Small Presses: Eclectic in Outlook

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Joseph Simon runs his publishing enterprise from his house on the crest of a hill in Malibu overlooking the beach and the blue-green Pacific Ocean. Simon's Pangloss Press, named after Voltaire's optimistic character in Candide, is categorized as a "small press," one of about five thousand small presses throughout the United States. Every year Simon publishes one or two new books, each taste- fully designed and printed on recycled or acid-free paper. His catalog lists a backlist of about twenty books, primarily on the subject of Judaica.

Small presses publish books on subjects the big publishers veer away from such as poetry, art, architecture, local history, mysticism, and alternative religions. Small press runs range from one thousand to four thousand copies, and few release more than four or five books a season. That's why they're called small presses.

Because they're small, these publishers cannot afford advances beyond $1,000 to $2,000. Yet authors seek out small presses when their works are not considered commercial enough for the major publishers, and also because authors know the small press will support a book in a manner not always possible at big houses.

Although many small presses do not choose to go public about it, they do accept unsolicited manuscripts. This does not mean, however, that a poorly written work will have a better chance of being published by a small press. On the contrary, the standards of small presses may be higher than those of the large houses. Nevertheless, knowing that their works will at least be considered provides encouragement to many authors.

At a small press each book purchased is a significant investment. The author is treated with great respect. The creation itself is the foremost priority. The small-press editor displays a high degree of optimism, a trait not always shared by his or her major-publisher counterparts. The author feels the total experience of participating in an effort that is harmonious, confident, creative, and inspiring.

Smaller Publishers Play on the World Stage

An article in Publishers Weekly discusses the success of small presses in selling their works for foreign publication.

One publisher, Avery Publishing Group of Garden City, New York, has sold five of its titles to overseas publishers. Its Sharks Don't Get Cancer sold to ten countries in fifteen language versions; its Love Tactics made nine sales, and Macrobiotic Way seven sales.

Impact Publishers of San Luis Obispo, California, sold its self-development book Liking Myself to a small Japanese publisher. That publisher sold more than 150,000 copies and used it as a bilingual school reader.

Conference of Small Magazine/Press Editors and Publishers (COSMEP)

In 1968, a small number of small publishers met at Berkeley to form a support group. They called themselves the Conference of Small Magazine/Press Editors and Publishers. Later the name was shortened to COSMEP. Its purpose was to provide common action for its membership, and to improve distribution and marketing efforts.

Today, COSMEP has fifteen hundred members in the United States and twelve foreign countries. Its services include a monthly newsletter, a co-op advertising program, and combined trade exhibits at the American Booksellers Association convention, American Library Association convention, and the Frankfurt Book Fair. COSMEP also provides support services to its membership including a credit information service, professional seminars and conferences, insurance, and discounts on office supplies.

If you are interested in forming a small press, by all means join COSMEP. Its annual membership fee is only $60. Write to COSMEP, P.O. Box 420703, San Francisco, CA 94142-0703; (415) 922-9490.

If you are thinking of starting a small press, you should understand that most of these operations don't make money. Before embarking on one of these precarious enterprises, one needs experience, creativity, and, the most important ingredient, adequate financing.

Working for a small press can also be worthwhile and rewarding. At such a press, you won't be pigeonholed into one department with no sense of what's happening on the next floor, as might be the case when working for a large publisher. Because most have small staffs, you have the opportunity of assuming two, three, or more job functions. The salary may be less, but what better way to learn the craft of book publishing?
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