No, this isn’t a blog about male enhancement products, but it certainly is an eye-catching headline, isn’t it?     :smileywink:

I’ve always been a fan of small presses, especially when it comes to genre fiction. Big-league publishers are all about finding works that will appeal to a wide audience of readers – stories that generally fit into well-defined category niches: adventure fantasy, military science fiction, epic fantasy, etc. But some stories aren’t so easily classified – or so easily palatable – and, in the eyes of many mega-publishers, are considered simply commercially unviable.

But guess what? Some of the very best SF, fantasy and horror I’ve ever read has come from small presses. Stepan Chapman’s surrealistic masterwork The Troika, published by The Ministry of Whimsy Press in 1998, is arguably one of my favorite – and most singularly unique – novels of all time. The Damp Chamber and Other Bad Places by Frank Chigas, released by Medusa Press, is a jaw-droppingly brilliant collection of horror stories that, when I reviewed it in 2003, I described as having “the stylish storytelling prowess of Stephen King, the audacious gruesomeness of H.P. Lovecraft… and the cerebral machinations of Algernon Blackwood.” This creepy collection is just as good if not better than any horror collection I’ve read in the last decade. Bill DeSmedt’s Singularity, published by Per Aspera Press in 2004, is an action-packed blend of hard science fiction and mainstream techno-thriller that will have fans of writers like Michael Crichton standing up and applauding. Golden Gryphon’s stunningly produced 2004 release Secret Life by Jeff VanderMeer is a speculative fiction gem that is one of my most cherished books. In fact, featuring mind-blowing jacket art by Scott Eagle, I consider this a priceless work of art. And this year’s paranormal fantasy phenomenon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, was published by Philadelphia-based Quirk Books, which has all of 12 employees!

But not all small press releases are literary treasures. If truth be told, some of the worst stuff I’ve ever read has come from small presses. Books that I’ve actually ripped apart or thrown against the wall in disgust. (I’ll refrain from citing specific examples.)

The reality of things is that, just like the big publishers, small presses have their share of successes and failures. Most small press releases fall somewhere between masterpiece and piece of trash – like Sara M. Harvey’s The Convent of the Pure, which was published earlier this year from Apex Publications. This unlikely fusion of steampunk, Biblical myth and (lesbian) romance was a highly enjoyable read – and had so much potential…. My only criticism is that it was too short (138 pages). There was so much opportunity for more richly descriptive world building, a more historied backstory, a deeper – and more intimate – exploration of the two main characters’ relationship, etc. I wanted more – and that’s a good thing. Hopefully Harvey’s second installment – The Convent of the Pure is the first book in a projected trilogy – will be more substantial...

But Harvey’s novel exemplifies why small presses are so invaluable to genre fiction. Small presses find – and ideally fill – specialty niches in the market. They publish works that may have been considered too controversial or risky – or just downright bizarre – for bigger publishers. Some small presses (like Quirk Books) have numerous employees and have released hundreds of titles. Others are essentially a one-man (or woman) operation run out of a basement or spare bedroom. Small press releases are as diverse as the people who run them – to paraphrase a Gumpism: small presses are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

So does the size of a press really matter? Absolutely not. In fact, if you’re like me and enjoy discovering weird and wonderful literary gems that mainstream America may have missed, I’d make a conscious effort to seek out and sample some small press titles. The risk is definitely worth the reward.
Message Edited by paulgoatallen on 05-13-2009 09:57 AM
Comments
by on ‎05-13-2009 09:29 PM

Paul,

 

I love this article and I have enjoyed some of the books from small presses too.  I generally find them in our small independant bookstore that we have around here.  I have got a few from BN online but have not seen any in our small local BN.  Once again you've done a great article.

 

Toni 

 

by on ‎05-13-2009 10:12 PM
Small presses are great. My uncle used to work for one, the only period where I liked his presents. It just finding the books that's the problem.
by Saraphina_Marie on ‎05-13-2009 10:47 PM

Great article and thank you for the plug.  One of the reasons I wanted to sign with a small publisher is so I can do this sort of fun, genre-bending stuff!

And I think that niche of the weird and wonderful will always be important to the publishing industry. Thanks you also for bringing more light and attention to the small presses and all that they do for the readers of the world!

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-14-2009 11:45 AM
Great article, Paul.  With a title like that, how could I NOT read it?
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