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The Heart of this Beastly Industry: My Thank You to Small Presses

11 Jul

This is a weird time to be a writer. At least the kind that tries to publish (not the Emily Dickinson-they’ll- find -it -when- I’m -dead kind). Everyone keeps talking about what a boom this is for writers these days – with the old guards crumbling and writers being able to connect directly with their readers via facebook and twitter and all that fun stuff that lets us whittle away the hours at our day job – and I agree….to a degree.

Here’s the thing – and I know a lot of people might not agree with me and let me say upfront that I’m not bashing indie publishing. I’m not. If I wasn’t publishing via Antenna Books, I would be putting this book out myself. I think independent publishing is a force that has already changed the publishing industry. And the music industry for that matter. Things are changing and editors need to heed the warning – ask not for whom the bell tolls and all that stuff…but that is a post for another blog.

But between the world of self…er… independent publishing and traditional long shot publishing lies a wealth of opportunity for writers.

I’m talking about small presses, who have since their inception been the often overlooked champion for writers like me – writers who write poems and stories more than anything else. Because let’s be honest, without small presses, these days you need a MFA and tenured teaching position at Columbia University to put out a poetry book on a major press. If you’re lucky. And short stories are not the kind of thing Penguin is banging down your door for if you’re a new author.

Not counting Pendragon, the literary mag in high school, I got my first poem published in college. It was pre-internet, or at least back when the using the internet meant Netscape and Telnet and you had to type in directions first and we laughed when businesses listed the name of their website at the end of  their commercial. Now we laugh if they don’t.  Remember the SNL clownpenis.fart joke? Remember when SNL was funny?

Anyway, back then we had staple and paper mags – which are still around praise the heavens (I’m looking at you Issa) – and you mailed your poems in with your SASE and waited weeks and weeks and weeks to see if you were accepted. That was what my first experience was like. And the magazines were given out free at rock shows and passed from hand to hand, sort of like the old school versions of email distribution lists.

I thought the whole thing was incredibly cool and decided with a couple of girlfriends of mine to put out our own. Since this was pre-internet we made signs and tacked them up around campus. We got a PO Box. And we waited for people to send us their writing. And they did. In droves. We were inundated with entries and picking and chosing was no easy task. So many  hours were spent reading and discussing other people’s work. In the end, we put together a collection we were proud of. We even did a reading at a coffee shop paid for by beer sales from a party our friend hosted. We called the magazine “Avenue.” And we loved it. But there was only ever one. Because the truth was it was more work than we were up for. Yes indeed, I am a failed Small Press Publisher.

Thankfully, that is not the case with everyone. Because those same guys and girls (who didn’t crap out like we did) who were cutting and stapling then are online now, still cutting and stapling, and working their butt off for ART for ART’S SAKE. They owe the authors they accept or reject nothing. They put their time, money,  and energy into it all because they believe that good art has a place outside the mainstream and they want to share. And people like me reap all the benefits.

For the list of the mags that I was fortunate enough to be in see here and here.

If you are a writer interested in small presses, do your research, use Duotrope (they rock!) and READ what  a mag is already publishing, what they are interested in. Some do genre, some don’t. Some only want poetry, some only want prose.  Do your homework, polish your work, I mean really polish it and you’ll find a home for it.

So this my thank you to Small Presses. If I ever hit the big time (HA!) I’ll still send my poems and stories to small presses. Cause they are the heart of this business. They believe in the work and getting it out there. And isn’t that why writers write? To be read? To reach out across that divide and connect with someone else? To share this ridiculous ride that is the human experience?

I mean otherwise, what are we doing?

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