investment. They would like books to be respected as literature but will mostly finance it on the backs of thrillers, books for kids, books by or about celebrities, and the unpredictable unexplainable breakout novel. And they are a lot less willing to finance a literary book on the backs of these others than they used to be.

      Kindle is going to be the same story as Smashwords, minus the porn. Of the top downloads, 90% are free. The same companies that were scared to death of what Kindle might do are now embracing it and hoping it will save the industry.

      If people want to make comparisons to music and record labels, why not go all the way? iPod killed music stores and record labels are bleeding money. When you can get something for free, why pay for it? That’s the new generation of readers. Kindle is pushing the price point down to $10 and that’s where the indie / micro paperback presses are also settling. It’s potentially a good place to be, but writers are brands. If people don’t know who you are, they probably won’t pay $10 to read you. And they are a lot less likely to pay $24.95.

      Adam and Peter are doing it right. That’s why people want to publish with them and be associated with them. But they’ve let it be known they are spending their own money, and losing money.

      BTW most independent and / or university presses are not taking submissions. At least not for novels or stories. Generally, you have to win a contest. So that means one author per year per category who doesn’t have a connection to them.

      And connections are key. That’s how agents make a living.

      And all the micropresses that are popping up with associations to literary magazines? The nepotism is sometimes blatant. More often than not they have published their own editors.

      Nobody’s guiltless here and hardly anyone is making money or building a literary reputation.

      Lots of really good people are doing really good work to support the arts. And lots of really good artists are devoting their lives to their life’s work. But buying and selling has to do with products and the value of intellectual and artistic products has been greatly diminished. Approaching zero. It’s valuable, don’t get me wrong, lots of educated people love to read. They just don’t want to have to pay for it.

      Me included. And I’m a writer.

  25. Adam Robinson

      “And I’m a writer.” — I’ll say. I appreciate the comment.

  26. David Erlewhinge

      Adam, you look like a teamster in your picture. Perhaps we shouldn’t play pool anytime soon. If I don’t choke on the 8 ball, I might get a leg broken.

  27. David Erlewhinge

      Peter, would you mind publishing a small collection of mine so I can see for myself how little you actually add to the equation? I don’t know how to steal software. In fact, I’m too ninnyish to try, for fear of losing my paying job.

  28. michael

      But that won’t always be the case. All presses were small once. Publishing with PG is a very different thing than it was 2 years ago. Same with Dzanc.

  29. michael

      Big publishers killed themselves when they said their role is printing and publicity. (They dismissed editorial as an expense, which for the last 10 years has been delegated to agents.) Now Peter is suggesting the same thing… that the value authors see in publishers is publicity and not the editorial or curative functions. (Any author can tell you this isn’t remotely true.) And he’s suggesting author stop worrying about the work (i.e. no editorial or vetting at all) and be publicists ourselves, a sea of publicists calling ourselves authors. Sounds like some good reading!

      I’m not saying authors aren’t mostly responsible for making it happen. They absolutely should be the book’s biggest promoter. They owe it to the work and the publisher (and their families and everyone else who puts up with their poor paying and anti-social career paths). But without editorial, the value of what they’re promoting will always be suspect.
      Also crowd-sourcing is mostly a popularity contest, an endless volley of back-pattings.