At Little Patuxent Review’s annual reading this past March, we were lucky enough to hear fiction by Ian Anderson, the founder and editor-in-chief of Mason Jar Press. In this guest post he shares some “lessons from a publisher.”
Mason Jar Press is an independent press based in Baltimore that specializes in handmade, limited-edition chapbooks and full-length publications by established and emerging writers. Recent publications include The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado, by Dave K, and Not Without Our Laughter, by the Black Ladies Brunch Collective and edited by celeste doaks (celeste and others from the BLBC also contributed to our recent winter issue).
There are two important questions that you should ask yourself when looking for a publisher. The first is, “Am I the right author for this publisher?” The second: “Is this publisher the right one for me?” It’s this second question that is most often overlooked by writers, especially those taking their first steps into the world of publishers, and it can make the difference between having a good experience or a bad one. Most writers aspire to have a book one day, so it can be tempting to go with just anyone who will make that happen. But if it’s a bad experience, that can be worse than no book at all—for both you and the press, and no one wants that. To avoid this, before you even start looking for a publisher, you need to know what kind of book you want in the world.
Is being in Barnes & Nobles (these still exist as I’m writing this) important to you? Is having a say in the design of your book important to you? Are you trying to reach a specific audience? Does the quality and form of the finished product matter? The answer to these questions (and a hundred others you need to consider) can eliminate some publishers and help you focus on ones that fit for you. Here’s the rub, though. There are tradeoffs to some of these questions. For example, if you’re trying to get on the New York Times Bestsellers list, you’re better off trying to get in with a bigger publisher, but they probably won’t ask your opinion on the cover design beyond, “Is your name spelled right?”
Tough decisions might have to be made.
This is because, when we talk about publishers, we’re actually talking about types of publishers. What we do at Mason Jar Press is a whole lot different than what Penguin Random House is doing. What Mason Jar does is closer to what someone like Dzanc Books is doing, but we’re still worlds apart. Between MJP and The Big Five (or Four), there is a hot mess of publishers, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, so take your time thinking about what you want to get out of the experience