Wilbur Frank McNair ~ May 8, 1919 – October 11, 1974

dad and dog

My father died forty three years ago today. Do we ever stop missing those people we love and lose? In memory of him, I offer this paragraph from my essay “Finding my Father and the FBI,” recently published in my brand new book out from Side Street Press, And These Are the Good Times, and before that, Chicago Literati.


It’s true that my dad was followed by the FBI. He was a card-carrying Communist who was a union rabble-rouser in the forties and fifties. To some, that meant he was a national threat: not true, not really. He was a bad father to his first batch of children, and—mostly—a better father to his second; this is true. The file, what I can remember of it since I can’t find it, pieced together bits of his life, mostly from years before I was born. Those bits don’t add up to the father I knew, the suburban dad with an organic garden who worked a day job in an office wearing a tie and who mowed his lawn while wearing shiny work pants and black socks and dress shoes on weekends. My dad didn’t abandon my family or steal 500 bucks from his boss or plan in secret meetings to overthrow the government with his Commie friends. My dad took the train to work. The Skokie Swift. He sometimes left the office early on summer days to go to a Cubs game. He wrote books with titles like How to Get a Higher Paying Job Now and New Careers for Teachers. He had nothing to hide, nothing the FBI needed to know.


→I will be doing a brief reading as part of Essay Fiesta at the Book Cellar on Monday, October 16 at 7 PM, and a longer one with the poet David Trinidad at Women & Children First on Thursday, November 1 at 7 PM. Hope to see you. And as always, thanks for reading! ~ PMc←


A Few Fives from the Chicago Book Expo

Banner from the 2017 Chicago Book Expo

Just back from the Chicago Book Expo, where I got to chat with Dennis Foley from my publisher, Side Street Press. The title of our conversation: Independent but Not Alone. And here below, some tips and resources and a little nudge we shared to help writers figure out what is best for their own publishing pursuits.

Five Ways to Find (and connect with) Independent Publishers

  1. Do your research. Read Poets & Writers, Writers Digest, book spines to see who is publishing what.
  2. Go to book fairs, conferences, literary events. Say hello. (Don’t, though, try to sell yourself and your work right then, unless they ask you to.)
  3. Reach out. Be a fan. Like their Facebook page. Follow them on Twitter. Send a friendly note. Be sincere.
  4. Support their writers. Attend readings, suggest their books to others. Be a fan here, too.
  5. Watch for calls for anthologies. These can offer a doorway into a publishing house.

Five Good Things About Working with an Independent Publisher

  1. Small pond.
  2. You often get to be part of the decisions: cover art, book jacket copy, launch party.
  3. You will get to know how to do other things like market yourself, do public readings, reach out to strangers…things that word nerds are not always good at, but things that are valuable for a whole lot of reasons.
  4. Your publishers and editors are enthusiastic—you are their livelihood—albeit exhausted.
  5. You can be pretty sure your work is loved. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have chosen you. And after so many times your work has been rejected, it is really, really good to be loved.

Five Challenges of Working with an Independent Publisher

  1. You have to work really, really hard if you want the book to succeed.
  2. You have little (and sometimes no) marketing team behind you. Hiring your own for this can cost far more than you can expect to make.
  3. The books are made in small runs (big runs can also be a problem; big houses expect you to be able to sell all of the books they print.)
  4. Things may take a long time; and small houses don’t always survive. (Neither do the bigger guys, though.)
  5. Distribution and attention is not a given. Check with your indie publisher about these things before you sign the dotted line. Get everything in writing.


Five Sites to Find Out More

  1. https://www.pw.org/small_presses (Poets & Writers) – craft and publishing talk of a sometimes “literary” nature
  2. http://www.authorspublish.com (Authors Publish Magazine) calls for submissions, tips and info
  3. http://www.writersdigest.com/ (Writers Digest) – craft and publishing talk of a more “commercial” nature
  4. http://www.thereviewreview.net/ (The Review Review) – all sorts of information about literary journals and magazines, often the way to get “discovered”
  5. http://www.spdbooks.org/ (Small Press Distribution) – a book distributor who works with dozens of small and independent presses. See their titles, their publishers, their marketing


Your turn. Five Goals for Your Work