Last Wednesday, our class had a discussion with Garth Graeper, a writer and editor, who worked in both the small press world and the Big 6 arena. His knowledge about publishing in these two different atmospheres was eye-opening and his talent as an editor and passion as writer was inspiring. In large part, our conversation revolved around the ins and outs of the publishing world. Graeper detailed his life at Ugly Duckling Presse, a small press publishing company based in Brooklyn, New York. One thing that I found the most interesting about the differences between working at a place like Penguin Random House, one of the largest publishers in the world, and Ugly Duckling is that there is no middle man. The author’s work goes directly from writer to editor at a small press, whereas, the author’s work has to go through an agent at a large press. Interestingly enough, according to Graeper, agents do not ever get in contact with small presses, especially if that small press is intent on publishing poetry. Poetry is not economic enough.
But, at the core of a small press is the idea of forming a community, of introducing people to a world of poems. Small presses are also essential to giving a voice to writers who are completely invisible to large presses. For example, Graeper told us the story of how he discovered Jeannine Marie Pitas. While at Ugly Duckling, Garth found her translation of The History of Violets in a pile of unsolicited submission, a translation that the small press went on to publish. This fantastic and artful translation would have never been touched by a big 6 publisher. But, within the small press community book-making is hands-on, book-making is serious for reasons other than making money.
That is not to say that all the books large presses publish are lacking soul or meaning, but conveying the depth of the artist is not their primary goal. Small presses, even large small presses like Ugly Duckling, goal is to circulate meaningful and innovative writing to a specific community of, sometimes marginalized, people. They do not create books to appeal to the masses, but they create books to satisfy a need, to get their hands dirty, to create for the sake of creating.
After listening to Graeper share his perspective on the publishing world, as a whole, I think that there is a beautiful complexity within the world of publishing, and there is room for both large and small presses, because both are needed.
Learn more about Garth here: https://brooklynpoets.org/poet/garth-graeper/