Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
From the start, my goal with this blog has always been both to support and inform all writers, but specifically those of us of the teen variety, and when it comes to the latter, the one topic that has always eluded me is publishing with small presses. Being that I don’t have first-hand experience in that process, I’ve always been reluctant to talk about it, and that’s why I’m so thrilled to introduce Danielle Ellison, someone who, as both an author and an editor at a small press, definitely knows a thing or two about the process. Danielle is here to share some honest thoughts about what it’s like to work with small presses, for all of us who are either curious about this route or who have been considering trying it for themselves.
A few years ago, I was an (occasional) YA book blogger. I was a bookseller who was writing, and working my butt off to make something of my stories, and dreaming that maybe I could work in PR or something in publishing because that ‘involves books’ and ‘wouldn’t it be fun?’ I was a girl who sent an email, then got an internship, then became an editor. I wanted an opportunity, and I got one. I didn’t plan to work at a small press; it just happened.
That’s the beauty of small presses: people who want an opportunity, get them.
When John asked me to write this post, I was thinking about all the things I could say about Spencer Hill to convince you that the small press route is the best decision any writer can make. All of February on my own blog, I’m doing this feature about small presses that will present an unbiased look at five different publishers. Because, ultimately, writers need to be informed of their options, and as someone actively involved in various roles in the small press world, it means a lot to me that the info is out there.
But I can’t say that I think the small press route is the best route for every writer. It’s not.
If you want to buy your own private jet, for example, then maybe you should look at something different. (Perhaps even a whole different field. Publishing doesn’t provide a lot of private jets.)
However, if you are a writer who has a story that you want to share, a story that’s such a part of your heart and soul that you want other people to read it—then keep reading this post because that’s what small presses do. (Or should do.)
I’m a senior editor at Spencer Hill Press, and like I alluded at the beginning of this post, it just sort of happened. I never set out to be an editor.
When I emailed Kate about an internship position with their marketing department, and she emailed me back with a “welcome aboard,” I never dreamed I’d become an editor. I was a writer, and a girl who read books. I told stories and created worlds and got the fictional people who took over my brain into their own space. Small presses weren’t even really on my radar (it was a different time!) and editing wasn’t something I’d ever considered. But then I emailed Kate on a whim, and everything changed.
I never worked as a marketing intern; Kate had other plans for me. She took the facts that I was a writer and a reader and put them to use. She had me do a pass of a book. Then another, and another. Each one got more difficult, more in depth, and I soon started to love this editing thing. Kate never planned to put me in the marketing department, because she saw something in me that I didn’t even know existed.
This is what small presses do. They see someone seeking out an opportunity, pull that person in, equip them and let them fly. It sounds silly, but it’s true. Small presses, at least the good ones, operate on passion. Not on numbers. It’s passion that’s contagious – to readers and writers – not the rest of it. I can’t speak for every small press, but I can speak on behalf of Spencer Hill Press: you’ll never get that with us. (And I really do venture to say most well-known small presses.) Since we operate on a smaller scale, we only take on things that we love.
Spencer Hill has a policy. It’s based on a lesson that some editors have had to learn the hard way, and it’s something I continuously ram down the throats of our interns and editorial assistants. I’m mentioning it because SHP (and its imprints—the Contemporary line and SpenceCity) is a place of passion. To directly quote an email I once sent to staff: “Don’t take on a project unless you can’t live without it. Readers love many books; editors take on the ones that become a part of them that they want to share with others…Love isn’t strong enough in this case. It’s got to be the loss of a project that propels you into action, vs. the love of it.”
I won’t say that every small press you encounter will pursue this model, but at Spencer Hill, we do. Each small press is different and they offer various roles in the publishing industry. If you’re a writer considering a small press, it’s really important to be open, to know your facts, to know the questions to ask, to ask them, and then make sure that you are where you want to be and what you want to accomplish aligns with your small press. If anything isn’t what you want it to be, then maybe it’s not a good fit. Especially the latter point.
As an editor, it’s really important that I only put out the best books I can. The more I work in this field, the more I meet aspiring writers who have the drive and the talent to succeed; they only need someone else to see it. Someone who supports them and gives them the step up they need. Someone who embraces potential. At the end of the day, I believe that this passion is unique to small presses. That passion, when paired with opportunity, is a powerful tool.
I’m lucky enough to wear two hats in the publishing world—editor is one of them—but even as Kate knew in that first email, I’m a writer. And now, thanks to a book deal from Spencer Hill and then another from Entangled, I’m an author.
It was hard to get there. I want everyone to know that. It had nothing to do with me working at SHP. I worked years and years before I got that first book deal. I queried and had the “almost-agent” and the “I love it but…” many times. More times than I can even count. I was always behind the market, despite a book that everyone loved, and it was discouraging. I won’t lie about that either.
Then one day a new opportunity arrived to publish with Spencer Hill, and Kate wanted revisions, which I made, before she bought the series. I get a lot of flack because people think it was just handed to me, but it wasn’t. Despite what other people may think, I know every day that it was a great choice. When Entangled came along wanting SALT, I knew they would be the perfect place for that book because my editors had a great vision for the book and everyone believed in it. At the end of the day, that’s what you want.
Everything starts with an opportunity; they come in various shapes and sizes, and usually, when you don’t expect them. I know it did for me.
I didn’t expect to be an editor at a small press, but I love it so much. Editing has taught me how to be a better writer. Working with amazing authors to help them mold their stories gives me so much joy. I’m constantly surprised by the support of the writing community and the wonderful writers (and readers) that make it up.
I know there are teen writers reading this and you’re all wondering what happens next. The truth? I don’t know. You have to take the initiative to get where you want to be. Very rarely are things ever handed to you. My advice: find something you want, be passionate about your pursuit of it, and when opportunity knocks, don’t close the door because it’s not the door you expected.
The greatest moments tend to come from places you don’t expect.