Confession: The last resolution I made that I stuck to was about seven or eight years ago, when I resolved to stop buying clothes that needed dry cleaning. I’ve been very happy with the way that turned out, as all the clothes in my closet are now hand or machine washable—which saves time, money, and is better for the environment. Usually though I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I believe if you want to change something, change it now. Research shows the resolutions you make on New Year’s Eve usually don’t last.
Yet this year I’m ready to make a New Year’s resolution, even though I’m two months early. My first New Year’s resolution is to buy books only by small and university presses, and my second resolution to buy books through my local bookstore Starline Books or directly from the publisher. And of course I’ll also get books through my university and public libraries.
My decision to do this is long overdue: all of my work has been published by small presses, and yet I still tend to primarily buy and read literary fiction published by large presses. I’ve done this because some of my friends and acquaintances are published by big presses, and sometimes they are finalists for awards or featured in the NewYork Times. By buying literary fiction from the large presses, I feel like I am supporting literary fiction and being an ally of those people I know. And yet, I realized that support is often a one-way arrangement. Rarely do those writers I know and support read or support my work or that of other writers from small presses, because they are usually busy supporting other writers from large presses.
I do read some small press fiction, and I make a point to read and buy work from the presses that publish me—the past few years that means I’ve been supporting work from C&R Press. For example, this fall I had conversations (both to be published) with two writers from C&R Press whose work I loved—two female novelists writing beautiful stories about war, PTSD, mother and daughter relationships, and families. Those novels and conversations reminded me that there is so much good work being published by smaller presses that would benefit so much more from my support than those from the larger presses that are already getting a lot of coverage. It makes so much more sense for me to focus my energy on reading work from smaller presses because that is where I’m also published.
That doesn’t mean I won’t read any large press work, but I will still read work by “big name” authors like Kevin Wilson who is a reader of my work, and I will read work specifically related to my job as a creative writing professor. For example, this spring my advanced fiction class is reading short story collections that were finalists for the National Book Award. One of those collections is published by Graywolf Press, which in an independent press, all the rest were published by the large presses. However, I still consider Graywolf one of the “biggies” because writers need an agent to be considered by them, and their publications sometimes end up on best seller lists. That said, Graywolf continues to publish some of the most innovative work in all genres, and I will continue to read work from that press so I can help my students in understanding the publishing world today.
But for my personal reading I will focus on buying and reading work from smaller presses, and will also try to use more of that work in the classroom. In addition to university presses (Nebraska and Georgia are two that come to mind), I will particularly looking at work from C&R Press, Dzanc, Sarabande, Tupelo Press, Red Hen Press, Dorothy, Lookout Books, Press 53, Coffeehouse Press, Unbridled Books, and Four Way Books—as I have already read and admired work from all of these small and independent presses. For more information, see this article on the best small independent publishers: https://thejohnfox.com/2017/09/30-best-small-indie-literary-publishers/.
If you have any other presses to recommend, please add them in the comments.
My other resolution has to do with supporting local bookstores and presses directly. While I do buy books from my local bookstore, I often fall into a lazy trap of ordering online from Amazon. And yet my local bookstores will order whatever I want, give me a teacher’s discount, and support my work and other writers through readings and other events. Like those writers from large presses, Amazon will be just fine if I dramatically reduce my use, but my local bookstore will much more appreciate my support.
So my resolutions are to support small, independent, and university presses directly or through my independent bookstore, Starline Books. And I’ll continue to get books from my local libraries as well.
These New Year’s resolutions so easy and overdue, there’s no need to wait until January. The time is now.