Freedom from the Press: Why There is More Than Just Aiming High

Most writers do not make it to the top, and those who do, do not always get what they expect.

Garth Graeper is a poet and editor who has had experiences working in both small press and large press environments. Graeper was a former Ugly Duckling Presse editor and is currently an editor Penguin Random House.

graeper
Garth Graeper, poet and editor.  ©Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin University English Department

Presented with a chance to ask a question during a Skype interview, I asked Graeper whether authors have more freedom over works when publishing through a small press or through a larger press. My initial thoughts were that a small press, while it may have less restrictions or standards for individual authors, may have limited human resources. I expected a limited number of people able to assist authors would result in less association with editors and impose certain restrictive rules due to time constraints. I also thought that in a large press, an author would have more chances to meet with editors and make decisions, even though the press itself may be restrictive with content. According to Graeper, authors who publish via small press generally have more freedom over writing.

Graeper also shared other information regarding large and small presses based on his experiences. Graeper describes the “millions of little pieces” that make a big publishing house work. While the process is more systematic and limiting in some regards, Graeper notes the other job opportunities that are opened up, including the work of agents, more editors, and so forth. As someone who has been redirected by email to one too many times, I began to realize how limiting and difficult making changes may be with a large publisher. There are people who you will not know, people who you cannot quickly contact, and people who will not be able to help you in the way that you want. The hierarchical type of system also makes it harder on newcomers to such presses – something I had not considered initially, but have encountered in many other environments.

I asked the question out of curiosity as someone who would like to have work published through a publishing company in the future. As of now, I have only independently published through Amazon Kindle, but how much further I would want to go beyond that has always been a question of mine. Would my works be altered significantly? Would the change be for the better?  Would I rather be able to make more mistakes and get less readers for the sake of writing freely and feeling like I genuinely made my content alone?  There is a hidden cost to being a published writer that novices may not initially consider.

Working under a small publisher or big publisher boils down to the preferences of the author and what an author wants from the experience.  The most important step is just getting the works out there.

4 thoughts on “Freedom from the Press: Why There is More Than Just Aiming High”

  1. You brought up a lot of similar concerns I’ve been considering since diving into the English major at Saint Vincent. I have wanted to become a published author since age 12, but never truly pursued what that might involve. Now that I learn more and more about small presses, I understand that there is a significant difference of freedom between small and big name publishers. I never knew just how many options were out there to publish work, but self-publishing almost looks more appealing just for the grant of autonomy and guaranteed freedom you have on your work. It’s a lot to consider and I’m a little lost about it all, but you make a good point: “The most important step is just getting the works out there.”

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  2. I looked up your book on Amazon and it looks really cool! What was the process behind self-publishing with KDP? Did you design the cover yourself too?

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    1. The process is not really that hard at all, which is the most bizarre thing about it. In short, you basically need a document containing text, which can then be formatted using a variety of tools (including one that Amazon Kindle offers for free download called “Kindle Create”). Upload the formatted manuscript, a book cover, and other smaller pieces of information and you are good to go for the approval process. Paperback copies take a bit more work due to some technical things, but it really is one of the easiest ways to get a physical copy of your own book in your hands.

      The process should not be taken lightly even with the freedoms and ease-of-access it provides, however. Editors, pre-readers, illustrators, and other forms of help should still be part of the writing experience. I published the summer right before college began (age 18) and did not go through processes like I wish I would have to form these bonds with others. So yes, I did upload everything on my own (including the cover) without external help, but part of me wishes that I had not published yet and developed a bit more as a person and writer. Being an independent publisher really suggests that you should be able to connect with others to build a small team or community involved in your writing – this will help make quality work. Once college is out and I have this little thing called “time,” I plan on doing just that and have slowly been keeping my eyes out for artists, writers, and editors that I know more closely (not even professionals; just skilled people who I can trust). I think when post-college comes, I will have better work out there that I can be more proud and I will consider myself more of an author than I do now. Right now, I don’t even tell most people about my writing, because I know the writing in my first book is not all that it could be and I honestly get embarrassed. On the flip-side, I am happy that I did upload so early on, because I have been able to explore with social media, advertising, style (i.e. silhouettes on all my covers), forming confidence in what I write, and other skills that will be easier to jump into once I make something worthwhile.

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      1. Your mixed feelings about publishing so early are really understandable. The reason I haven’t ventured into the online self-publishing arena is that I’m afraid of messing something up. But on the other hand, sometimes the only way to learn is through trying something new and accepting that you’ll make mistakes. It definitely takes a courageous leap of faith to put your work out in the world where anyone can see it (and criticize it).

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