The winners of the Pulitzer Prize were announced this week. The prize for poetry goes to Tyehimba Jess for the book, Olio. The book is described as astoundingly innovative, combining poems, songs, historical facts, fiction, interviews and tables to create a chorus of compelling voices — all singing praises for the countless African American performers whose contributions to minstrel shows of the late 1800s have been largely undocumented.
The book was published by a small poetry press in Seattle–Wave Books, surprising to many on the book publishing industry. Small presses, or independent presses, as they are often called, make up about half of the book publishing industry market. Many focus on fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Since the profit margin can be thin, small presses can be narrowly focused and driven by other motivations, including reaching niches that mainstream publishers ignore.
Small presses are a potential outlet for novelists and writers of other genres to get published, but they are often overlooked in favor of the big publishers. Writers don’t support small presses as much as they should by purchasing the literature they produce. That’s a shame. I had the opportunity to talk with dozens of editors and publishers at small presses while at the AWP Conference Bookfair in February and seek out publishing opportunities with them.
NewPages.com, a website of literary news and information, has an extensive list of small presses and calls for submission worth checking out.
Last week I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, better known as AWP. It is the largest literary conference in North America. This year it was held at the convention center in Washington, D.C., and hosted 550 events, 2,000 presenters and more than 800 presses, literary journals, and literary organizations from around the world at the book fair.
This was my third time attending the conference. I learn new things each time. Here are 5 things I learned this year.
It’s a good idea to put your photo on your business card.
During a panel discussion titled, “Agents and Editors and Publishers, Oh My! Demistifying the Business Side of Writing and Publishing,” an agent pointed out that she meets hundreds of eager writers at conferences who hand her business cards, but when she gets back home, she may not be able to match the business card with the person she met. A photo business card will likely jog her memory.
It makes sense to smuggle your own food into the conference.
At a food stand set up in the center of the book expo in the convention center, I paid $10.00 for a medium-sized bowl of pineapple chicken and another $5.00 for a large bottle of diet coke. Talk about sticker shock! I got smart quickly. Since I was staying with my sister, who lives in the D.C. area, I was able to raid her refrigerator and pack a ham and cheese sandwich, some fruit, snacks and my own beverage. This cost me nothing and sis was happy that I helped to empty out her fridge.
If you didn’t win the writing contest you entered, you can always apply again.
I’ve applied for several first-time author contests. None have named me the winner so far. Several of those independent presses and associations that sponsor the contests were represented by the publishers and editors at the AWP Book Fair. They told me to feel free to apply again because they use different judges every contest cycle. One press also told me that sometimes people apply the following year and win.
If you’re not paying attention, you could miss a hidden treasure.
I was walking through the book fair near the back of the room where a small African American publisher I had talked to earlier in the day was located. The publisher remembered me and beckoned me over. He pointed to a man dressed in black, seated at the exhibit table, hunched over, checking his smart phone. It was the bestselling novelist and crime fiction writer, Walter Mosley. I’ve seen the movie starring Denzel Washington, based on his novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, and read one of his novels with members of my book club. It was thrilling to meet him. I asked him if he would take a picture with me and he said in his charming way, “Only if you’ll put your arm around me. Of course, I obliged.
If you’re looking for an independent press to publish your manuscript, the book fair is the place to be.
I was eager to see the books of an independent press I was considering sending my manuscript to. I was horrified when I saw that the books are designed in square dimensions, not rectangular dimensions like most books. Stopping by the table of another press, I was able to quiz the representative about their efforts to market their books. I was able to hold the books and see the quality of the paper, design, and binding. Coincidentally, one of the authors was at the table, autographing copies of his novel, when I walked up. He told me all about his publishing experience with that press. I was impressed with their operation and walked away pleased.
Next year’s conference will be in Tampa, Florida. I’m not sure yet if I’ll attend, but if I do, I’m sure there’ll be lots of tips to pick up there too!
I was looking forward to reading my monthly e-newsletter from Bestsellers Café, the bookstore/coffee shop in Medford, Massachusetts. I always like to see what books they recommend and the listing of upcoming author and live music events. However, I was saddened to see that the latest email was a good-bye letter. Bestsellers Café will be closing down at the end of January because of “unfavorable terms of a lease agreement.” I am so sorry to hear this. Bestsellers Café showcases the work of rising authors and has a section devoted to books published by local authors and independent presses. A couple of months ago they invited me in to speak about the essay I got published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology. The manager gave me a lovely introduction before I gave my talk. Only a handful of copies of the book were sold, but I was invited to come back the next time I have something published.
Writers who are trying to get established depend on this country’s privately owned and independent bookstores like Bestsellers Café for support. You’d have to be a highly successful commercial author before Barnes and Noble would consider hosting an event for you. There’s nothing to be done about the closing of Bestsellers Café, but let it be a reminder to all of us of the importance of supporting locally owned bookstores. Because if we don’t, they will cease to exist.