Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Small Press, Not Small Time: A Look at Young People in Small, Indie Publishers

Both Graywolf Press and Little, Brown published books that received Pulitzer Prizes this year. Little, Brown posted a photo of their staff celebration: a seemingly endless sea of glasses of red wine. While there wasn’t any photographic evidence, I imagine Graywolf celebrated similarly. Though, if there had been a photo, there would have only been 12 glasses of wine.

Small presses are just that, small. While the likes of Penguin Random House or HarperCollins can claim thousands of employees and the title of one of the “Big” Five, small presses can have full time staffs as small as 3. What’s it like to work in a small publisher, do much of the same work, just with a reduced staff? And how does one even break into smaller publishing?

akashicSusannah Lawrence, Director of Publicity and Social Media at Akashic Books, got her start in publishing interning for one of the Big Five, but had mixed feelings about the experience: “I got to know some people relatively well, but had no idea what was going on on the other half of the floor… My workspace was cubicle outside of one editor’s office, and I don’t think the editor and I ever exchanged any words.”  Her next publishing internship was at Akashic books, which later transitioned into a full time job. Susannah says that, while she learned a lot at her internship at a larger publisher and had a great experience, she prefers Akashic’s environment which gives her a “hands-on and collaborative” workplace.soho

In contrast, Rudy Martinez, Marketing Manager at Soho Press, didn’t even intend to end up in publishing, but got into it “mostly by accident.” After interning at American Short Fiction magazine, Rudy found himself doing more publishing internships and eventually landing at Soho Press, where he fell in love with the indie press environment so much that he can’t imagine being anywhere else.  “Once I got started, nothing besides an indie press even seemed like an option….I couldn’t imagine working with people I didn’t treat like family or in an office too big for me to just shout a question across a room for an answer.”

Bellevue Literary

Crystal Sikma joined Bellevue Literary Press as a Publishing Assistant after holding different nonprofit jobs, as well as having many outside interests. “I admired the quality of the books that Bellevue Literary Press publishes, so that was my first hint that it’d be a good fit,” she says. “It was clear that I could contribute my website, grant writing, marketing, and copyediting skills in my role; in many ways, the position could be molded to fit me.”

Even though all three hold different positions, they all agree on one thing about the culture of a small press: everyone does a little bit of everything. “I’ve had to define much of my job rather than step into a predefined role… Everyone at Soho can work a table at a conference or sell a book to a stranger or write flap copy or talk about our library marketing strategy or schedule a national author tour or proof a manuscript,” explains Rudy. And with a tight knit environment without different departments, there’s a strong possibility that there will be lots of questions to be answered. Crystal states that the many and varied roles to fulfill can be stressful: “There are a lot of responsibilities, which can be very fulfilling if you’re up to the task, but perhaps overwhelming if you don’t have a great deal of experience. You’re not just getting your feet wet, you’re jumping right in.”Susannah feels similarly even though she’s been at her position since early 2013. “I’ve been given a great deal of responsibility, which is both great and also kind of terrifying.”

Growth within a small press seems to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are many opportunities to grow within one’s current position. As Crystal observes, “Compared to many editorial assistants, my duties as an assistant are less about answering to the specific needs of an editor than the needs of the whole press. I believe there’s a greater possibility for growth…” Rudy, in particular, believes that Soho is exactly where he needs to be to accomplish his long term career goals. “ I’m hoping my time at Soho segues nicely into …continu[ing] to work with people who push me in directions I never imagined for myself.” At the same time, Susannah also points out the drawbacks of working in such a small office. “There are only six of us, so there’s not really a ladder to climb.”

Still, for hungry young publishing professionals, small presses are great places to gain experience and offer unique opportunities and vantage points of the industry as a whole. In fact, small publishers and large presses ultimately have the same goal: to publish quality books.  As Rudy succinctly sums it up, “I think the only difference between Soho and a corporate publisher is that they generally don’t wear jeans and T-shirts to the office… Nobody gets into publishing because they like money more than books.”

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