Indie Press Success

Indie Press Success

Three men standing in between book aisles at the library.

Woodhall Press founders (l-r) Colin Hosten MFA’14, Christopher Madden MFA’13, and David LeGere MFA’14 visited campus recently to talk about their independent publishing venture.

Three MFA in Creative Writing Grads at the Helm of Woodhall Press.

To get to the point where things are kind of humming along — knock on wood — it’s exciting to be in that place of stability.

— Colin Hosten MFA’14

Off the coast of Mystic, Connecticut, Enders Island is the site of the Fairfield University MFA in Creative Writing program’s in-person residency. For ten days each semester, graduate students and faculty members cross the causeway to the peaceful 11-acre retreat to take part in intensive workshops, readings, and mentorship.

Residencies at Enders have launched many friendships and many literary careers. For three alumni — David LeGere MFA’14, Colin Hosten MFA’14, and Christopher Madden MFA’13 — fellowship forged on the island led to the establishment of Woodhall Press, an independent publishing venture that has helped hundreds of writers’ voices find a national audience over the past eight years.

LeGere, Hosten, and Madden were out to dinner in Mystic when the idea to start an indie press took hold. They were discussing a manuscript — part memoir, part how-to teen mentoring book — written by a member of their writing group, Matthew P. Winkler MFA’12. The book was getting “spectacular rejection letters” because it didn’t pigeonhole into a marketable genre. According to Madden, “One agent told Matt, ‘I don’t know where to put this; is it fish or is it dairy?’”

Mulling over the food analogy as they dined, the three friends discussed the idea of publishing Winkler’s book themselves. By the end of the meal, “Can we do this?” had turned into “We can do this!”

In 2016, Mentoring Teenage Heroes: The Hero’s Journey of Adolescence became Woodhall Press’s first publication. A few books followed in the next two years, and by 2019 the company was publishing 15 titles annually.

“We average between 15 and 20 books a year,” said LeGere, who serves as CEO of Woodhall. “All told, we’ve published about 125 books since we began.”

“When we sat around the table in Mystic, convincing ourselves that we could do this, part of our chutzpah came from knowing the publishing industry and recognizing that we wouldn’t need a physical space,” said Madden, executive editor at Woodhall.

Based out of Norwalk, Connecticut, Woodhall Press has no central office location; employees work from home and every book they publish is created using freelance professionals.

“I think we were ahead of the curve in that regard,” said Hosten, Woodhall’s editorial director, noting that publishers of all sizes have become more reliant on freelance designers, editors, and public relations agents. “Our freelancers also sell their services to the larger presses, so Woodhall’s quality is the same, if not better.”

Books published by Woodhall have been recognized with numerous awards. Last year alone, more than half of the 22 titles they published won industry prizes, including four Indie Awards – two gold, a silver, and a bronze.

“In the early years,” LeGere said, “we were very much a Fairfield University press, publishing mostly MFA graduates. Over time, we’ve expanded to become a national press, but we still publish quite a few MFA grads, including Fairfield Book Prize winners.”

The Fairfield Book Prize is a manuscript submission contest awarded every two years to a Fairfield MFA student or alumna/us. The winner receives a $1,000 prize from the University and a publishing contract from Woodhall Press. Recent recipients include Victoria Buitron MFA’20 for her memoir A Body Across Two Hemispheres, which also won an Indie Gold Award, and Michael Belanger MFA’18 for his novel Grimwell, due out this year.

Woodhall’s current list features mostly anthologies, mysteries, and memoirs, rounded out by a selection of fiction, sci fi, and young adult titles. With more than 400 manuscript submissions coming in each year, the editors are less interested in “fish” or “dairy” labels and more focused on discovering what Madden describes as “books that deserve to be published.”

The publishers also have a keen ear for literary voices that deserve to be heard. Through anthologies such as the flash nonfiction Fast Women series, the “micromemoir” collection Nonwhite and Woman, and the Connecticut Literary Anthology, the press has published more than 700 contributors, many of them diverse and emerging writers.

All three principals hold down full-time jobs outside of Woodhall Press – LeGere is an editorial director at Rowman & Littlefield publishers and he teaches college level writing. Madden teaches in Fairfield’s MFA and undergraduate programs, and Hosten is an adjunct in Fairfield’s Core Writing program and works in the Writing Center at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library.

Almost a decade in, “we’re a mature press now,” LeGere noted. “We’ve accomplished a lot of what we set out to do: We wanted to grow Woodhall to at least 100 titles, and we did that. We wanted to get into audiobook subsidiary rights and a third of our 2023 list was published on audio. We wanted to be a full press, and we are.”

“When we started, we knew it was going to be a lot of learning, a lot of speed bumps along the way,” said Hosten. “To get to the point where things are kind of humming along — knock on wood — it’s exciting to be in that place of stability.”

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