While browsing in a bookshop recently I spotted a tatty little poster advertising the existence of the Small Press Group. The usual sales pitch was accompanied by notification of the upcoming annual fair and being who I am, I went home and wrote off for details. What came back was a personal reply from John Nicholson who is the prime mover of the group telling me about the fair, its newsletter and the yearbook - all of which aim to further the aims of the SPG. These are to publicise and advance the cause of non-mainstream publishing that covers everything from newsletters, fanzines, bookbinding and limited run poetry to virtually full blown publishing. I quickly decided that there would probably be something in the group for me, perhaps the hobby and almost certainly for amateur game designers. Yet again, this is a body that has been around for at least three years and I have remained blissfully unaware of it. Simply, the SPG is firmly on the fringes of publishing which leads to both good and bad aspects.
I was therefore quite expectant when I rolled along to the fair at the Horticultural Halls in late September. Having tried and failed to get into the National Shoe Repair Exhibition (scope for weak 'load of cobblers' jokes there), I quickly realised it was probably being held the other hall. Once inside, I was pretty much staggered by the variety. Stands filled the hall and displayed, in rough order; superb bookbinding, bookbinding supplies, fanzines, limited circulation books, children's books, magazines, paper artwork, top quality German rubber stamps (these were also at Essen and the catalogue is dribblesome), desk top publishing systems, printing firms and inevitably numerous small presses with their range of books. I intended to spend an hour and stayed for four, there was so much to see.
Unsurprisingly, for a fringe operation, the fair attracted some pretty alternative people. Beards and bozos predominated, mixed in with Visa-accepting anarchists, poets, UFO loonies, children's authors, soft porn merchants (or perhaps they were art magazines) and simple enthusiasts. There were also three blatant transvestites walking around, presumably as a publicity stunt, but it is hard to keep an open mind on a hairy six footer in fishnets. This diversity of publishers is bound to throw up some weird writing topics and indeed it did. I spotted books on leather fetishism, the world domination of mysogynists, the works of Jane Austen, pub games, Tintin anarcho-parodies and ghost tours of Cambridge. You want variety? No problem. If I had the time to investigate I'm sure there is a lot there worth my time but for now I have to be selective and concentrate on what I know I'm interested in.
Once I'd taken in as much as I could, it was time to see if there was anything of practical use. The most striking factor is that all the books on sale were very inexpensive. Hardbacks were priced between six and ten pounds, paperbacks as low as a pound. Quality is not a problem, the worst you'll get is laser printing on decent paper but most are professionally typeset on professional stock. There must be a question as to whether these prices are subsidised but having spoken to a few of the printing firms there, I decided they probably weren't. This seems to indicate that specialist subject, limited run works can be printed at a surprisingly reasonable cost. The services on offer will probably not be of great use to newsletter editors, but for anything requiring a more professional image or for large runs there are reasonable rates for DTP, laser printing, typesetting and complete books (hard or softbound) can be printed at very affordable rates. Most of this can be run from IBM or Mac disks and others on application.
The people exhibiting at the fair had one thing in common; large scale enthusiasm for their work. Unusual it may be, but most of the non-commercial presses seemed ready to help on any aspect of publishing and it was difficult to get away from free advice and samples once any level of interest was shown. I spent a good twenty minutes discussing the costing of a game rule book with one firm and walked away armed with paper samples, price lists, knowledge of binding techniques and a fair idea of what I was dealing with - a professional operation.
The Small Press Yearbook is a listing of all the imprints and presses registered with the SPG and who want some free publicity. Again, much of the content relates to gross weirdness and very obscure subjects but in among this are tons of advice on putting out your own work and a substantial number of fascinating publications. I noted Carl Ford's Dagon in there and a few other links to my hobbies such as Partizan Press. There is no reason that a games fanzine shouldn't be featured next year, and I am reckoning on an entry for Sumo (for what it's worth). If the International Meccanoist gets a response, Sumo must stand a small chance surely? Full details are listed for each press and the encouragement is to buy and support the cause. Of course, I complied. The yearbook costs £7 but is half price to members.
I am not sure yet whether to SPG is one of these clubs that has two highlights per year (the fair and the yearbook) and nothing for the other eleven months but when the newsletter arrives, I'll let you know. For the time being I considered membership at £12 worth a punt and I am of course willing to let anyone have further details if I can help. The Small Press Group is at BM Bozo, London WC1N 3XX. For those, like me, who have no idea what a BM is, I am assured it is a posh form of PO Box.
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information