To get a better understanding of trade publishing, Sean Carswell taught us about the different kinds of publishing houses. There are the Big 6 (most recently the Big 5), independent publishers, and vanity publishers. After going over the corporate giants and the “pay-to-play” publishers, we focused our attention on the independent houses. Each student selected an independent press to research and present to the rest of the class. What first seemed like a mundane assignment turned out to be very exciting and informative.
Learning about the different independent presses broadened our understanding of the importance of these publishers and how relevant they are to our culture and society. Independent publishers seem to publish authors, topics, and styles of literature that are either unrepresented, not represent correctly, or not represented at all. Many marginal authors and topics have the opportunity to publish through independent houses. If we didn’t have City Lights, we would never have had Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Stories.
By providing a place for all kinds of authors, topics, and styles, independent presses not only help influence popular culture, but also create niche cultures of their own. Many independent publishers are extremely philanthropic and offer services to their communities. Others have foundations that provide scholarships and awards to authors. Some host festivals and readings for all who wish to come. And one of the most admirable traits of an independent publishing house is how dedicated they are to their vision and their impact on the literary world. These people wanted to see a change, and they make it happen—encompassing the valuable do-it-yourself attitude.
The small press presentation assignment benefited the class beyond providing valuable, informative, and enjoyable information about independent publishers. Carswell asked us to pretend like we worked for the small presses we were presenting—explaining the company to say, a potential author. This approach presented the opportunity for us to really get connected to the presses we were researching. Presenting our research to the class helped us not only with public speaking skills, but also aimed to teach us how to have confidence in ourselves if we were to come to a situation where we had to do some sort of informative or persuasive pitch for an establishment. Experiencing publishing houses in contrast to merely learning about them added a very enjoyable aspect to the Publishing house course.
(Students in The Publishing House course wrote seven narratives about the class and the contest. This is the fifth.)