Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Why Start a Press

 This morning I finished reading So You Want To Publish a Book (a gift for which I am very thankful to a good friend.)  It's an interesting view into the small press world, based both on research and her own experience in starting Belt Press, a small press focused on non-fiction about the Rust Belt.

It's also a fascinating example of how people of different ideologies often live in seemingly different worlds.  The author talks a lot about how her presses mission is to publish books she believes in (and thus they're especially eager for left wing books) and she contrasts this the corporate culture of the Big 5 publishers, which she blames for being willing to publish books like Hillbilly Elegy (which she summarizes as being about how poor people are lazy.)  Whereas, one of the reasons that I'm interested in the idea of doing our own publishing is that it seems to me that the publishing industry as it exists right now is pretty hostile to the kind of thing that I'm interested in writing.  A number of novel agents whose profiles I've looked at specifically say "no religious themes".  One certainly can't imagine people in the industry announcing "no gay themes" or "no Black themes", but although a religion has played a significant part in the lives of many people in many times and places, it's something which I've heard a number of agents and editors simply don't want to see (at least, not unless it's a villain) in novels.  And then, of course, there's the awkwardness that a lot of agents and editors are very actively looking for "own stories" (novels written by and about sexual or racial minorities) and I'm writing about a bunch of Europeans in the Great War.  

So it's fascinating to me that the author feels that independent presses are important because she feels that corporate publishing isn't woke enough -- when I'm at the same time thinking that perhaps I need to think in terms of creating a small press because so many of the people in the publisher industrial complex are too woke to be interested in the kind of thing I'm interested in writing.

None of this, of course, is contradictory.  There's a wide world of readers out there who read a wide world of things.  It may well be that the publishing industry is not progressive enough for the books that Belt Press brings out, and yet they are able to find the 2,000 to 10,000 readers who want each of their editions in order to turn a profit on the 20% of their releases that are necessary to keep a publisher as a whole profitable.  And it can, at the same time, be the case that there are several thousand readers out there interested in reading a Shakespeare or Jane Austen adaptation, or a trilogy about the Great War.  Not everything has to be cut from the same cloth.


Jerry Windley-Daoust said...

It's clear that the publishing industry is about to undergo some major changes...the same sort of disintermediation the music industry went though, for starters...and we need some kind of new model for selling "meaningful collections of words" in an environment where meaningful collections of words have become a commodity. Having attempted to run a small press myself for five years (poorly, I'll admit), I'm not convinced imitating the big 5's model is necessarily the way to go. What about author cooperatives as an alternative?

Darwin said...


I don't know, It's an undeniably tough question. It seems to me that one of the issues is that the bookstore model is breaking down, and we have a highly centralized Big Pub complex which seeks national best sellers in order to justify its scale. People are at once nationalized more than ever (via national media and mass politics) and yet social media and the reach of online venues like Amazon means that publishing can also cater to more specialized interests than ever.

Also, the entire English speaking world (British and American) was less than 40 million people in the time of Dickens. It's well over ten times that size now, and yet publishing is also much more centralized. It really seems like it's time for change, but part of what that change should be remains to be determined by how books are being made and bought in the years to come.

Jerry J Windley-Daoust said...

Yeah...the changes coming in the next few years might be even more dizzying than the ones we've experienced in the past ten, if what I'm hearing from industry insiders is accurate. Some of us just want to write!