Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer

Even if a couple of copies of the newest utterly underappreciated small press title make it to a brick-and-mortar bookstore—the blessed independent variety, it goes without saying—they likely face a rather ignominious fate. Wedged in between several dozen of their brethren on the bookshelf, they typically greet readers not face out, resplendent in a cover design intended to grab the bored browser's attention, but spine out—and the spine, come to think of it, is the literary equivalent of the, well, posterior. Not the greatest first impression, especially considering the smallest small press book doesn't even have a butt—that is to say a spine—but rather, staples. That book isn't going to sell itself, which is why both its author and publisher have to summon their inner Barnums and master the dual arts of razzamatazz: marketing and publicity. Face Out, a program administered by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), is trying to help five small presses and their recently published authors do exactly that. Having received grants from the Jerome Foundation and New York Community Trust in 2006, CLMP sent out a request for proposals from small presses that could benefit from a ten-thousand-dollar grant, distributed over two years, intended specifically for author advances, reading tours, and author-focused marketing initiatives. Early last year, a committee of industry professionals—including Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books; and Julie Schaper, CEO of Consortium—chose five small presses for the pilot phase of the "re-grant and technical assistance program." They are Belladonna Books, Cool Grove Press, Fence Books, Litmus Press, and Ugly Duckling Presse. On December 6, midway through the two-year program, CLMP threw a book/dance party at New York City's Good World Bar & Grill so that the publishers and their recently published authors, including Ihsan Bracy, Brenda Iijima, Dan Machlin, Prageeta Sharma, and Lila Zemborain, could shake their butts, get readers talking about them and their work, and discuss Face Out's role in bringing them all together. CLMP executive director Jeffrey Lependorf says the expectation is that the Jerome Foundation will continue to support the program, but that it's too early to say for sure.

Four Way Books, the independent press founded in New York City by Jane Brox, Helen Fremont, Dzvinia Orlowsky, and current director Martha Rhodes, is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary with a big bash at the Hilton New York on February 2 that will feature readings by an appropriately big group of Four Way authors: Laurel Blossom, Jeffrey Harrison, April Ossmann, Kevin Prufer, Daniel Tobin, and C. Dale Young. Other readings, including one at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' annual conference, are also planned.

In November, Tin House Books published The World Within, a 350-page collection of interviews with authors, including Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, and George Saunders, that originally appeared in the literary magazine Tin House. The press's publicity director Georgie Lewis described it as a collection of "informal conversations" that provide "a different slant from more formal craft-based interviews." It's an important distinction for the independent press in Portland, Oregon, to have made; in the same month Picador released its second volume of interviews culled from another literary magazine, one that pretty much set the standard for formal and craft-based author interviews: the Paris Review. Another anthology recently published by Tin House Books contains titillating fiction and essays by Miranda July, Steven Millhauser, and others, all exploring the subject of sex. Lewis reported that the response to the collection at the annual book festival Wordstock was "delightfully incessant." It's no wonder—somehow the designer found a way to make the cover's close-up image of a book's pages appear positively pornographic. As if the title, Do Me, wasn't provocative enough.

Kevin Larimer is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.