Graduate’s Corner: Small Presses: Tiny But Mighty, by Eileen Wiedbrauk

Eileen WiedbraukEileen Wiedbrauk is Editor-in-Chief of World Weaver Press and Red Moon Romance, as well as a writer, blogger, book reviewer, coffee addict, cat herder, MFA graduate, fantasist-turned-fabulist-turned-urban-fantasy-junkie, Odyssey Workshop alumna, photographer, designer, tech geek, entrepreneur, avid reader, and a somewhat-decent cook.

She wears many hats, as the saying goes. Which is an odd saying in this case, as she rarely looks good in hats.

Eileen is online at eileenwiedbrauk.com, @eileenwiedbrauk, @WorldWeaver_WWP, and Facebook.com/worldweaverpress.


Small presses play a multi-faceted role in the publishing industry, whether they’re focused on commercial/genre fiction or if they’re boutique/literary arts presses (the latter are often associated, at least marginally, with a university or arts endowment).  I’ve had the pleasure of running World Weaver Press, a speculative fiction small press, for the past three years, and before that I studied so-called “little and literary” publishing in grad school. These independently operated, and frequently independently owned publishing houses can focus on niches that aren’t as well-serviced by large publishers. There are some small presses producing catalogs of only LGBTQ protagonists right now, or those who are focused only on stories from a specific geographic region. ChiZine Press has made its home in the vein of literary-and-deeply-creepy.1 World Weaver Press looks for fun speculative fiction—sub-, mixed-, mashed-, or between-genre, so long as it’s speculative in nature and fun to read. Small Beer Press’s original spirit has been described by publisher Gavin Grant as a “punk . . . DIY ethos . . . of creative frictions,” for readers of the fantastic “looking for they don’t quite know what, and that’s what we publish”2—a notion that would give a large press marketing team apoplexy.

All of these small presses have at some point said they’re looking to bolster works and authors who fall between the cracks of genres and markets. This is the great strength and perhaps most important role of the small press: The small press can take risks—we can fill in the cracks and walk between genres—because of the scale we operate on.

A small press does everything on a smaller scale than the large publishing houses—we have smaller overhead, smaller staff, no high-rent offices, smaller author advances or maybe no advances, smaller initial print runs or maybe we’re employing print-on-demand technology, which means no fixed initial print run.  It means we don’t stand to lose as much, so we can take bigger chances and take on projects that would otherwise be considered risky.

It means World Weaver Press can publish a Janet-Evanovich-meets-Southern-paranormal-cozy-mystery featuring a thrice-divorced 40-something Southern belle protagonist (The Haunted Housewives of Allister Alabama by Susan Abel Sullivan) where a larger publisher would rightfully deem it too hard to market. If a small press falls in love with a book, “too hard to market” doesn’t become part of our vocabulary.

Any publisher has a threshold number of copies they need to sell to make publishing a novel worth their time. When the scale is smaller, the threshold is lower. A potential niche readership of a few thousand people might not meet the necessary sales threshold for a large publisher, but it can for a small press. And that means we can give a home to oddball stories or overcrowded sub-genres (for example, editors of urban fantasy may be up to their eyeballs in already-signed vampire novelists, but right now I’ve only got two. Colorful, hopeful science fiction? I’m also looking to expand my list there).

And I absolutely think of it as a “home.” Our authors and editors find a home with us; they become part of the World Weaver Press family. We guide their projects through editing, production, publication, and publicity (or put it through the editorial wringer when necessary), we keep the series going, we exchange Christmas cards and Facebook messages, and we’re happy to help promote their next works whether they’re with us or a larger press. And it’s easy to think of it as family when you’re in love with all of the projects you’re editing and publishing.

The one thing I was adamant about as I structured World Weaver Press, was that the editor who acquired a project would become the project’s point person—cradle to grave, so to speak. She would read slush and solicit a manuscript, then oversee its acquisition, become its substantive and line editor, then remain the author’s point person through publication day and beyond. I wasn’t interested in structuring the press so that one editor plucked projects from the slush and then assigned them to other editors to work on—even when we’ve had to switch editors between books in a series, it’s always been because the new editor was fascinated and raring to go—because I believe having an editorial project you love, one you’ve been with since the beginning, one you’re willing to fight for, creates a sense of pride in product and a desire to get up each morning and rush to the page. Because a small press is a labor of love, and if you don’t love it there are a great many things you could be doing instead.

 

Notes:

  1. “About CZP.” ChiZine Press. < http://chizinepub.com/about/index.php&gt;.
  2. “Long Live Indie Publishing: Small Beer Press.” Interview with Gavin Grant by Erika Jelinik. Book Punks. <http://www.bookpunks.com/long-live-indie-publishing-small-beer-press&gt;.

 

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