10 Other Ways to Spend your $ instead of on Sub Fees
+ 12 free ways to support independent publishing
As part of a household with a single steady income, running this press out of our living room (and wherever else I can find a corner to work without the kids breaking something), I’m a big fan of utilizing resources efficiently. It’s often said that these are difficult days for publishing on all sides. But somehow, we all press on, trying to build creative lives and contribute to literary communities however we can; it’s wonderful, and it’s more vital than ever. Below, I’m sharing a few suggestions for how you might keep doing that—many (maybe all?) familiar but still worth the reminders, I hope.
As far as submission or contest fees are concerned, I welcome more conversation about them from both perspectives (positive/practical and negative). I personally—as both a writer and publisher—feel pretty strongly that writers should not have to pay for their work to be considered; I believe (or at least hope) that publications need to find alternative ways to finance their operations, that justifications for charging them are a symptom of—rather than a solution for—a flawed system. The data around contests can be troubling. But I’ve also found myself occasionally paying $3 sub fees for certain pubs I’d like to see in my bylines or considering a contest that seems like a potential fit for my work, so I hesitate to make over-generalized statements. I’d love to hear your thoughts either way.
Buy a book directly from a press you respect (this seems obvious, and yet…). Ordering from a press’s website puts more $ back into their work than going through another platform. Bonus points if you make the most of Media Mail rates (which keep rising, by the way) by combining multiple books in one order. Our smallest books start at $5.95 with cheap shipping. Even cooler if you go for a bundle, right? Those savings add up quickly for more books from more presses and more authors getting royalties; it’s a beautiful cycle.
Subscribe to a small press/other literary paid newsletter, Patreon, book club, membership, etc. It can be hard to keep up with all the options out there, which is why it’s so important to focus on quality over quantity: which publishers do you personally respect? Which presses do you really want to see still around in 5-10+ years? Build those relationships; support the community; deepen your resources. If you’re reading this, we’ll make it easy for you:
Take advantage of small press sales—you know, all those newsletter welcome promos and social media discount posts you lose track of. Keep a list of books you’re interested in and keep an eye out for when one goes on sale.
Save up for a print subscription: We all love seeing our names in print; we value the existence of print publications. But it can feel intimidating to drop a year’s worth of $ on a subscription all at once. Try saving up bit by bit; I try to do this with the money I’d otherwise spend on Sonic drinks (with mixed results). Evidence abounds in recent developments that these institutions/publications will not continue without grassroots support. We like the Arkansas International (naturally), Oxford American, King Ludd’s Rag, and Louisiana Literature, among others.
Donate to a nonprofit press or other literary organization. Think about the places that offer classes/workshops or other types of tangible, accessible services to the literary community. I, for instance, struggle to make it to any kind of scheduled commitment during this season of my life, so these kinds of more flexible opportunities can be great alternatives if you still want to participate in a meaningful way. Some suggestions include Open Mouth, Hub City, EcoTheo, and Sundress.
Get a drink at a local coffee shop. Help your home place, get a dopamine buzz, and use that caffeine to your advantage to do some writing, brainstorming, or lit mag/press research to find your best fit. Maybe bring a book from your favorite small press to read while you’re there—you never know who else might see it and get curious.
Small press merch—our journals and tote bags cost about 2-3 average lit mag submissions, for instance. (And we may or may not have special limited-edition T-shirts on the way this spring…)
Set aside that $ for other writing-related expenses like website fees (because you should have one, though it can be free) or conferences. Remember that the literary life is a marathon, not a sprint (aside from the frantic bursts of activity we sometimes find ourselves riding).
Take a class. We keep ours affordable and comparable to the cost of an average book contest/reading fee, but other organizations we’ve mentioned above also have great options. We pay our instructors and use any revenue to cover print or other administrative costs (Zoom isn’t free, after all).
Show that backlist some love. One major factor in helping a small press build longevity is in building up a strong backlist. Think about it: all the work and expense that go into cranking out new books all the time takes a great deal of resources, and we hope that the books we make will last beyond current trends and pre-release buzz. Sometimes, these older titles can even be marked down or less expensive as costs are more likely to have been recouped, which gives you (the reader) better bang for your buck, sends an extra little boost to the author (in royalties and the encouragement that their book still matters), and generates more revenue for the press—a win-win-win.
Although small presses need money to pay the bills, we also know that resources can be limited. Here are a few reminders of how you can help support your favorite publishers without spending a thing. We all probably know these in theory, but it can be easy to forget!
Follow them on social media and encourage others to do so (we’re on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook—we can always use more followers)
Interact with their posts (comments, likes, shares/retweets, etc.)
Ask your library to carry their books
If you find their books in a bookstore, share a photo
Sign up for a free newsletter (or, you know, our Substack—most of our content is free)
Take pictures of book gifts and post them
Send a link for a book to a friend or loved one you think might like it
Encourage your local bookstore to check out the press or a particular book that you think would be of interest to them
Recommend a book to a book club (yours or someone else’s)
Leave ratings/reviews on Goodreads and other reader review sites
Tell an author (and/or the publisher) about a specific book you enjoyed and why
Move your book wishlists from Amazon to another site like Bookshop (we also like ThriftBooks)—and curate small press lists there to share with other readers
Y’all know we’re big on community here at Belle Point. Independent publishing seems more and more challenging these days, which is why readers and writers can play an even larger role in supporting the presses they love. Thanks for all you do for us and our authors. Save, share, and be merry.
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One thing that really counts with me, when I have any money to spend, is whether a press is big enough to print all sides. The traditional rule is that left-wingers know they need to support writers and publishers, right-wingers don't. If others are as weary of left-bias as I am, this could flip!