Published on catapult.co September 13, 2021
As a part of our Money Week series, Laura Stanfill argues that you should work with your publisher to do what feels organic, genuine, and true to you as a human being.
I’m running out of copies of Joanna Rose’s A Small Crowd of Strangers. My warehouse report says there are 306 in stock out of our initial run of two thousand.
This smart-and-sweet stunner of a second novel—one she spent twenty years writing—published midpandemic in September 2020. Joanna is a fixture in the local literary community; as her publisher and publicist, I had been counting on in-person events for big crowds, strong sales, and word of mouth. Instead, I found myself setting up online appearances, sending her book plates to autograph, and wondering whether I should have pushed her to boost her slim social media presence. Only one major trade journal chose to review A Small Crowd of Strangers—a fairly normal occurrence for us, being a small literary press in a competitive market. But Joanna’s 1998 debut novel, Little Miss Strange (Algonquin), earned major coverage in the dailies, so the lack of response unnerved me. It felt like a test I had failed. Joanna and I discussed how the industry has changed significantly over the past two decades; these days, more titles compete for fewer review slots as print publications have downsized or folded. Even though I urged her not to take this personally, I still worried.
What if enough readers didn’t find A Small Crowd of Strangers?
What if Joanna regretted choosing my press for her twenty-years-in-the-making novel?
What if I turned out to be not just a friend and former student but the publisher who broke her heart?
Besides the raging pandemic, the devastating West Coast wildfires and the leadup to the 2020 election meant that we arrived at pub day feeling under siege. Joanna launched her book from a tech-savvy friend’s office. She recalled the Powell’s event this way: “It was during the fires, and I remember how good the air in his apartment was, and I asked him to recommend air purifiers. He sat nearby in his living room monitoring the internet, wearing a mask. I didn’t have a mask on, and it was unnerving. Everything was. I remember being so conflicted about celebrating my book at a time when the news was so dire—the election coming up, no vaccine in sight, death counts rising, and the town of Blue River being burned to the ground.”
And yet here we are, a year out from deciding on a conservative first print run, waiting for new copies to arrive at the Ingram warehouse in Tennessee. Demand continues—the long-tail method at work, blazing far beyond the conventional wisdom of a three-month sales window.
Many presses cannot afford to operate this way; their business models are driven by volume and sales. As a neurodivergent small press publisher, I founded Forest Avenue outside the mainstream industry environment. Publishing a handful of titles each year means having time and energy to center my authors’ experiences. I don’t insist they reach specific industry metrics like a certain number of social media followers, and I don’t fixate on the first three months of sales because I want these books to be finding readers long beyond that short window.
So what went right with A Small Crowd of Strangers? How’d we get here despite launching during a pandemic? And what can authors learn from this experience?
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For the answers to this and more, please go to the full article on catapult.co!
For reader reactions to A Small Crowd of Strangers, click here.