2023-04-12: making things

a couple of weeks ago i took in an interesting discussion at a literary festival on the small press and running of such. i wasn't there in person: it was in-person but streamed online, and i'm glad of that. that seems like something that people got away from the moment in-person events were seen as ok again.

the discussion started off around when each of the panelists (who have their own small presses) started out. all of them have been publishing for years, and most of them for decades. i've only recently started dipping my toe in this world. making my own things, my own physical things. and it's not a self-publishing venture, either: i've exclusively published other people's work. so i'm fascinated in what other presses are putting out.

there's an ephemerality in small presses, both in terms of what's produced, and the presses themselves. print runs can be anywhere from a few copies to a thousand, but typically less than a hundred. to be clear, i'm talking about small small presses here. not your greywolfs or your coach houses, but your toad press, your battleaxe, your no press. the panelists talked about the tradeoffs between having a small, done-when-it's-done print run, and having an actual stock of items from previous years so there's always something available in case people request it.

and they do — in my own experience with my own (nameless here) press, there really is the odd order for back items. it's pretty rare. but it's nice to have those items on hand.

the panel was wonderful because so often when making my physical publications, the overriding feeling is one of quiet — there's back and forth with the people whose work i'm publishing if i have questions, or around matters of payment, proofs, etc; but so much of the work is done in silence, because as to all the little details of the process, well, it's only me. i buy paper and toner and do the layouts and covers; print everything out, fold and staple and stamp; do publicity (well, a little, anyway); put together the envelopes, and mail everything out. this is how i like it: i work at my own tempo and within a budget i can sustain. but it means that i don't really have anyone to share this with. so i need to keep my head up. get inspired by what other presses are doing. keep up with others.

as much as i love where i live, there aren't many small presses with the kind of DIY feel i'm going for. there are actually a few literary presses, but they all do perfect-bound books, print large(-ish) numbers of orders, work with one of the two big printing companies in the area. and that's great; it works for them. but when i started my own i was going for something closer what bill bisset or nelson ball or george bowering were doing with their small presses in the past, or what the presses i mentioned above are doing today. relatively small print runs; self-funded and working with certain constraints. i didn't make zines in high school. my friends were recording samples and making electronica using scream tracker and impulse tracker. they were releasing their own art; i was kind of working in quiet. i was writing, and coding small games, but not publishing anything.

so you could say i'm making up for lost time. and it was gratifying to watch the small press event online (even if i was just one of a handful of virtual watchers). to hear from my eastern colleagues how they started, what drew them in, what they're doing now. and i hope that others who have an interest in this sort of thing, or zine-making, etc, decide to give it a shot. you can start off publishing yourself! you can have total control of the overall process. and there are lots of resources to get started.

make something cool! give copies to your friends! here's a guide to making a zine. and here're the instructions i use for microsoft word for designing my own items. why not make something?