We here at Book Punks like to promote voices that fall beyond the confines of mainstream norms, which is one reason of many why we like to holler at some of the independent publishers who add some much needed diversity and edge to the publishing industry. If you want to know more of the reasons why we want to promote the important work these smaller publishing houses do, have a look at Nikki’s post about Aqueduct Press; she says it all way better than I probably would, and I am nothing if not a lazy writer who sees no point in repeating her work.
Which brings me to my point, which is to tell all y’all about a little publishing house called Small Beer Press. Founded in 2000 by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, Small Beer Press publishes a really awesome zine called Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (collections of really weird and awesome speculative fiction shorts and poetry, LCRW for short) chapbooks, and, you know, book books.
Co-founder and co-captain Gavin Grant was awesome enough to answer a few of my questions back in the distant past of 2014, and I think he can tell you about Small Beer Press in a much more personal and charming manner than I possibly could, so without further ado…tada!
Book Punks: Can you tell me a little bit about the conversation or thought process that led to the creation of Small Beer Press? What was the original name that you refer to as a bad joke? How did you decide on the name Small Beer Press? I’m dying to know!
Gavin Grant: The name Small Beer is on me. I loved all the different aspects of it: one of the meanings of small beer is the second beer brewsters would make from their beer mash. It was a weaker beer for family consumption rather than for sale. Imagine having a small beer for breakfast. That would make the seventeenth century a lot more palatable. Small beer also means something like “small potatoes” which I suppose was me saying feel free to ignore us, whereas I obviously think that we’re putting out some great books. But if we’d called the press The Best Press, ack, who’d buy a book from us?
Naming things is hard! When I started LCRW I thought through all the easy names: Fiction, Story, Short Stories, Good Stuff, The New Yorker, but they were all taken or no use so eventually it got quite baroque. Especially for a zine that was pretty much inspired by punk zines! I’ve never been a huge punk music fan but I love the DIY ethos. So there’s one of the creative frictions that define the zine.
BP: I know in your explanation of the zine, you mention you wanted to give a voice to authors who fall between the cracks. Is there any particular kind of creative voice you particularly want to share with the world via Small Beer Press?
GG: This is a reformulation of that ever so popular question: “What do you mean when you say you’re looking for a fresh voice?” And it doesn’t even have to be a fresh voice. We’re just looking for stories we haven’t read before. We tend towards the fantastic, either lightly or all the way up to tentacled creatures in a different galaxy — ok, not sure we’ve published that story yet. As with any editors, we’re looking for stories that keep us reading. The world is a shiny, fascinating place (look, it’s some of the most fascinating people in the world trying to charm you in 140 characters!) so we’re looking for voices that will draw readers in and immerse them in the story until when the end comes they’re surprised to find the day-to-day world still there.
BP: What are the differences between selecting work for the zine versus selecting something that goes into a collection in book form, and why do you think it’s important to keep promoting authors in both formats?
GG: I love that, even when I co-edited one of the Year’s Best annual anthologies, most of the writers we’d publish in LCRW were new to me. LCRW has a very broad readership. It goes out into the world and finds readers looking for they don’t quite know what, and that’s what we publish. LCRW has always fallen between the cracks. It’s got space for new authors, popular authors, space for stories that wouldn’t find a home elsewhere. I think that may be less true than it was when we started but it’s irresistible. We read the submissions, feel like giving up, then come across something that just cracks the world right open, so how could we not publish it? We always wanted LCRW to be accessible to new writers as well as to have strong enough stories to attract a broad readership.
BP: I know this will be akin to asking you to pick a favorite child, but are there any publishing successes of which you are particularly proud?
GG: Well we only have one child so that would be an easy question. But just this year we published six books, 4 ebooks, a chapbook, and two zines. For every title we’ve published, there’s always some aspect of getting out it there, finding readers, that we’re particularly proud of. Sorry to squirrel out of the question!
BP: Lastly, what are some upcoming titles that we should be excited about?
GG: When you sent this question the books I was excited about were Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Shakespearean-titled Prophecies, Libels, and Dreams and Delia Sherman’s Young Woman in a Garden — though both those books are now out. So is it okay to say I’m still excited by them? Or should I be talking about next year’s books?
It’s easy to be excited about Ayize Jama-Everett’s two novels (The Liminal War and The Entropy of Bones). He writes propulsive science-fiction, and I can’t wait to get them to readers. We also have a new YA novel coming from our Big Mouth House imprint, Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace, which starts off dark, goes to the underworld, just gets better, and is amazing.
The funny thing about publishing is that my distributors are asking me for information on the next series of books: fall 2015 and spring 2016. Don’t tell them, but we’re so not ready.
BP: Doubly lastly, any anecdotes you feel like sharing about, well, anything having to do with indie publishing and the realm of Small Beer would be super awesome.
GG: One of the best and most surprising aspects of publishing is how much people help one another. We knew nothing when we started. Kelly and I had worked in bookshops so we knew our books had to look enough like other books that they would not be rejected on just that basis. We asked so so many questions, we had so many mentors and got so much help. One person who helped a ton and was so open to pulling everyone along was Allan Kornblum of Coffee House Press. He was so friendly and answered so many questions. There’s nothing like showing up at some huge book show where you know no one and some guy comes over says hi and helps out a little as you set up. He was an inspiration. I have no idea how he found the time because I am never able to keep up.
Publishing’s a mix of art and commerce—for a while I used to say that our business was mutating art into commerce—and that makes it fascinating. The business of publishing is aways changing, yet people still love to read. We may or may not still be around in another thirteen years, who knows?!, but in the meantime we will continue to try and put out great books.
Aaaand back to Book Punks…
I don’t know about you guys, but I REALLY want to read Archivist Wasp.
In the coming month(s) we’ll be featuring reviews of some Small Beer Press titles. I already reviewed one, Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, so go ahead and click on that little link to see what I have to say about it. So, stay tuned, and long live indie publishing.