Small Press Interview: Aqueous Books

Posted By admin - 9th April 2013

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 Cynthia Reeser of Aqueous Books.



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

Cynthia Reeser: I started Aqueous Books in January 2010 in part as a response to the overflow of long-form fiction I received at Prick of the Spindle (at that time we were accepting up to novella-length work for the online edition of the journal), which made me realize how many deserving manuscripts go unpublished in part because of the publisher : manuscript ratio. There are only so many publishers, and so many, many more manuscripts. I was reading a lot about publishing at the time and where it was headed because I was intrigued by it and I was also writing a book on publishing, and I knew that literary agents and publishers were flooded with manuscripts, many of which they had to turn away, even though deserving, because one company or agent can only take on so much work. (Ironically, Aqueous Books closed to submissions rather quickly after opening its doors, and we are now booked out with manuscripts–publishing one book per month–through 2016.) Because Prick of the Spindle is founded on the principle that deserving work should be published regardless of its author’s credentials or experience or affiliation or prior publications, it seemed only natural to create a venue for those longer-form manuscripts. Aqueous Books publishes novellas, short stories, memoirs, essay collections, and novels. It is also true that the idea for Aqueous Books hit me out of the clear blue sky; I had considered before, in passing, starting a publishing company, but had no real plans to do so, but then the entire package of the idea for the company fell on me all at once, right down to the details of the logo, so I knew it was time to make it happen. I felt I had an obligation to myself and to others to do it.

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

CR: For all the reasons I mention above; we provide an avenue of publication for any manuscript, regardless of whether its author is a high school dropout digging ditches for a living or an Ivy League graduate making six figures a year working for a Fortune 500 company. All we care about is the quality of the work. We also produce a high quality product for every one of our books and afford them all the same value.

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

CR: The fact that I started it from absolutely nothing as a single mother of two during one of the hardest times of my life. I had a computer, an internet connection, and the balls of Annie Oakley. Not to mention some editing and graphic design know-how under my hat. So with that and little else, I made it work, and now, a lot of our books are being reviewed by Publishers Weekly and ForeWord Reviews. I couldn’t be prouder.

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

CR: My answer to both of those questions is simple: potential. That can mean that a book has potential but needs a little editing help, but in the end, the result is a quality piece of writing that lives up to its author’s vision.

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

CR: To many, “indie” and “small press” are one in the same. However, I think of indie as just what it means–independent. Someone or several running a press by their own hard work and dedication. We’re a small press too, but not all small presses are indie. Some small presses are affiliated with institutions like colleges or universities or writing centers or other programs, and receive their funding through those sources. As far as what I think about such classifications and distinctions, labels and categories will always be there, regardless, and to an extent, they are useful, like genus and species are useful in the naming of things.

Mb: What sets your books apart from the rest?

CR: All of our books are edited to be their very best, and all are literary. We produce quality literature. I don’t think every publisher of fiction can say that. I don’t take on anything that is too commercial or just because I think it will sell, only books that have strong literary value.

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

CR: Probably the graphic/cover design. I love to make art…that’s the fun part. Editing is more of a chore, but I do it as my profession, so it feels like work, but it’s also second nature.

Mb: For you, why are books so important?

CR: Books are a record of humanity and the human experience. I like to think that they will still live on as a record of our present experiences for future generations. Whether those future generations are thousands of years apart from us, I like to picture people of a different time and cultural experience imagining themselves in our now, and also learning from their past, which is our present. Books in that sense are records, timekeepers. A collective cultural history.

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

CR: Graywolf for their dedication to literature, even though they may be more of a mid-sized publisher. Sunnyoutside for their production values and their beautiful books which are sometimes like art objects. There are others but those are the two that stand out.

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

CR: Absolutely, insofar as I have hope for the human race.


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