We don’t often think in terms of following publishers. Writers, yes, ’cause it’s their names on the cover and we’re trained to follow the individual rather than the company that produced their work. Writers get branded; publishers…well, with the exception of Harlequin, the Penguin classics line, and some of the work being done by Angry Robot, there are very few larger publishers that have a clear, design-led brand that gives all their books a consistent look and easy recognition.
This breaks down a little once you start looking at small press, but, basically, you’ve got to be pretty nerdy to be a fan of publishers rather than the people they publish. Fortunately, I’m a nerdy kind of guy.
Tiny Owl Workshop haven’t been around for very long, but they’ve put together a series of interesting projects over their short life-span and they’re one of those publishers I keep watching with real interest.
Tiny Owl first came to my attention when they published my friend Megan as part of their Napkin Stories project – a series of micro-fiction that were printed on serviettes, then distributed to a bunch of local cafes over Valentines Day, 2013.
The Napkin Stories had some great fiction and the gimmick definitely attracted attention on the local level, but I remember being somewhat dubious about it. Quirky will get you attention, after all, but from a writer’s point of view, there are always questions when you watch a small press emerging and establishing their reputation. What are they going to do next? How are they building a readership? How can they set up sustainable projects and income that’ll allow them to pay the writers they work with?
The second time I heard Tiny Owl’s name was when we released the details for GenreCon 2013 onto the internet, which coincided with the first fifty tickets going on-sale at a massively discounted early bird rate. People were pretty excited about the conference’s second outing – we sold out of early bird tickets in twenty-six hours – but there were also a handful of people who were pretty bummed out. Mostly these were young, emerging writer-types who didn’t have the kind of discretionary cash to spend on a conference costing a couple of hundred bucks. A conversation broke out on twitter and blog posts right about the point where I was dragging my tired body to bed (launch dates for the con are exhausting)…
…and when I started processing the ticket sales, the following day, Tiny Owl had bought a small handful of tickets to be used explicitly to support developing writers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend the con. They’d donated one to one of the young writers who was most disappointed about being unable to make the con, and asked QWC to help them find people who’d be a good fit for the rest.
It was a classy move for a young, emerging press (or, as Tiny Owl refers to itself, a Publisher in Training). And it earned them a lot of fans around the offices at work.
Tiny Owl followed up their Napkin stories with the Pillow Fight project, run in conjunction with Brisbane Writer’s festival. The concept was simple: six genre-based flash fictions and six literary flash-fictions get printed on the pillows that got scattered around the BWF festival club. The per-word rate for the selected flash fictions was one of the best I’ve ever seen attached for a fiction open call.
I subbed to Pillow Fight. I got picked to be one of the stories for the Genre fiction kind of things. It remains one of the oddest ways my fiction has ever been published, and it doesn’t really fit on my brag shelf, but my pillow has earned pride of place on my couch.
MOVING INTO PRINT – UNFETTERED, LANE OF UNUSUAL TRADERS, AND BEYOND
A second round of Halloween-themed Napkin Stories followed the first to round out Tiny Owl’s first year, expanding their reach into Toronto as well as Brisbane. Then they started announcing projects that would see them moving into print, while still keeping the sense of whoa, that’s interesting that marked their initial publishing forays.
Unfettered invited a bunch of writers to interpret a number of pieces by of professional illustrator Terry Whidborne. It played right into Tiny Owl’s strength – visually intriguing, quirky, and immediately enticing to a number of emerging writers. Their next project, The Lane of Unusual Traders, is a shared-world anthology that is once again based in a strong, visual set of queues (and there are hints, in Tiny Owls discussion around the place, that there are plans for the world to be an annual thing).
Both these projects offer big hooks to writers – Unfettered was the first time in about six years that every member of my writing group submitted somewhere – and I’ve got no doubt that the final projects will be visually spectacular and packed with interesting fiction. They’re the kind of projects that suggest there is someone smart, invested, and with a particularly strong vision at the helm of the press, even if they are a publisher in training.
Couple that with print books compiling the napkin stories and a handful of other projects that quietly get mentioned from time to time, and you’ve got a press moving into its third year with some pretty interesting stuff on the horizon.
All in all, Tiny Owl achieves something that’s hard to do for a small press – they make me perpetually interested in what’s they’re going to do next. Not their authors, not their artists, but the press itself.
If you’re a writer, go check out their current list of projects. If you’re a reader, follow ’em on twitter and wait for their projects to go live. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed by the results.The way their projects combine art, story, and…well, the capacity for both darkness and whimsy…reminds me a lot of discovering the early work of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, with their greatest strength lying in their capacity to surprise you.
Basically, the Tiny Owl folks are smart, classy, and have a really strong idea of what they’re trying to achieve. Start following ’em now, if only so you can be insufferably smug about being there from the beginning when everyone else starts to notice ’em in a few years time.