On Why I Love Small Presses

Pig ParkPlease welcome Claudia Guadalupe Martinez to Rich in Color! Claudia’s novel, Pig Park, will be out from Cinco Puntos Press on September 16:

It’s crazy! Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga’s neighborhood is becoming more and more of a ghost town since the lard company moved away. Her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow. As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls to haul bricks to help build a giant pyramid in the park in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. Then there’s the new boy who came to help, the one with the softest of lips.

Claudia is currently running two giveaways for Pig Park–one that’s open to individuals and one that’s for educators, which includes a classroom set of 10 copies of the book. The drawing ends on August 28, so enter now!

I sometimes joke that I completed my MFA under Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press. I was alway a writer, but I didn’t “study writing” in any traditional setting. I set out to write my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008), with a strong desire and a degree in Literature.

When I thought I was finished, I sent my manuscript to five small presses with all the bravado of my 23 years on the planet. One of those presses was Cinco Puntos. I had just moved to Chicago, but I figured that–because we were both El Pasoans in a sense–they would get what I was doing.

After a couple of requests for more, I was rejected by all. Lee’s rejection was notably kind and pretty much told it straight: she liked my writing, but I had not written a “book.”

“Well, what was a book?” I huffed in my little apartment. But Lee was right. To begin with, my so-called novel was only maybe 60 double-spaced pages. Ay!

Over the course of the next three years, and many more submissions to Cinco Puntos, I fleshed the thing out. Right around this time, I also began submitting to agents. An agent from Andrea Brown offered to work with me, but I knew that I wanted to publish with Lee. Though I hadn’t yet met her face to face, substantial back and forth over those three years made me think of her as a mentor.

I finally wore Lee down, and I can safely say things worked out in my favor. Lee tells her own version of this story, of course, one about a persistent girl that kept sending her a manuscript with no explanations.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know of at least one other debut author (a Pura Belpre winner) who had a similar experience with an independent press.

So when I hear all these conversations about the lack of diversity in books being published, I can’t help thinking about something Lee always says. People are focusing on the hole in the donut when there’s all this delicious stuff all around it. Small presses haven’t failed to champion diversity. Almost half of the diverse books counted each year by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center are published by small presses, despite their limited share of the overall market.

It is my hope that– just as the “Buy Indie” to support independent bookstores movement has caught fire in the wake of the Amazon fight with Hachette–”Buy Indie” will also become synonymous with buying from independent publishers for those interested in the diverse books movement. Independent publishers like Cinco Puntos, Arte Publico, Groundwood Books, Lee and Low and others have found ways to accomplish what the big guys haven’t, and be truly representative of the diverse world we live in.

Sure, I can’t help wondering what might’ve happened had I signed on with Andrea Brown. Sure, I would love for my publisher to have the marketing dollars afforded to the John Greens and Veronica Roths of our industry. But I am mostly grateful to have a publisher who gambles on voices not often found in the mainstream, time after time. Signing on with Cinco Puntos to publish my second novel, Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014), was kinda a no-brainer.

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez Claudia is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with her father. She now lives and writes in Chicago.

6 Replies to “On Why I Love Small Presses

  1. Claudia, I’m so thrilled to have discovered another author from beautiful El Paso (my hometown as well). Reading stories written by people who come from where I come from and who have voices that tell stories like mine is one of the most powerful things I’ve experienced. I also share your sentiments about small publishers. The best stories aren’t necessarily the “big brand” stories; they are the ones that you can make connections to and share with those around you. Thank you for doing what you do!

  2. I love that you have written books that will enrich the lives of diversities. I work at a school that is 90% Spanish speakers or decent and would love to share this with my students. I also love that you lived close to where we are (Roswell, New Mexico)

  3. I am a teacher who is always looking for new books that promote diversity. I think yours would be a great addition to my classroom library.

  4. This is a great story, Claudia. You’re like the Little Engine That Could! And hooray for small presses!

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