By James Cain

So, why the small press you might say?

The small press provides a cultural contribution to society.

Mainstream publishing often takes a ‘safe’ line when selecting work for publication. Many fine stories and novels, which may be seen as a risky marketing venture, will only ever see print in the small press. Here you’ll find the borderline fiction, literature that defies convention and expectation. Experimental fiction or fiction that can be construed as dangerous or subversive. Pulp fiction that’s simply fun to read. And isn’t that traditionally, that’s what writing’s all about? Challenging society, igniting the mind and imaginations of readers and making them think and explore possibilities?

For a publisher though, this may not be an easy sell. To the financial investor it’s risky business: there’s no guaranteed of a good return. When viewed from a purely cultural perspective however, the small press is often where you’ll find your literary treasures.

Why is this?

The motivations of the small press publisher are different to mainstream publishing. Sure, we hope to make a buck, but we know at best we’ll only break even. From talking with the editors of long-established small press magazines in the United States it takes from 2-5 years of financial loss to build a magazine into a profitable entity. 2-5 years. Pfft – blow that says the investor.

Realistically, small press publishers are in it for the love of writing and the written word. If we make some money great, but regardless we’ll publish anyway while we can afford to, simply to get good writing out there. Unfortunately, more often than not, making money doesn’t happen. Publishing a small press magazine is an exhaustive task and thankless work. Is it any wonder we see so many small press magazines die within the first two years of inception?

In the small press, you’ll find the emergence of writing greats.

In the small press you’ll find the appearance of the writers of tomorrow. The learning ground of the next generation of literary giants, where writers are building reputations as professionals and refining their craft. You’ll have the delight of reading the early works of future greats. H.P.Lovecraft, Robert E.Howard, Michael Moorcock, all started out in the pulp magazines. It’s the place where emerging talent can get its first publishing successes. This all helps to build a foundation for a writer in search of that much-dreamt-of lucky break.

The small press is important for emerging writers applying for writing grants.

On a more practical level, in Australia, if you wish to apply for a grant with the Australian Council of the Arts, you need a number of published works to be eligible for application. Without these, your application will be automatically rejected. It’s not easy getting your first story published in a Pro publication. These required credits can be small press magazines however, so once again; the small press is essential for emerging talent.

The small press makes you eligible for “Year’s Best” anthologies and Awards.

Having a tale published in a Small Press magazine makes it eligible for consideration in the various Year’s Best anthologies and awards like the much coveted “Aurealis Award”. It’s up to you however, to ensure that you submit your tale to these places once it’s published.

You may think your tale may not receive much recognition in a small press publication, but having the tale make it to these other anthologies may give you the recognition you desire. Besides, making it as a finalist in the Aurealis awards looks great in your bio!

The small press is an opportunity to simply get read.

As a writer, the small press can be a great opportunity to simply get your stories read. Why do you write if not to be read? Having a story published is a delight anywhere, knowing you’ll be read, wondering how people are receiving your work. Hopefully you’ll make a fan or two. We write from love, and the small press should be seen as an opportunity to have our work read and hopefully adored. A small press magazine can become a collectable legacy item. After all, you have a magazine in your hand, that you can show friends and family containing “your work”. It may be years before you see your novel in print (if it sees print at all). A small press magazine can give you a taste of the dream.

The small press is important to established writers.

For an established writer, the small press is also vital. There are many, many books in the world, and a lot of competition. As a writer, to succeed you need a fan base. Even the large publishing houses will not continue to publish your work if you’re not selling copies. If a reader enjoys a sample of your work in a small press publication, then they may go out and buy your novel. In turn, tell their family and friends. Who knows how many fans you may make? The small press can be a great source of exposure.

The small press is significant in keeping the dreams of writers alive.

As an emerging writer, we often live a life of rejection. Sending out 30 submissions to publishers and having them all come back rejected can be very discouraging. Having a tale published in a small press magazine helps you keep the faith. Here’s a little magazine publishing you. An editor who has read and enjoyed what you have to offer. And if there’s one then there could be more, or so the thinking goes. I only have to believe in myself, and work, work, work toward my dreams and goal.

One day we’ll get there. One day.

Without the small press, emerging writers may lose hope and fall along the wayside. Is tomorrow’s Ernest Hemmingway, or Mark Twain out there working in K-Mart with a literary classic in his drawer? Without the encouragement of the small press, such a writer may lose heart. In the end, society may be culturally poorer without the small press encouraging hidden talent. For us as a species, that’s a tragedy.

Hints at getting published

As a small press publisher and emerging writer, I’ve learned a few practical lessons.

1) Get to know your market

If you want to get published in any magazine, you need to get a copy or two or three of the publication and read the sort of work they’re publishing. You may have the greatest romantic short story in the world, but if it’s not a good fit for a particular publication it will undoubtedly see the rejection pile. So, research your market.

2) Follow guidelines

Every magazine will have submission guidelines. Read them. Pay attention to what they have to say. Keep within the required word limit. Submit in the required format. You don’t want to irritate an editor and get them annoyed toward your submission even before they start reading. Especially pay attention to the ‘no-nos’ in such a list.

3) Make a professional submission

Try and pay attention to the little things – grammar, spelling etc. If you’re tale is sloppily presented, it may influence how your submission will be received. If it’s professionally presented, the editor will approach your work with respect and not immediately dismiss it as the work of an amateur.

4) Always be willing to learn

As a writer, always be open to new ideas and possibilities about your work. If you get feedback, put the old ego aside and listen to what the editor has said. Listen and decide if you can use what’s being said. They are reading your tale from a different perspective to you – one outside of your brain. Perhaps the image of what you’re trying to portray needs work? Perhaps there’s a gem in a rejection for you to learn and refine your writing craft? Perhaps – perhaps not? But if you don’t have an open mind to take feedback on board, you’ll stay static and won’t improve.

5) Believe in yourself

Believe in yourself and be true to your vision. If one publication rejects your tale, learn where you can, and send it out to a different publication. Have faith in yourself and your perception of what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re confident in a story and don’t think you can improve it, maintain that faith – that or put it aside for a little while. Take it up again a month later and see if you still feel the same.

6) Recognise not everyone will like your work

As humans we all have different tastes. Don’t take rejection personally. An editor never rejects “you”; they reject a sample of work. Perhaps it’s simply not to their individual tastes? Most probably it’s just not a good fit for a publication. Never take rejection to heart as a personal insult.

Beyond this, take rejection gracefully. I rejected one submission from a poet and received the reply “you asshole!!!”. Another accused me of ruining them from poetry for life. I’m human like the next guy. Those poets will not be appearing in my magazine. If you react to rejection with hostility, you’re only limiting your possibilities in the future.

7) Finally – persevere

Persevere and write, write, write. As Edgar Rice Burroughs once said: “If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favour.”

So, in culmination, why the Small Press?

To encourage, inspire, assist new writing. They’re vital from a cultural perspective and as an assist to mainstream publishing. Sure the writing may be rough at times, but you’ll often find a power and energy in those little stories lacking in “safe” fiction. The energy of life, the primordial power of writing that publishing seems to have lost along the way.

If you’re a reader, support small press publications. Who knows? You may enjoy it. Get behind the small press. Doesn’t cost much, but it’s essential to us all.

James R Cain is an Aurealis Award shortlisted author, and editor of Dark Animus, Australia’s premier Dark Pulp Fiction magazine. His debut novel, Ek Chuah, was published by Active Bladder in 2006.