Small Press Interview

Small Press Interview: Short Flight/Long Drive

In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will introduce you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.


 


 

This interview was conducted with Elizabeth Ellen of Short Flight/Long Drive.

Monkeybicycle: When was Short Flight/Long Drive founded? What prompted you to want to start it?

Elizabeth Ellen: I believe we founded SF/LD sometime in 2006, because Aaron was the editor of Hobart and I wanted something of my own to edit.

Mb: At the time, why was Short Flight/Long Drive—and why is it still—necessary?

EE: Oh, I don’t know if anything in the literary world is ever necessary. Nor do I think SF/LD is any more (or less) necessary in the lit world than any other press (large or small). But I do think presses of all sizes are wonderful luxuries of life, and can enhance one’s enjoyment, both for authors and readers.

Mb: What about Short Flight/Long Drive are you most proud of?

EE: I’m pretty much proud of every aspect of SF/LD. Every book, every author, the design process, all of it.

Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

EE: Being such a small press, only really putting out on average, one book a year, we can only take on books that we would feel super shitty if we didn’t take. Like, shitty enough to lie awake at night thinking about why we didn’t take them.

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

EE: Some people get really bent out of shape about those words. They prefer one over the other. I forget which. I don’t really care. To me they just mean greater care to details, greater artistic freedom for the author (hopefully!), more beautiful books.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

EE: Well, originally we wanted them all to be small enough to fit in your back pocket.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

EE: Falling in love with a book and its author.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

EE: For me, personally? Damn, it’s such a cliché, but the best books feel like little private secrets between me and the author. Little love affairs. Ways of staving off loneliness and despair, of connecting to another human being on the most intimate level without actually meeting in person.

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

EE: God, what small press don’t I admire? I pretty much love and admire them all. Because they’re all doing the same thing we’re doing. Falling in love with authors/works that might not be hugely “marketable” but are probably gorgeous works of art and gorgeous human beings.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

EE: I have never not had hope for the future of books. It’s not something I worry about. At all. Ever. I have no doubt books—written works in whatever form (the form is, ultimately, completely unimportant to me)—will be around as long as human beings are around and have something to say (and we always have something to say, don’t we? Something to complain about, to work out, to applaud, to champion, to address, to change, to exact revenge, to make amends).

Mb: Please share anything else you would like to say.

EE: Is Coffee House Press considered small press/indie? I don’t know if it is, but talk about falling in love with a book! I just read Leaving the Atocha Station (by Ben Lerner) last week. And at first I couldn’t decide how to feel about the narrator. But maybe in the same way I can’t decide how I feel about myself? We’re both a little douchey, can be a little pretentious. It felt like a very intimate book. Like the little secrets I was talking about earlier. I guess that’s all I wanted to say.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.

 

Small Press Interview: Black Ocean Press

In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will introduce you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.

 

This interview was conducted with Carrie Olivia Adams of Black Ocean Press.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: When was Black Ocean founded? What prompted you to want to start it?

Carrie Olivia Adams: Black Oceayn published its first books in 2006. Founder Janaka Stucky and I met while in the low-residency MFA Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was something we would half-seriously chat about during residencies in that wouldn’t it be awesome if sort of way. I’d already been working in publishing for several years (as I still am today outside of Black Ocean) and had professional knowledge of the publishing industry. And Janaka had the charisma and the courageous sense to say—let’s just do this—and then find a real way to make it work. The population bloom of indie presses was only just beginning at the time, and I feel like we were at the cusp of that movement.

Mb: At the time, why was Black Ocean–and why is it still–necessary?

COA: We truly believed—and still believe—that there is an audience for poetry even bigger than the insular world of other poets—and it was simply a matter of finding poetry to deliver and poets who were willing to deliver it to that audience. From the very beginning, we have stressed the importance of author tours (which is actually something we contractually require). And we have been eager to find ways to engage with other artistic genres and audiences through poetry. For example, Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords Volume 1 was turned into a touring shadow puppet play with a live string quartet, which was performed to sold out audiences in bars around the country and even the Poetry Foundation itself last year.

Mb: What about Black Ocean are you most proud of?

COA: I know that I’m often humbled and amazed by how quickly we’ve achieved this level of success. When we first launched books at AWP in 2006, we had less than ten attendees at our reading. Now, we can pack a bar in Chicago with a line out the door. What was just a dream of some graduate students has become a real and viable publisher, making books that outsell many of the mainstream academic presses. And we’ve been able to achieve that while staying true to the poems and authors that excite and inspire us. Black Ocean is completely run as a volunteer effort—we all have day jobs—and thus to achieve this level of success, it has required an essential amount of devotion. I am proud that day after day we are making something we believe in; otherwise, there is absolutely no reason for us to make it.

Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

COA: As the poetry editor, I encounter and read each and every submission that arrives. It is a daunting and inspiring task each year. And as an actively publishing poet myself, I have such an enormous sympathy for everyone who sends work our way. And yet, I will admit that I am a very ruthless editor when it gets down to it. Janaka and I have similar, but unique aesthetics, so the work that is published must fall in the overlap between our tastes. As such, it is in keeping with the overall Black Ocean aesthetic—but never too similar to books we’ve already published—there has to be something new about the voice, it really has to engage me with something familiar but overlooked or completely strange with an underlying current of something known and unnamed. Black Ocean is respected for its careful editing of the text—we rarely publish something as is, but work with each author to bring out the strengths of his/her work and style. So we have taken manuscripts that are full of promise, but not yet “perfect,” if the author is willing to work with us in a dialogue about the poems.

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

COA: This is a hard one for me, since my monthly paycheck comes from a distinguished university press, which to me seems to occupy a middle ground. It’s not a trade publisher like Random House, but it still has a cache and intellectually mainstream acceptance and esteem. Where as with Black Ocean, I think we still like to fancy ourselves as a bit more rebellious. It’s a business, and it’s a huge time commitment, but it’s a press run for the poems and poets alone. I think that’s’ what indie about, we are independent of anything but the poems. And we are definitely slaves to the poems.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

COA: Besides expanding the readership of poetry, one of the other driving desires when we founded the press was to make beautiful objects. We started the press just as the e-book was becoming a common idea, and I think we have been committed all along to making beautiful objects—we want you to want to not just read our books but behold and hold them. And I think, as a result, people look to us as much for the physical aesthetics of our books as the poems contained within.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

COA: Because I often spend so much time closely editing the books, I think I feel most rewarded when the poet feels like we have come to the place where the poems are at their best. I don’t ever want to infect someone else’s poems with my own voice or approach, but I try to attune myself with what a poet’s works are trying to do on their own and help make this consistent and clear. I want help the poet guide the reader in how to read the poems. Reading poetry is always an intuitive process for me—I don’t believe they are riddles to be solved or composed of evasive wording that has to be paraphrased (and I disdain the attitudes of the very people who teach these things)—but poems are much more akin to a fascinating stranger that you are curious to get to know. That entire process of getting to know the poems and what makes them work, what obsesses them, and how they want to be built, is my true favorite.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

COA: I am a shy, solipsistic only child and books have always been the building blocks of my world. And I’ve always been entranced by the ability of books to actually speak, to be more than just read. How many of us have fantasized that Emily Dickinson is our best friend, sending these precise telegrams to us? I reread Proust every August before my birthday because I love aging together with Marcel. Language has never ceased to be an object of infinite curiosity for me—how is that there is a word for this—but I must use many words to describe that to you? How is it that you have any sense of what I feel? Or maybe you don’t, and these words invoke an entirely intense feeling in you that is something else nonetheless. In the beginning there was the word—and there has never been anything quite that amazing. Yes, there has been love, desire, and violent hate, but how else could I truly tell you about them?

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

COA: Goodness, I feel like there are new small presses every month. And the burgeoning and bursting AWP bookfair is a testament to their unstoppable reproduction. Janaka and I both have work on Ahsahta’s list and our authors are behind Octopus, Action Books, Letter Machine, and more. The small press scene is alive and thriving without a doubt.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

COA: Dear god, if I didn’t I’d be screwed. I have no hope for us (all of us) if there’s no hope for books.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.

 

Small Press Interview: Scrambler Books

In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will introduce you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.

This interview was conducted with Jeremy Spencer of Scrambler Books.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: When was Scrambler Books founded? What prompted you to want to start it?

Jeremy Spencer: I started Scrambler Books in 2008. But before, I started The Scrambler zine in 2002 and originally the first 5 issues were just that- a print zine that I handmade about twice a year. I really enjoyed doing that- getting contributors and cover art together, laying each issue out, printing it and then binding it. I probably did about 50-100 of each issue and then I just gave them away for free. In 2006, I moved it to an online only format and started to do monthly issues. By 2008, my desire to want to work with print again kicked in and I decided to start Scrambler Books to be focused on publishing poetry and short fiction books. I started with a book of poetry by Bay Area poet Trevor Calvert and each year since 2008, I have been able to publish more and more.

Mb: At the time, why was Scrambler–and why is it still–necessary?

JS: I don’t think necessary is a good word to use to describe it. I think of Scrambler Books more as something that I started because I wanted to. If I did not like doing the things associated with running a micro press, then I would stop doing it.

Mb: What about Scrambler Books are you most proud of?

JS: Probably when a reader or reviewer gets in touch with me or shares something somewhere regarding one of our books that has made them glad that they read that particular book. I know when I read a book that I like, or even a sentence that I like, it can give me a feeling of enjoyment. Sentences can be exciting. Books can be exciting. And when someone shares that experience with others, when a sentence or story or poem can impact positively how the next hour of your afternoon goes, then that is a pretty cool thing.

Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

JS: Submissions for Scrambler Books are always open. And I try to respond as quickly as possible but the last year and a half has seen my response time slow way down for various reasons- increase in submissions, computer virus, etc… As for what I look for in a manuscript submission, I am not really sure. I think I have pretty eclectic tastes regarding style and types of writing with what we publish. I wish I could say, “A, B and C are what I like and I will not look at anything that does not fall into those categories.” But I can’t because I like so many different types of writing and writers. I know that doesn’t really answer the question, but I don’t want to start limiting or only receiving certain types of manuscripts in the future.

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

JS: I consider Scrambler Books an “indie” micro press. I think “indie” in regards to micro or “small” presses at its most basic level means that it is run independently of anything else. An “indie” press is something that is independent of any other kind of business or corporation. I think I call Scrambler Books a micro press because the most books we have published in one year is 4. As compared to New Directions which I would consider a small press and that publishes about 30 titles a year according to their website. But it all depends on your definition of “small” in “small press” I guess. “Indie” and “small presses” and micro presses have usually been started and continue to be run by one person or a small group of people that maybe sort of just started doing it because they wanted to do it and/or because they like books or are writers themselves. I think usually with “indie” presses, the majority of the time they start out as a labor of love. I think the classifications “indie” and “small press” are fine and probably even useful.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

JS: I like to think that the books that we publish are considered interesting, innovative and unique.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

JS: Working on a book with a writer. Most times the writer and I will be interacting constantly and daily at least during the last 1-2 months before the book is published. And it has been a pleasure to get to know and work with the writers that I have published so far. I would consider all of them friends and some of them good friends after having worked together on a book. The process of publishing a book is fun and creative. Working with the writer and taking all of these related elements- manuscript, cover, design, layout, etc… and putting them together to make the finished product is the best part of running Scrambler Books.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

JS: For many reasons. As a means to disseminate information. As a tradition. The way a book feels in a hand. How a cover looks. The idea that something you are about to read will possibly make you think about life, about your own private world a little differently than you did before you read it.

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

JS: There are a lot. There are some that were started a long time ago and are no longer around at least in the small independent press way that they were when they started. And there are some others that were started more recently and are going strong. Some presses that I admire in no particular order are:

Hogarth Press. Started by Virginia Woolf and her husband, it allowed Ms. Woolf to publish her own work worry free. And they first published Eliot’s The Waste Land in the UK within a few months of it first being printed in the USA. Started as a micro press then sold to a bigger press many years later. But those first 15 years are pretty impressive.

City Lights Publishing. Most everyone knows this story of Mr. Ferlinghetti and how valuable he and City Lights have been to independent publishing. Standing up for Ginsberg’s Howl and helping the writers known as and associated with the Beats get published. He basically helped them become more legitimate to the literary and larger world. But they also publish many other American and International writers that are very good.

Black Sparrow. John Martin started this press in 1966 by selling all of his first editions of modernist writers and then using that money to dedicating this press to publishing Charles Bukowski. How many publishers would do that today? Sell off their most valuable possessions and then say I am going to sink or swim with this one writer. Even though Bukowski was pretty well known in 1966 in the underground literary scene, he had not ever had published and or tried to sell full length books before, so this was a definite risk back then.

New Directions. Started by James Laughlin as a small press and is still considered one today. Started because Ezra Pound told Mr. Laughlin that he should “do ‘something’ useful” after he graduated from college. They still publish great American and International writers, most recently with the new translations into English of the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.

Grove Press. When Barney Rossett bought it in 1951 and for the next 35 years made it one of the most respected independent small publishers in the world.

The rest of the presses that I will mention were all started in the twenty first century and continue to publish and distribute high quality writers following in the footsteps of the 5 presses mentioned previously. They also are innovative and publish writing that adds to the culture in a good way. They are finding new ways to publish books. They are (also in no particular order): Publishing Genius Press, Mud Luscious Press, Wave Books, Dancing Girl Press, Octopus Books, No Tell Books, Melville House, Magic Helicopter Press, MuuMuu House, Tiny Hardcore Press, Two Dollar Radio, Emily Books, Featherproof Books, Dalkey Archive Press, Black Ocean Press.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

JS: Definitely. Although everyone knows that the book industry is changing, I think that independent small presses are actually in a very good position to fill in the holes from all of these big publishers merging together. Scrambler Books has gotten more popular in every year of its existence since 2008. We plan to publish in 2013 more books than we ever have in any other of our years. Also, the way that independent small publishers are approaching publishing is definitely looking good for the future of books. By which I mean we are all thinking about e-content yes, but also there are more special print editions, or limited print editions and other types of the book as an art object going on. Look at Featherproof Books and what they do with the design of their books. It is amazing. I think that books even for the younger “Digital Native” generation(s) still hold importance and relevance and will continue to do so. Although I really enjoy thinking about the future of books and coming up with new ideas for the books that Scrambler Books publishes, I also enjoy the tradition associated with books and think that it is definitely still respected. And the headache of digital provenance and storing digital data with so many changing systems and formats has yet to be solved to a satisfactory level in libraries and archives. At the moment, books and paper are still a stronger way to keep information alive for a long time. I am a book optimist.

Mb: Please share anything else you would like to say.

JS: Use a library once in a while.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.

 

Small Press Interview: Sorry House

In this interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will be introduces you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.

 
This interview was conducted with Spencer Madsen of Sorry House.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: What prompted you to want to start Sorry House?

Spencer Madsen: I felt interested in starting a new press because there were books I wanted that didn’t exist yet. There were poets who wrote online that I wanted more from. These were poets who wouldn’t think of writing as a linear path to a career. They wrote things they wanted to write and shared them in the least profitable and most accessible way available. If I was going to get a book from one of them, it was going to be because I made a press to publish it.

Mb: Why is Sorry House necessary?

SM: It isn’t necessary, no one is going to live or die because I created this thing. If it has any value, it’s personal. The press gives me more of a reason to keep going, it produces tangible objects that I can hold and feel good about and share with others. Creating things with other people makes everyone feel less alone.

Mb: What about Sorry House are you most proud of?

SM: I’m proud that, to this point, the press exists and I haven’t had to make any compromises. By forgoing any illusions of making a living in publishing, I’m free to make decisions that feel really good to make, and in the long term won’t cause me anxiety or regret.

Mb: Are you open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

SM: Sorry House isn’t open for submissions. I think that would defeat the purpose of the press. There seems to be an infinite number of presses, big and small, out there to submit your manuscript to. I don’t feel interested in joining that list. I feel interested in publishing books from people who don’t have books yet. People whose writing I would never read if I didn’t click on a twitter profile or blogroll list. People who stock shelves in Chicago or sell weed in LA or crunch numbers for an insurance company in Connecticut. I want to publish writers who aren’t writing to be published. What makes a manuscript worth taking on is the feeling of greed I get when I read a poem and wish it was a book.

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

SM: I immediately think of Roxane Gay. I think of complaints about not enough people reading or not enough people buying books or too many books being published. I think about the word ‘writerly’ and the distinction of being ‘serious’ literature. I think these classifications serve to make reading books more insular and less exciting for people. The word ‘indie’ always evokes for me a kind of club that you have to join to engage with. I’d like to bypass that by avoiding adjectives or the temptation to define the press in a verbal way. I don’t want Sorry House to be At The Forefront of Independent Literature or The Home Of Avant-Garde Poetry. I want it to be a thing like any other thing. A glass of water doesn’t need an about page. It holds water.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

SM: I feel like this question provides an opportunity for me to compare Sorry House books with other books in terms of quality or value. Thinking about books in those terms feels bad in a helpless, confused kind of way. I could make mental leaps to understand how to answer this but it wouldn’t feel good to me.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

SM: The parts of working that don’t feel like work. If editing becomes a chore then something is wrong and I should question the content or whether I’m the right person to read it. No one is forcing me to start this press. If I’m not here to make money and I can’t have sex with books, the only reason left for me to do any of this is because I earnestly want to.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

SM: They’re important in the way talking is important, or kissing, or punching people in the face. They’re representations of feelings and thoughts and inside things that can be manifested outside. They point to a source and make the source legible and real. They say, time happened this way for me, maybe it was similar for you.

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

SM: I admire New York Tyrant, Melville House, Lazy Fascist, Grove, Muumuu House, and McSweeney’s. I like all of these presses because they seem uncompromising in publishing what the editors want to publish, rather than what would be appealing to the most people. I also imagine that the editors for all of these presses genuinely enjoy publishing, and feel consistently satisfied and positive about their work, even if they make little or no money from it.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

SM: Yeah.

Mb: Please share anything else you would like to say.

SM: I feel interested in knowing what you look like.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.

 

Small Press Interview: Wave Books

In this new interview series, Monkeybicycle intern David Cotrone will be introducing you to a variety of small press editors and publishers.

 
This interview was conducted with Heidi Broadhead of Wave Books.

 


 

Monkeybicycle: When was Wave Books founded? What prompted you to want to start it?

Heidi Broadhead: This is on our website, here. Wave came out of Verse Press, which was founded by Matthew Zapruder and Brian Henry in 2000 when they published Letters to Wendy’s.

Mb: At the time, why was Wave—and why is it still—necessary?

HB: I think our readers can answer this better than we can, but it is necessary because it connects our authors’ work with their readers. We like to work with authors long-term, and we work with an amazing group of poets, so this is an important part of what we do. Also our editors (poets Matthew Zapruder and Joshua Beckman) work very hard to publish books each season that contribute something unique and necessary to the field of contemporary poetry.

Mb: What about Wave Books are you most proud of?

HB: The books.

Mb: What do you look for when you’re open for submissions? What makes a project or manuscript worth taking on?

HB: Something that complements our current group of authors and future projects, and that adds something new. (Note that we are mostly not open for submissions. We do occasionally have open reading periods. We publish 10 or less books per year, so space is very limited.)

Mb: What does “indie” or “small press” mean to you? What do you think of such classifications and distinctions?

HB: Um.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

HB: Our wonderful poets, who are connected to the editors and to each other in a way that helps define who we are as a press. Also, the book designs by Quemadura: our design is distinctive and privileges the text and creating an enjoyable reading experience over marketing.

Mb: What’s your favorite part of your job?

HB: Being able to read so many books and to work with poets. It’s true–poets are really nice people!

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

HB: Books are my life, so I’m not very objective. In poetry, books seem essential because the relationship of a poet and reader can be long, by which I mean people tend to hold onto their poetry books and read them again and again. They connect us to each other across time and space, which is amazing, really.

Mb: What other small presses do you admire? Why?

HB: I admire all of them. Though very rewarding, it’s hard work to run a small press.

Mb: Do you have hope for the future of books?

HB: From Wave’s perspective, we hope that our books will be read for many years, that our poets will continue to find readers for many years. The future of books in general seems out of our hands, really.

 
 
 


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, MA. His writing appears in Fifty-Two Stories, The Rumpus, PANK, Paper Darts, Necessary Fiction, Thought Catalog, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. You can find him at www.davidcotrone.com.