This month’s theme of small publishing is a bit tricky for me, as I have not yet published. That doesn’t make me not-a-writer, of course. At first brush, an aspiring writer like myself might not take a second look at a small press. After all, what can they do for you? The big money is with the big boys, after all.
Okay, let’s talk about big for a moment.
For many of us, much of our lives are in big situations. We work at big companies, are students at big classes, drive to work in big traffic and shop at big stores. When everything is so big, it is easy to feel small. To feel like a cog in a machine, barely aware of the other cogs and springs that work alongside you, none of you really even knowing what the machine does. While you have the safety and security of that large organization, that comes with a loss of personal relevance. At times we long for something a little smaller, perhaps without even understanding why.
In those smaller situations, I think one of the major advantages is intimacy. I was fortunate enough to intern for a small press for a few years and I was struck by how close I got to be to everything. Not just the one person I was working for, but the various projects and people who were associated with the press were very close and reachable to me. This allowed me to learn more, to impact more and (most importantly) to connect more. I felt connected to the success of this small press because I knew them and they knew me. I felt something I think I’m less likely to feel were I to be published by one of the big houses.
I felt ownership. Not just in my little corner of the press, but in the whole press. Its success was my success, because I had such a personal connection to all the other people doing work there.
This is very similar to the feeling I had when I joined a small start up several years back, after a long career at large companies. There is a relevance to your work that is just not present in the bigger situations, where your contribution is just not able to move the needle the way it does when you are smaller.
Thus were I to consider a traditional publishing option I would recommend giving small publishers a strong consideration. While the blockbuster revenue potential may not be there, there is a working experience win that I am sure would be. By its very nature a smaller press is going to be closer to your work than a major house, and your success is much more likely to be relevant to their own.
I think in the end the choice comes to what is important to you as a writer. If those mega sales and multi-million dollar advances are your goal then I can’t imagine a small press is likely to be able to deliver that in the short term. If however you are looking to be a relevant member of a small, intimate team where there’s a strong familiarity level between you and the press and your own work matters farther outside your personal margins I can see that being a very attractive option.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.