Having been a small press editor for more than forty years, I find myself reclining on the 1950s Dan Dare chaise longue, musing on the peculiarities of the calling.
Let us examine the ten immediate advantages and drawbacks.
1) No salary. An individual is strangely freed from those usual pressures as to whether to build a house extension or take a three month holiday swanning around Mesopotoamia, even if such a place still existed. Having no salary also means you are not anxiously waiting for that pay cheque to go into the bank. There isn’t one. A cheque that is, not a bank. Alas, there are still many of the latter.
2) Loathing or sycophancy. Here lie the two extremes of the reactions from those few members of the public who do not treat you with a highly active indifference. There are certain authors who regard me with such contempt for not having published their life’s work (or even a haiku) that should I walk into the same room as they occupy, they are attacked by a severe case of projectile vomiting. Others believe sycophancy is the way and indulge in grovelling obsequiousness. This feeds my ego but does little to increase their chances of being published. Despite being given to the usual human flaws and limitations, one of my few proud claims in those 42 years is that no writer has been published by IRON Press unless thus merited by the quality of their work.
Most good writers, I should stress, occupy neither of the above two polarities.
3) On the Job. Often I envy those people who come home from a regular job and shut the door against the world. No, no, that’s not true at all. Let’s say I am curious about such a species. My own world of work seeps into every pore of my world of leisure, so that now I have no idea what is the difference between the two. IRON Press and the world of writing long since occupied every corner of this house. 2am phone calls from authors on the brink of suicide are not unknown. Usually I can persuade them out of it, especially if I’m still waiting for their completed manuscript.
4) Annual holidays. I heard someone mention these two words the other day. Any idea what they mean?
6) Despair. A regular visitor. You spend a year working on an author’s poems or stories, both parties nurturing them towards readiness. A further three months is occupied liaising with the book and cover designer, Finally the book goes to the printers and emerges blinking into the light – always a small miracle of a moment. Three months later sales total four, and you reach for the bottle of pills. Luckily you don’t have any pills so you go for a consolation pint instead.
7) Injustice. This is ubiquitous and mainly to be ignored when working as a small press editor. If there were even the slightest sense of justice, no-one would be publicising those ghost-written tedious autobiographies of minor untalented celebs snapped up by the chat shows at the expense of the neglected works of genius from your own imprint. Nor would they be promoting in the broadsheets those obscure unreadable tomes reviewed by the authors’ literary chums gravitating in the same small circle of the London literati. It was ever thus, so just get on with your own efforts. What do you want – a knighthood? Exactly!
8) Kindle books. Basically, they’re crap. They leave most real publishers cold and people are getting fed up already.
9) Authors. You don’t get to meet all of the ones you publish, but quite a few. Is there any more maddening, colourful, self-centered, brilliant, paranoid, funny, impractical,
imaginative, insecure, driven, impossible species on the planet? Some become good friends. Even lovers. Imagine your life without them. Exactly!
10) Moving house. Given the extent to which your small publishing activities have taken total possession of your house, this is clearly impossible. Thus you are freed from all the nonsense of property ladders or worrying about the value of your home.
Ten points to consider then. Fancy the job of small press editor? Fine. There’s no entry qualification, no interview, no career ladder, no organised structure. You just wake one morning and decide to do it. Good luck!
Peter Mortimer - Editor, IRON Press