Welcome to the second edition of The Lit. This issue is all about the wonderful world of small press publishing, the diversity of which is so emphatic that we might almost start to wonder whether it is a thing at all. What is ‘the small press’? We asked some friends for their thoughts:
“The Small Press is the beating heart of writing, offering the pulse that brings new and experimental, as well as interim work, to the body of literature, keeping the project alive, active and full of hope.”
John F. Deane, Founder of Poetry Ireland, the Poetry Ireland Review, and Dedalus Press
“The small press is the place to go to find work you would be unlikely to find from bigger publishers.”
Nicholas Royle, Nightjar
“The small press is a space of freedom, where you can play with the possibilities, and where all the means of production and distribution can be taken into your own hands.”
Thomas A Clark, Moschatel Press
“The small press sector is where most of the interesting new poets are to be found.”
Tony Frazer, Shearsman
“The small press is very often a press that punches above its weight.”
Sam Jordison, Galley Beggar Press
“The small press is a space to play around with what a book might be, to affect how the written word materialises. It is a space to materially imagine new performative possibilities for readers and writers. It is an opportunity to test ideological and political realities about what books are and do.”
Camilla Nelson, Singing Apple Press
The small press is often described as leading the field in publishing. The best of them take risks, try out new forms, champion new writers and new writing, new approaches, new technologies. And it is not only leading the field – it’s all over the field. Some small presses might run parallel to the mainstream, holding the same ambitions, running on the same models and only distinguishable by size. Others remain ideologically different, determinedly small, sustainable, anarchic, specialist, progressive, playful, controversial, argumentative, inclusive or exclusive. And they are just as diverse in their methods of production and distribution, with many foregrounding the processes of composition in text and book-making.
Incline Press, for example, publish beautiful classics on a range of letterpress printers, with editions signed not by the author but by the binder. Elsewhere, Singing Apple uses materials from the publisher’s immediate surroundings to create the page, often handpress printing onto homemade papers, leaves or fruit. Then there’s Argotist Ebooks, who only publish PDFs to be read and downloaded online for free, and Analog Sea, who do not engage with the digital at all, defining themselves as an ‘offline publisher’, selling solely through shops and communicating by post. One of my own earliest engagements with the small press was visiting the Cornish Nationalist publisher James Whetter at his home in Gorran with my father. James used to type out texts on his typewriter then photocopy and staple the sheets together, load up his car and drive them to local bookshops.
“The small press is accessible. It puts the power of print back in the hands of the people. Everyone who has access to paper and print of any kind can be a publisher.”
In spite of the diversity of forms, subjects, aesthetics and ideologies, small presses share some of the same challenges. For instance, how do you get your books into shops? How do you distribute them? How do you get reviewers and prizes to notice? How do you protect your press from the financial vulnerability inevitable in smaller enterprises?
For some, like the Northern Fiction Alliance and Inpress Books, the answer has been to club together. Inpress Books helps small presses to distribute their books by offering a centralised platform. They also have a points scheme that rewards not only those who buy books from the site, but also those who like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter. The Northern Fiction Alliance, meanwhile, is a great example of small presses working as a collective to ensure their books reach a broader audience. In this issue of The Lit Cathy Galvin talks to members of the Alliance about their coalition, growth and their plans for the future. We also have Clare Howdle investigating the role of the literary prize in the life of the small press, in conversation with the Republic of Consciousness, the Goldsmiths Award and Galley Beggar Press.
Innovation has always been associated with the small press, not only in subject, form and production, but also in business structure, developing new methods of mitigating against the risks implicit in small press publishing. Harry Webster explores some of these risks and models in his piece, ‘A Pressing Concern’.
Throughout this issue we’ll be celebrating the diversity of the small press. One of the greatest joys of small press publishing is its incredible specialism, whether that’s a press that focuses solely on short story pamphlets (like Nightjar) or on haiku (like Snapshot) or on nature writing (Little Toller) or on books about cows (Cow Eye). In ‘A Trip Underground’ Rob Dickens presents a terrific example of a successful specialist press, exploring the history and context of his own Psychedelic Press UK. We also have features on translation specialists Charco by Katie Brown, Ellen Jones, and Helen Vassallo, and an experimental response on LGBTQ+ small press publishing by Zarf editor Callie Gardner.
Perhaps, as editor, I should admit my own vested interest in small press publishing. Not only have I written for or edited books for a range of small presses that includes Enitharmon Editions, Common Ground, Broken Sleep, Ally, Francis Boutle, zimZalla and Atlantic Press, but in 2016 I founded Guillemot Press, which I run with the poet Sarah Cave. At Guillemot we embrace smallness, with the sense of community that can be nurtured here, the more immediate connection with printers, artists, writers, readers and booksellers, and the energy and enthusiasm for each project that is generated from these relationships. We primarily publish poetry, mostly in short sequences or pamphlets, and we take special care over the materials and designs of our titles, often collaborating with artists and illustrators. This issue of The Lit has been illustrated by one of our young artists, the D&AD Award-winning CF Sherratt.
My co-editor for the issue is Abram Foley, who has not only worked with small presses like Dalkey Archive, but also lectures in publishing and the creative industries at the University of Exeter, while editing the ASAP/J online journal.
So come in, explore, and enjoy the huge world of the small press with us.
“The Small Press was, is and will be. World without end. Amen.”
John F. Deane