In this, our first year, we released four titles, two reprints and two originals. Amazing.
For some two hundred years American publishing was a staid, stolid “gentleman’s profession” with offices firmly established in Boston and New York. These 19th century houses, some with names that endure to this day—Scribner’s; Harpers; Little, Brown—were an author’s only avenue into print. In the years leading up to World War I, and just after, flurries of notable small presses came and went, some even in Paris with American roots (and funded with American money.) In the post World War II era, literary mags and literary presses waxed with the emergence of new coteries like the Beats, and waned when they waned. Then, in the 1980’s a new breed of publisher began to appear outside of small cliques of like-minded authors, and outside of the great humming metropolises. Graywolf Press began in Port Townsend, Washington. Copper Canyon, also in Washington. Milkweed and Coffee House in Minnesota.
These presses did not aspire to vast mega-sales and a splash in People magazine. They had quite different aims: fostering literary works outside of commercial orbits. They did not pay big advances, but they conferred prestige upon their authors. These and other Independents that followed not only endured, they prevailed. Their names and logos are synonymous with quality prose and poetry, with quality presentation; the books themselves were often things of beauty. They have great distribution, and they are reliably reviewed in major venues.
A computer, an internet connection and some formatting and marketing savvy, voila a publisher!
With the advent of the Internet Age, perhaps twenty years ago suddenly one did not need a printing press to become a publisher. Moreover, one did not need a New York skyscraper, or a view of the Boston Common, nor even a walk-up editorial office in Minnesota or Washington or Brooklyn. All that was needed was a computer, an internet connection, some formatting and marketing savvy, and voila! A publisher is born! The e-book, first launched in 2007, meant that there didn’t even need to be an actual artifact. The ease of this effort created a sort of Wild West of publishing with lots of different business models springing up, offering arrays of possibilities that are still bewildering to would-be authors. Unlike the magisterial Random House, or Farrar Strauss Giroux, these newly hatched presses often had whimsical names like Chin Music Press or Two Dollar Radio, River Glass, Sidekick and the like.
Paint Creek Press owes its name to Paint Creek that flows nearby the home of the founders. We are a group of friends sharing a love of literature, love of design, the smell of ink and the feel of crisp pages. Our staff of three includes two people with formidable tech and web skills, an artist and designer, and a longtime author writing in different genres. In December 2020, the height of the pandemic, we three—two life-partners and a longtime friend—were chatting over Zoom, beers in hand, at two kitchen tables two thousand miles apart. In a burst of energy, optimism, and folly we collectively thought why not combine our skills and become a publisher?
We learned that every press has its price.
In 2021 we settled in for the trek. We have a logo, but no offices. Our corporate meetings are held on the occasional Thursday afternoons to coincide with Happy Hour when we discuss the challenges faced by every Indie Press since Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanac. We have learned that every press has its price.
To begin with we gathered ISBN numbers, and we sent off books to be ripped up and scanned; we painstakingly proofed those much-flawed scans. For our originals we hired a copyeditor who cast her practiced eye not just on the grammar, but on the larger picture and the larger problems. Humbled, but grateful, we made changes and corrections. Then more changes and corrections. And even more! And then the pages got sent to the Nether Regions of electronic publishing returned to us as PDFs. New woes greeted us: correcting those proofs, dealing with format snafus, and questions of “why doesn’t this look like the way I imagined it?” To say nothing of covers printing askew and the distribution dilemmas like trying to figure out the pricing for books in Australia.
We dealt with all this, not knowing that these problems were but the tip of the Indie Press Iceberg. Though our books have sold in far away continents, they have not enjoyed much notice. Our only reviews are on Amazon. Our publishing income will pay for a few rounds at the local outdoor pub and some Chinese noodles from the food truck.
Navigating Amazon’s inexplicable rapids and drying lagoons of algorithmic stagnation.
Marketing remains a mystery. Where and how should we use our limited resources and energies? What the hell is TikTok? Are Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and the like, are they actual marketing tools or are they quagmires of time and triviality? How can we get our books reviewed, noticed beyond the realm of friends and fellow writers? We’re learning—as any Indie press knows to its head-scratching sorrow—that to deal with Amazon (the aptly named behemoth) is like going down the untracked Amazon River in a frail bark, navigating inexplicable rapids and drying lagoons of algorithmic stagnation. All that said, in our first year, we released four titles—two reprints and two originals—all while maintaining our day jobs, dealing with several serious health crises and the deaths of loved ones, and living through another year of pandemic.
Like all founders of Indie Presses we like to think of ourselves in the tradition of Leonard and Virginia Woolf who created the Hogarth Press, and ran it out of their London home. I imagine them at the outset of their venture in 1917 when they have just uncrated the handpress they will use to publish their own work and that of their luminary literary friends. They set it up in the dining room. Leonard and Virginia stalk round the vast apparatus, pointing out one mystery after another. They smoke cigarettes, glancing helplessly at the instruction book, and murmuring dubiously to one another.
“What have we just done?”
“I’m not sure,” replies the other, “but we certainly have done it.”
The same can be said of Paint Creek Press. We certainly have done it. Four books in one year.
Where will be on our second anniversary in 2022? Here on the banks of Paint Creek. Still learning, cherishing the notion of publishing literary works of merit, and seeing them into the hands of eager and delighted reviewers, distributors, and readers.
Laura Kalpakian is the author of seventeen works of fiction in both the US, the UK, and abroad. Winner of an NEA fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and the PEN West Award, among others; she also twice won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award. She has served as a regular book critic for both the Miami Herald and the San Jose Mercury News. A native Californian, Laura Kalpakian was educated on both the east and west coasts with a BA and an MA in history. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. You can find more about Laura at her website laurakalpakian.com