The Society of Midland Authors this week hosted four local publishers—Victor David Giron of Curbside Splendor, Ian Morris of Fifth Star Press, Emily Clark Victorson of Allium Press, and Sharon Woodhouse of Everything Goes Media—to talk shop on a cold winter night, and it was heartwarming not only to hear about the positive state of publishing in Chicago but to witness the engaging conversation among publishers, writers, and other attendees who braved the brisk winter night to come up to the cozy Cliff Dwellers Club for the event.
It’s no secret that Chicago is home to a number of great publishers (how many? Come on, say it with me: 125!) who are doing interesting and creative things—much of which is breaking with convention, publishing in formats and print runs that so many New York publishers wouldn’t dream of. And, despite the ongoing blather about the demise of books and publishing, these four local presses show no signs of letting up. Indeed, Giron notes that Curbside Splendor, which was founded in 2009, published twelve books last year and will publish twenty books this year—no small plans for the relatively nascent house.
Giron isn’t alone when it comes to big plans. Woodhouse is expanding her publishing reach with Everything Goes Media, which builds on the success of Lake Claremont Press and Woodhouse’s other imprints to publish in a variety of subjects, from local history to gifts, lifestyle, hobby, business, current events, etc., etc.
“This is a time when small publishers can thrive—and are thriving,” says Ian Morris of Fifth Star Press, which publishes nongenre fiction and nonfiction, with a particular eye toward work concerning Chicago and the region.
That Chicago focus is something that runs like a golden thread through many local publishers, and it underpins much of the philosophy at Allium Press. Victorson notes that part of the reason she started Allium Press was because she kept hearing—much to her dismay—that Chicago titles were “too regional” and wouldn’t play elsewhere. (Wha—? Seriously.) This year, Allium Press celebrates its fifth anniversary of “rescuing Chicago from Capone … one book at a time.”
Victorson is making it work, even though her “regional” house continues to focus on titles with a Chicago connection. The success of Allium Press proves that “you don’t have to have a big Manhattan office” to make a go of publishing, says the publisher, who is based in Forest Park. In fact, Chicago’s literary scene is just one benefit that makes publishing here worthwhile. “It’s a real community here,” says Victorson.
These publishers agree that small presses can boast a number of benefits for authors that big houses elsewhere can’t match, from more creative control to increased collaboration to the face-to-face contact that so many large publishers can’t provide. Add in a thriving local literary scene that offers numerous author events and book signings, and small presses can be the perfect home for just about any author.
Morris of Fifth Star Press also notes that small presses can be much more nurturing for young or new authors, and even for authors who are looking for a second chance. Small presses, he says, can look beyond the “one and done,” “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” mentality that precludes so many big publishers from taking a chance on unproven authors, authors without enormous platforms, or authors whose previous books may not have met sales expectations.
Indeed, working closely with authors to make the most of their books is something local presses can do well—and maybe even better (at least in some ways) than big houses who can’t afford to focus marketing efforts on midlist titles. Woodhouse notes that partnering with authors is part of what they do best. “We help our authors make a cottage industry out of their books,” she says.
That said, the four publishers agree that they also understand the allure of publishing with “a big New York house,” and would encourage authors to go that route if they have the chance. But with these houses—and others throughout Chicagoland—expanding their reach, branching into new genres, and publishing more and more titles, authors local and otherwise would do well to consider publishing small, which could be just the big break they’re looking for.