Boston area publishers explore new ideas

By Maria Cavaliere


The shelves of any bookstore house works from a multitude of different publishers, those making the big bucks come from the big names. Random House, Harper Collins, Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Books have all dominated the industry, producing New York Times Best Sellers, and movie box office hits. But what about the little guy?

In the Boston area, those independent small presses and publishers still make an impact.

Rose Metal Press is unlike many publishers in the Boston area. According to their website, “[they] look to print hybrid genres, works that fall into “short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse and book-length linked narrative poems; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.”

It’s co-founder, Abigail Beckel, has been in the publishing industry for over 11 years. She first got a taste for publishing in high school, where she became the yearbook editor.

“It was something tangible that people loved,” she said of publishing the yearbook. “I was just like ‘that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to create books’.”

She has worked for Pearson Education, Beacon Press, and Blackwell Publishing.

“I was mostly editing, which I liked, but I was interested in design and I was interested in how to do distribution. I was interested in the whole business,” Beckel said.

When the publishing house is bigger, a person usually only gets to work on one aspect of publishing, but if it’s smaller there are more opportunities to work on a lot of different aspects of the field, she said.

She wasn’t learning everything she wanted to as quickly in the field, and decided to attend graduate school. In 2005, she received her master’s degree in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College. After graduating, she went on to co-found the Brookline-based press in 2006 with fellow Emerson alumna Kathleen Rooney.

The mission Beckel and Rooney had in starting the press was to print innovative hybrid genres.

The decision to publish hybrid genres Beckel said, was because “mainstream publishing had become more conglomerated and bought out by other publishers. There was a lot less interesting and innovative stuff being published.”

After deciding on their mission, came the finance questions.

The financial side of starting the business was harder than they expected, Beckel said. This made their decision to make the press a nonprofit organization easy. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Beckel and her partner were and still are able to raise funds and write grants. 

Rose Metal Press aren’t the only ones doing things a little differently.

Over at Emerson College, Ploughshares Magazine, which is not a press, is still making new advancements in the way it publishes content.

In the New England area, it seems that many presses are also affiliated with a literary magazine. In the case of Ploughshares Magazine, they are a stand-alone.

DeWitt Henry and Peter O’Malley founded the magazine in 1971 at the Irish pub Plough and Stars in Cambridge.

The magazine moved onto Emerson College’s campus in 1989, where it is affiliated with the college, but is its own separate entity.

“Literary readers still are very attached to the book,” said Ladette Randolph, editor-in-chief and executive director of Ploughshares. “There’s a certain percentage of those readers who are reading across platforms and in some cases they’re buying. They will consume the book initially on Kindle and then if they love it they buy a copy because they’re book lovers.”

Randolph has been with Ploughshares for six years, joining the magazine right at the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle.

The kindle had become a phenomenon at the time, Randolph said.

“Literary readers, still, are very attached to the book and there’s a certain percentage of those readers who are reading across platforms and in some cases they’re buying,” Randolph said. “They will consume the book initially on Kindle and then if they love it they buy a copy, because they’re book lovers.”

The magazine has been trying to keep pace with these technological changes, said Randolph. Not only are they seeing the changes as challenges, but they are also opportunities.


Its entire backlist has been digitized to make it compatible for e-reader platforms, making the magazine available to everyone who would enjoy that over the print version.

Along with the magazine, Ploughshares publishes long stories, long essays and novellas specifically for the digital format, known as Ploughshares Solos.

It publishes nine a year and are available only on e-readers at first, said Randolph.

At the end of the year it gathers those digital stories into an omnibus that is available to all subscribers, and those interested in purchasing just the book.

Originally, the magazine only published fiction pieces between 5,000 and 6,000 words, but has recently opened up to poetry, and novel and memoir excerpts. It also publishes longer fiction and non-fiction pieces between 6.000 and 25,000 words long, as part of its digital series. 

Aside from word count limits for submissions, it has one other publication restriction. Since Ploughshares resides on the Emerson College campus, it cannot publish work by current students, faculty, or employees.

Even with the nationwide recognition as a literary force, the magazine is still a small production. There are only 3 full-time staff members.

With the small teams working at magazines,  going digital might be a good thing.

Emerson College E-publisher-in-Residence, John Rodzvilla knows all about digital publishing and the popularity of the e-book. He teaches courses in web development, which focuses on the design and formatting of images and text, e-publishing, and courses on the business and legal aspects of publishing from copyright to contract rights, licensing and permissions.

He said he thinks the digital book now is just replicating the print book , adding, that that is fine since they’ve only been creating digital content for two decades.  But change is on the horizon. “There’s a promise of what we can do with digital content, and e-books.” Rodzvilla said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

John Rodzvilla discusses the difference between big and small press

About Maria Cavaliere 3 Articles
Maria Cavaliere is a multimedia journalist originally from New York City, who is currently wrapping up her final semester of graduate school in Boston, MA.