Small Presses

American Literature Needs Indie Presses

13 December 2017

From The Atlantic:

For better or worse, writers and readers live in an age of the million-dollar book deal. The Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) increasingly gamble on massive book advances in hopes that they might put out one of the biggest hits of the year. Last fall, Knopf—a division of Penguin Random House—paid an unprecedented $2 million advance for the first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire.

. . . .

These large advances correlate with grandiosity on multiple levels: Each of these books is between 400 and 1,000 pages long, costs around $30 for a hardcover, and aims boldly for success on a scale that remarkably few works actually achieve.

. . . .

But when editors and publishers feel they need to fight for every moment of planned reading, and readers are experiencing a shrinking cultural attention span, it’s surprising that large books inherently make the most market sense. With this pattern of investment behavior, major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment where American indie presses can thrive by doing the very thing they’re best at: being small and, by extension, focusing on creativity and originality over sales.

. . . .

Another notable press subverting traditional publishing standards is Dorothy, which is “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Run by the experimental writer and book designer Danielle Dutton, Dorothy publishes just two books a year, and the books are small, beautiful, and cost only $16. Dutton started the press when she found out that Renee Gladman, a poet she admired, had written a trilogy of novels about the invented city-state of Ravicka. These books are absurd and surreal, and are stabilized by an eerie interior logic: Think The Phantom Tollbooth for adults. Dutton told Gladman she’d start a press if Gladman let her publish these books. Thus, Dorothy was born.

Dorothy powerfully demonstrates the deft curation that’s possible with a small press.

. . . .

Each Coffee House Press book concludes with the tagline, “Literature is not the same thing as publishing,” and that mantra nicely captures the valuable position from which many indie presses operate. Two Dollar Radio markets to the “disillusioned and the disaffected.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

How Indie Presses Are Elevating the Publishing World

13 December 2017

From Electric Lit:

Independent presses are a lifeline in the publishing world. At a time when large publishing houses are merging into even larger conglomerates, writers may feel like finding a home for their work requires a very specific, and at times corporate, mindset. But indies show that there’s another way. Via contests, open calls for submissions (for agented and unagented writers), and targeted requests, independent presses provide an alternate arena, making publishing more of a reality for marginalized artists and those with unique voices and writing styles. Plus, they’re getting more and more recognition.

. . . .

Jennifer Baker: In a world full of presses, why did you decide to create yours and what stands out about it that you saw lacking in the marketplace?

Rosalie Morales Kearns: I started Shade Mountain Press in 2013, and launched its first two books in 2014. Our focus is on literary fiction by women. As a feminist, I certainly am not surprised by the VIDA count and other research showing how underrepresented women are in terms of their work being reviewed in the major venues, winning literary awards, being taught in university classes, and being taken seriously in general. Living in a white supremacist culture, I’m not surprised that women of color are even more drastically underrepresented. But perhaps I had a utopian vision that the small press world was more egalitarian, more inclusive, etc. I learned how wrong I was when I was seeking a publisher for my short story collection Virgins & Tricksters. It ended up being published in 2012 by Aqueous Books, a woman-owned press. But before that, as I researched small presses, I kept coming across publishers that praised themselves for being willing to take chances on less commercial work. Then I’d look at their new and forthcoming lists, and see seven out of eight titles by men, nine out of ten titles by men, sometimes 100% of their titles by men.

. . . .

JB: What questions should authors be asking of their publishers in general? Authors may consider publication as that final step but there’s so much more to it.

RMK: Authors should get a really clear idea of their publisher’s timetable, and make sure that the publisher is intending to send out advance reader copies, in hard copy, in a sufficient number and in a timely way (four or ideally more months before publication date).

If the publisher is going to do a very light edit, they should be clear on that with the author, so that the author understands they will have to do various rounds of proofreading themselves. My press hires a professional proofreader, and I also do proofreading at later stages, when I’m working with the book designer and then when the file is converted to ebook format. All kinds of glitches can creep in in the layout stage and in the ebook stage.

The publisher should also be clear about how much of the publicity work will be on the author, and the author needs to realize that this could take a lot of time. As a publisher I take charge of creating copy for book jackets, for the press release, and for other promotional materials (frankly, a lot of authors just aren’t that good at describing their own work). Also I handle the work of identifying possible reviewers, querying them, following up, etc.. But that being said, it’s certainly a common practice at very small presses to let the authors create the copy and do the legwork in identifying and contacting reviewers. Small-press publishers have only so much time.

From Electric Lit

PG admits he’s biased in favor of authors.

If the CEO of a publisher is spending a lot of time proofreading, exactly what value is the author receiving from a publishing relationship that likely results in the publisher receiving most of the money the author’s book generates? Proofreading services can be obtained elsewhere at a lower price.

PG checked the websites of the three publishers featured in the OP and could not find any reference to the amount of compensation the writer would receive, a copy of the press’s standard publishing contract or any details of the proposed financial relationship between the publisher and the author.

Perhaps PG failed to learn that one of the foundational commandments of small presses is, “Thou shalt never talk about money.” Perhaps the target market for small presses (and large) is limited to authors who have day jobs or inherited wealth. Small presses might want to include a disclaimer or statement of purpose that says something like, “We serve authors who don’t need to earn much money from their writing.”

In the broader world of businesses that have financial relationships with individuals, it is customary for the business to provide detailed disclosures of the legal and financial terms of those relationships early on.

PG just did a Google search for credit card offers and near the top of the first page of a site he picked at random, the following appeared (you don’t have to read the whole thing):

The standard variable APR for purchases and balance transfers for the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is 15.49% – 24.49% based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 2 months of account opening. The standard variable APR for cash advances is 26.24%. The variable penalty APR is up to 29.99% and may be applied if you make a late payment or make a payment that is returned. Minimum interest charge – $0.50. Annual fee – $95 for each primary cardholder. However, the annual fee is waived for the first 12 months. Fee for foreign purchases — None. Cash advance fee — either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater. Balance transfer fee — Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. New cardmembers only. Subject to credit approval. Additional limitations, terms and conditions apply. You will be given further information when you apply.

In the nature of such disclosures, the writing style of Citi’s attorneys leaves a bit to be desired, but you see numbers there right on the website and you’ll see more numbers provided for anyone who applies before they accept the agreement.

If a publisher, small or large, is soliciting manuscripts, what’s wrong with a simple financial disclosure? On the website?

Here’s a start for such a disclosure:

  1. Royalties payable to the author will be:
    1. Hardback editions – 10% of the suggested retail price for the first 5,000 copies sold and 15% of the suggested retail price for additional copies sold thereafter.
    2. Paperback editions – 8% of the suggested retail price for all copies sold.
    3. Ebook editions – 25% of the net amount received by the publisher.
  2. Royalties will be paid to the author every six months.
  3. In the event unsold books by author are returned to the publisher for credit or reimbursement or amounts received by publisher are subject to chargebacks with respect to unsold or returned books, royalties shall not be payable to author for such books. If royalties have already been paid with respect to unsold or returned books, future royalties payable to the author will be subject to chargebacks for overpayment of royalties in prior periods.
  4. Absent unusual circumstances, the maximum advance for a first book will be limited to $500.00.
  5. The average royalty payments received all of publisher’s current authors total less than $250 per year.

PG also noted some discrepancies in the state of the publishing industry described by the publishers described in the OP.

Shade Mountain Press cited “the VIDA count and other research showing how underrepresented women are” in the book business.

On the other hand, 7.13 Books states:

This is what we know: Big Five publishers are more or less the only way for writers to get a book advance large enough to resemble a living annual wage. What is not commonly known is that the Big Five announce roughly 160 such deals a year for debut authors of literary fiction, which does not include Sci-Fi, YA, Thrillers, etc. (Not all are announced)

Here’s what is also not commonly known:

– 75% of those announced deals were given to female writers. Out of 320 debut deals given by Big Five publishers and their imprints in 2015 and 2016, only 84 were given to authors who identified as male and one to an author who identified as transgender. If you are one of the thousands upon thousands of non-female writers with a novel or story collection manuscript, you’ll be fighting for one of what appears to be roughly 40 new deals annually. A rather large inequity that pretty much no one talks about.

– 30% of the debut deals were given to writers who live in NYC (the city represents 2.6% of the total U.S. population). A rather large inequity that almost everyone talks about.

– Under 25% of those debut deals were given to writers with MFAs. According to The Atlantic, 3,000-4,000 writers graduate from MFA programs each year.

To recap: thousands of new writers each year for 160 new spots.

PG is feeling underrepresented, so he will stop blathering now.

Author Cornelia Funke Launches Own Publishing Company

17 September 2015

From Wendy Warris at Publishers Weekly

In an unusual move, bestselling children’s author and illustrator Cornelia Funke, whose fantasy series Inkheart and Mirrorworld have been globally popular, cites creative differences with her U.S. publisher, and a growing wish to be free of restrictions on her artistic output, as the motivating factors in her decision to start her own press, called Breathing Books. Funke’s partner in this endeavor is Mirada Studios in Los Angeles.

. . .

…Funke says she was “stunned” by the email she received from her editor at Little, Brown in the U.S., who she says was also speaking on behalf of the author’s U.K. editor. “It said, ‘We love the book, Cornelia, but could you please change the first chapter? It’s a birth scene. That’s a little drastic for our audience. Could you please put that somewhere else?’ ”

. . .

“From the very beginning, I had the problem of Little, Brown placing the Mirrorworld series in the 9–12 age group when I had told them it was age 14 and up,” Funke says. “The last seven years were bitter at times because of that argument.” She is grateful to Little, Brown, though, for giving her the rights back to the whole series, which has sold over 150,000 copies in the U.S.

. . .

As she speaks, Funke exudes confidence in her decision to become a publisher. “Little, Brown and others are like ocean liners that can only go to certain places,” Funke says. “I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places. If I have to figure this out myself, good!

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Posted by PG Vacation bench warmer Bridget McKenna


One Small Publisher’s Experiences with the Espresso Book Machine

19 February 2015

From TeleRead:

As a small publisher of literary fiction, I am very grateful to have a retail resource like Espresso On- Demand Books.

Publerati will have three titles available through the Espresso Book Machine Network this spring, and although there are a number of unique challenges to marketing and selling books this way in the current retail climate, I remain optimistic that this, or something similar to follow, will be an important part of future print book distribution.

. . . .

The first thing one has to accept is the eventual disappearance of most standalone bookstores. Ouch. I know, that hurts, and as a former bookseller myself I wish it were not so, but all the trends of the past ten years in book and other retailing (e.g., music, software, photos, DVD movies, florists, post offices) point to this reality.

In a future world where only the bestsellers and illustrated books are preprinted and sold mostly not through bookstores but in mass market channels like Target, supermarkets, and Amazon, how will the rest of the industry’s titles make it into print? How many standalone classes of retail trade can you think of in this day and age of the “huge general store”? Why should books be any different and deserve their own dedicated space in the era of the store-within-store?

I wonder how Big Publishing will distribute the needed quantities of preprinted books when Barnes & Noble is gone. B&N is already barely surviving due to selling more non-book items, while quietly closing underperforming stores, so this trend is established. These trends don’t just simply turn around and change direction suddenly because we hope they will. The only way B&N might survive is to become a general store themselves, with less merchandising space given to lower margin books. Which is what they have been doing and so have indie bookstores. For years.

My experience with On-Demand Books has been excellent. I received the necessary advance training to learn how to format and upload our titles correctly. Because the machines are so groundbreaking and mostly under-utilized in these early days, the operators at the various locations have been open to hearing from me as a small publisher and working together on store signings and promotions. There is no way I would get similar attention from the current physical book channels.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Tinder Press to accept unagented manuscripts in March

19 January 2015

From The Bookseller:

Headline imprint Tinder Press has partnered with The Reading Agency to hold an open submissions period for unagented manuscripts.

Unagented authors will be able to send their manuscripts direct to the imprint for two weeks in March, with the event being held to celebrate two years of Tinder Press.

. . . .

“At Tinder Press we are committed to finding the freshest literary voices, and the time seems right for us to reach out directly to authors at an early stage in their careers. This business is all about discovering new talent, so we’re hoping to be surprised and delighted, and that at the end of the day we’ll find an author we can go on to work with in the future.”

. . . .

Only previously unpublished writers of fiction can take part.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

L.A. Indie Book Publishers Are Thriving. How Is That Possible?

5 November 2012

From LA Weekly:

Starting a book publishing house in today’s economic climate, Anthony Berryman acknowledges, was “insane.” He admits, “From a business perspective, it was never a thought that I was going to be a book publisher. I’m a high school teacher. That’s what I do.”

But start a publishing house is just what he did. Berryman, who teaches English and philosophy at Compton High School, founded Mugger Press in his one-bedroom apartment in Eagle Rock in 2011. He wasn’t deterred by the catastrophic collapse the publishing industry is facing; he wasn’t frightened by the Great Recession. All he wanted was to bring Sam McPheeters’ novel The Loom Of Ruin into the world.

Blame his experience working at Bookfellows in Glendale — now called Mystery and Imagination Bookshop. One day, owner Malcolm Bell placed a first edition of John Fante’s Ask the Dust in Berryman’s hands. That’s when Berryman knew he wanted to publish books.

. . . .

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Berryman says.

Because of the recession and the way that online commerce, from Amazon to e-books, is shaking up the book business, larger publishing houses seem mostly interested in projects they know will sell. They’re less likely to take a chance on a new author with a unique vision or a literary bent. But that has only created a niche for guys like Berryman.

. . . .

While it might be easy to deride these publishers as fiscally irresponsible idealists, it’s probably better to look at them as pioneers, men and women who are determined to bring quality projects to the collective consciousness, despite the overwhelming odds of failure. In fact, the founders of Writ Large Press first started a literary journal,Wednesday, with failure in mind. That premise, says its editor and publisher, Chiwan Choi, frees their creative process. Writ Large now has published five books.

Link to the rest at LA Weekly and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Major League Lesson In Humility.

5 July 2012

From Indie Jane:

“I have to admit, as an author, I struggle with negative reviews. I know reviews are for readers and not for writers, but when I read that someone hated my book, it makes me cry a little inside.

“But authors aren’t the only ones who get criticism. There are downers in every field–or on every field. My favorite ball player, Mark Trumbo, doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s a home run god, but just received his invite to the HR Derby. He was named an All-Star, but that’s no thanks to fans who loaded the ballot with Yankees and Rangers.

“So when I read this article about how he deals with criticism, I realized 1) We actually have something in common, and 2) I could learn something from his philosophical approach.

“I’ll just take a moment for the fact that I’ve just claimed to have something in common with a Major League All Star to sink in with you all.

“Still taking a moment….”

Read the rest of the article here:  Indie Jane

—  Julia Barrett

In E-Book War, the Independent Publishers Strike Back

4 July 2012

The Atlantic Monthly allows contributing writer and small-time publishing exec Peter Osnos to post a piece of self-congratulatory fiction masquerading as business news:
[I’ll skip his first paragraph recapping the state of play in the DoJ lawsuit. It was the only non-fiction part of the piece. Also, I’ve highlighted a few key phrases]

Now, nine of the country’s leading independent publishers have taken a bold step, and deserve public recognition for their action. On June 25, they submitted a cogent, twenty-page comment to the court…  At first glance, this may seem like a complex legal dispute far outside the general concerns of most bookbuyers. But stay with me and hopefully you will appreciate why the publishers deserve credit, and why this contentious issue matters to readers.

At the core of the case is the role of Amazon, which has dominated the e-book market since its release of the Kindle in 2007 set off the enormous surge in digital reading. … The dispute is essentially over how e-book prices should be determined: by the retailer under the longstanding practice known as “wholesale” pricing, or by the publisher in the “agency” model, in which the bookseller takes a commission on each sale. The Department of Justice contends that the publishers colluded to satisfy Apple’s preference for agency pricing when the iPad was unveiled in 2010. Unexpectedly, the agency concept came to be seen as a way to expand opportunities for bookselling and to limit Amazon’s ability to undercut the prices of its competitors.

In their comment, the independent publishers asserted that, “in aggregate, according to market data published by Nielsen BookScan the independents accounted for approximately 49 percent of total trade book sales nationwide in 2011.” A significant portion of those sales were through Amazon, which is why their decision to challenge the settlement and incur the possible wrath of this retailing giant is courageous.

Using language that in legal terms is very strong, the publishers objected to the proposed settlement as lacking “adequate factual basis” and “contrary to the public interest.” The outcome of this case will have a profound impact on how books are sold in the digital era, but at least these nine publishers have made it clear where they stand: in favor of robust competition. And that is why they deserve our thanks.

You can read the entire article at The Atlantic.

Folks who are tired of all the back and forth over this lawsuit may want to skip this because I’m going to spill quite a few electrons rebutting this non-sense.

Here in the USA it’s Independence Day. This is my patriotic contribution to cleaning up our public discourse of that form of argumentation described in Harry Frankfurt’s seminal work, On Bullshit. The purpose of Mr. Osnos is clear. He wants to shape your thinking about the DoJ lawsuit by appealing to one of our primal myths.

We are treated to a classic formulation of the fearless little guy taking a brave stand against a powerful and mysterious force that threatens the well-being of the audience. We have the “bold step”, “incur the … wrath of this … giant”,  and “courageous”. Look at what our heroes “deserve”:  “recognition”, credit”,  and “our thanks”. This tightly constructed narrative is built out of a rather amazing amalgam of flotsam and jetsam Osnos has collected the shipwreck that is traditional publishing’s justification for collusive behavior.

Let’s dismantle this edifice piece by piece, remembering that the key to a properly constructed exemplar of this art form is the complete lack of regard for the truth value of any particular component. That lack of regard for truth means that it is pointless to wonder whether the author is aware of the truth or falseness of any particular claim he includes. Nor can we discern when omissions of pertinent facts are deliberate. A practitioner of this dark art doesn’t dabble in such niceties. All that matters is that each element contributes to the construction of his myth.

The foundation of this article is this falsehood: “At the core of the case is the role of Amazon”. The entire publishing industry is irrevocably committed to hiding behind the notion that Amazon is the bogeyman. Amazon is relevant to the DoJ lawsuit only in that Amazon was the target of the alleged colluders’ actions. Far from being the central actor, Amazon isn’t even the alleged victim. Read the lawsuit. The DoJ is alleging that bookbuyers were the victims. The Price-Fix Six aimed to take out Amazon by forcing you and me to pay more for ebooks. That’s the core of this case.

Resting atop the false claim about Amazon’s centrality, is this statement:

The dispute is essentially over how e-book prices should be determined: by the retailer under the longstanding practice known as “wholesale” pricing, or by the publisher in the “agency” model, in which the bookseller takes a commission on each sale.

Sadly, no. This is roughly equivalent to claiming that a lawsuit arising from one person stabbing another person with a butcher knife is about the proper use of butcher knives. That lawsuit would essentially be about the stabbing, not about the butcher knife.  And if there was a legal order barring the stabber from approaching the victim with butcher knife in hand, that wouldn’t amount to outlawing butcher knives. This lawsuit is about a group of wholesale producers with substantial  market power in conspiring with a new entrant into the retail marketplace to raise the retail prices of ebooks and end the ability of retailers to compete on the basis of price. Agency pricing was just the tool that was used to accomplish these ends.

What Osnos leaves out of his discussion of the settlement is the quite salient fact that agency pricing is not prohibited by the settlement. Mentioning that fact would be a bit problematic for the argument that “Unexpectedly, the agency concept came to be seen as a way to expand opportunities for bookselling and to limit Amazon’s ability to undercut the prices of its competitors.” It wasn’t the agency concept that limited Amazon’s ability to undercut prices. It was the illegal collusion.

And what about that “Unexpectedly” floating untethered from any syntactical anchor at the beginning of that sentence? Who didn’t expect the outcome of the collusion? The colluders certainly expected it. Steve Jobs is on video describing exactly what was about to happen to Walter Mossberg at the iPad launch. Immediately after the five publishers signed an agreement to force Amazon to raise the prices of bestselling ebooks, but before they had implemented the plan, there’s Steve Jobs laying out how they would accomplish it. Anyone who didn’t expect what was about to happen just wasn’t paying attention.

In the real world, Osnos works for a company that is, at most, an interested bystander in this case. In the myth that Osnos is spinning, his employer and the other eight publishers who banded together are transformed into protagonists, acting forcefully against the Amazonian menace. Here is his one original contribution to the publishing industry myth, the notion that this hardy band of smaller publishers have become central actors in this drama by adopting, in full, the Big Six argument that the true threat to competition in the ebook business is not the price-fixing actions of Apple and all of the Big Six except Random House, but Amazon’s use of bestsellers as loss leaders. The act at the core of this bit of myth-making is simply after-the-fact “yeah, what he said”.

So, what are we, the audience, supposed to do in response to this myth? We are supposed to applaud these publishers for the courageous act of filing of a public comment about the proposed settlement between the DoJ and the three publishers who had enough sense to know when to fold rather than going all in on a losing hand. Seriously? For filing a public comment? That’s what passes for action in the world of publishing.

And why are we to believe these publishers are so brave for doing pointless paperwork that will assuredly be ignored by the court because the filers ignored the central issues of the case? Because they might incur the possible wrath of Amazon. If Mr. Osnos wanted to sell me on the idea that Amazon is a ruthless business that will do anything for a buck, I would be willing to listen. But he’s selling the notion that Amazon is a petulant bully that will extract revenge on these publishers because they said unflattering things about Amazon. And his evidence is? Nothing. Crickets.

To briefly recap: I call B.S. on Mr. Osnos.

-Guest post by William Ockham, who is solely responsible for the content of this post. The opinions stated herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the proprietor of this blog or the other guest bloggers.

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