Jitney Books, a micropublishing venture launched in late 2017 by J.J. Colagrande, a novelist and full-time professor at Miami Dade College, is a good example of how a publisher with little capital can launch a small house with a list of talented but unknown writers. The press, which is named after the Miami minibuses that snake through the city’s gritty neighborhoods, focuses on quirky literary works written by authors based in the Miami area.
It has released four books, published via Amazon’s CreateSpace unit in both digital (KDP) and print formats. Titles include fiction (short stories and novels) and nonfiction. Jitney’s initial books, which were actually published before the press’s official launch in the spring of 2017, include Timothy Schmand’s Just Johnson, a crime novel about a low-level 1990s Miami gangster who stumbles into an international mess; Jan Becker’s The Sunshine Chronicles, a vividly written memoir constructed from the author’s Facebook posts; Luis Garcia’s Missing, a short story collection focused on the surreality of life in South Florida; and Colagrande’s third novel, Reduce Heat Continue to Boil, a coming-of-age story about a young Cuban-American woman. Colagrande recruits such Miami-area visual artists as Luis Berros, DiDi Contreras, Lisa Diakova, and Luis Valle to create book cover art. He offers authors flexible terms, including the ability to take back the rights to their books at any time.
A transplanted New Yorker, Colagrande has published two previous novels (Deco in 2012, and Hedz in 2009) with the Buffalo indie press BlazeVox and is also a blogger for the Huffington Post. He described the Jitney Books list as “quirky, deep, literary, and edgy,” pointing to the Brooklyn indie house Akashic Books, as well as McSweeney’s as models: “Jitney Books draws its inspiration from these two presses, and its content falls somewhere in between, drawing on all of Miami’s weirdness and roughness.”
Colagrande noted that he has benefited from the support and mentorship of Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Miami’s Books & Books. He also receives “informal” support from the Miami Book Fair, which is held annually on the campus of Miami Dade College: MBF gives him access to its newsletter and social media, which Colagrande uses to publicize Jitney Books events, and MBF publicity, he said, arranged for PBS to do two video stories about Jitney. Jitney sold about 5,000 copies across its four titles in 2017
Colagrande has eight books lined up for 2018. He acknowledged that “Jitney is at a crossroads,” and that his options are to stay really small or grow: “Do I go the traditional publishing route—get a big distributor and publish copies upfront—which costs real loot? Or stay small and micro, keep using POD, keep the quick turnaround time, keep my autonomy [from creditors], and [in the long run] maybe get acquired and become an imprint?”
For now he’s choosing autonomy, sticking with POD and hustling to sell his books. He plans to “hire a street team to literally Willy Loman [sell] the books on the beach or sell at pop up art events.” He’s looking for independent sales reps interested in a POD publisher—if such people exist—who are willing to sell his list of local authors to local retailers.
Although CreateSpace, Colagrande noted, “uses Ingram as a distributor so traditional booksellers can get the books wholesale,” he lamented that his Amazon POD connection troubles most indie booksellers, including Kaplan. “Mitchell is so anti-Amazon, he won’t even watch a movie if Amazon makes it,” he said.