Author Insights from Jonathan Haupt, Story River Books
This year, we’ve asked several of our faculty to answer some key questions to offer more insights to PubSense Summit attendees. Enjoy these answers from Jonathan Haupt, director of University of South Carolina Press and sponsoring editor of Pat Conroy’s Story River Books imprint, Nikky Finney’s Palmetto Poetry Series, the USC Institute for Southern Studies’ Southern Revivals series, and the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy’s Young Palmetto Books series.
1) What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the traditional model that offers the best opportunity for writers wanting to be traditionally published?
Jonathan: I see fewer opportunities for first-time authors and for many established, returning authors in large-scale profit-driven traditional publishing, with an increase in opportunities among smaller, regional or boutique independent publishers.
Out of financial necessity and dedication to mission, small presses know how to make the most from a narrow focus of select genres or subject matter. As a direct result, good reputations and relationships develop that are immediately meaningful and saleable to readers.
To take advantage of what small presses can offer, writers need to invest time into their research—just as they would into their writing—and fully understand what they want to get out of a publishing experience beyond having a book in print.
From that stance, a writer is much better positioned to find, to evaluate, and to negotiate with a small indie publisher for mutual benefit. Getting published, in the most general sense, is something any writer can do. Engaging in a long-term relationship with readers is another matter, and one in which making a smart partnership with a publisher is key.
2) One of our master classes on Sunday is sure to be popular, since it carries, really, the whole essence of what this conference is all about. “PubSense: Options and Avenues,” includes invited representatives from the various “options” to share with us. You, as director of The University of South Carolina Press, represent our small press option. What kinds of new opportunities does the small press today offer writers?
Jonathan: In the sea of options for how writers can now be published, small presses offer a truly and purposefully collaborative experience in which writer and publisher commit to share in the common cause of positively impacting a readership.
Small presses live and die on the whims and generosities of readers, booksellers, and librarians—on striving for those life-altering matchmaker moments when the right book from the right author ends up in the hands of the right reader at the right place at the right time.
It’s a maddening set of variables in which the only constants are the quality and commitment the author and publisher each must bring to the equation.
Changes in reader tastes, expectations, and buying patterns might seem to have leveled the playing field in terms of the reach any author and any publisher could potentially have with ebooks and print-on-demand or digital short-run physical format books, but it takes a genuine investment in all stages of editing, production, marketing, and distribution to make a long-term success out of a book. It takes motivation, moxie, and money—and small presses have enough of first two to make up for the third.
3) In today’s shifting publishing landscape,we’re seeing the rise of the small press and are devoting an entire panel to the discussion. As director of The University of South Carolina Press, why do you think we’re seeing this rise?
Jonathan: Are we seeing a rise in small presses or a rise in awareness of the merits of small presses from the perspectives of writers and readers? There is a pantheon of small presses that have been producing exceptional work for decades, particularly among the regional, scholarly, and literary publishing houses.
As the major houses move away from those areas, deeming them insufficiently profitable against current thresholds for success on a corporate scale, small presses have become havens for regional and literary fiction, for works by first-time or established authors that may not sell 50,000 copies but might have something meaningful to say to an audience of 5,000 or 2,000 or 500.
This has been the impetus for creating Pat Conroy’s Story River Books fiction imprint at USC Press (which has signed works by four Lillian Smith Award winners and as many previously unpublished writers) and our Young Palmetto Books children’s and YA imprint (which includes work from New York Times best-selling writers as well as emerging storytellers).
The best small presses represent an opportunity for writers—regardless of their past publishing history—and for readers to support a collaborative, sustained, and sustainable effort to continue to make it possible and profitable for a chorus of both new and accomplished voices to be published, read, and embraced.