Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Small press scores big with 'The Iguana Tree'

Think of the book publishing world, and most of us picture New York, not the Carolinas.

But recently, I’ve encountered several big publishing successes from small Carolinas presses.

The latest: “The Iguana Tree” ($24.95), the newest novel from Spartanburg’s Hub City Press, which earned a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly. It is written by Michel Stone of Spartanburg. She'll sign copies at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 5 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Publisher Weekly lauds this story of illegal border crossings for exploring a serious political and humanitarian issue without becoming heavy handed. It’s “well written, expertly paced, and timely,” PW says.

Last year, UNC Wilmington’s Lookout Books had an even bigger success with Edith Pearlman’s “Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories.” It went on to win fantastic reviews and prizes, including the New York Book Critics Circle Award.

And in March, Marjorie Hudson’s “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas,” a short-story collection, won a Pen/Hemingway honorable mention, an award given for a distinguished first book of fiction. Hudson lives in Chatham County. The book was published by Winston-Salem’s Press 53.

I see a trend. So does Jeffrey Lependorf, executive director of the New York-based Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

He points out that the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to Paul Harding’s “Tinkers,” published by tiny Bellevue Literary Press. And the 2010 National Book Award winner, Jaimy Gordon’s “Lord of Misrule,” was published by McPherson & Co.

While the recent recession forced cutbacks and layoffs at the nation’s biggest publishing houses, small presses, already lean, weren’t affected as drastically, Lependorf says.

These small publishers, he believes, are gaining credibility among authors who once considered them a last resort. More writers are figuring out, he says, “it’s not all about a giant advance.”

What can be even more valuable is a publisher committed to marketing a book. When small press editors publish a book, it’s often because they love it.

At Press 53, that commitment has stoked sales growth of more than 20 percent a year since its 2005 opening, founder Kevin Morgan Watson says.

Hub City Press Executive Director Betsy Teter says what separates her press from the giants is that it will “beat the pavement” to market anything it publishes.

“I see our job,” she says, “as finding the gems and giving them a higher platform.”


Brooke said...

I loved The Iguana Tree and Binocular Vision (although to be fair, I haven't yet read the others mentioned here). It's great to see small publishers do great things (especially in the Carolinas)! Great blog post.