A Small Press, Don’t Stress: Why Size Doesn’t Matter
March 22, 2018 § 19 Comments
By Sweta Srivastava Vikram
A rhyming title for an essay, you must wonder. Full disclaimer: I am a poet at heart; the crossover to writing and publishing a novel has been transformative, and I wanted to share some things I learned.
I won’t lie; it’s been exciting, humbling and exhausting. The release of my 12th book (but debut U.S. novel) Louisiana Catch, a story that centers around a sexual abuse survivor from New Delhi, coincides with the #MeToo movement. It’s on U.K.’s The Asian Writer’s “Books to Read in 2018” list. Frankly, I don’t know what’s in store for the book, but I do know that I have enjoyed the whole process and realized a few things along the way, specifically as it relates to publishing via a small press.
The problem is you: The lack of gratitude. I have seen writers apologize for their small press partnerships and feel small…like they are embarrassed. Stop! The fact that someone took a chance on your work and wants to publish you, means a lot. Publishing is about several permutations and combinations. Working with a small press doesn’t make you any less talented or skilled compared to a writer who has a book coming out with a Penguin/Random House or Hachette. Small press has limitations, which teaches you to become self-reliant and seek out opportunities. Once you adjust your attitude and appreciate a challenge, the journey becomes more exciting. I was out of ARCs and an opportunity arose to send a few copies of Louisiana Catch to Hollywood. My publisher—Modern History Press—sent me the copies overnight (Not cheap for a small press), and I went and made the drop at the crack-of-dawn. It was like a relay race where we kept an eye on the goal and made it happen as a team.
Own your choice—Yes, for majority of us (fair to make the assumption?), there is this dream of being represented by one of the big five publishing houses. I didn’t try the agent route, very deliberately. I consciously chose to work with a small press for this novel. My last manuscript died because my then agent hit a midlife crisis after I had spent a couple of years changing the book to fit their perception of a “good book.” We went from “blah blah (Insert name of one of the top 5 publishing houses) is buying your book to popping congratulatory champagne to “I am like not sure where my life is headed.” My book sank along with my heart. I decided that I wanted to work with a press that understood my voice and stories and wanted to represent my work. Pick your route and do not doubt your decision.
Face facts—Whether you are being published by one of the top five or a small press, the chances are that you are a small fish—majority of us fall in that space. Your grandma might throw a block party in your honor but at the publisher’s end, you are one of the many authors. You have to put in a lot of work. And working with a small press, I have had a lot of say in defining what that work means. My publisher at Modern History Press, Victor Volkman, and I developed a true partnership. He acknowledged my hard work and increased the stakes. And now we have an audiobook for Louisiana Catch in the making. It’s come to a point where my publisher leaves notes, #BeLikeAhana, after one of the early reviewers of the book started this hashtag (Based on the female protagonist in Louisiana Catch) on Instagram, on my social media posts.
Size doesn’t guarantee success—I agree; working with a big publishing house often means incredible distribution system. Your friends and family will see your books at bookstores and Target and airport spaces. Let’s be honest; I would like that too. When I saw my 1st novel in a store in India, I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve worked in the marketing department for Kellogg’s breakfast cereals and let me tell you one thing—while placement seems to be everything, it also isn’t everything. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee sales. I have a professor interested in teaching Louisiana Catch to her students. If your book becomes part of an academic course, that’s when you know X no. of copies will be sold every semester, not one season.
Innovation is the name—Remember: While the budgets are limited, the intentions and efforts aren’t because a small press cares about their authors and their stories. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I decided to partner up with organizations and brands for reviews and book release events. On April 18, Lululemon Hub Seventeen in NYC is hosting the book release party for Louisiana Catch and organizations like Exhale to Inhale have helped plan the all-female panel at this party. I have also partnered up with leading yoga studios, organizations working on women’s empowerment, and independent bookstores for book launch events in three different states. I like the idea of community, so at each of these events, I’ve invited other authors or specialists to participate. My publisher has offered to get bookmarks and posters shipped to these locations.
You aren’t forgotten—Sure, many big-name magazines might not look at books from small presses and review them. It boils down to connections and budgets and priorities and the TBR pile on the reviewers’ desk. Yes, it’s frustrating and disappointing. But it’s not the end. I once cold-pitched an essay, “Familiar Dish, Familiar Friend,” to the New York Times, and it got accepted. Louisiana Catch and I have been profiled in different countries in leading ethnic and/or feminist newspapers and magazines. Not having an in-house publishing team doing all the work for me has worked in my favor. I don’t wait for things to happen; I go out and make them happen.
Embrace your true self—Working with a small press can level you like none other. It will show you what your strengths and shortcomings are. I am a do-it-yourself author. I like being organized and in control of my book and the promotional plans. My publisher honored every timeline we decided on. I wanted the book to be out in April since it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the female protagonist, Ahana, is a sexual assault survivor; he agreed. In summer of 2017, the final edits came in. By September-October of 2017, the ARCs were ready. In October, we started mailing them out. The early reviewers have had plenty of time to review. It doesn’t mean my book will be on New York Times list or be reviewed by all the top-notch magazines; all it means is that I know that we tried our best. And, sometimes, just knowing that helps you go to bed at night.
I have been at the forefront of every decision made regarding Louisiana Catch—right from the editors to the book cover to the promotional plan to the book birthing cycle to a speaking engagement at Twitter NY. Honestly, had I not worked with a small press, I am not sure how many of these opportunities I might have pursued.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is a best-selling author of 12 books, five-times Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch is her debut U.S. novel and featured on U.K.’s The Asian Writer’s “Books to Read in 2018.” Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. She writes about women, multiculturalism, wellness, and identity. Sweta, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, amongst other publications, across nine countries on three continents, is an award-winning writer and graduate of Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. You can find her in these online spaces: Twitter (@swetavikram), Instagram (@swetavikram), and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta)