What could be more inspiring, more noble, than a book lover who sees the world of modern publishing, in all its chaos and strange bedfellows merger frenzy, and thinks, “Hey, I think I’ll start a small independent press!”

dan cafaro

Dan Cafaro, Founder of Atticus Books

What if that same guy is a visionary who knows that the books on the front tables at a Barnes & Noble aren’t really the best books, who knows there’s better stuff out there from under-appreciated writers with great manuscripts stashed away in their underwear drawers?  A guy who feels he can help those good books have a place in the world?  


Does such a small press superhero exist, dear listeners?

Yes.  Yes, he does.

Today on the show, we have just such a guy, and he’s as nice and cool as he sounds: Dan Cafaro, Founder of Atticus Books.  

On this episode of Fiction School, we interview Dan and get his insight on the modern world of publishing and the place of the small press in it, what editors look for in manuscripts, what the work of being an author really is (hint: you need a website, yo!), and lots more.

There's gotta be a manuscript in here somewhere...

There’s gotta be a manuscript in here somewhere…


  • Dan details how he decided to start Atticus Books, coming from an editorial and writing and bookseller background
  • We discuss how small literary presses fill a niche between commercial fiction and literary fiction.  What’s on the front table at Barnes & Noble isn’t necessarily the best stuff out there, and small presses bring those books to market.
  • Dan details how Atticus Books and many small presses acquire manuscripts.  They get 15-20 manuscripts each month.
  • What’s surprised Dan most in 4 years as a small press publisher?  Got attention from Publisher’s Weekly early on, and some other good media attention.  They also got a nice brand going with UK designer Jamie Keenan.
  • Atticus has won 8 Golds at theTZ2 Independent Publisher’s Awards–including TWO from our illustrious compadre, Tommy Z!  Here’s Tommy’s mug picking up his second gold.
  • How does a small press choose what books to publish?  Dan describes how he looks closely at the query letter first, and then to the manuscript.  It boils down to writing that separates itself from the pack.  “If I want to dig in and hide from the world and keep on reading, that means it’s a good book.”
  • If you write books that are hard to fit into the major categories that the big publishers want, then a small press may be a better way to go.  If the publisher loves your work, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • The workmanship of the modern author is key.  Just signing a publishing deal isn’t the end of the work.  Writers have to want to communicate with their readers.  They have to have a website and social media presence.
  • Atticus Books also has Atticus Review, a weekly online literary journal where Baker was honored to publish his short story “Uncle Skillet Rides Again.”  What’s the relationship of being published by a literary journal and getting a book published?  Dan feels that literary journals are a great feeder program for publishing, perhaps especially with a small press.
  • Recent and uppaper-dreams-front-210x300coming books from Atticus Books: Paper Dreams, about being in the trenches of the literary magazine world; and–breaking news!!–a forthcoming book from Lee Klein, The Shimmering Go-Between.  Check out his website, eyeshot.net.
  • Tips for writers when querying small presses: Get familiar with small presses and their flavor and philosophy, and seeing what they’ve done in the past.  Choosing a publisher that would be a good partner is key, rather than blanket querying every publisher in the universe.

Thanks, Dan, for subjecting yourself to a show with us!  We had a great time and learned a lot.

If you’re interested in getting a website for your writing, we can help you set that up for free–just buy your hosting through our link.  All the details are here!  

Alrighty then–until next week, happy writing, y’all.