A Column Is Born

This new blog will explore why small presses are such a big deal.

A Column Is Born

I like small. Handcrafted. Indie. I always have.

And that goes for presses, too. I’m not talking about self-publishing or hybrid-publishing operations. And I’m definitely not talking about major publishing houses. (Although I have nothing against them. My two YA novels — Before My Eyes and LIE — were put out by St. Martin’s Press.)

I’m talking traditionally small. Independent. Author-centric.  

With the publication of my short-story collection, Carry Her Home, winner of the Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH), I became part of an unusual collective of authors at a cooperative press. (Translation: WWPH is all-volunteer. It was founded in 1975 by four poets, including Maryland poet laureate Grace Cavalieri, who remains involved 50 years later.)

This column will be about the small presses that need some big attention. I’d love to hear from them about their upcoming releases and hope to profile or review many of them. Of course, since my column will only run about 600 words, expect any reviews to be short and punchy. I’ll lean into fiction, creative nonfiction, and hybrid works but will dip into poetry now and then because, as I always say to Jona Colson, my good friend and co-president at the WWPH, poets rule.

“Small Talk.” As I debated this name for my column, I remembered I’ve always liked curated and independent. Once upon a time, I was part of the senior team that launched and ran an entire cable network dedicated to small-budget indie movies, the Independent Film Channel (which now shows too many reruns of “Law & Order” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but that’s a column for another day).

“Small Talk.” As a former New Yorker born in the Bronx, I hate being lectured to. However, I love to schmooze. For me, that’s the best kind of talk. So, I’m going to aim for a schmoozy tone in my column about this vibrant, creative slice of the publishing world — small presses and their authors and books.

One thing I’ve learned from living in the DC area for the past 10 years and being co-president of the WWPH for the last year is that small, independent presses are thriving in the region: Mason Jar Press, Yellow Arrow Publishing, Alan Squire Publishing, Gival Press, Paycock Press Books, Word Works, Apprentice House Press, and Sante Fe Writers Project — I’m looking at you.

In upcoming columns, I’ll delve deeper into these DMV-based presses and their books, as well as range more widely to spotlight the diversity of voices coming from the farther reaches of the small-press world.

These last lines from Mary Oliver’s “On a Summer Day” resonate with me right now as my own novel-in-progress calls me, the books I’m helping launch into the world with the WWPH are impatient for attention, my kid needs to be picked up from summer camp, and the cat wants treats:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

It’s a hot summer day in August, and I’m starting this new thing, this column.

And poets rule.

(Note: Small presses with news to share can reach me at [email protected]. Please put in the subject line nice and big: SMALL TALK.)

Caroline Bock is the author of Carry Her Home, winner of the Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and LIE and Before My Eyes, YA novels from St. Martin’s Press. She is co-president of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a nonprofit literary press based in Washington, DC.

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