Content Tagged ‘The Publishing Laboratory’

Behind the Scenes: How To Be Independent

I’ve worked at a local bookstore as long as I’ve known about UNCW’s Publishing Laboratory. They’re both small, independent, and full of people I want to be when I grow up. They both give loving homes to books that might be ignored at larger institutions.

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But here’s the thing about being small: it takes big effort. Huge, in fact. Let’s just go ahead and call it a gigantic labor of love. Small presses like Lookout compete with larger publishers before the book even makes it to the shelf (if it does that). Most indie publishers have limited budgets from which to offer authors advances for their manuscripts, and it’s not surprising that big numbers consistently compel great writers to sign with the big houses and their imprints.

Even when indie publishers bring great titles into the world (or, like Lookout, only one per year), it’s especially difficult for bookstores to sell the books of small presses. At Pomegranate Books, where I work, we often receive boxes of press kits and advance reading copies for the big books that big publishers want us to stock. Sure, we’d love to shelve every novel by our favorite indie presses, but will those titles move as fast as the mass-marketed books that everyone and their cousin want to read?

Pomegranate Books is small, but even for larger independent stores with more shelf space and more customers, there are different challenges to selling indie books. Trade publishers often offer volume discounts, or additional in-store advertising money to incentivize stocking and prominently displaying their books. So big-publisher books get coveted window display and shelf space even if a bookseller would prefer to give attention to her new favorite by an indie press. The New York Times wrote about this back in 1996, and it’s still a tiresome obstacle.

Instead of advertising money, Lookout offers gratitude to indie bookstores in the form of author visits, signings, and readings in their stores. At Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, Lookout’s publisher and editors tagged along with authors Steve Almond and Matthew Neill Null to offer free publishing workshops and to serve on panels after the authors’ readings. And Lookout celebrates indie stories such as Brookline Booksmith, which to date has sold almost six hundred copies of its first title, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman! That collection found its way into the hands of hundreds more readers thanks to the generous support of booksellers at Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, and Politics & Prose, which hosted Edith Pearlman for one of her first public readings from Binocular Vision.

Millions of books exist in this world—in fact, I encourage everyone to purchase So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid, an exhilarating read published by another indie press, Paul Dry Books—but our store has fewer than five employees. Perhaps, if we had the time and human capital to dedicate regular hours to discovering new books by small presses, we’d be able to better hand sell their books. Instead, we struggle simply to stay up-to-date on the titles brought to our attention through large mailings and marketing budgets.

The better an independent press can convey its mission, purpose, and we-consider-every-little-detail attitude, the more inclined a bookstore’s owners and staff will be to share that appreciation for thoughtfully made books with their customers. It’s extremely difficult to verbalize or advertise that feeling, but Lookout serves as proof that it can work.

These five best practices from Lookout Books include things I wish I saw more of as a bookseller—from every press, big or small.

RiverBendChronicle1.    Authors

Lookout seeks works by emerging and historically underrepresented writers, as well as overlooked gems. Unlike large trade publishers, they aren’t beholden to stockholders or corporate owners, so they tend to be less motivated by profit margins. Bookstores know that they consider their publications works of art by literary artists, not just best-selling retail items (though they hope for that too!).

 

2.    Marketing

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In developing media kits, Lookout makes or buys materials, when they can, from local or independent sellers. If a bookstore receives a promotional kit that includes unique, handmade materials, they’ll be more likely to give it attention. When Lookout staffer Anna Coe created coasters to celebrate the recent release of Matthew Neill Null’s Honey From the Lion, she ordered the wood slices from a supplier on Etsy and personally stamped and sealed every coaster!

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Digital broadsides from Astoria to Zion, our best of Ecotone anthology

To commemorate Ecotone’s tenth anniversary, Lookout Books announces the publication of Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

Ecotone has established itself as a preeminent venue for original short fiction from both recognized and emerging writers, with more than twenty stories from our first sixteen issues reprinted or noted in the Best American, New Stories from the South, Pushcart, and PEN/O. Henry series. With the publication of this anthology, Lookout Books makes a permanent home for the vital work of regular contributors Steve Almond, Rick Bass, Edith Pearlman, Ron Rash, Bill Roorbach, and Brad Watson, along with rising talents Lauren Groff, Ben Stroud, and Kevin Wilson, among others.

Over the past month, we’ve teased you with first paragraphs, as well as introductions to some of our favorites, but now we bring you something more visual. Starting every Monday, we’ll post a digital broadside that pairs a compelling image or graphic with a short excerpt from a story in the collection. Look for this series every Monday and be sure to check our blog for additional updates. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, and you can also find our digital broadsides on Pinterest.

The Larger Literary Community at UNC Wilmington

At Lookout Books we find inspiration not only from the publishing world but from the literary community in which we are housed. As part of the Department of Creative Writing at University of North Carolina Wilmington, we’re surrounded by other writers—students and teachers alike—whose careers encourage and influence us.

Here’s a recap of some of the literary events on campus this semester:

Faculty Readings

The first faculty reading of the semester featured poet Mark Cox and fiction writer Rebecca Lee, in celebration of Lee’s recent collection, Bobcat and Other Stories. In early October, visiting writer Jason Mott read from his recently-released novel, The Returned. Mott, who graduated from both the BFA and MFA programs at UNC Wilmington, spent October teaching a graduate fiction workshop. The third faculty reading of the semester featured Wendy Brenner and Nina de Gramont. The latter’s new young adult novel, Meet Me at the River, was released on October 15.

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