Gosh, how time flies!

It’s been a year since Caffeinated Press moved into our offices on Kalamazoo Avenue and really started working definitively as a public-facing independent press. One year. In that time, we’ve put 10 print titles to market and three e-books, and we’ve got three more titles due for release soon as well as a half-dozen that are in the contracting/editing stages. Whew!

This summer, so far, has been focused on editing and selling:

  • Our summer intern, Mary Humphrey (a student from Notre Dame), has been hard at work completing manuscript reviews on two forthcoming novels. We have her full-time until the end of July. She is amazing, and she’s helped us clean out some of the backlog in our production process.
  • We just released the fourth issue of the first volume of The 3288 Review, our quarterly journal of arts and letters. The submission window for 2.1 just closed a few days ago; production begins soon.
  • Speaking of the journal: It sold well a few weekends ago at the Ann Arbor Book Festival. Caffeinated Press held a booth at the street-side book fair. Sales were solid, and we were able to connect with a few authors and small presses from East Mitten, as well as some distribution leads with Ann Arbor bookstores.
  • We’re also selling locally. Last weekend, and again on various Sundays this summer (7/24, 8/28, 9/25), we’ll have a stall at the 2016 Michigan Pop-Up Marketplace at the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids. Stop by to say hi or to buy our merchandise. The events run from 10a until 4p and many fun vendors remain on hand to sell homemade wares or tasty culinary delights.
  • Of course, you’re always welcome to visit our online store to shop without the hassle of putting on pants.
  • Join us on July 9 for the Tulip City author event in Holland. Author Jean Davis will be on hand, and we’ll be selling her book, A Broken Race, as well as the second issue of The 3288 Review in which one of her stories appears. She’ll also be featured in the forthcoming Brewed Awakenings 2 and we’re happy to be working with her on her trilogy, The Narvan.
  • We also welcome Katherine Sauer as a part of our standing editorial committee. She’s hit the ground running with her votes on inbound manuscripts.
  • Caffeinated Press is pleased to have recently joined Local First.

We’ve come a very long way in a very short period of time. We’re proud of the connections we’re making and of the literary endeavors we’re supporting, although (obviously) it hasn’t always been sunshine and roses. A few key learnings:

  • People are more willing to support you with a pat on the back than with an open wallet. I’m amazed at how many people express genuine delight over, e.g., The 3288 Review — they pick up it up, they assert their joy that a local publisher is highlighting local talent, they ask for information about how they can submit, then they put the artifact down without buying it. I’m not joking when I say that if we had half as many sales as we do submissions for each issue, the journal could be a hugely profitable and self-sustaining enterprise.
  • Administration is a pain in the butt. When you establish a for-profit corporation on a limited budget and with finite labor resources, all the things that sounded so cool up front (editing books! meeting authors! networking with other publishers!) end up at the bottom of the priority list when you have to reconcile the bank account, pay the utility bills, correspond with attorneys and wade through the slush pile. For example, despite the fact that I oversee editorial operations in general, I’m usually only able to spend less than 10 percent of my CafPress time doing editorial work. The rest is a mix of management, finance, operations and legal stuff. As they say: #AdultingIsHard. I don’t regret it, at all, but we’ve had to re-think our editorial processes to take into account the fact that I’m now the No. 1 bottleneck in the production process, a point that AJ and Andrea (two long-suffering authors) know all too well.
  • West Michigan really does enjoy a lot of unrecognized, or under-recognized, literary talent. Take, for example, the 1.4 issue of The 3288 Review. Half of the contributors hail from West Michigan. But the funny thing is, we had nearly 300 submissions for that issue, and our evaluation process is blinded. So put differently: Work from West Michigan writers is so strong that our editors prefer it 2-to-1 in a blinded taste test.
  • The point above notwithstanding, the literary scene in Grand Rapids is fragmented in ways we didn’t expect. This observations isn’t merely our own; as we talk to well-respected veterans of the local literary community, we hear a similar frustration. The various authors, writers’ groups, critique circles and publishers don’t overlap much and there isn’t a community-wide network of support for literary achievement. There’s not really a well-understood and universally respected convener of the literary arts in the community. For example: There’s a huge gulf between the “MFA poets” and the “slam performance poets” such that the only thing they have in common is a sliver of their audience. And different genre writers host their own proprietary Facebook “for writers” groups, without a lot of intermixing of the tribes. Plus, many local authors reach just a tiny segment of the local literary community to sell their stuff, yet they’re also not necessarily buying other local authors’ stuff. We can do better. Other cities — even places like Kalamazoo — do a much better job of community cohesion than G.R. does.
  • It’s probably fair to say that we’ve sufficiently fine-tuned our editorial processes by this point; we will probably experience incremental improvements, but not major overhauls. But marketing? We still have much work to do to connect with book buyers, advertisers and relevant community events. When you master one skill, three other essential skills pop up in the training queue, like some sort of Competency Hydra. 🙂

Anyway. One year in the office, doing the peoples’ work of producing literary excellence. Here’s to another year of the same.

A Year In …
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