On indie press: Cat Sparks

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Cat Sparks, who not only knows small press publishing as an author, but as an editor and publisher too. 

In 2005 I had the great privilege of attending a prestigious writing workshop in the US. One of the tutors was a writer I hold in great esteem but I had cause to argue with one piece of advice he offered the class. Never go with small press, he told us. Small press is below the professional writer, or words to that effect.

I argued. I pointed out that in Australia, if small presses didn’t publish SF short stories, no one would. Back then the internet was not the golden gateway it is now and cracking US markets via snail mail was a lengthy and troublesome process for my countrymen & women.

Years later the esteemed tutor approached me at a World Fantasy Convention room party with the express purpose of reminding me of that moment when I challenged him in class. You were right, he said. I’ve just signed to do a collection with a small press and I’m very happy with the arrangement. This author’s star was – and still is – on the rise, so he wasn’t settling for less than he was worth. Rather, the playing field had changed.

The term ‘small press’ can be misleading. The US’s Nightshade Books is considered a small press, yet it has produced titles with print runs of 80,000+. Most people would be shocked to learn how few books an Australian print run for a new author actually contains.

Small press fills a niche and as the publishing landscape continues to morph and evolve, those niches are getting bigger, wider and more varied. Major publishers are not the only major players any more. Readers are increasingly taking power for themselves and the industry is being forced to adjust itself accordingly.

I’m employed three days a week by a small press which is still in the process of adjusting itself to the e-book revolution. A couple of years ago it became starkly evident that we would have to tailor our products to suit a readership that wasn’t yet certain what it wanted. E-books? What formats? What distribution systems? How do these factors affect copyright permissions? We’re surviving OK, probably because we’re a small press rather than in spite of it. We were able to act quickly, reskill, adapt, think on our feet because we did not have committees to explain things to, boards to appease, shareholders to convince, etc. We just learnt what we needed to know, applied the knowledge and got on with it.

The age of the stately publishing gatekeepers is coming to a close. New auxiliary industries will spring up as navigating the oceans of unfettered self-published crap become the primary challenge for eager readers. How do I find the stuff I like to read? Power bases will shift, empires will fall, new ones will rise from the ashes. One thing amongst so many others seems a sure bet: small presses with identified readerships, myriad delivery systems and quality merchandise are certain to survive the flames.

Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography.




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