An Interview with Spike Trotman and Gavin Grant

Last semester I took a class called Editing & Publishing, a class that takes an in-depth look at the publishing industry with the goal of potentially breaking in (or, possibly to make one run screaming in the other direction). One of the best elements of the class was a project in which I was given the opportunity to write, edit, and design a copy of a magazine around the publishing-related theme of my choice, and I immediately took the opportunity to interview some of my favorite small press editors.

In one article, I put a spotlight on the editors at Braddock Avenue Books, one of my favorite small presses, about the nuts and bolts of running a small press. I’ll run excerpts from that article later in the week. In this article, the focus is on small press marketing.

Here’s are three-question excerpts from those interviews.

From the interview with Spike Trotman, editor of Iron Circus Comics and writer of Templar Arizona

Indie Lit: What was your experience when making the leap from simply creating and producing your webcomic to running a full-blown indie comics press? Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?

Spike Trotman: My experience has been thoroughly grassroots. I had no classes or lessons in pre-press, I didn’t know how to request a quote, I didn’t know how to promote a project or coordinate creators. I learned along the way. so, naturally, i would do EVERYTHING differently. More systematically, more organized. I’d be better about sharing information and keeping everyone updated. and I’d be a lot less timid around the people I HIRED, like printers. I was paying THEM, they worked for ME. Took me awhile to let that sink in.

IL: What tools, websites, or social media platforms do you find the most useful when creating a new anthology, whether in the curating submissions stage or in the stage of promoting the kickstarter and the book itself?

ST: Twitter and tumblr are where the vast, VAST majority of my project funding comes from. I find interviews on industry sites like Comics Alliance or Robot6 bring in a couple thousand dollars; Twitter pulls 20 times that. People value recommendations from friends or people they trust a lot more than formal interviews. And tumblr pulls in loads and loads of submissions; even people with no interest in the arts will reblog something they think their artistic friends might be into. Reblogs are invaluable forgetting the word out.

IL:Why is it important for an independent publisher to connect with their readers in-person (at conventions or bookstore / library events)? How is this best achieved?

ST: Twitter is good. tumblr is good. Conventions are good. All of those help you meet readers, and just meeting a reader and being cool, making their experience of actually talking to you fun, is enough to win a little loyalty, or encourage someone to check out your stuff when they might otherwise pass. when you’re small press, you have to grow organically; you can’t just expect for people to find you. You’re your own PR department, and you should act like it.

For more of Spike Trotman’s advice to novice comic-writers, check out her downloadable comics This is Everything I Know,” and “Let’s Kickstart a Comic and Not Screw It Up.

From the interview with Gavin Grant, who once wrote a comprehensive article for Strange Horizons called How To Start a Small Press. Gavin Grant is the co-editor of Small Beer Press with Kelly Link. 

IL: First, what do you think has been the biggest change, either in terms of cost or publicity, of the small press publishing landscape in the past ten years?

GG: The fracturing of both reader attention and media outlet influence. While having fewer gatekeepers (reviewers/editors at newspapers/radio) meant it was hard to get coverage for works coming from outside the larger publishing houses, now there are millions of media channels competing for attention. The good news is that people still read books so even as people spend their time keeping up with social media they are also talking about books with friends — and strangers and writers and publishers and translators and critics, etc., etc.

IL:What are the best tools an editor has at his or her disposal when marketing a small press book?

GG:To start with the obvious: a great book, which in turn will inspire readers to find other readers to share the book with. A personable author is always useful, but not at all necessary — an uncomfortable author makes for uncomfortable interviews and such. Getting early copies into the hands of enthusiasts is alway helpful, but everyone is busier than they were. Just about everyone I’ve queried in the last year about whether I could send them an advance copy to read has said something along the lines of, “Yes, but . . . I’m buried in these things!”

IL:What challenges do small press editors face at the marketing stage, and how can they be best met?

GG: Budget! A challenge that can best be met by 1) large anonymous checks from supporters (well, it’s never happened but it might), 2) using channels such as Edelweiss to distribute review copies as widely as possible, 3) attracting review attention/pitching books or authors for off-the-bookpage coverage, 3) national radio attention.

Gavin Grant is also the editor of the bi annual literary magazine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

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