Raw Dog Screaming Founder Jennifer Barnes’ tips on thriving as a Small Press
Ten years ago, Jennifer Barnes and her husband John Edward Larson founded Raw Dog Screaming Press to create a conduit whereby freewheeling “fiction that foams at the mouth” might cross from the bizarro ether into a staid corporeal world.
Barnes cops to having more than a few stars knocked out of her eyes along the way, but when it comes to the bare bones question of ultimate worth and triumph, the Raw Dog record speaks for itself via a series of genre-crossing, boundary-demolishing novels, anthologies, picture books, poetry collections, and chapbooks from the esteemed likes of Elizabeth Massie, D. Harlan Wilson, Dustin LaValley, Jason Jack Miller, Michael A. Arzen, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jeremy C. Shipp, amongst a slew of other demented scribbler-seers.
And we haven’t even mentioned the FRIDGE OF THE DAMNED magnetic poetry set yet…
“While not much turned out the way we thought it would,” Barnes tells FANGORIA, “we’ve certainly learned a lot about publishing, running a small business and creativity—lessons that can probably be applied to most artistic endeavors.”
On the eve of this weekend’s DogCon 2 festivities, we asked Barnes to consolidate that hard-won knowledge into a list of the ten most important takeaways from her decade of hawking exquisite insanity to the masses.
1. There Will Always Be Typos
Catch what you can and then move on. Perfection is nearly unattainable and not worth what you pay in time.
Most people would be surprised at how small the book business is compared to other media industries like TV, movies and music. Huge payouts are rarer than winning the lottery and being struck by lightning in the same lifetime… Okay, I didn’t actually calculate the odds, but trust me, big book money is rare and often generated as a crossover from another form of media.
3. You Can DIY (Do It Yourself) But You Can’t DIA (Do It All)
Throughout the course of RDSP history, I’ve done just about everything involved; Writing contracts, manuscript editing, book layout, cover design, website creation and maintenance, royalty statements and taxes. While it is possible to do many yourself, it’s not possible to do them all at once.
4. The World Needs the Small Press
Unfortunately our culture only seems to value creativity if it leads to a marketable product that makes money. But many of the best creative endeavors come from inspiration that doesn’t take marketability into account. The small press gives talented writers a place to hone their skills without focus groups and marketing departments interfering.
5. Make It New
People are always interested in the “new” thing, but if you have a great thing that’s not new you can find ways to make it so. For example: you can re-release a book with a new cover. The new science fiction imprint we’re launching, Dog Star Books, has seemed to generate more publicity in a few months than the press generated in its first five years.
6. Do Something, Anything
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you can’t figure out the best place, then pick the easiest or least difficult task just to get going. Doing something, anything, creates momentum that can take you places you never expected.
7. Opportunities Will Come
If you do something creative long enough, you are bound to create opportunities. They can sometimes seem to come out of nowhere and they may not be the ones you expected or hoped for, but the more things you do the more opportunities you create for yourself.
Once you’ve put in enough work that people can see the shape of your vision they’ll want to help. I’ve always been surprised by the generosity of what people will give when you say you need help with your goal. This power can be tough to harness sometimes but it’s certainly worth trying.
9. Have Fun
Producing something creative and getting it to market requires a lot of hard work, but if you don’t throw in some fun your product will probably suffer and you definitely will.
10. Keep Doing It
This is probably the hardest one of all. There are many ups and downs in the creative process and in business, but some things only come with time. You have to be tenacious. The main difference between RDSP and the many publishing companies that started at the same time as us, but aren’t around now, is that we’re still putting out books and they’re not.