Davids and Goliaths face off in 21st century publishing: Will the ending be rewritten?
A small press (not to be confused with vanity press) commonly publishes fewer than 10 new titles per year OR nets less than $50 million in annual sales. AKA “independent presses” and affectionately as “indie publishers,” small presses are popping up like baby bunnies among the “hare-y” giant conglomerates. Keep an eye on these small but mighty warriors. As a collective, they might be one of the single most dynamic and influential forces in this new era of publishing.
An army of many finds strength in numbers. The digital revolution has paved the way for a surge of new publishers entering the industry. And this is a harmonious existence, because small presses are rarely in competition with one another, and their proliferation simply allows for new niches to be served:
- While the big publishing companies continually merge, now down to a critical mass of six major houses, 8,000+ new publishers emerge each year [Publishers Weekly].
- 78% of titles published are now coming from small presses or self-publishers.
Fostering refreshing oases and loving families. In adopting literary gems that don’t fit the blockbuster, big house parameters, small presses are sating hungery niche readers and building some seriously solid alliances:
- Archipelago Books exclusively publishes English translations of classic and contemporary literature by non-U.S. authors and arranges for universities across the country to host and sponsor book tours for their titles, some of which become part of the university’s curriculum.
- Ugly Duckling Presse, specializing in poetry, experimental prose, and art books, has partnerships with 24 bookstores across the U.S. that have standing orders for ALL the books this indie publisher releases.
- Melville House’s bookstore is an event venue hub for a number of New York’s best indie presses, including Akashic, powerHouse Books, Archipelago, Ugly Duckling, Hanging Loose Press, and Umbrage Editions.
You can have your cake and eat it, too. Getting personal love and care from a small press family AND being the next “it” author–sound like a dream come true? Indie fairy godmothers are transforming Cinderellas left and right:
- Paul Harding, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, published Tinkers with Bellevue Literary Press, a project of the NYU School of Medicine with a focus on science and medicine.
- Austin Ratner’s The Jump Artist, also published by Bellevue Literary Press, won the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in fiction–he walked away with $100,000, and the prestige, of course!
- Melville House has published substantial works from Nobel Prize for literature winners Imre Kertész and Heinrich Böll.
- The Royal Physician’s Visit by Swedish novelist Per Olov was published by Overlook Press. Simon & Schuster picked up the paperback rights for a cool $77,000.
- Archipelago Books released the English translation of Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun in 2006 to rave reviews from the NYTimes and Publishers Weekly. Khoury went on NPR, embarked on a national book tour, and blew up on Amazon.
Money makes the world go round. And small presses are contributing to that cycle of life, slowly and steadily. Will they win the race?!
- Most small press advances are between $3,000 and $7,500; with these parameters, they can generally turn a modest profit on 3,000 copies sold, as opposed to the 25,000-50,000 or so bottomline that a large house targets.
- Hawthorne Press published Monica Drake’s Clown Girl in 2007; it sold out of it’s initial run of 6,000 copies in less than two months and quickly reordered another 5,000.
- Chelsea Green, the leading publisher on the politics and practice of sustainable living, reported their best year ever in 2008, selling over 100,000 copies of New Organic Grower, 150,000 copies of The Straw Bale House, and 300,000 copies of The Man Who Planted Trees.
- Authors are retaining up to 50% of sales revenue with most small presses through a combination of higher royalty cuts and the ability to keep the chunk of change that would normally go to compensating a behemoth house with thousands of employees.
Do you work at an indie press? Tell us about it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
In Conversation with Ricardo Maldonado, Managing Director @ the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, and Accomplished Poet in the N.Y.C.
Booklr caught up with Ricardo Maldonado, Managing Director at the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center, poet extraordinaire in his own right, and gem of a man. Over drinks at KGB Bar, where writers and booze mingle lovingly, we Romanced deodorant, talked baseball, and conceded the lovable sentimentality of humans.
Our conversation dabbled and brushed around these corners:
Today is abuzz with awesome events. How to choose?
An Italian traveled to India in 1973 and fell in love. Clemente, who now divides his time between homes in New York, Italy, and Madras, talks with Rushdie about the deep enchantment that Indian art and culture cast upon him, his work, and Western civilization as a whole. Made in India is his love letter to the country—a compilation of hundreds of drawings, collages, and notebooks from the past few decades. The book features text by Rushdie, Jyotindra Jain, and Stella Kramrisch, and conversations with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.
Location: Rare Book Room, Strand Book Store, 828 Broadway
Admission: Buy a book or a $10 Strand gift card (admits two)
Francesco Clemente is well-known for his collaborations with artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and poets like Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, and Rene Ricard. Salman Rushdie is a one of New York City’s most renowned authors and is chairman of the PEN World Voices Festival.
(For the Humanist in you) DON DELILLO & PAUL AUSTER on HORROR
Horror is pervasive–in cinema, in fiction, in real life. Long-time friends, colleagues, and sometimes co-authors, Don DeLillo and Paul Auster discuss the latest horror-themed issue of the cutting-edge literary journal Granta.
Location: Barnes & Noble, Union Square, 33 East 17th Street
Admission: Priority seating with purchase of Granta 117; otherwise, first-come-first-seat
Don DeLillo is an author, playwright, and essayist whose work paints a detailed portrait of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In 1994, he co-wrote “Salman Rushdie Defense” with Paul Auster following the proclamation of a fatwa upon Rushdie, after the publication of The Satanic Verses. Paul Auster is known for works blending absurdism, existentialism, crime fiction, and the search for identity and personal meaning. He dedicated In the Country of Last Things and Leviathan to his amigo Don DeLillo.
Granta magazine was founded in 1889 by students at Cambridge University. It published the early work of many writers who would later stake their claim in the literary world, such as A.A. Milne, Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath, and has since featured the world’s finest writers. Full stop. Granta believes in the power and urgency of the story, both fictional and non-fictional, to describe and illuminate.
(For the Poet in you)SLIPPING in BETWEEN GENRES
Meghan O’Rourke and Philip Schultz in conversation with Darin Strauss on their unique experiences as memoirist poets … or is it poetic memoirists …
Location: WORD, 126 Franklin St., Brooklyn
Admission: FREE; Facebook RSVP appreciated
Meghan O’Rouke was formerly a fiction editor at The New Yorker and poetry co-editor at The Paris Review and now contributes to Slate magazine. She has written about horse racing, gender bias in the literary world, politics of marriage and divorce, and the place of grief and mourning in modern society. Philip Schultz is a poet and founder/director of The Writers Studio. His collection of poems Failure co-won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
(For the Cook in you) GET YOUR EDIBLE BROOKLYN
Rachel Wharton won a James Beard food journalism award for her writing in Edible Brooklyn, the food-porn magazine for foodies serious about sustainable chowing in the BKLYN. The Cookbook pays tribute to delicious recipes from sensational eateries in Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Location: Barnes & Noble, Park Slope, 267 7th Ave., Brooklyn
Rachel Wharton is a deputy editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn magazines. She focused her master’s degree in Food Studies from NYU on sustainable agriculture and food culture, with a minor in tacos. She will eat street meat with abandon–sustainability be damned.
Think you’re too cool for love stories and romance? Think again:
(The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard, Published in 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
We hope you’re “great” Thanksgiving with more “eat Turkey” and less “eat Fire,” ha…
After the bombing of Hiroshima, Major Aldred Leith travels to Kure, Japan, during the occupation. He falls in love with the brilliant and dainty daughter (his girl-woman damsel) of the odious overseer of his barracks (you saw that coming). And so begins the familiar dance: Leith braves the determined opposition of her parents, endures an enforced separation from Helen, and suffers a rivalry for her hand from a dashing American, all before the predictable lovers’ reunion.
Ok, so you’re not reading this for the narrative, but in setting her novel within the structure of the archetype “romance,” Hazzard is able to focus you immediately on the complexity of her characters, and you’ll discover just how much there is to know about a character. Her writing is meant to make you work a little, and it’s worth it. She seamlessly weaves the personal story threads of The Great Fire within their gargantuan historical context, leaving you feeling swept up in something much larger than a simple love story.
—Charles Taylor, Salon
—The New Yorker
Forward to 45:20 for a reading from The Great Fire:
Did you read The Great Fire? Have thoughts to share? Tweet us @booklr or email email@example.com
A car crash. A dead girl. And the Kennedys: A fictionalized retelling of a Camelot scandal by an American literary icon
What begins as a starry-eyed chance encounter between 26-year-old Kelly Kelleher and The Senator quickly spirals into a nightmare: The Senator drunkenly crashes the car into the swamp and abandons Kelly to drown. As she suffocates alone, Kelly takes us on a psychotic autobiographical flashback of her life—her relationships, her fears, her hopes—while The Senator nonchalantly abandons her to her fate in the sinking car. It is a story told by a wide-eyed, eager young woman, but about a larger-than-life public figure who gets away with flippantly throwing away an innocent life. Black Water’s 160 short pages will chew you up and spit you out.
With a soft flick of her pen, Oates castigates two Republican presidents, chastises a Democratic dynasty, passes thinly-veiled judgment on a senatorial Goliath, and gives one “fictional” victim a timeless voice.
Joyce Carol Oates needs no introduction. One of America’s most respected contemporary writers, she published her first novel when she was 26-years-old and hasn’t stopped writing since. Oates has taught at Princeton University since 1978.
“Taut, powerfully imagined, and beautifully written, Black Water ranks with the best of … Joyce Carol Oates’s achievements. It can be read in a single afternoon … but it continues to haunt us.”
Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving!
How many books have you and the President read in common? This Booklr Pick will make it at least one:
Published in 2004 by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
GILEAD just might be one of the best contemporary novels to have slipped by you. And Marilynne Robinson just might be one of the most extraordinary contemporary authors that you’ve never heard of. You’d better amend this literary quandary, ASAP.
If you thought waiting nine years for Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot was excruciating, imagine how fans of Marilynne Robinson must have pined and pined … and pined. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s second novel, was published in 2004, nearly a quarter-century after her début novel Housekeeping. For those who hadn’t given up hope and all but forgotten about this extraordinary writer, Gilead proved entirely worth the wait and worthy of the Pulitzer.
In the year 1956, in the town of Gilead, Iowa, Reverend John Ames, a 76-year-old Congregational pastor, nears the end of his life and the conclusion of the autobiographical letter he is writing to his seven-year-old son. Although a fictional town, Gilead is based on the real town of Tabor, Iowa, a city that played an important role during the abolition movement as a key stop on the Underground Railroad. Through Ames’s memories, Robinson deftly weaves together American’s past and present, and individual human lives and the progress of humanity with prose that is at once humble and brave, and as spare and as spiritual as you may ever encounter.
Marilynne Summers Robinson is an American novelist and essayist who has written for Harper’s, The Paris Review, and The New York Times Book Review. She currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
“[Robinson’s] is a mind … in which silence is itself a quality, [and] the space around words may be full of noises.” —James Wood, NYTimes
I mean, basically he’s saying she’s a freaking magician. And she is.
President Obama lists Gilead as one of his favorite books, in the company of Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Lincoln’s Collected Writings, and The Bible.
It’s serious, people.
This Week’s Book Events
Have an event you want us to share? Tweet us @booklr or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Uslan Speaks!
Comic Con may be over, but never fear! The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) is here to the rescue with this chat with Michael Uslan. Catch a talk from the man who originated the Batman movies and was the first instructor to teach “Comic Book Folklore” at Indiana University’s Experimental Curriculum. He might also be the first man to compare Superman with Moses. The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art’s (MoCCA) documents Uslan’s story of how a comics-obsessed kid conquered academia and Hollywood and brought the dark knight to the silver screen. Check out the corresponding exhibition that includes memorabilia and documents spanning his career as a college professor to becoming the producer of the Batman films franchise.
Date: Monday, November 21, 7–9pm
Location: MoCCA, 594 Broadway, Suite 401
Admission: $5, Free for MoCCA Members and Children 10 and under
Oscar Hijuelos Reads
Hijuelos, recipient of the Pulitzer for his second novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, reads from his memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes—an honest and personal account of growing up “not quite Cuban, tentatively American” in the vibrant and unpredictable decades of mid-20th century New York City.
Click here for a preview of the book.
Date: Tuesday, November 22, 8pm
Location: National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park S.
Thalia Book Club: Joan Didion’s Blue Nights
In conversation with her nephew Griffin Dunne, Didion discusses her deeply moving new memoir about her daughter Quintana Roo Dunne, and her own fears and thoughts about growing old. Blue Nights is her first book since The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion’s National Book Award-winning account of grief and mourning following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. In her new memoir, as with her previous one, Didion confides and confronts her fears and sorrows as she looks back and offers her quiet optimism and wisdom looking forward.
Date: Wednesday, November 23, 7:30pm
Location: Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (@95th St.)
Admission: $25; Member $21; 30 & Under $15: Buy tickets
Have a great literary week!
RIP Dewey Decimal? Are you ready to move on?
News Flash: Libraries are going digital. Is there nothing you can’t do online these days? Gone are the days of sifting through drawers and drawers of Dewey Decimal cards—yellow with age, the most popular entries worn soft and supple, and weary at the edges. I remember learning (and loving) how to use the classification system during my first pre-K visit to the school library. And here’s the thing: I Am NOT That Old! (I am far too modest to tell you my exact age, but trust me, pre-K was not so long ago for me.) It is simply mind-bending, how far and fast the ritual of reading has come.
One of the latest developments in the literary world is digital lending. Sounds pretty cool, right? Booklr thought so, too, so we did a little research at the New York Public Library (NYPL). Here’s the lowdown:
- Books may be “downloaded-out” for 14-21 days
- Books may be read via any ebook-compatible device
- 35,000 titles are currently available
- Logistics of e-borrowing are still somewhat traditional:
The availability of an e-book is still constrained by the number of e-copies on hand. (Ex. NYPL has 22 e-copies of 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, all of which are currently “downloaded-out”, and there are 265 patrons waiting to download the e-book.)
Booklr’s Essential Resources for Writers
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition: The Manual is considered the de facto guide for American English style, grammar, and punctuation. Even if you’re a rouge punctuator (or a neologist), you should know the rules, and then break them.
- Urban Dictionary: Slip some spicy slang into your writing, and keep it hip and loose. For a daily dose of street lingo, download Slango Lite, Urban Dictionary’s free app.
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King: Part instruction manual, part engaging memoir, King offers insight that is down-to-earth, witty, and sympathetic. This will be one of the most enjoyable and constructive writing guides you’ll ever read, we promise.
- The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman: Sound advice from an experienced literary agent who founded his own agency and whose clients include Pulitzer Prize winners, bestselling authors, and prominent academics. Lukeman’s experienced words of wisdom will help you navigate the world of publishing.
- Every book you might ever encounter: William Faulkner astutely advised, “Read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.” You probably should heed his advice.