Thursday, March 12, 2009

Small Presses & Books

Since becoming publisher of The New Haven Review, I've received a slow but steady exposure to the universe of smaller presses. These are precious commodities in our country. They are the publishers, sometimes of last resort, for writers of fiction both great and good who can get neither the ear nor eye of a literary agent or a major publishing house. Since these last are always considering the respective costs and benefits of publishing a book that may never sell more than 500 copies, the many authors who feel neglected should hardly come as a surprise. This reality is especially onerous for poets.

Notwithstanding the suggestion that there are more writers than ever, the presence of an Internet or the existence of desktop publishing software do not in and of themselves bequeath the mantle of author to anyone. Owning a bit of software or blogging away do not supply in some automated fashion the length and coherence required to generate this thing we call a "book."

Even as digital phenomena, Kindle-ized, books demand a level of structure and craft, whether long novel or collection of essays, that no software or hardware tool can pre-generate.

A book is, first and foremost, an act that rarely repays, one born of love and desperation. It matters not if we speak of disseration or science fiction novel: it is an investment of time and sometimes of money--if not directly from your bank account then as some type of opportunity cost. Little presses play a critical role in providing that stamp of approval, even if it is a small one, to this act. It acknowledges such achievements more profoundly than, say, this blog entry I'm writing, which will sail out into the digital nethersphere, without an eye to eyeball it.

So let's hear it for little presses. We need them more than we might imagine.

Bennett Lovett-Graff
Publisher, New Haven Review

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