Questions of Idenity and Purpose: Running a Small Press
It’s exhilarating at times, running a small press. You make new connections with the community. You’re a part of something you feel passionate about. You connect with other writers, other artists and designers. Other people. It’s more than that, too. You’re literally involved in creation, another part of the process of developing literary art. It’s very gratifying to be a part of bringing an artifact into the world. The fact that there is a business side to all this? I say: part of the challenge and the exhilaration. The dream is that this is will be at least a part of what supports you once it really takes off. But when is then?
You may find yourself asking, Is my “labor of love” really a deep enough love to work at it for pennies on the dollar compared to what I could be making starting up any number of other small businesses, or expending the same amount of energy at a well-paying corporate job involving writing or design skills? Or even just a modest teaching load somewhere where you could be teaching your field at least? Would you could you should you leave one thing (place/career) behind and start another?
First, I want to name it. Editors go through identity struggles. It’s true. This human condition exists even in editors. The fact is, most editors struggle on some level with the tension between investing their writing skills (involving talent and time) on work other than their own. Of course they do! The question is what really creates this tension? What if one is the editor of a nonprofit start-up independent press? Then, at least, the answer finds focus.
We think of editors as being “behind the scenes” people. Is that really the problem though? Not really. At least not for me. Think how many writers are teachers. While good editors don’t generally have the lifelong support of their authors the way good teachers do from their students, both share the virtue and honor of promoting others and not only self. Often, teachers get the prestige and support of affiliating as an expert at an institution of higher learning, but so do editors. Some, of course, do both. And the few the proud, all three.
1. Presses need money. That’s a part of success. Why is it a dirty word? While dreams and passion can get you a long way, at some point you’ve got to do more than get by. It’s like breathing and sleeping, right? You’re going to be grouchy if you don’t get enough. In fact, you might not survive. It’s the number one reason not because it’s the central focus, or editors are greedy. Just the opposite. They need enough to experience the success of their project.
2. Editors who have ambitions as writers must have success as writers. Editors often get into their situations based upon dreams of one day “making it” as a writer. What if editing and nonprofit developing require one to sacrifice even “some” of their writing? Is that okay? Is it something that doesn’t become clear until it’s too late? Again, human nature: editors feel better (so to speak) about assisting in the world of promoting and developing others if they’ve had some success themselves. Simple, right?
And if the press really does grow and evolve into this beautiful and profitable “artifact,” then these questions matter far less, maybe not at all. And that’s what I mean: money = support = success. In fact, I’ve blogged about this subject a few months ago on the Glad Lab blog in a different context (one meant more for corporations) Workplace Well-Being and the Self-Actualization of Profits.
Finally, you make a name for yourself as a writer by writing, not by editing. So, if that’s your primary motivation, then, yes, it can be a mistake to edit and/or develop a nonprofit.
Do what you love. The rest will follow?
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