Monday, December 6, 2010

Six Questions for Michael Simms, Editor-in-Chief and Founder, Autumn House Press

From the website:

"Autumn House Press was launched in 1998 when prominent American publishers, driven by economic concerns, dramatically reduced their poetry lists and important contemporary poets were left struggling to find publishers. Small presses are now publishing some of the most important poetry in America, and are largely nurturing the great American poetic tradition. We want to ensure that this tradition continues. In 2008, we supplemented our poetry list by initiating a series of fiction titles. These books receive the same attention to design and manufacture as our award-winning poetry titles. Besides publishing books, Autumn House has three additional programs. We publish Coal Hill Review, an online poetry magazine; we sponsor two national literary contests; and we collaborate with Pittsburgh community venues to present The Autumn House Master Authors Reading Series." Learn more here.

SQF: According to a report by Foner Books (, “[g]rowth stagnated for booksellers in 2008, and overall book sales barely moved according to the government.” In addition, I’ve read a number of articles concerning the difficulty authors are having securing book deals. In your opinion, what is the current state of the print book market?

MS: According to the Association of American Publishers, book sales are up nearly 7% compared to a similar period last year. So the down period of 2008 and 2009 which you refer to was largely the result of the recession. Note in the AAP press release link that the robust sectors include Higher Education sales, University Press sales, and E-book sales. Moreover, at Autumn House, we've had steady growth in revenue since we were founded twelve years ago. It's true, as you say, that the major publishing houses have experienced steep drops in their sales of trade books in recent years, and bookstores are facing tough competition from online sellers, but these are problems in industries having outmoded business models, not a decline in interest among readers.  My experience is that if a publisher releases a well-designed book of high-quality contemporary writing, then sales will cover the cost of design, production, and overhead.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

MS: The Quality of Writing, The Quality of Writing, The Quality of Writing.

We are primarily a poetry press.

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

MS: The major mistake is that authors send us manuscripts without first looking at the guidelines on our website. Sending a prospectus to every publisher in America is nothing better than spam, and pitches like this are rightly ignored.

SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

MS: We will publish eight books this year, and five of them are by first time authors.

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

MS: It's a very competitive field, so if you want to get your work published, you will have to be persistent. That being said, I see a lot of manuscripts from authors who are clearly not ready to publish a book, so to those authors, I would say "learn your craft."

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

MS: Thanks! One thing I wish that authors would think about is why an independent publisher would spend decades of his or her life and thousands of dollars of his own money to help authors find an audience. The answer is that we publish only work that we really believe in.

Thank you, Michael. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 12/9--Six Questions for Mary Akers, Editor-in-Chief, r.kv.r.y

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