In 2012 a small group of writers and editors living in the California Central Valley complained about how large publishers ignored experimental writers, writers with little platform, and most of all, writers who deserved to be heard but were denied a voice. What was a conversation about Draconian gatekeeping morphed into an all-nighter figuring out how to produce a book.
Within six months, a book was compiled, edited, and ready for print. It wouldn’t sell many copies, but it was the first step in a journey to figuring out how to build a small press. Even more importantly, that book launched a never-ending discussion on what a small press should be and do. Ultimately, a mission statement was drafted, and it was decided that Unsolicited Press would be a voice for the underdogs, for the award-winners, and for the underserved. The press would be different but not for the sake of being so—it would cooperate with the industry but raise a voice against archaic norms that continue to keep the writer and publisher last on the list of folks getting paid. It would argue against bookstores expecting full returnability of books in any condition without doing their part to effectively sell a book. It would market and promote authors to the best of its ability as a way of advocating for the author’s place in the book world. It would be a publishing company that uses all the profit to continue the focus of the mission.
During the first few years, it was rocky. We had no money to pay anyone. Everyone involved didn’t step into the mess expecting payment; work was fueled by passion for the craft. From day one, we knew money wasn’t the goal and thus it was decided that the press would be a volunteer-operated outfit. Any money we could pay to editors, designers, marketers, etc. would come after the authors were paid, the bills covered, and the coffers were filled for future publications. It’s still that way.
There were lulls of time between 2012 and 2016 where the team was acquiring books, figuring out how to deliver books to the market, learning the dirty secrets of the industry, and subsequently deciding to forge our own path that used only the best aspects of the publishing world. Many blunders were made, but one thing is true: we always got back up and we always corrected our errors.
As a team we found ways to use distributors and wholesalers to reach readers and bookstores, while sticking to our mission. That meant reaching out to independent stores to cultivate real relationships, the kind a distributor’s sales rep could never manage to create. The team decided that remote work would be most beneficial, both in terms of cost and in permitting staff to work wherever they needed to be. After all, a shiny office isn’t what makes a publisher superb; it’s the people and the relationships between people that matter most. Unsolicited Press made Portland, Oregon home base in 2016 given its outstanding support for the arts. Around 2018, we hit our stride, and that momentum has and will continue to keep this bad ass publishing program moving forward for as long as we can. Of course, we’d love to buy a farm-slash-bookstore-slash-office on the outskirts of town to hold readings, writing workshops, and residencies, but have you seen the cost of real estate here?
Of the original people who started Unsolicited Press, three remain. But the team is so much bigger than that: we have dedicated editors and designers who have been working with the team for years and while they may not have founded the company, they are members of this family—Jay, Kristen, Kathryn, Bekah, Taylor, Robin, and Nathan—thank you. Same goes for the authors who have been with us since the beginning: Mick Bennett, Anne Leigh Parrish, Emily Kiernan, Bill Alton, Nicholas Kriefall, David M. Harris, and Pamela Herron. These authors trusted us with their work during a time when we were little and had no idea what we were doing. We know what we are doing now…but every day offers something new to learn…every year a trend or technology disrupts what we thought we knew about the book industry.
It’s been eight years since Unsolicited Press was born. April is a month for rebirth and rejuvenation. What better month could there be for a business’s anniversary.
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