Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer
From the September/October 2008 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Common sense—always at a premium—dictates that writers should know what a press wants before submitting their work. This not only means following explicit guidelines such as "No snail-mail, please," the polite plea from Jackie Corley's Word Riot Press in Middletown, New Jersey, but also understanding the subtler shades of editorial preference. An obvious way to learn a press's aesthetic, of course, is to buy or borrow some of its current titles (the former activity having the bonus effect of perpetuating the small press species). But among the many advantages of independent publishing—personal attention, accessibility, and the occasional, sweet neglect of the bottom line, to name just a few—is the preponderance of editors who are also authors of books published by other small press editors. Perhaps the hungry writer's plan of attack should include reading some of these books. For instance, a savvy submitter could check out Kevin Sampsell's story collection Creamy Bullets, published earlier this year by Chiasmus Press in Milwaukie, Oregon, and get some insight into the minds behind two small presses: Chiasmus founder Lidia Yuknavitch and Sampsell himself, publisher of Future Tense Books, an independent press in Portland, Oregon. (One of Sampsell's stories opens with the line, "She tried to explain to me how people always had throw up inside of them.") If nothing else, visitors to Yuknavitch's site will witness one of the more dramatic Flash intros in the small press Web arena. There, while listening to the soothing sounds of the Chiasmus theme song—which plays, perhaps annoyingly to some ears, during a visit—readers can also find information about Yuknavitch's own book, the story collection Real to Reel, a good example of what Fiction Collective 2, the independent, nonprofit imprint of the University of Alabama Press that published it in 2003, is looking for. Likewise, reading Peter Conners's story collection Emily Ate the Wind, published in May by Marick Press, a new indie based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, could provide some useful info about Marick publisher Mariela Griffor; those looking to know more about Conners's own tastes might take a look at Daniel Grandbois's collection of seventy-three short short stories, Unlucky Lucky Days, published by BOA Editions, the independent press in Rochester, New York, where Conners is an editor and marketing director. The point is this: There are a lot of small presses out there that might be a good fit—why not kill two birds with one stone? One might even read some decent books in the process.

In the end, a small press will be judged by the quality of the books it manages to publish. Flashy Web sites and clever marketing campaigns are great, but as the saying goes, you can dress up a pig but it's still a pig. Luckily for Derek White, the founder of Calamari Press, there are no pigs in his stable, and any dressing up he's done—in the form of videos and slideshows on the press's Web site, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and his blog, 5¢ense—has merely drawn attention to that fact. (Of special note is the YouTube video of the making of J'Lyn Chapman's 2008 chapbook, Bear Stories.) "Derek's very punk and grassroots about his approach to publishing, and he plays by his own rules and still manages to get major attention for his authors," says Peter Markus, who is assisting with the press while White is in Kenya, where he moved at the end of July with the hopes of bringing "some African talent into the Calamari catalogue." Calamari also publishes the literary magazine Sleepingfish, and it recently acquired 3rd Bed, the journal and small press that published Gary Lutz's excellent Stories in the Worst Way, David Ohle's Motorman, and James Wagner's the false sun recordings, none of which need any dressing up.

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