"The Dirty Little Secret"..Miss Snark wants MORE

Writes a Snarkling:

Of course the dirty little secret of many of the literary small presses is that many of their works of fiction and poetry are subsidized by the authors. My last book was published only because I turned over to the press $5,000 from a state arts council fellowship in fiction. The book did manage to get some nice reviews -- from PW, American Book Review, and various gay magazines -- and has sold enough copies that I've made some of my "investment" back in fairly substantial royalties.It seems fair to me. Like the authors you are discussing, I am an amateur and a hobbyist. It was a good enough experience that I am now trying to find a press who will let me subsidize my next story collection and avoid the Publish America/XLibris/iUniverse black hole.

Miss Snark retires to her fainting couch with this revelation.

I had no idea small literary presses wanted you to cough up dough. Probably because none of them would suggest it to Miss Snark for fear of a a stiletto heel to the noggin.

Agents are touting university presses now; my colleagues have placed several books there recently and I've sniffed around them a bit. I've slunk around to some smaller presses as well.

Is this "pay to play" experience wider than just the one?

Do tell. Miss Snark is not only all ears, she's tuned up her ear trumpet just for you.


Anonymous said...

This snarkling sniffs.
What he describes is barely a step above vanity publishing.
I read some "Mad Max" archives last night, and on some other blog recently a question was posed about the writer using their advance to promote their book with an implied imperative. Are publishers becoming nothing more than glorified printers?

Christine Norris said...

It's crazy. I agree with the above poster. I am with a small publisher and I have NEVER been asked to pay for anything. I did my homework. Of course, when you're dealing with poetry, that's a whole different animal. I am going to do some promotion, but every author should. The only things I'll be paying for are bookmarks, and that's my choice. I'll be at a promotional event before my release and want to have something on hand. My publisher designed them for me.

UGH! When are these people going to learn?? Money flows TOWARD the author.

Richard said...

Miss Snark, since I posted the original comment, I'll say that I first heard the phrase about literary small presses' "dirty little secret" in a conversation perhaps 25 years ago with Rochelle Ratner, poet, novelist and executive editor of The American Book Review. Some of the names mentioned in previous posts by Miss Snark as worthy small presses were doing this author subsidy back in the day. I don't know if these very prestigious presses still do this; I would doubt it.

But I can tell you that Red Hen Press rejected my original manuscript of short stories, saying that while they liked the material, they could not fit it in their publishing schedule. Then, months later, I and presumably others, got a mailing from them about contributing to the publication of books.

I offered to turn over to them a $5,000 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs that I had been awarded, they agreed to publish "The Silicon Valley Diet," and we signed a contract to that effect in June 1999.

I was totally pleased with everything the press did to promote the book, as well as its production. I doubt the $5,000 covered the expenses they laid out. As I said, the book has received some nice reviews and sells respectably for a short story collection by an unknown author from a small press.

I started in publishing back in 1974 as an editorial assistant in the then-nascent Fiction Collective, headquartered at Brooklyn College, where I was an MFA student. The Fiction Collective (whose successor is FC2) was upfront about being an authors' cooperative whose authors, once their manuscripts were accepted (and most were rejected -- I was in charge of getting the author-members to read and vote up or down on manuscripts), were expected to contribute money to the publication of their books.

Such authors as Russell Banks, Jonathan Baumbach, Raymond Federman, Ronald Sukenick, Steve Katz, and Marianne Hauser -- along with many others who are considered important writers of experimental prose from this era -- paid for the publication of the books. They were reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, many other papers and national magazines, and of course the trades.

I really don't know to what extent authors are subsidizing books with literary presses today, but I can assure you that this practice does exist, with both poetry and short fiction collections.

Anonymous said...

This isn't exactly the same, but a friend of mine got an offer from a U. Press to publish her Creative Non Fiction. No advance and the rest was up to her since from what I saw, the U. Press didn't extend their publicity beyond placing her in their catalog. When she asked what I thought about this arrangement, I told her to go ahead since having some experience working at a major publisher, I was pretty confident that no matter how hard she tried her essays weren't going to get noticed anywhere else. I think she's pleased, but it was not the kind of "first book experience" we all dream about.