Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How Are You Celebrating Small Press Month?

March is small press month. Did you know that? I didn’t until this week, even though I own a small press. I found out about small press month when I went to the website of PMA—The Independent Book Publishers Association—an organization to which my publishing company, PMI Books belongs. But I don’t recall hearing anything about it before that.

According to its website, small press month is an annual celebration of the independent spirit of small publishers. As a small publisher, I am delighted to find out that we have a month and a website devoted to celebrating us. The small-press-month sponsors, of whom PMA is one, have arranged celebration events in large cities around the country.

Small press month even has an official quote from prominent American novelist, Walter Mosley, widely recognized for his crime fiction. Mosley’s official small-press-month quote says:
"The life’s blood of contemporary and modern literature is in the custodianship of so-called small publishers. Without them, there is no future for literature." 

Apparently this is the 12th year for the celebration of small press month. I’m wondering why I hadn’t heard about it before and why it isn’t a much bigger deal. There are lots of us small, independent publishers out there. The most recent statistics I could find on the Bowkers website reported that in 2005 their Books In Print data represented input from 81,000 publishers in the U.S. We know how few large traditional publishers remain after so many of them have bought each other up. So we small indies must be 80,000+ strong in this country alone.

If we look at our accomplishments, we have a lot to celebrate. Publishing is not a simple job. We’ve had to learn about ISBN numbers, book design and layout, printing, getting reviews, promotion, distribution, copyright law and more. And many of us who own small presses also write some or all of the books we publish.

So why aren’t we all out there tooting our horns and wearing buttons that say, “I’m proud to be an independent publisher”— or even “I’m proud to be a self-publisher”? I think it’s because we hear so many derogatory comments about publishing our books ourselves or through a small indie publisher that we aren’t proud. Deep down we accept what the old guard tells us—that having our books published through a major traditional publisher is better. Even though as new or mid-list authors we know we will get little or no promotion from a major publisher, and even though with a major publisher our books are likely to be quickly out of print, we continue to fall for the idea that having our books published by a major publisher is much better.

It’s hard to celebrate being something that others disparage. But we small publishers vastly outnumber the big guys. We’re changing the publishing industry and we shouldn’t be ashamed or apologetic about our business model. If more of us speak out about and celebrate what we do, we will help all small independent presses be seen as respectable publishers whose books deserve equal opportunity in the marketplace. Happy small press month!

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