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21 November 2010 2 Comments

Rejection: the Only Chance of the Small Press
Kevin Lucia
All rights reserved, 2010

In a recent conversation, a good writer-friend of mine expressed the following: “It’s too easy to get published these days. No one wants to hear the word ‘no’. No one wants to wait, anymore. To work on their craft, get better. There are too many small presses publishing too many bad books. This is not ‘freeing the writer.’ It’s destroying publishing.”

Not too long ago, a popular horror forum featured a thread about the difficulty in getting small press, POD novels – even with return policies – into chain stores. One of the reasons broached by myself and others was that possibly chain stories have been burned too many times by small presses who produced poor quality books, then died out quickly, leaving them stuck with low-quality stock no one would ever buy.

As a book reviewer with five plus years under my belt in a variety of paid and unpaid venues, I’ve reviewed countless of small press, mid-list, front-list and even a smattering of self-published novels. Without mincing words, in almost every case – with the exception of a select few small “specialty” presses – the mid-list and front-list titles were better written, despite the enduring myth that only small press writers care about their Art while writers with big publishers are just chasing the cash cow.

Times are changing, however. Leisure Fiction is a doomed free-fall. Other publishing companies are packing it in, merging, downsizing, changing their publishing models.

Sales are down.

Borders is struggling.

Barnes & Noble may be up for sale, though no one is exactly sure why.

The “Ebook” revolution has everyone shaking in their boots, but perhaps without good reason. Respected talents are losing patience with the New York scene and either self publishing themselves – like J. A. Konrath and Scott Nicholson – or moving to the small press.

History has shown – in this past article on Dark Scribe – how authors like Tom Piccirilli, Gary Braunbeck and Norman Partridge sought refuge from the horror crash of the early nineties in the small press. Indeed, with future small press titles forthcoming from Gary Braunbeck (Apex) and Brian Keene (Apex, Skullvines), and Keene’s new venture with Thunderstorm Books, Maelstrom, the small press seems perfectly poised to step up and fill the gaps, help keep horror alive.

And yet.

I wonder.

Every time I see a new literary mash-up, another vampire novel, zombie anthology, zombie novel coming from a small press, I wonder if the small press can really do it. With every NEW small press that springs to life overnight, that wonder turns into a hard ball of cold dread in my stomach, and my friend’s words come back to haunt me.

This is not ‘freeing the writer.’ It’s destroying publishing.

What’s the key to the future of small press horror publishing, especially in these changing times?



It sounds like harsh medicine. And some small presses do it. They have editors and gate keepers who actually say “No”, who actually judge on quality. But more small presses need to do it. And the ones who claim they’re too thinly staffed to have editors who actually look over manuscripts, prune them, edit them, even reject them?

They should close their doors. For the good of the small press.

Admittedly, I’m a new guy who doesn’t know much of anything. I’m not totally plugged into the New York publishing scene. Not a small press guru. But I do know this: rejection is a writer’s best friend.

Let me say that again: rejection is a writer’s best friend.

Tonight, I had a phone conversation with an acquisition editor at New York house about a proposal of mine. Said editor liked parts of the story….but wanted changes. Saw the holes where I didn’t. Suggested that several bits were “over done” and “cliched”, that I needed to rethink all that. The editor suggested I rewrite the proposal, flesh it out, and hit them again in a month or so.

I could say “Hell with it.” Write it the way I originally envisioned it. I’m sure one of the more respectable small presses would run with it, and print up a decently looking product in the process.

But. I’d never be forced to bend my ideas. To see past my own prejudices. In retrospect, every single one of this editor’s observations are on the money, and all ready my brain is cooking over better, more original ideas….that wouldn’t be possible without a “gatekeeper” guarding the way.

The small press has a chance to make things different. Especially those not entering the high-priced collectible market. To take full advantage of this chance, however, it needs to start saying ‘no’ far more often. Turning down projects. Rejecting stories that shouldn’t be published, because if they don’t…

…how will they ever push their writers to become what they so easily could be?

Rejection. A writer’s best friend.

And the small press’s best hope.

Kevin Lucia is the Review Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One, and he’s currently working on his first novel. Visit www.kevinlucia.net.