In Defense of Independent Publishing Houses

By the time I was nineteen and a sophomore at the University of Arizona, I was disillusioned with everything in general, but reading and writing in particular. I was applying to business school and, among other things, ignoring the voice in the back of my head that was telling me that if I couldn’t get an A in Intro to Financial Accounting, I probably shouldn’t be choosing it as my major. I also ignored that English was my strongest subject, rationalizing to myself that an English degree was about as valuable as a Blockbuster card.
The next semester I took Intro to Fiction, half as an elective and half as a way to save my GPA after taking Macroeconomics. A few assignments in, I received an email from my instructor with the title of a book that he thought I might like. It was a collection of short stories by a woman who had recently graduated from a top MFA program and was published by a small independent press located somewhere in the Midwest. I must have read it in a day. I was impressed, thrown even, by the quality of the writing. I had never read anything like it before. It was nothing like the dry classics we read back in AP Lit in highschool or the surface-level, but highly marketable, books that flashed in magazines and filled the shelves of big-box stores. There were no rules here, really—just the ones the author had established for herself. And though I had no idea what those rules were, I knew that she had followed them absolutely. Whoever published this book was not just trying to sell books, they were effectuating art. I still credit a lot to this book. It was a catalyst that, combined with a number of other factors, sent me back onto the English trajectory.
Five years later, I was stuck again. I had a degree and had spent a year using it as an HR manager for one of the big-box stores that I had previously vilified. And I had spent two more years pouring IPAs and stirring old fashioneds. I had a bedroom filled with old issues of McSweeney’s that I found and bought in secondhand bookstores—I needed to be saved again.
My salvation happened in two waves. First, with Marty McConnell’s article “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell” in the twenty-third issue of Salt Hill. Then with Kat Moore’s article “Winter” in the adventure issue of New South; it couldn’t have been more than a thousand words. I bought issues of everything Moore had ever published. I applied to Portland State’s master’s in book publishing program.
Independent publishing changed the way I read, the way I write, and the way I find new things to read. It’s opened me up to new art, music, and ideas. It’s one of those crafts that people pour a lot of time and heart into, without much in return. And for that I am grateful.