Adventures in Small-Press Publishing, Part IV: A Negative Times A Negative Equals A Positive


Life often does not go as planned. I’m sure this comes as a shock to many of you, but I assure you it’s true. Sad, but true.

Short-story collections don’t sell as well as novels. In this age of dwindling attention spans, when 140 characters is the ruler by which we measure most communications, you’d think short stories would be more popular, but they’re not. Sad, but true.

In 2008 Tor published an anthology of short stories from the magazine I edit, InterGalactic Medicine Show. We’ve been talking with them since the beginning of 2011 about doing another one, but given the current state of the economy and the sales potential for short story collections in general, Tor ultimately declined (after first asking for thirty-six different possible table-of-contents and marketing angles). Sad, but true.

James Maxey is a tremendously talented writer who has spent years honing his craft. He’s had four novels published that have done quite well, and he’s got a new trilogy set to launch next year, but he didn’t even bother talking to publishers about his short story collection because he knew there really wasn’t much point. And he’s not the only writer I know who’s in that particular paddleless boat. Too true, but too sad.

Yet on the other side of the highway, Spotlight Publishing was languishing along the shoulder of the road, out of gas. They had published a handful of books going back to 2005, and hadn’t published anything in over a year until I came along with The Trouble With Eating Clouds. They had a company set up, all the corporate and legal stuff, a website, and a big block of ISBN numbers that were waiting around like the second-string seniors of a small-college football team—all fired up, but no way to get in the game.

So this is where that little piece of high school math comes in. I don’t know why it stuck with me because I’m so bad at math it’s embarrassing to discuss, but here it is: a negative times a negative equals a positive.Yet as I was working on getting my own collection of short stories ready, my brain recalled that little nugget from high school.

On the one hand I knew of good books that had no publisher (did I mention that part about “Sad, but true”), and on the other hand I know of a line of ISBN numbers that are feeling left out because no one picked them (yet) to play in the big game (sad, but true (yeah, I’m tired of hearing it, too; I’ll stop now)).

All I needed to do was bring all those negatives together and ka-blam, we had a mathematical inversion of a literary and molecular nature. I have no idea what that last sentence means, but hey, we just brought matter and anti-matter together (like in that episode of Star Trek 😉 ) and I’m just happy to be standing.

So suddenly I find myself working closely with this publisher. Redesigning the website. Reworking contracts. Getting to know the people at the printing company. I find myself working with authors (in a very different way than I do as an editor). Tweaking book covers. Refining book descriptions. Passing out logos and reverse-color logos like candy at Halloween.

Is short-story collections and anthologies all that Spotlight is going to publish? Of course not, but it’s where we’ve started, because it’s where I saw good books wanting for a publisher.

This really is the beginning of a great new adventure, and as things come down the pike, as developments materialize, as lessons are learned (the hard way or the easy way), I’ll bring the details here to Magical Words and pass along what nuggets I can.

Stay tuned…


7 comments to Adventures in Small-Press Publishing, Part IV: A Negative Times A Negative Equals A Positive

  • Awesome. I went over and looked. Hope it all goes well. 🙂 I look forward to hearing more as it progresses.

  • Always an adventure, Daniel. You never know which direction the wind is going to blow.

  • Just goes to show … eat your crusts, do the math, and keep an eye out for open windows.

  • Edmund, you make it sound like luck, but really, if you hadn’t looked them up or known about them in the first place you never would have known about their need.

    Definitely interested in updates. Cool stuff.


  • Newtorking strikes again. Excellent in every possible way, Edmund!

  • I don’t remember who it was that said “90% of success is showing up,” but I really do feel like a lot of the best things that have happened to me have been a result of looking around and recognizing an opportunity when it presented itself. That’s not luck. More than anything else it’s paying attention and making the mental connection.

  • This sounds great! I love it when things come together so well!

    It’s interesting that Tor wasn’t interested in pubbing a short story antho, I’ve been finding that more and more YA publishers are going that route — I know of at least three people who have sold anthos in the past few months to YA houses. I wonder what the difference is…