One of my favorite small presses, ChiZine Publications (http://chizinepub.com/) just signed a deal with Harper Collins Canada to take over its Canadian distribution, and its global digital distribution. (Diamond Book Distributors remains as the distributor for the U.S. and internationally.) Then ChiZine Publications was named "Best Horror Imprint" in Rue Morgue Magazine; then publisher Sandra Kasturi was profiled for "Women in Horror".... So they are having a pretty good week!
CZP is one of my favorite examples of the small presses evolving to fill the gap left by the decline of the previous publishing model. CZP has three things going for it:
(1) publishers (Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory) who know a great book when they see it -- in contrast to the majors that have abdicated editorial choice to their marketing department's. Readers know that no matter how far out a particular title appears, if Brett and Sandra have passed on it, its got something. I am no horror fan, in fact I generally despise the genre, but I have yet to read a CZP title that I didn't like. Okay, "like" might not be quite the right word, because some of this stuff is seriously wrong but you know, brilliant. So this is an excellent example of successful branding. There are a billion titles out there and its increasingly difficult to find the good stuff. One the one hand, the big traditional publishers try to play it safe in their quest for the big sellers, and so turn out process cheese; on the other, the majority of self-published material isn't even literate. So the most interesting stuff is being published by the small presses, but their output is often uneven. But once one has identified a particular press as a trusted brand -- and CZP is the current best example of a 'never a wrong note' press -- then the press becomes the guarantor of quality that readers require.
(2) publishers who understand the new publishing model -- and Sandra and Brett have practically invented the new model. As publishers of limited edition hardcovers, they play well to the collector market, readers who want books as objects of art almost as much as for their content. Even their paperback editions are things of beauty. And using that market as their base, have slowly, carefully, thoughtfully built themselves into a significant imprint distributed by one of the big players.
(3) publishers who understand community. I think this is one of the key factors that made for their outrageous success story, and one they may not even totally consciously get themselves. I happened to be in Toronto one week when they had an event planned, so dropped in. And was instantly blown away by the community these guys had grown. They have surrounded themselves with a pool of incredibly talented writers, editors, reviewers, and readers. The sociologist in me was fascinated to watch how they turned a reading series into the best author networking opportunity I've seen in years. I watched dozens of horror's best sitting around bouncing ideas off each other, validating each others work, living the writing life. All facilitated by CZP reading series. No wonder they keep finding great new talent-- they're creating it wholesale by creating a community. CZP isn't just a press, its a bloody movement! A school! I know beyond any doubt that future literary scholars will identify this group as a major turning point not only in horror (the horror community world wide has already clued in that CZP is completely revitalizing that otherwise moribund genre) but for mainstream Canadian literature. Kasturi and editor Helen Marshall, for example, are clearly two of Canada's best poets by anybody's standards, and are slowly being recognized as such by the mainstream literary establishment. When was the last time the canlit crowd took horror seriously? When was the last time you actually thought of buying a poetry book. But I tell you, these two...! And they're just the tip of the ice berg. I wish I lived in Toronto to be part of it, or at least to be there with my notebook to document it all, but even way out here in Alberta I can see that the CZP community is becoming THE up and coming literary circle in Canada.
Remember you heard it here first folks!