January 19, 2011

Great Interview...

...on a timely topic: When to go with a small press for your poetry collection, versus entering contest after context for big prizes. Kelli Russell Agodon interviews Jeannine Hall Gailey (two incredible, tireless, inspiring poet/bloggers) and here's an excerpt...
KRA:  Your next book will be published by a micropress. Tell us a little about the press, your book and how the partnership between you came about.
JHG:   My first book, Becoming the Villainess, was published by a small press, Steel Toe Books, run by Tom Hunley, and my second book, She Returns to the Floating World, will be published (in July!) by Kistune Books, another wonderful small press, edited by Anne Petty and Lynn Holschuh. They do fiction and poetry, as well as pop-cultural criticism, and put out a handful of books a year. I know they're putting out at least one other book of poetry next year, by poet Helen Ruggieri. 
I actually found them while I was researching another article for Poet's Market on speculative poetry (that article was in the 2010 edition, I believe.) I loved their name (since one of the main persona characters in my second book is a kitsune, which means fox-woman in Japanese.) And I did my research - I read a book or two that they had put out, followed them on Facebook and Twitter. It was actually their twitter feed than convinced me they were the right press for me - they would tweet about anime they liked, or J-pop, or teas...I mean, the editors and I had a lot of things in common. I had a really good feeling when I sent in my query, and a few weeks later, I had the good news!
You can read the whole post here.


My take: I've been really lucky to work first with a university press, Western Michigan University's New Issues, then with W. W. Norton, so I know firsthand the perks. I would say the main ones are having a professional, paid staff--so there is accountability, and you don't have to feel apologetic about making requests--and distribution in major bookstores. 


Then there are the things that everyone seems to think are perks, but don't actually exist. Help setting up events? Nope, other than maybe one or two events right when the book first comes out. Budget to travel for festivals or readings? Nada. 


Some of the things we get most worked up over, such as cover design, are a roll of the dice at any size press. I'm consistently blown away by the work of presses such as Wave Books and Switchback. I am often bored by the static landscapes or ugly font-work used by the big guys.


There are also a couple of advantages specific to small presses. One, you usually have access to a lot more bookstock to do with as you see fit. When I won the Barnard Prize, Norton gave me 15 copies of the book. Total. So when I do readings for I Was the Jukebox in clubs or other venues that aren't attached to a bookstore, I buy my stock off Amazon for around $18 a book. Even though I could then charge the $24.95 price, I invariably cut it to $20 to prevent having to make change. So my "profit"? $2 a book.


Copies to send off for post-pub book prizes, review opportunities, trading with fellow readers at events? I lose money on those. 


Another advantage of small presses is that their editorial teams are so focused, which can solidify an aesthetic identity that helps promote your book. Ugly Duckling Presse and Octopus Books come to mind. I confess, there's a cool-kid factor at work. Who wouldn't want to have their work accepted and then published by a poet as amazing as Zach Schomburg? Black Ocean Books has got people tattooing themselves


This is why Jeannine's point about loving the Kitsune Twitter feed is so relevant. If you share a common culture with your press, to publish with them is really like joining a tribe. That can result in some fabulous road-trip multiple-author reading tours. Two other small presses to watch in that respect are Bloof Books and No Tell


It would be disingenuous for me to say that I haven't been very, very lucky to publish with the presses I have. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. But there are a lot of different paths in the poetry world, and each one has its pluses and minuses. When you Google "Coach House" the poetry press isn't even one of the first five hits, but Stephen Burt reviewed Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip in The New York Times


If you honor the poems you need to write, stay generous to your fellow writers, invest in the presses you want to invest in you, periodically confront your expectations and fears, keep writing, keep sending, keep at it, you'll get out there. I believed that before I ever published a book. I believe it now.   


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This seems like a good time to thank everyone (including Kelli!) who have helped spread the word about the trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. I was thrilled to get 500 views in the first week. Crown will keep an eye on the view count for the first month. So if you haven't viewed it yet, please take a look--or if you know someone who might be interested in a memoir about food allergies, send it on...

5 comments:

Jeannine said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Sandra! Loving I Am the Jukebox!

Elsa Louise said...

Your honesty in re the behind-the-scenes activity in publishing is so rare. Do keep pulling back the curtain for us to see such things. A most refreshing view, which is appreciated.

I watched your trailer and found the content engaging and the production excellent. The people for whom I feel great sympathy are your parents. How frightened for you they must have been so often (and no doubt probably still are) when you stepped out into the wider world.

Margaret Bashaar said...

This is the perfect rounding-out of the posts Kelli did on her blog, Sandra.

I, too, am loving I Was the Jukebox - and as confirmation of what you said about distribution, I did, in fact, pick it up at Joseph Beth Booksellers (and talked you up to the cashier).

M. C. Allan said...

Thanks for posting this, SB ... nice to get practical insight into this world. BTW, Kojo did a show on food allergies today and I emailed them about your book, but don't know if it made it on the air as a mention or not!

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Yeah, though I'd like a bigger press next time out, I am aware of the trade-offs involved. For example, I selected my own cover photo, whereas I know at least one big-press poet who was let's say nonplussed by his/her own book cover. And having to buy your own copies at retail sucks. I didn't get any free copies, but I can buy author copies in bulk at cost, which gives me a great margin for selling them at readings.