Written by A Guest Author October 12th, 2023

Case Study: How Discount Ceremony Was Published

By Timothy Day

This is part of our ongoing series on how authors published their first book. You can read our other stories in this series, herehere, here, here, here and here.

What a unique relief to be writing about my short story collection Discount Ceremony from this perspective. After many years of wondering if it would ever find a home, the collection is about to be published by Game Over Books, a small Boston-based press founded fairly recently in 2017.

Long before I was submitting my manuscript to small presses, I was in college and realizing my particular affection for both reading and writing short stories, finding myself drawn to their more open-ended nature and the alluringly distilled portraits of worlds and characters they can foster. I began submitting stories to literary magazines, continuing to do so through grad school, and gradually built up a track record of publication. But as I began to amass enough stories to put together a collection, I also came to learn that short story collections were an especially hard sell in the larger book publishing world. Not that finding things like an agent or publisher is remotely easy when working in any form, of course, but the knowledge of story collections’ limited appeal on the market made an already daunting prospect seem even more far-fetched. I did find a few agents over the years who seemed like they might be a good fit—were interested in magical realism (which most of my work falls into), and were open to story collections—but even so, my scattered queries were all met with rejection.

Over time I learned that there was a whole world of small presses out there that periodically accepted unsolicited manuscripts for consideration. I was used to the process of submitting short stories through email and Submittable, and suddenly found that I could do the same—albeit within a much smaller pool of venues—with my entire story collection.

Besides the difference of sending my whole manuscript vs. just a story or two as I did when querying agents, when submitting to small presses I felt a greater confidence that my collection would be read and engaged with in a way less influenced by its marketability. Because while small presses are still businesses, I don’t think many small press editors are primarily in it for the money (not to suggest that all literary agents are, only that marketability would naturally be more considered from an agent’s perspective). I imagined small presses like budget-deprived indie movies made with little expectation of profit—labors of love.

I didn’t know of many small presses, but was told about a couple from friends and found a few others through social media. Still, it was rare that I came upon a small press that seemed like a potential fit and was accepting submissions (most open submission windows, I found, were pretty brief—understandable of course given the combination of submission volume, the length of manuscript submissions, and the small staff of small presses). So the path presented its own difficulties.

Even with my heightened confidence of Discount Ceremony being considered on its own terms with small presses, I still held a certain self-protective defeatism about the matter. Though there are unifying threads of arrested development and adrift characters, the stories in Discount Ceremony range in tone from quirkily sunny and romantic to bleak and horror-adjacent. I used this lack of outward cohesion as more fuel for the emotionally protective idea that finding a publisher—even a small press publisher—would be a particularly long shot, and maybe it wasn’t worth trying too hard. As time went on without Discount Ceremony finding a home, I could simply tell myself that it wasn’t a comment on the collection’s quality, but rather a reflection of its idiosyncratic makeup.

So, over the course of around two years, I only submitted my collection to a handful of small presses. I’m sure that if I’d been more dedicated to researching presses, not as afraid of exhausting so many avenues that it would begin to feel like the book would never happen, I could have found more submission opportunities. But my approach enabled me to hold onto the vague notion that someday the collection would get picked up, without doing much to make that actually happen.

In the end, though, I wasn’t able to escape the sting of rejection from several small presses I had high hopes for (I’d grown mostly numb to single-story rejections from literary magazines, but found that these manuscript rejections cut a little deeper, which I suppose makes sense) before sending Discount Ceremony to Game Over Books.

I’d heard of Game Over thanks to my grad-school peer Ben Kessler, whose story collection, Of This World (out now and very good), they had picked up in the fall of 2021. The press seemed great and kind of punk-rock; fairly new and welcoming to all kinds of forms, dismissive of traditional publishing norms and enthusiastic about promoting work that may be considered too niche by that world. So when I heard through Ben that they were having a month-long open reading period, I submitted my manuscript right away.

A few months later, I got the acceptance email from Game Over—one of the best emails of my life!

Up to the point of accepting Ben’s Of This World, the press had published exclusively poetry, and Discount Ceremony will be only their second release of fiction. It’s a cool feeling of synchronicity, having my debut book be a somewhat new kind of publication for the press releasing it. It took a long time, and a few of the stories in the collection are getting up there in years (a couple in particular are from 2016!), but being here now, I feel deeply glad that things worked out the way they did.

Bio: Timothy Day lives in Portland, Oregon, where he does improv, works at a grocery store, and teaches a class centered around weird horror fiction. His short stories have appeared in Booth, The Adroit Journal, Portland Review, and elsewhere. His debut story collection, Discount Ceremony, comes out October 2023 from Game Over Books. You can pre-order it here. You can visit Timothy’s website here.


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