Yes. But it’s a good kind of crazy.

Artist Glenn Wolff and I have made our livings illustrating and writing books for nearly 30 years. In that time we’ve witnessed the publishing industry go through the most dramatic changes since Guttenberg.

When we met in 1986, Glenn and I could not have anticipated how much the world was about to change. Glenn was drawing his illustrations on illustration boards and delivering them in person to art directors in their Manhattan offices; later, when he moved back home to Michigan, he sent them overnight via Fed-Ex.

I was writing my books by hand on legal pads, then typing the final drafts on a typewriter—initially on the manual Royal my parents gave me when I was in high school, then on an industrial-grade electric IBM that rattled so furiously that it walked across my desk as I typed. I made corrections with White-Out, and when the manuscript was finished made a Xerox copy, sealed the original in the carton that the Southworth 25% cotton typewriter paper had come in, and mailed it to my publisher.

By then Glenn was a regular illustrator for the New York Times and for magazines such as Audubon and Sports Afield, where my nature essays were also appearing. We liked each other, had some ideas for books, signed with an agent, and started publishing with New York houses. (You can read the story of our first meeting and the ensuing fun.)

Almost from the beginning we talked about someday starting a small press, an idea that grew with the years, especially after our early collaborations, It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes and The Bird in the Waterfall went out of print and we reacquired the rights to them. This summer we had the chance to team up with the wonderful Gail Dennis, a graphic designer with 30 years’ experience designing books and other publications and who is superbly organized and a master at implementing the ideas Glenn and I so casually sling around, and jumped at it. We named the press for the sugar maple in Gail’s and my front yard and Glenn designed a logo featuring its silhouette.

BigMaplePress-logo-verysmallThen we made a momentous decision: Big Maple Press would publish books to be sold only in independent stores.

Why? First, because we want to stay small. We’ve heard too many horror stories about start-ups driven into bankruptcy when big distributors and big chains ordered thousands of books then returned them. We’d rather work closely with a single distributor—Partners Distributing, in Holt, Michigan—and with a manageable number of independent stores that appreciate our books and might be inspired to recommend them to their publishers.

Second, because we hate bullies. In September I was one of 600 authors who signed a full-page letter in the New York Times protesting Amazon’s strong-arm business tactics. As a Macmillan author, I had watched the buy buttons on four of my books and every other Macmillan title disappear from Amazon’s website in 2010, when the publisher refused to buckle in to Amazon’s unreasonable price demands. Not longer after that, Amazon put a stranglehold on small literary publisher Melville House and nearly drove the house out of business. They used the same tactic this year against the large publishing group, Hachette. Jeff Bezos’ oft-quoted statement “that Amazon should approach small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle” sends shivers down our spines. Maybe publishing a book or two a year that the Bully can’t touch will be satisfying, like slinging pebbles at his forehead.

But there’s a third reason, and it’s the one that matters most. Glenn and I owe our careers to independent booksellers. It was they who championed our work starting with our first books, back when the big chains wouldn’t bother with us, and who support and encourage us still. It is only right at this stage of our careers that we should publish special editions that can be purchased only in independent stores.

We’re here—we’ve always been here—because we love books. We love writing, designing, and illustrating them. We love proofing them, opening the first carton of a new title, organizing them on our shelves, opening their covers and burying our noses in their pages, settling into our chairs on winter nights and losing ourselves in them. We’ve poured our hearts into all of our books and made them the best that we can. Now we have a chance to make them even better.

Is that crazy, or what?



  1. P. J. Grath

    You are trail-blazers! The idea is innovative and exciting, and you have the talent to pull it off. Congratulations on taking the leap of faith!

  2. Jeff Van Valer

    Congratulations from a Sleeping Bear Dunes (and private bookstore) appreciator from Indiana! Big Maple Press–if a little good-kind-of-crazy–just sounds like “The Right Thing to Do.” Good luck to all of you with your venture. I lent out my copy of It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes, and it came back discolored and swollen from obviously having spent a bad night in some standing water. I should get a new copy with that fantastic “Indie Bookstore Edition” logo.

    1. Jerry Dennis Post author

      Thanks, Jeff. It always pleases me to hear about my books getting weather-and-water beaten—and I hear it a lot. They were written outdoors (the rough drafts, at least), so it’s only right that they be read there.

  3. A. Trout

    Congratulations on the emergence of Big Maple Press!
    This is inspiring and affirming for artists everywhere. What a great joy it must be to take control of how and where your work reaches readers.
    Independent musicians have similar concerns and issues. Media and corporate interests have subsumed musicians’ prerogatives around producing, recording, editing and performing. It’s an act of courage and faith to step away from that and create an independent means of having one’s work – particularly live performance – reach the ear of listeners. An exciting and evolving enterprise, bolstered by artists in other genres moving in the same direction.
    Looking forward to following Big Maple Press and am happy to order direct. Hope these books appear in the Northeast sometime soon. In Boston and New York, Independent Booksellers are beloved and precious – a glorious setting to explore and discover.
    Go BMP!!!

    1. Jerry Dennis Post author

      Thanks! Glenn’s a musician who has published a number of records and compositions, so we’ve followed the music industry with interest and have noted the parallel path the book industry is taking. A friend of mine predicts the day is coming when writers will earn their livings from “being writers,” not from the sales of their books. Judging by the steady increase in invitations coming my way to speak/read/teach, I think he might be right. Regarding the Northeast: Yes. Glenn and have great memories of our indie bookstore events in Boston, NY, and throughout the Northeast over the years, and plan to reconnect with those stores in 2015 and invite them to stock Big Maple Press books. We’re long overdue for another East Coast tour.

  4. Rob Burg

    Great news! I’ve been a fan of your writing Jerry since I first relocated to Northern Michigan (Grayling area) in 1998. Even got a chance to meet you at a book signing that we hosted for you at Hartwick Pines State Park (I was the historian there from 1998-2013). I am dabbling in writing myself now and if I ever finish my project on writing a history of Michigan’s lumber history, maybe I can send a manuscript towards the direction of Big Maple Press (I love the name, by the way).

    Best of luck from the headwaters of the AuSable River!
    –Rob Burg


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