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We Who Are Small Desk Press.

August 26, 2010 \pm\31 12:12 pm

D.W. Lichtenberg put out a call for indie press publishers to share their tales of empire building–both creative and financial. In response, I’ve interviewed myself, at Small Desk Press, using Melissa Broder’s questions for Ampersand Books which I have altered a bit for sense making purposes.

Me: So, are you rich yet?

Yes! We have about 6,000 dollars to spend on publishing sweet books.

M: Why did you decide to start a publishing house?

A few years back, several of us started the press together, and probably all for different reasons. Our friend and professor, Truong Tran, encouraged us to do it and he helped us get started. We thought we would be good for the local lit community, and we wanted to provide the type of access to being published, to having a real book with your name on it, that we all wanted for ourselves. We all agreed that we wanted to publish writing by emerging writers. Sometimes you see presses or journals that say they’re committed to publishing emerging writers publishing poetry professors who already have like 5 books out. We didn’t think that those people needed the support as much so we’ve only published people’s first books so far. I personally keep chipping away at publishing because it’s very fun and exciting when a book comes out. Also, while all of our authors are incredible, I think that, without us, it may have taken longer for some of their books to have come out because they were a little too edgy or a little too much about poop. I’m proud that we brought these great books into the world in a relatively timely manner.

M: How did you get the cheddar to start Small Desk Press? Did you pay out of pocket? Investors?

We held art auctions. Our friends donated art, beer, and their musical talent. People came out and bought stuff.  We really wouldn’t exist if this group of generous people in San Francisco didn’t think that publishing these books was worth their time and money. I found that a lot of people, when the given the opportunity, were very excited to contribute to something like this. It really just involved tapping in to our network of friends and family. Making lots of phone calls. We need to start organizing another one, although I’m a little concerned about putting together an art auction in this economy.

M: Does Small Desk Press have a business model?

Not exactly. We have a fiscal sponsor, meaning, a non-profit company takes care of our taxes and in exchange, they take a small cut of our dough each year (10%). We try to sell as many books as possible at the book launch. Asking for a cover charge at the door that includes a copy of the book seems to work well. It’s something I’ve seen some lit mags do, so we are doing that now. Also, we sell books directly to classes that teach them. That can be a nice chunk of income. Direct sales are really the only way for us to regain significant money from a publication. Small Press Distribution is amazing because they get your books to wherever they need to be, you don’t have to worry about keeping track of them, and they do pay you. But for obvious reasons, we make much more money from direct sales. We want to be a sustainable press. Meaning we’re gonna keep working slow and steady. I think it’s important that a press establishes itself as an entity, and being around for a long time helps to do that. We’ve always printed runs of 1000 books. But with print-on-demand quality getting better that might be something we look into in the future. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to make 1000 copies a book that realistically may only sell 200 or 300. Although, on the other hand, as a writer, I’d much prefer the traditional run of 1000 offset-printed books.

M: In your experience, what sells books?

In my experience, in terms of small press publications, a writer’s book sells better if that writer is going out, reading a lot, and being an active participant in the literary community.

M: What generates excitement?

Hmm.  That’s a great question Melissa. Maybe a group of friends and colleagues of the writer who believe in the work and are excited about it. They go out and tell their friends, and pretty soon the whole world wants a copy.

M: What doesn’t sell books?

I don’t know. Bad writing and hard times.

M: Last year I asked you if I should go to AWP in Denver. I believe your exact words were: “That money might be better spent on hookers and blow.” I went anyway. Will we see you in a booth in DC this February?

I did not say that! You’re so silly. We went and repped Small Desk Press. It was fun. We might go to DC. We’ll see. Why are you driving? Can we have a ride?

M: Ampersand published its first book, Joseph Riippi’s Do Something! Do Something! Do Something! just over a year ago. Since then they’ve published four full-length books, plus a chapbook, and they have four more on deck. Why haven’t you published anything in a year?

Well, that’s really awesome that Ampersand was able to do all that. Good work! 80% of our press turned over a year ago to focus on their own projects, and our book designer and Senior Editor moved to Vietnam, so we’ve been taking time to recoup and rebuild.  I think that most small presses are run by people with other creative endeavors, and that if you want the press to survive, you have to know when it’s time to chill out a little bit and work on your own writing, music or whatever. It’s not worth beating yourself up over. In terms of Small Desk Press, we have some great new people working on the press, and our next book, Monster Party, should be coming out in the fall. We’re stoked!

M: What do you look for in a potential Small Desk Press book besides a hairy author?

Our authors are not usually terribly hairy so it’s funny that you mention that. We like stuff that is taboo and raw and gutsy in terms of content and/or form. I’m a sucker for writing about sex and blood and poop and death and all that bodily stuff. We also tend to publish work that’s not perfectly polished: that has raw emotional content and maybe a few sloppy lines.  Sometimes we work a lot on a manuscript with an author if we feel like it could be better, which is something that takes a lot of time but I think this goes along with our mission of publishing emerging writers.  Sometimes we publish work as is. It’s also nice to publish people who you think you might like to work with. You end up communicating a lot with a person who you publish. Luckily the people we’ve published are all pretty cool, but I can’t imagine how much it would suck to publish someone who was a jerk. And we all know people who are great writers and total jerks.

M: Currently, Dustin Heron is the only man published by Small Desk Press. Is it a women’s club?


M: What would you be doing if you weren’t manning the helm?

I would surf just a little bit more.

M: Sounds promising. Do you own a Kindle?

No, but I just bought a smart phone. It’s great! I can read the surf report while texting my sweetie and driving!

M: Tell me about your life before you became a publisher? Where have you lived and why did you move around so much?

Well, I lived in Daly City until I was 2. At that time in my life, I was primarily interested in pulling weeds out of the cracks in sidewalks and chewing on the windowsill. After that I lived in Concord, CA, until was 19. I mainly remember sneaking into the movies, playing in punk bands, hanging out with the Mormon kids (who were crazy), and skateboarding a lot.  Then I moved to San Francisco, where I became the publishing mogul that I am today. I lived there for 8 years. Now I live in Brooklyn, where the pizza is great and the burritos are terrible.

M: You live in St. Pete now. Why Florida?

I just told you that I live in Brooklyn. Why is this so confusing?

M: How are the beaches looking post-oil-spill?


  1. Richard D. Allen permalink
    August 26, 2010 \pm\31 4:07 pm 4:07 pm

    Monster parties: fact or fiction?

  2. August 26, 2010 \pm\31 6:30 pm 6:30 pm

    Small presses have introduced some amazing voices to the world. Congratulations on all your efforts and hard work.

    B. Lynn Goodwin
    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

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