Saturday, July 05, 2008

The State of Small Presses

While browsing blogs about book publishing, I discovered this very interesting article written by Seth Abramson on his blog "The Suburban Ecstasies." The article is called 2008 State of Small Presses. In his post, he mathematically breaks down the submission requirements of 100 poetry presses to determine if it really is as impossible for a poet to be published as believed. Here is an excerpt from that post:

Recently I've been thinking about how best to help a colleague of mine whose first manuscript is probably the best first collection I've ever read.

As always, my mathematically-inclined way of thinking has been pushing me to determine the best course of action in this situation through research, rather than intuition or rumor. Specifically, I found myself wondering whether, in fact, the old complaints about the book-publishing industry are true: that is, whether or not a young poet in America with no connections amongst the editor set stands a snowball's chance in hell of getting a first book published outside the contest system (taking into account the continued irony that small-press publishers are just as likely as the rest of us to bemoan the shortcomings of that system, particularly the fact that so many young poets lack the financial resources to enter into it).

I decided, in the spirit of this blog--which has always been highly conversant with numerical analysis, despite the fact that I'm a poet--to do [what I imagine is] the first-ever assessment of the openness of American small presses to unsolicited work. Given the absolute inviolability of the large trade houses to first-book authors, and the admirably democratic--but for too many twenty-somethings, essentially unaffordable--contest system (much of which is connected to an excellent second category of publishing ventures, the university press system), it would seem that the small independent press is one of the last bastions of hope for a young, talented writer like the colleague I mentioned above who's looking to publish a first manuscript.

[NB: And no, this isn't one of those "I have this friend..." gambits; I truly and actually am trying to think about how to help another poet I've recently met, and this has nothing to do with my own work whatsoever. I was lucky enough, myself, to last September find a publisher for my first book that I couldn't possibly be happier with].

What I did was visit the websites of fully one hundred independent presses, drawing their names from the best-seller lists for the past year at the Poetry Foundation and Small Press Distribution websites. Incredibly (and fortuitously, given my limited mathematical skills), adding up the data from every single press listed in a year's worth of SPD best-seller lists, as well as the current Poetry Foundation best-seller list, got me to exactly 100 independent poetry presses.

Here's what I found:

Go to Seth's blog to read the rest. His process of analyzing the statistics and what he concludes is fascinating. Medusa's Muse is not a poetry press, but I wonder how close these statistics are to that of fiction publishers? Even though there are thousands of small, independent publishers in the industry, is it still just as hard to get published as it always has been? I'd love to hear your comments.

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