So here I am, sitting in the Lyon Street Cafe for the first time in several weeks, having just finished listing my tasks for my first completely open Sunday in months. To put it gently, Sunday isn’t open any more. The duties and needs of Caffeinated Press in general, and The 3288 Review in particular, have eaten up all of that nebulous part of my life I used to call “free time”. Am I exhausted? Yes. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!
The first and most important consideration is that never have I had so much good writing at my disposal.
At ConFusion 2015, in one of the panels (“Staying Sane While Sluicing Through Slush“) a panelist pointed out that submission quality falls along a bell curve, with the majority being “competent” – meaning well written, professional, etc., but not exceptional. In my time at Caffeinated Press I have vetted something over four hundred written works- long, short, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Few of them were terrible. They didn’t get published. Few were extraordinary. They DID get published. I don’t know how submissions fall out in the rest of the industry, but the bell curve of the work we receive leans toward the high end which, given the amount of work we receive, help to keep us from succumbing to feelings of tedium, ennui, etc.
My active involvement at CafPress is just about exactly a year old. In that time I have picked up a surprising number of skillsets, both primary and ancillary. Editing, obviously. An eye toward story structure. A renewed appreciation of poetry. A powerful ability to metabolize coffee. All important skills for an editor.
I also, for the first time since my days at Schuler Books and Music, have a big-picture view of what’s going on in the publishing world. Most is not at all surprising. The big guys are getting bigger, the little guys are struggling. So it goes. Small presses are run by several people working part-time, or one person doing the work of three and several people working part time. This is the way of the world now.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Small presses are more nimble, more able to take chances with the innovative and the avant-garde. Small presses are not held captive by shareholders whims. But being small enough to fit a niche often means being small enough to fall through the cracks. Thus small presses learn to innovate.
One of my favorite (and more personally expensive) discoveries of the past few months is that several small presses offer subscriptions to their catalogs. For a nominal price, you will receive roughly a book a month for a year. This is not the old book club model of the pre-Amazon days; this is more an investment in the voice and taste of a small group of people who turn out excellent product. My first subscription was to Open Letter Books, quickly followed by Restless Books, Deep Vellum, and several others. All excellent publishers, and all beautiful books. I will explore this idea further in an upcoming blog post.
Suffice to say, I will not soon run out of excellent reading material.