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?

A Tale of Two Cities: London and New York in 2013

Image Credit: Alamy

Just got back from a quick trip to London. I’ve always loved London, but this time I was overwhelmed. Not from the bookstores one stumbles upon, although those were fantastic as usual. Not because I look out of my hotel window and think I see where the Beatles held their rooftop concert. Not because of the glories of clotted cream. No, there was something else this time.

There’s a passage somewhere in which an English author (Martin Amis?) attempts to convey the vastness of America to a U.K. audience.* He starts by saying that you could match up London with New York well enough, but after that you’d quickly start running out of reasonable comparisons. Boston would be the equivalent of Edinburgh. Chicago would be Manchester. Detroit would be Glasgow. But what would be comparable to Los Angeles? And you’d still have San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston – the list goes on. If I remember correctly he ticked through several of these, each comparison getting more ludicrous, before delivering the clincher: “New Orleans would be Hull.”

That’s right. New Orleans is not Hull. And although I adored London, the jingo in me thought, “Jeez, you probably can’t even give them London.”

New York just seemed to rule everything, in those days. It was the engine that powered the world’s economy and its culture. Bigger, better, smarter, tougher. More excitement, more energy than anywhere else in the world.

That’s what I thought twenty years ago when I was traveling around the world, engaging in conversations with fellow backpackers in youth hostels:

“What’s the best city in the world?”

“Do you mean best or my favorite?”

“Well, let’s hear both – we have time!”

Rome was always my favorite, with London usually coming in second. A soft spot for Chicago. But I had to credit New York as the best, and so did everyone else, and we didn’t take arguments to the contrary very seriously. If there was a championship belt worn by cities, New York had claimed it – probably sometime in the 1940s, if not before. Since then there had not even been any serious contenders. New York reigned as the Greatest City in the World, fighting only with historical Rome and Athens and Paris and London for a position as Greatest City of All-Time.

I didn’t think that during this trip. And what saddened me is why.  Continue reading

Grandma’s Memoirs: A Self-Publishing Thought Experiment

When my grandmother was approaching 90, she decided it was time for her to write her memoirs. Why not? She had lived a full life, spanning nearly the entire twentieth century, from her girlhood in Europe during World War I, through immigration to the United States, all the way to the the end of the Cold War. She spent over a year writing passages by hand. Every holiday, my aunt would scoop up the pages and take them home to type them up. By the end they had a book-length manuscript they printed out and gave to everyone in the family for Christmas.

We were all thrilled, of course. It was a wonderful document of an eventful life, written by a woman we all loved and admired. Each of the ten or so copies in existence has a wonderful home.

My grandmother must have spent a few hundred hours on the writing. My aunt spent nearly as long typing the pages, creating a cover, photocopying pages, and putting it together in a spiral version. The point is this: these days, for not much more time than that, they could have made an e-book and a print-on-demand version. The book would not quite be professional, but it would be something between covers and would be an improvement on the version they were able to make.

And then what? My aunt could have sent a few links to my grandmother’s friends, especially those in the American town she had lived for most of her life and her relatives who still lived in Europe. All of those people were close, but they were distant enough from us that we wouldn’t think of printing out copies for them.  I could imagine that if this were happening now, though, we might have sent a few of them an email link to the Amazon page. Rose wrote a memoir; buy it if you’re interested. My guess is there would have been a dozen people or so who would have bought it that year. It would have made a nice Christmas gift.

And maybe it would have spread a little. Not because it had great literary merit – it was not, say, Angela’s Ashes and headed for bestsellerdom – but because it was well-done, heartfelt, and specific. People interested in that particular journey might have discovered it – maybe someone who traveled a similar path (or had a grandparent who did), or someone who turned down the chance to do so and had always wondered what life would be like. Worth $25 in a store? Maybe not. Worth three bucks for an e-version, or seven or eight for a paperback? Maybe.

Let’s say it wound up selling 100 copies in America and Europe, mostly to friends and extended family, and maybe to some others who have an interest in her origins, her profession, her trip to Ellis Island in a particular year, whatever. Maybe her local library buys a copy or two to keep on the shelf. Or let’s be wildly optimistic and say it sold four hundred – a couple hundred here, a couple hundred among her family members in Switzerland. (We’re still far below the threshold where any traditional publisher could possibly consider it worth printing. A book selling in those numbers would be terrible for them. A disaster. A fiasco. An embarrassment.)

But – stay with me – let’s say my Grandma clears, say, 500 dollars. Not a huge amount. But she spends a year or two hearing from friends who remembered her, or others who came across the book and want to reach out. Her network of friends and neighbors and acquaintances might have called up to marvel or reminisce. That would have been fun; she’d have enjoyed it. (Who am I kidding? She’d have been excited about the 500 bucks too.)

My point is that I think people who turn up their noses at self-publishing as a great exercise in self-deluded vanity – the woe-is-me-here-comes-the-slushpile crowd – are sort of missing the point.  One can participate in this new distribution model without making more than modest claims for one’s work. The author is not saying it’s better than what’s been selected for publishing by a New York firm. She’s saying she finished it, she’s proud of it, and she wants readers to check it out, if they choose to do so. She wants to make it available. So what?

Real publishers crave books with the reach and power of the sun; they can’t afford to sink their money into some author’s lowly handmade candle. But there’s a reason why we have both suns and candles in this world – it’s a big place, after all. And for every big-name author there are others like my grandmother, who admittedly can only lay claim to a small corner of the world –  but it’s her small corner, there’s room for a few guests, and a candle will do nicely to warm the place up, thank you very much.