On Wednesday, October 16, my Small Press Publishing class had the honor of poet and editor Garth Graeper speaking to us and answering questions about the publication field through Skype. In addition to Ugly Duckling Presse, Graeper also worked with the Big Six publishers Penguin Random House and Knopf, and was willing to give insight into the differences between the inner workings of smaller press and the bigger corporation publications. My chosen question concerned the differences between the publication selection processes of the two groups. One of the biggest differences is that the larger corporations require writers to have an agent first, often as confirmation that the person in question is someone of note for marketing purposes and that the manuscript is already high quality. Without one, writers are unlikely to be seriously considered for publication at the bigger publishing houses which also are not as open to unsolicited submissions. This is strongly contrasted with smaller presses which widely encourage first-time publications and do not strongly enforce the need for a literary agent as assurance, even working closely with the writers themselves for editing. The lack of a dominant monetary incentive overall is especially evident with the smaller presses, many of which, like Ugly Duckling, are often nonprofit with a small staff. Once again, compare this with the larger publishing houses which all too often “define success according to profit margins” (Entropy). Another difference between the two is the amount of detail that goes into the smaller press publications. I was particularly impressed with Graeper’s behind the scenes look on Kickstarter at the letterpress printing process for History of Violets, written by Marosa di Giorgio and translated by Jeanine Pitas. The cover graphics are absolutely gorgeous and demonstrate the tremendous care and thought that are painstakingly put into the publication process by the smaller presses. Contrast with the larger publications which are more likely to accept manuscripts that are already polished and edited and tend to boast covers with printed stock photos.
Another interesting point that Graeper discussed was the act of balancing familial obligations with the demands of working in the publication world. While it can be tricky maintaining such hefty responsibilities, everyone evidently handles it separately and chooses to go about it in separate ways. Personally, I think it is admirable when someone is able to give equal amounts of time to family matters and a career, especially considering how hands-on and intricate either responsibility alone can be. For example, a crisis could be going on with the printing process that needs sorted out immediately, but tackling it is complicated if there is a sick child at home or a prior scheduled school meeting with teachers. Handling such scenarios requires much patience and forbearance from the person confronted with them due to the emotional and physical stress they can cause.
Entropy. “Ugly Duckling Presse.” Entropy Magazine, The Accomplices LLC, 24 March 2015, https://entropymag.org/ugly-duckling-presse/