Traditional Publishing

Surviving in the small press

By David Soulsby
Editor, Libbon – Saturday September 29, 2007

There is one of the unexplained mysteries of the writer/publisher interface that grieves me. Why do writers submit their work to magazines without first checking out their suitability? It grieves me because my belief that writers would not hand over their masterpieces without first ensuring that the magazine wasn't printed on toilet tissue with a John Bull home printing set led me to publish my own short story magazine entitled Libbon.

I set aside a substantial sum of money in the hope that my goal of a non-profitmaking but self-sustaining magazine would be established within a couple of years. This would enable me to create a high quality publication that would showcase stories from new writers.

Obtaining high quality stories would be a breeze; set up a competition with prizes for the winner and runners-up and they would pour in. I charged an entry fee initially to set against the publishing cost of the premier issue. Stories certainly came in but the "high quality" was thin on the ground.

Nevertheless, after three months there were enough good ones to launch Libbon, the United Kingdom's newest short story magazine. I made sure that production values were high with full colour photographs complementing the text and all professionally printed on high quality paper.

The plan was to sell the magazine via the website and run a second competition on the lines of the first. Previous entrants would surely purchase issue one to see what had been selected in order to question the parentage of the judges in not selecting their stories instead of the inferior offerings on display. New entrants would buy the magazine before sending in their pride and joy just to check that it was worthy of showcasing their work. However, sales did not support my thesis.

Undaunted, I pressed on and published issues two and three on a six monthly cycle. Top notch stories now arrived by new writers from around the globe with Dr. George Green, of the creative writing team at Lancaster University and himself a published writer, supporting Libbon with one of his own.

Feedback came in and those that had read Libbon thought it had now become a genuine serious small press magazine. Money was getting low so I decided to beef-up my marketing strategy. I paid for advertisements in mainstream writing publications, was interviewed by the local rag, and "appeared" on our local radio station.

My final push came with issue four, abandoning the competition and entry fee I sought and found good quality stories from a wider group of writers. I received the support of Roger Morris, author of Taking Comfort and A Gentle Axe, who submitted his own high quality story.

Still the fatal flaw in my logic remains, it seems that some writers are desperate to have their work published regardless of the quality or suitability of the publication.

Issue five looks a long way away now – if at all – because my budget is blown. A shame, because I had just linked up with Rootball, which has done successful creative writing work with children excluded from schools in Brent, London, and is about to work in Brixton and Hackney. If a young writer shows signs of staying power and promise for a good short story it could be published in a future issue of Libbon without the stress of competition and possible rejection. Seeing a story published in a high quality literary short story magazine alongside adults would I'm sure be a huge self esteem boost and bring obvious benefit to that youngster's life.

Hopefully this can still happen. Why not give Libbon a chance? Keep sending in your manuscripts, but how about visiting and checking it out first?

About the Author

"My interest in fiction publishing was born out of the rejection of my own literary efforts. I know that there are hundreds of writers ‘out there' who can tell stories with a difference but like me are rejected by the mainstream publications. I wanted to start a magazine with an adventurous editorial policy that could bring these stories to a wider audience and so help emerging writers achieve recognition. It has been tough, I was initially referred to as a 'joe-schmo' by a Creative writer from Lancaster University, but he became so impressed with the magazine that he now assists in reviewing submissions.

"My main alternative interest is travel – especially America. My quest to visit all 50 states of the union, 39 to date has led me to a number of interesting places well away from the interstates. My ambition is to see Libbon for sale in my local newsagent."