Book Review: Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts by Isabelle Kenyon

Book Review: Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don'ts by Isabelle Kenyon




Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts by Isabelle Kenyon is a wealth of knowledge for the indie publishing community. This comprehensive book covers topics such as goal setting, market research and finances. It also includes an interview section where readers get to examine real life experiences from small press publishers. This book is worthwhile for those wanting to start their own presses, but also for writers seeking publication with indie presses.

How to Succeed in a Sea of Publications


“There is a lot more to succeeding as a publisher, and as a business, than a good idea.”

Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts, Isabelle Kenyon


Kenyon started Fly on The Wall Press as a hobby in 2017. She self-published her first collection of poetry via this brand and then moved on to creating powerful anthology “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” in order to raise money for the charity “Mind“, which supports programs for mental health in the United Kingdom.

Fast forward to 2020. Her press is now shortlisted for Small Press of the Year with The British Book Awards and Most Innovative Publisher with Saboteur Awards. In short, this is a publisher who has a wealth of knowledge to share in an industry that can feel secretive.

A lot of small presses are started by writers and as writers, we’re full of passion and creative ideas. However, if you’ve ever looked into the life as a small press publisher, it becomes apparent that it takes more than these qualities to run a successful press. Most press editors and founders have the time consuming day job, which makes their passion project possible. These jobs, though necessary, also exact a heavy toll on the amount of time available to run a press.

Kenyon is clear right from the start. It’s going to take more than just an idea to be a success.


Building Foundations


“As a publisher, you need a very clear idea about what your books represent and why your publishing niche is important in the industry.”

Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts, Isabelle Kenyon


The first section of this book focus on goal setting. These are basic cornerstones in building any business. Any business that is looking to establish a foothold in an industry must justify its reason for being there. This is especially true in an age where there are ever expanding channels of distribution via digital technology.

In my experience of corporate retail, we often discussed the concept of differentiation. Why would customers want to visit us and buy from us, rather than anyone else? Why would vendors want to have their products in our stores? These are the same important questions that need answering when you start to build your press. What type of books do we want? Why do these books matter to us? Kenyon is right to begin her publishing advise this way. It is only with a clear goal in mind that plans have the potential to grow and flourish.


Plan the Work, Work the Plan


“It’s clear that everyone in publishing is in it for the love of books, but without a commitment to budgets and proper sales accounting, none of our publishing houses would remain in business.”

Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts, Isabelle Kenyon


When I read the quote above, I immediately connected this with the indie publishing community. In my experience with small presses, I have seen some rise up to their challenges and others fold due to an inability to meet these requirements. When presses fold, I think they must do so with heavy hearts. After all, these projects were started because of a passion for writing and creativity and books! There can be nothing worse than having to shutter your press and give up on those dreams. As an author, I can also tell you that it is just as devastating to put your trust into a publisher, only to have them not meet their commitments or fail to communicate issues with you.

Small press publishing is wonderful, and I am so grateful to have them as a reader and writer. I read so many powerful books that might not have found a home in the traditional industry. I get to support people in a more direct way and I like that. Clearly, I edit for an indie publisher here at Mookychick, so I may be a little biased. And, I will admit to reading ‘big names’ from traditional publishers. It’s just never my preference if I have a choice. Lucky for me, I do. There are many small press publishers putting out books that absolutely feed my inner book nerd.

The beauty of Kenyon’s book is that she lays it all out in the light. Small press publishing is going to be hard. It’s also going to be incredibly rewarding. There will be market research, publicity and financial components that may feel tricky and overwhelming. These are part of the business. And though planning through all of this won’t guarantee success, there’s a much higher chance of small presses doing great things when planning is put in place. As a former project manager, I know this to be true. Even my failed projects wouldn’t have made it as far as they without plans.


The Small Press Community


“I love it when authors respond with excitement at being accepted, that moment of joy in which they have a path to getting their work into the world is such a great feeling.”

Aaron Kent, editor, Broken Sleep Books


That passion I was talking about earlier, this quote sums it up for me. Part of what I love about small presses is this kind of excitement for the authors they publish. Working with a small press is a partnership in a way that isn’t possible at some other levels of the publishing industry. What Kent didn’t say is as important as what he did say– he didn’t say he was excited to accept an author because it was going to be good for business.

We can argue all day long about capitalism and art. That’s a subject that gets a lot of important bandwidth. But here, there seems to be the need for a delicate balance. Presses need to stay in business to help provide that path for getting work into the world and for increasing visibility. Of course, authors have the ability to self publish and that’s a valid path. Publishing decisions about an author’s work are deeply personal and the best advice I ever got was from a poet I respect who said- “You have to publish in a way that feels good to you.”

Creating a small press and publishing work is a serious commitment. In reading through the final interview section of Kenyon’s book, I was fascinated to see the very different answers publishers gave to similar questions. Some are a bit more loose with structure and have limited staffing resources, while others are full of volunteers and more finely honed plans. Kenyon doesn’t seem to offer this book as a one size fits all solution. All presses will run in a unique way, but all of the information she shares is worth considering.


In Conclusion

Isabelle Kenyon’s commitment to not only running a professional small press, but helping others who want to do the same thing is admirable. One thing I’ve noticed about indie presses is that the start up process is exciting, but that the lack of knowledge about running a press as a business (whether it’s non profit or not) is a huge stumbling block to progress.

I’ve come to understand through being published that marketing and gaining visibility is not easy- most of us don’t have the funds to buy ads or host huge launches for books. Additionally, the actual process of laying out a book and putting it in print format is not simple. There are so many reasons it would be easy to throw up your hands and decide not to start your press, after all. But, there are equally as many fantastic reasons to run a small press and be part of the indie publishing community.

I encourage anyone interested in or currently running a small press to read Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts by Isabelle Kenyon.


Small Press Publishing- The Dos and Don’ts by Isabelle Kenyon is available for purchase through Fly on The Wall Press.



About the Author

ISABELLE KENYON is a northern poet and the author of This is not a Spectacle, Micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered (Origami Poetry Press) and Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, New York) and Potential (Ghost City Press) and short story pamphlet, The Town Talks (Wild Pressed Books, 2020).

She is the editor of ‘Fly on the Wall Press’, a socially conscious small press for chapbooks and anthologies.

About the Press

FLY ON THE WALL is a social enterprise company and a not for profit publisher, based in Manchester. We publish high quality anthologies on pressing issues, chapbooks and poetry products, from exceptional poets around the globe, with socially conscious themes.