What’s in a small press?

Today, I have a guest post by Kevin Haworth, author of Famous Drownings in Literary History.  I love that he wrote a post for my blog on small presses!  Enjoy!


What’s in a Small Press?

by Kevin Haworth


I’ve published three books with three different presses. Each of these publishers could be accurately described as small, but their differences remind us just how imprecise the term “small press” can be.  My first publisher, Quality Words in Print, was in many ways a traditional publisher working on a small scale.  They produced a gorgeous jacketed hardcover of my novel, The Discontinuity of Small Things, sent the book for review to traditional print outlets, and submitted the book for prizes where it competed with books from much bigger publishers.  When Discontinuity won a national award, the book and the publisher had a much higher profile than they would have otherwise—but again, these were differences in scale, rather than approach.


My second book, Lit From Within: Contemporary Masters on the Art and Craft of Writing, was published by Ohio University Press, one of the many scholarly presses attached to universities throughout the country.  As befits the book—a collection of essays by renowned creative writing teachers—and its publisher, it has received most of its attention at writing conferences, academic conferences, and review outlets connected to those worlds, including being named an outstanding title by the American Library Association.  (By the way, OU Press, which is considered a small press even within the mostly-small scholarly press world, still sells almost $1 million worth of books a year—a number many independent presses could only dream of.  It’s those kinds of disparities that show how elastic the phrase “small press” really is.)


My most recent publisher, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, is as different from the first two as they were to each other.  CCLaP has a strong connection to its Chicago location—my essay collection, Famous Drownings in Literary History, is the press’s first book not written by a Chicago-based writer.  CCLaP also has the most innovative publishing strategy of all my publishers, emphasizing the digital edition while still producing a lovely small-run hardcover.  It’s the first book of mine that has been read more on tablets and laptops than in print, and the first to be widely circulated in the world of book blogs.


So what does “small press” mean, anyway?  For writers considering approaching a small press for your work, realize that the term is just a start—and that small presses bring very different priorities and methods to their work.  What should they all have in common?  An incredible degree of enthusiasm for your book, an identity that fits the nature of your work, and above all, a clear level of professionalism.  Because these are the things, small scale or not, that will allow your work to find an audience amongst all the books—big, little, and in the middle—that make up the fabric of publishing.


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