Working with a small publisher is a lot like building a chicken coop.
It’s tiring, requires organisation, and you’re often tying things together with thread, or chain, or any old shit you can find. No one cares that you’re doing it, except the chickens, which, in the case of a small publisher are the writers you’re keeping safe, warm, and hopefully fed.
I know, you want to ask me about the fox, but It’s not relevant in this context. I know, I should have chosen a better metaphor. But for now, let’s assume that the metaphor is spot-on, just amazingly accurate.
Chicken coop. Small Presses. A match made in poultry, poetry heaven.
Writers are afraid and often feel alone. Publishers, like larger chickens, (I promise, that’s the last time I mention chickens) give them courage. The thought that someone, anyone, has seen the merit of their work, and wants to take it out to a greater audience.
I’m not sure if I’m more hopeful from working at a small publisher. If anything, I’m more aware of the challenges that most, if not all writers face when trying to follow their dreams.
I spent two years on the Margaret River Press editorial board. In that time, I saw three manuscripts published that were considered by the board. Of those three, two had been shortlisted for a major Western Australian literary award. The third was written by an acclaimed if underrated writer from the eastern states.
In hundreds of unsolicited submissions and over eight rounds of editorial meetings, we found one manuscript independently that we were able to publish.
Which is not to say that we weren’t moved by more stories. Or that other manuscripts didn’t make us laugh, or think twice about their merit.
When you’re a small press, it’s often a case of just not quite.
There’s an assumption among writers (most of whom are yet to submit) that it’s easier to get published by a small press. That’s unfortunately not the case; while small presses can take greater creative risks, they also publish fewer books. While they don’t put out shitty, topical tomes of mediocrity like some larger publishers, their style, once established, is necessarily strict: in MRP’s case, we take in not only the quality of the work but also the values inherent, particularly concerning compassion, gender equality, and multiculturalism.
Our chicken coop is inclusive. It’s warm and encouraging, and we’re committed to helping emerging writers find their voice. We’re dedicated to pairing talented writers with precisely skilled editors who won’t settle for a standard phrase or unnecessary cliché.
Small publishers rarely make a profit; that’s something that you need to know. But wait, there’s more: most small publishers have neither the finances nor the staff to push their authors as much as they’d like to. And a launch can turn into a wake fairly quickly if either or both parties expect the other to do the legwork in promotion, sales, or distribution.
Perhaps there’s a through-line between the teaching of great fiction and its publication. Perhaps my own students Gail, or Bel, or Mel, or Else will be next published in an MRP anthology, or a journal, or competition showcase.
What’s important is that they (and by ‘they’ I mean any emerging writer) write, and that they’re encouraged to write. That though there’s an ocean of journals that aren’t for them, there are one, two, three places they can go to learn, and play, and in time master the craft. That there are breadcrumbs that lead them home when all around is noise and misinformation.
What matters is that we continue to remember and appreciate what new voices sound like; to know what’s capable in story, rather than settling for templates and topicality. Do that, and we won’t need a revolution, just the continued support of brave and afraid writers, whatever they’re doing, and however indelible the worlds they’ve chosen to create.
We won’t need a coop, just a desk and their words, so perfect, brilliant, and unforgettable.