Our Favorite Small Presses
As we round out the end of Small Press Month, and in celebration of all the great independent presses out there, Alternating Current staffers share their favorite small presses.
QUEEN’S FERRY PRESS
How does one judge a small press? The most obvious criterion is by the quality of the work that’s published, but equally important is the integrity of the press’ editor and staff. After all, it’s the people who choose the writers, who shape the writing, who package and market the titles. Therefore, because of Erin McKnight, founding editor and publisher — and her new, tireless staff — Queen’s Ferry Press is my favorite small press.
I had the pleasure of working with and getting to know Ms. McKnight during the process of getting my first book published, The Word Made Flesh. This was in 2012 when, to my knowledge, Ms. McKnight was the staff. The manuscript that she accepted for Queen’s Ferry’s imprint, firthFORTH Books, was a slim 58 pages, so one might think this would take a short week of edits: maybe one or two exchanges and off to the printer. After all, she had other submissions to read, other titles to promote. However, Ms. McKnight was as careful and thoughtful about perfecting my language as I was in crafting it. We went back and forth, Christ, probably ten times. At least. And it was never — not once — a frustrating experience. Rather, with every punctuation suggestion and syntax advice, she was teaching me. One might say that this is evidence of how sloppy my writing was! While I have no problem admitting my own writing flaws, I believe it is more testament to Erin McKnight’s editorial generosity: she gives herself over completely to the work.
As indefatigable as McKnight is, she has, in the past year, expanded her staff to include Kevin Wehmueller, Michael Evans, Melissa Schoeffel, Brian Mihok, and Adi Bracken. The result is an exciting catalog of staggeringly talented authors like Ethel Rohan, Aaron Burch, Kevin Grauke, Bayard Godsave, Heather Fowler, and so many other talents. One look at what’s forthcoming — titles by Sherrie Flick, Jen Michalski, Mel Bosworth, and Ryan Ridge — proves that Queen’s Ferry Press is just getting warmed up.
TWO DOLLAR RADIO
Looking back on my time as a blogger and reviewer, I credit Two Dollar Radio as one of the reasons I began setting my sights specifically on small press publishing. They’re a family-owned and -operated press based out of Ohio, and they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Owners Eric and Eliza continuously crank out amazing, edgy literature that transcends the boundaries of your typical publishing houses; they’ve challenged their readers to get inked and join their Tattoo Club for free books; they’ve kicked off a street team publicity campaign; and they’re now a micro-budget film producer, too! They are as grassroots and small press as you can get, and they never cease to impress. With titles like Termite Parade, The People Who Watched Her Pass By, and The Only Ones, you’ll fall in love with them, too.
Greying Ghost, a chapbook press located in Boston, makes some of the most gorgeous chaps I have ever laid eyes on. Each chapbook is an experiment in form and design. From the covers and the end pages to the typeset, it’s all just so damn perfect! They are released in limited quantities and individually hand-numbered. You only need to look at one to see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making it. When I first held one of their books in my hand, I knew I would want to own every single chapbook they made, and you will, too!
LAZY FASCIST PRESS
Welcome to the softcore world of bizarro fiction! An imprint of Eraserhead Press, Lazy Fascist Press publishes everything from minimalist dark comedies to twisted historical fiction and science fiction, and they have signed on some of the most influential contemporary authors out there today. Cameron, the head editor, does a fantastic job of discovering and publishing those authors who have a unique and impressive flair for language and storytelling. Over the years, I find myself turning to Lazy Fascist Press more and more often. Their books are extremely left-of-center, and yet incredibly accessible and relatable. With books like The No Hellos Diet, The Obese, A Pretty Mouth, and Motherfucking Sharks, they haven’t let me down yet.
When I first heard about Fiddleblack several years ago, I was overjoyed. A press that focuses on, essentially, precisely what I write? Could I ask for better news? The website was monochromatic, and the message very specific, yet obscure. It took a couple definitions of ‘antipastoral’ for Fiddleblack to convey accurately what they were all about. And still, when I finally got around to sending them Rene, a novella, they passed. It took several more revisions and some deep cuts and changes to get Jason Cook, Fiddleblack’s founding editor, to accept the story. From there, I’ve developed a working relationship with the press, eventually going on to produce the audiobook for Above All Men with them and with Dane Elcar, the book’s narrator.
Fiddleblack produces work unique to a lot of journals and presses in the literary world, in that they maintain a strict sense of self that goes beyond theme issues. Fiddleblack accepts work based in “self and place,” and everything they put their hand to is steeped in these ideas. I’m continually surprised by the breadth of concept they manage while maintaining an aspect that is unquestionably Fiddleblack: they’re dark, atmospheric. Heavy on the heavy. It doesn’t hurt that they dish up a lot of their fare with stylized art and particular introductions to their issues, and their print work, including Charles Dodd White’s A Shelter of Others and Karin Anderson’s breach, are delivered with moody, haunting trailers. I look forward to every broadcast, podcast, tweet, and Facebooking that comes along from them, and I’m very much looking forward to their next project.
There is something about the Hobart attitude. I’m pretty sure they were the only booth at AWP last year offering complimentary shots of whiskey with every merchandise purchase. Their book publishing is under SF/LD (Short Flight/Long Drive Books). The two I have in paperback, Dylan Nice’s Other Kinds and Mary Miller’s Big World, are nice postcard-sized paperbacks that fit in your back pocket. My favorite one from the press is Chloe Caldwell’s novella, Women, and I bought that for Kindle. The common threads in their publications seem to be: passion, grit, and authenticity.
— Al Kratz
WRITE BLOODY PUBLISHING
Write Bloody Publishing is a small publishing house based out of Austin, Texas. Founded in 2004 by Derrick Brown, the press focuses on contemporary poets who aren’t afraid of public speaking. One of the main guidelines for publication with them is to have the ability and willingness to tour heavily (at least 20 dates per year according to their website). Not surprisingly, their authors tend to be popular spoken-word poets. The press seems dedicated to making modern poetry not only accessible, but also popular to mainstream audiences. Their touring mandate is geared toward helping poets build a grassroots fan base. They are big on shelf promotion. For their book covers they use modern artists, photographers, and designers in an attempt to keep them looking fresh and appealing. The result is beautiful collections of poetry with kick-ass covers.
I discovered Write Bloody Publishing at the library. I had checked out Sarah Kay’s collection, No Matter the Wreckage (published in 2014), and enjoyed both the look and content of the book. The press name was also on the cover and with a name like that, combined with a great collection of poems, I wanted to see if they had more to offer. They do. I recommend browsing their shop to anyone seeking some of the best, realest poetry of our time. If you’re someone who’d love to see more poets being treated like rockstars, this is definitely the press to support.
— Cetoria Tomberlin
Uno Kudo is pretty damn badass. Editors Bud Smith and Chuck Howe consistently publish beautifully designed and arranged paperback anthologies that are gratis to contributors. I have two of their anthologies, First Time (an anthology about lost virginity) and Too Much: Tales of Excess. Uno Kudo publishes essays, poems, and short stories. Give ’em your best.
— Misti Rainwater-Lites
I got my first taste of commercial publishing in February of 2013, when I entered a Twitter pitch event and an editor from REUTS Publications favorited one of my pitches. Since then, I’ve gotten to know, and love, not just the press but the people behind the press. When they say that they want to treat their authors the way they want to be treated as writers, they aren’t kidding. Specializing in Young Adult and New Adult fiction, REUTS has published, and will be publishing, works that sit in between genres and categories. They’re also a press that isn’t just interested in the book that is being submitted to them, but the writer behind the book. While they don’t accept everyone who submits to them, they do take on authors who may need more time in the editing process. This, along with their transparency and the amount of freedom they give their authors, really has REUTS standing out against other small commercial fiction presses.
I came across Atticus Books a few years ago when I first started researching literary magazines and publishers that I might want to submit to one day. Anyone who wants to publish literary fiction that “[falls] between the cracks of genre fiction and compelling narratives that feature memorable main characters” had my attention. Writing something like that both then, and now, is what I aspire to do. It wasn’t just this, or their name that drew me in, but also their witty mission statement, and the books that they’ve managed to publish since I’ve been watching them. I was even a big fan of their blog series: “The Book I Will Never Write,” in which a blogger writes emails about, literally, the book he will never write. I think what has me the most captivated by this small press is the caliber of book they manage to put out. Books like The Shimmering Go-Between by Lee Klein are waiting in my “to be read” pile, and will keep me coming back and impatiently waiting for the next Atticus book.
MG Press is everything that I look for in a small press. They have a niche market, for starters, and it’s a golden one: the Midwest. A region near and dear to my heart and as hard to pin down as clouds. MG focuses so wholly and so fully on the Midwest, its feel and vibrancy, all the good and bad that it is and the sturdiness of its inhabitants, that you will feel like you own a piece of the conflicted region after one flip through MG’s quarterly journal, Midwestern Gothic. MG publishes a select number of books about the Midwest or by Midwestern authors, looking for a unique feel in each that is unquestionably regional, yet universal, including my favorite book of the past year, Above All Men. Ever-expanding, they are growing in the direction that a press should when it cares about the people it represents: adding The Lake Prize, the Voices of the Middle West small press fair, and working with educational outreaches that produce such gems as their latest publication, Tell Me How It Was: An Anthology of Imagined Michigan Histories, perspectives on history through the eyes of eighth graders at Scarlett Middle School. This is what the small press is about.
ROSE METAL PRESS
Rose Metal Press “is an independent, not-for-profit publisher of hybrid genres specializing in the publication of short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse or book-length linked narrative poems; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.” They give a home to the quirky, offbeat hybrid stuff that is so hard to place elsewhere, but so beautiful when it is laid out in the stunning fashion in which Rose Metal cares for each of their books. Every book is truly a work of art, and that is not something that every press can boast. For years, I have been blown away by the consistent level of quality and craftsmanship that has gone into their books. Anyone who says you can’t judge a book by its cover has never seen one of Rose Metal’s, and it tickles me to pieces that someone exists out there giving a home to these wacky, unconventional pieces that are so deserving and so unique.
Post originally published on 3/30/15