Small Press Shout-Out: Soho Press!

Today’s small press shout-out is the fabulous Soho Press! Soho has been pumping out quality books from New York City since 1986. They specialize in literary fiction and young adult books and I’m sure they’re all great, but… ah, there’s no point in denying it, I’m most drawn to Soho Crime, their international-themed crime fiction imprint.   

Soho Press has yet another gorgeous website, with one of the coolest features I’ve seen: a world map showing the settings of their crime fiction. Who’s the hardest person on your holiday list to shop for? Do they like traveling? Mysteries and crime fiction? If so, I recommend clicking on the country they love and/or have always dreamed of visiting, and buying them a few crackling good crime stories. 

Even cooler, if that’s possible, is Soho’s Passport to Crime bundle. For seventy-five bucks (sixty-five for e-books) you get 12 first-in-series paperbacks.  Again, a perfect holiday gift idea for anyone who might enjoy exploring new authors and new worlds. Soho also has a gift-ready subscription plan.

There are small presses and then there are small presses. Soho Press, with its long history of successful publishing, probably deserves something more than a shout-out. Maybe a plaque in the Small Press Hall of Fame?

Small Press Shout-Out: Atticus Books!

Today’s small press spotlight turns on Atticus Books. Yes, it was named after Atticus Finch, but that’s not all – it was also named after the Atticus (i.e., Cicero’s friend), as well as a chance encounter with a bookstore that apparently changed founder and publisher Dan Cafaro’s life.  All three inspirations get their due on the Atticus Books website, which (in addition to looking great) has a kind of rolling, storyteller’s garrulousness that one suspects mirrors Dan Cafaro’s inspired mind and varied interests. After spending some time roaming around the website it’s easy to guess why Cafaro felt stifled by his corporate job and headed out for the territory of small press publishing.

Cafar0 originally started out with the idea for a combination of bookstore and publishing house. He even investigated the use of an Expresso print-on-demand bookmaker among other research:

As he mounted thousands of miles on his SUV and continued his hunt of a physical location for Atticus Books, Dan stayed focused on the goal of building a book business that served authors, readers, and the offbeat literary community. The more he pursued the goal of opening a retail operation, though, the more he was foiled by the exorbitant price of commercial space in highbrow places like Bethesda, Md. Not to be derailed by the harsh economic realities of starting up a brick & mortar retail business during an abysmal, nationwide economic stretch, Dan opted instead to concentrate his efforts solely on publishing books.

After he decided that a bookstore wouldn’t make sense for what he wanted to do, he focused on an “implausible” idea: the “[creation of a] viable book business whose purpose was to discover voices otherwise lost in a crowded, unforgiving marketplace.”

Atticus also puts out a weekly online journal called the Atticus Review.

What’s especially interesting to me about Atticus Books is that they unapologetically publish literary fiction – poetry, short stories, novellas and novels that (presumably) would not be at the top of an MBA’s business plan. Why? You’d have to ask Cafaro, I suppose. But if I were to guess, I’d say it was the decision of a man who loves literature and figured there’s no sense taking a risk if the reward isn’t going to be what you want it to be. Let’s hope things go well for him.

So on this day of roaming around, as everyone in America buys like crazy before the shelves empty, why not think of those readers in your family – you know, those people in your life who would appreciate something thoughtful and heartfelt and with a little homegrown spirit to it – and check out Atticus Books Online and their catalog.

How to Review Books: My Manifesto

Sometimes changes make tired old arguments look even more creaky.

This is how I felt when I encountered yet another back-and-forth about whether book reviewers should strive to be positive and avoid snark, or whether they should be hard-minded critics, willing to blame as well as praise in their criticism. Maria Bustillos has a rundown.

This debate is like the dance of the straw men. Each side exaggerates the position of the other, until a positive book reviewer is merely a shill, and a negative reviewer is snarky or narcissistic or whatever.

People: the world is changing. It’s not the case that a small number of publications review a few selected books every season, and readers are led by the nose to what has been selected for them to read. They have access to all kinds of books as well as to all kinds of critics. A million flowers have bloomed.

Critics want to take a consistent approach? Fine. Write a manifesto? Great. Criticize some other critic’s manifesto? Now you’re tipping into pointlessness.

Here’s my manifesto: Don’t argue about how to review books. Just review them.

Let your approach manifest itself in the reviews themselves, and let your audience decide whether or not they value the approach you’ve taken. There’s room for dialogue as well as promotion. Harshness and praise.

The critical voice – your voice – is your best asset. Don’t try to make it into something that it’s not to suit your theory.

Is what I just wrote positive? Snarky? Actually I’m not sure. It was my honest response. That’s what I’ll stand by. Good critics should too.

Onward and upward, people!

Carlton Dance Image Credit: GIFSOUP.COM

Small Press Shout-Out: Tiny TOE Press

I’ve written before about the role for small presses in the brave new publishing world. And in my dream bookstore.

Today’s small-press shout out goes to Tiny TOE Press, an Austin-based “kitchen-table press” that publishes handpressed books.

Check out their definition of DIY publishing and their catalog. And dream bookstore entrepreneurs, remember: I’d like a nice table of these to thumb through, in some cozy, well-lighted spot.

My Bookstore

Image Credit: guardian.co.uk

Okay, Borders has gone under. Barnes & Noble is struggling. Independent bookstores have been embattled for years.

I’m a fan of Amazon (and used to work there! they’re good folks! they paid my wages!). But I’m also a nostalgic person. If I can be misty-eyed about the end of Blockbuster, I’m certainly allowed to think fondly about all the time I’ve spent in bookstores. Out-of-the-way bookstores. Corporate behemoth bookstores. Waldenbooks at the mall. Airport “bookstores.” Antiquarian book shoppes. Garage sales. Library basements. Mystery-themed bookstores. Waterfront gift shops with a shelf of books about ships. Anything at all!

So maybe there’s no presently viable business model for a brick-and-mortar store. But there’s a hunger! And where there’s a hunger, there’s a fool ready to supply it.

Here’s what I would like:

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Crashing the Gates: Self-Publishing and the National Book Awards

Fascinating look at the National Book Awards process from Eric Obenauf, publisher and editor of the press Two Dollar Radio.

Obenauf’s jumping-off point is this year’s expansion to a longlist for fiction nominees (from five to ten), which sounded promising to him, as it did to all lovers of good fiction.  Until, that is, he saw the list, which was packed with offerings from traditional publishers. This struck him as missing an opportunity:

[R]ather than five slices of plain bread hopping out of the toaster we were met with ten instead. What was the point of expanding to a longlist at all?

As I explain below, I don’t fully agree with his solution, but boy does he nail the diagnosis:

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Self-Publishing: How To Get It Done!

Readers! I’m pleased to announce I’ve joined the ranks of writers who have managed to complete all the steps to make one of their books available to the world. And with actual sales! Hooray!

But this is not about me. It’s about YOU. You may be sitting there, as I was, wondering how in the world you’re ever going to get it done. I’ve been there! I know!

Because – as every writer knows – writing a book is hard enough, even if it’s something you enjoy doing. In writing a book you’re forced to make a million decisions. Question after question after question. What happens next, who is the narrator, why is this conveyed in dialogue and not description, what’s the title, how should this chapter end, is this character a stereotype, is that phrase a cliche, is this too long, is this too short, why this word, why this comma. Exhausting!

And then you’re faced with building the rest of the book and you think: how am I supposed to do the rest of this? Editing? Beta readers? What? Cover design? ISBN? Kobo? Mobi? EPub? Kboards? Huh? What?

You know how this feels!

You’re overwhelmed by the idea:

Maybe I can do this – but how am I supposed to know how to do it right?

It’s like redesigning a kitchen. Maybe you’re good at that and relish the prospect. Or maybe you’re like me and spend six weeks picking out a color for the walls and think, “This is just the first of many, many decisions” and you find yourself deciding that living with your tiny kitchen with the gravy-colored walls is okay after all.

Don’t do it! Don’t live with your tiny kitchen!

Here’s the secret to How To Get It Done: others have already done the thinking for you.

These are the early days of self-publishing for e-books, but you’re not a pioneer. There are other people out there who have gone through this, and who have talked about it, and whose example you can use. And I’m not just talking about how-to articles, although those are often very helpful. I’m also talking about using them as examples. What did they do for their own books? If you find the right person to use as a model, you’re all set.

For me, it was the fabulously helpful Joanna Penn. You may find someone else – there are many others to choose. But for me, every time I was faced with a tough decision, I would traipse back to Joanna Penn’s site to find out what she had decided to do. She’s wrestled with all these decisions, she has good judgment, she talks to a million people, and she has experience with what works and what doesn’t. I’m not writing in the same genre as Joanna, so I adapted a few things here and there, and I tailored some other things based on what seemed to make sense for me. But in the end I figured that if I kept moving forward, and basically followed her lead, I could get it done.

And I did.

And so can you.

(Thanks, Joanna!)

Image credit: http://www.aveleyman.com