“You’ve got to start out with a hit, right off the bat."
An agent told me this once after reading part of a novel I’d written. The book, he said, showed promise but wasn’t big enough in scope to snag a major publisher. Being a fan of Ugly Town Books and Point Blank Press, I asked him what were the novel’s chances at one of the smaller houses. He dismissed the idea.
“Years ago, you could slowly build an audience,” he said. “But these days you have to start out with a hit.” He went on to say if your first novel only manages meager sales, it’s unlikely the bigger houses will take a chance on you.
This is not what I wanted to hear. I’ve always had a deep admiration for small press authors, those who write not for the money or acknowledgement but for the sheer love of writing. And truth be told, I’d harbored the romantic dream of becoming a hard-boiled novelist who languished in obscurity, yet created an underground cult of rabid fans. Then, only after growing bitter and despondent at the literary world, turning to the sweet, sweet bliss of alcoholic darkness, would my work find a much wider audience. (Hey, we’ve all gotta have that distant star to stretch for).
As disappointed as I was by the agent’s remarks, I wondered if they had a ring of truth to them. Sure, there have been those who’ve made their mark in a small press then gone on to bigger publishing companies. But how often does it happen? And when it does happen, is the event the exception that proves the rule?
My goal is to someday make a living as a writer. I want to enjoy the work I do, (what’s the point otherwise) but at the same time, I want to reach the biggest audience possible. I know to achieve this goal I must believe in myself and have dogged persistence. I also know I must be flexible in my notions of success. Being a writer isn’t an easy road, and having a publishing company (big or small) take a chance on you should be considered an honor.
I’m an infant in this industry—maybe even an embryo considering I don’t have my name on a cover yet. As such, I have more questions than answers. And today I have one for you.
Is there a stigma associated with being a small press author, one that closes the door to the bigger publishing companies?