Today, I have a guest post for you by Joanne Merriam, who is the editor of many amazing anthologies mentioned below, including two new books in the Women Up To No Good dark fiction series. She is also the owner of Upper Rubber Boot Books, which published one of my favourite books this year, Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. (Click here to see my 5-star review.)
If you’ve ever wondered how small publishers like Upper Rubber Boot Books work, wonder no further, because you’ll get at least some of your answers in this post.
In June 2009, the economy crumbling around me, I spent six weeks looking for work in Nashville, where I’d just moved with my husband. Every day, I applied to every new job posting for which I was even remotely qualified, and then had the rest of the day to come up with a business plan for Upper Rubber Boot Books. I had worked for five years at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia before immigrating to the States, but I didn’t know anybody in the publishing or writing worlds in Nashville, and was unlikely to get any sort of loan to start a business, especially when all the capital in the world had seemingly dried up the year before.
I started a Twitter literary journal, Seven by Twenty, now edited by Julia K. Patt (@chidorme), which published extremely short poems and stories, and began building an audience. I talked to a lot of people to get advice. I got in a bad car accident and spent six months recovering. I got a day job at a local hospital. Finally, two years later, I put together a best-of anthology of the short stories and poems I’d been publishing on Twitter, and ran a Kickstarter to raise money to publish it, and officially spoke Upper Rubber Boot Books into existence.
The name comes from a Nova Scotian expression for an insignificant, marginal, probably deeply unhip place, similar to the American “Podunk.” When I was still working for WFNS, I came up with the name so that I could use a non-existent press in examples and avoid besmirching some actual press. Continuing to use it for my own press was something of an inside joke with myself, made funnier because I wanted to publish marginal works: that is, the sort of books that have trouble finding a home.
For the first few years, I only published ebooks, in part because print runs were too much of a financial commitment, and in part because print-on-demand options were still reputed to be somewhat shoddy in quality, and in part because I only had the capacity to learn about so many things at once. I started putting out paperbacks of our new titles in December 2012 with Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days, co-edited by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum and Alexander Lumans.
Small publishers like me do pretty much everything except, in most cases, distribution and printing. I use Ingram for distribution to Barnes & Noble, Blackwell’s, Chapters, and independent bookstores worldwide, and Ingram’s print-on-demand service for everything they sell, and CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service, for titles sold through Amazon. I also do a small print run, usually 250 copies, of my non-poetry titles, to sell at conventions and the like. So what does “everything” entail? I contract with authors and editors and occasionally other presses, edit, copyedit, hire proofreaders, create ebook files, do layout and cover design, create advertising, do marketing and more marketing and yet more marketing, make sure credits and permissions are in order, negotiate with vendors, and attend conventions and trade shows. Sometimes I sleep.
It’s a good life, if busy. I’m lucky to have a job I love and a side hustle I’m passionate about. Making ideas turn into tangible, physical books is extraordinarily satisfying, and gives me the opportunity to work with a lot of writers, who are, as a group, some of the most thoughtful, kind, and generous people around. I’m a better human being for knowing them.
We’re living in interesting times in the book industry. Issues like monopoly power and predatory pricing, piracy, authors’ rights, and fair compensation are all coming to the forefront. Opportunities to interact in new ways are growing as technology matures. Writers can contact readers more directly. Readers can become book critics with tools like NetGalley. And tiny publishers like me can use tools like Kickstarter to reach readers directly and ask for pre-orders so they can pay their writers professional rates without going bankrupt. That’s what I’m doing right now with two books of feminist dark speculative fiction, Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good (edited by me) and Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up To No Good (edited by Octavia Cade), which I hope you’ll all check out! Click here to see the Kickstarter.
~ Joanne Merriam