5 Tips for Starting Your Own Small Press

After the MFA, writers often take on projects that will keep them engaged in the world of creative writing and publishing. Perhaps the most ambitious entrepreneurial work an MFA alum can undertake is the creation of a small press.

The rewards are obvious: small presses publish some of the most innovative, challenging, and unique books on the market. But starting a small press is a big challenge, and seeing a manuscript through the many stages of publication requires a broad skill set that not every writer has.

A number of alumni of the MFA Creative Writing Program at The New School in New York City have created their own presses. Here are 5 top tips from New School alumni on how to make it happen:

  1. When soliciting manuscripts, don’t underestimate word-of-mouth.

    Kate Angus, founder and co-editor of Augury Books, says, “Having writers we know pass the word along to their friends, students, and acquaintances brought many new manuscripts our way that we wouldn't otherwise have seen.”

    Justin Marks, co-editor of Birds, LLC, emphasizes the importance of reading widely: “You never know what you'll come across that is a potential fit for what you're doing as a publisher. The more voices, the better.”

  1. Editing means helping to shape a book into the best version of itself.

    Ben Fama, co-founder of Wonder, argues that copyediting a book requires a thorough understanding of the author’s project in order to suggest edits that bring out its best qualities. Angus agrees, but cautions, “Don't overedit; it's not your own book.”

  1. When it comes to designing a book, trust your collaborators.

    For many writers-turned-editors, book design is not necessarily part of their skillset. Fama puts it plainly: “Hire a designer.” Angus, who has worked regularly with designer Mike Miller, urges editors to defer to their collaborators and “trust people who have better aesthetics than you.”

    Justin Marks connects book design with sales and marketing: “When you're thinking about design, try to also think about how the book will look on a shelf or on a table at a book fair. Will it stand out? Will it be something people will want to pick up and hold?”

  1. Work with a distributor.

    Augury Books, Birds, LLC, and Wonder all work with Small Press Distribution (SPD). Augury staff initially distributed books themselves, but they soon became too large to fill their own orders. Wonder worked with SPD from the beginning. Marks says of SPD, “The people there are great and have a genuine love for small presses.”

  1. Leverage social media for publicity.

    Most small presses can’t afford publicists, so it’s often essential for the press and the author to share in publicizing a book. Social media is a great and low-cost place to start. Fama suggests starting with a single social media platform as a way to develop your profile and engage with other presses and your potential audience. “Social media can be daunting, so sticking to one platform helps. Encourage your authors to do the same.”

Students in The New School’s MFA Creative Writing program have the opportunity to work hands-on with preeminent literary magazines and presses in New York City. The Writing and Publishing Lab connects students with internship opportunities at Guernica magazine, the Academy of American Poets, and the National Book Foundation, among others. John Freeman’s literature seminar takes students through every stage of making, editing, promoting, publishing, and digitally distributing the print journal Freeman's, published by Grove Atlantic.

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