Small-Press Shoutout: Overlook Press!

Stop me… stop me before I small-press shoutout again!

I know, I know. I promised one last shoutout before the holidays. But then I ran across Overlook Press. They are bigger than some of our other shoutoutees, but I’m not holding that against them. They have that indie spirit – and if anything, their size is a testament to the success you can have if you publish good things and hang around for a while.

Founded by a publishing bigshot who wanted to give overlooked titles a chance (I guess the name really should have been “No Longer Overlooked Press,” which is obviously not as catchy), Overlook’s catalog of authors is self-described as eclectic. I would describe it as the deep-dive authors.

What do I mean by that?

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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.

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

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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A Self-Interview with the Author, Jacke Wilson

Today’s self-interview is with the author and sole proprietor of this blog, Jacke Wilson. Jacke’s novella The Race is available now at

Q: Thank you for sitting down with me today.

A: It was no trouble at all.

Q: How long have you been writing fiction?

A: As a serious endeavor, approximately 18 years.

Q: Wow that’s a long time. How come no success?

A: Great question. I would give at least three reasons –

Q: I actually don’t think our readers will be interested in any of them.

A: Oh. Um… Do you still want me to answer?

Q: Listen, I’ll ask the questions, Jacke.

A: Right, got it.

Q: Your first book The Race was about politics in America. It uses the phrase “wayward pecker” to describe the body part of a Wisconsin governor who was caught up in a sex scandal and is now running for Congress. Did you ever think about calling the book Wayward Pecker?

A:  Yes.

Q: How about Wayward Peckerhead?

A: No, never.

Q: Governor Peckerhead

A: Is that a question?

Q: You missed a chance with peckerhead. It could have been a tribute to the Richard Pryor routine where he – 

A: I’ll check it out.

Q: How about Members of Congress? Get it? Get it?

A: You’re making me glad I stuck to my original title.

Q: Because you don’t like selling books?

A: Are we almost done?

Q: I said I’ll ask the questions!

A: Sorry.

Q: We’re done.

A: Thanks.

Q: You’re welcome.

Readers, check out Jacke’s book The Race: The Ballad of Governor Peckerhead at Free samples available. Jacke also has free review copies available for distribution and is seeking beta readers for his work in progress The Promotion: Peckerhead Goes to Biglaw. Contact him at or by visiting this page.

The Race: A Novella

Available Now at

The Jacke Wilson One-Word Test: Are Your Themes What You Expected?

Years ago The New Yorker ran a cartoon after Ken Burns had just come out with his second major documentary, Baseball. (The first, of course, had been the masterpiece The Civil War.) The cartoon showed a man’s hand holding a piece of paper with “Ken Burns To-Do List” at the top. Underneath the title it said:




I thought of this when writing the third book I plan to release. My list could be:




Fascinating! As a trilogy, you could call it AMERICA and not be far off. I’ll put the series name in bold:





What would you call the Ken Burns trilogy? That’s the joke, really. In the cartoon it would be:  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.