Kit Frick, the Chapbook Editor/Sapling Editor of Black Lawrence Press, interviewed me a few weeks back for the Sapling newsletter, which goes out to people who sign up for it. She’s allowed me to post the contents here: For this week’s feature, Sapling talked to Joe Pan, Managing Editor/Publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press Sapling: Brooklyn Arts Press publishes full-length books and chapbooks (in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), as well as art monographs. Tell us a bit of your story—how did the press come to be, and what should people know about you? Joe Pan: People should know we’re open to publishing anything, pretty much, if the work is strong & we admire it. Our bread & butter is poetry, with some fiction & art mixed in there, but that’s slowly changing. Right now I’m interested in opening BAP up to novels, hybrid & weirdo texts, nonfiction chapbooks, lyrical short fiction, art collaborations that involve various media (like print books with web-based counterparts), & the like. We will always be a press that publishes the first or second poetry books of emerging writers because that’s what we mostly receive during our submissions season. As for how we came to be, BAP grew out of a need for small presses with open submission policies that charge no contest or reading fees. It also grew out of my own sense of adventure & egotism, since the first book I published was my debut collection of poetry. S: As the Publisher and Managing Editor of BAP, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part? JP: I think you’ll get different responses from various publishers, but the difficulty of dealing with printers tends to be high on everybody’s list. The first book a new printer creates for you is always nearly flawless—they thrive on new business. The second book will arrive with the cover image printed at a lower dpi than your submission, or it will have pages falling out because of problems with the glue, or the final interior paper will be of cheaper quality or lesser weight than the paper used for the proof. I’ve experienced each of these problems & am much more involved in quality control checks at each stage of the process than when I first started out. Another major difficulty the small press faces at times is an adherence to strict deadlines (blurbs by this date, cover art by this date). Life happens, & when you depend on so many people to finish their respective jobs in order to move forward, you must be prepared to either handle the stressful complexities that arise from managing inflexible timetables or create situations where work can’t pile up. The best part about running a small press is sitting in the audience while one of your writers reads from her first book of poetry at her first book party. The emotion present in these moments will blow you away. You get to enjoy the pride they take in their accomplishment, the subdued ecstasy of it being finished, when they kind of let go of the thing, finally, when the book becomes real, in effect, as it is first shared in this way with these listeners & future readers. There arrives a personal satisfaction, at some point during the evening, in having helped make this thing happen, a satisfaction that arrives in a fluster & then dissipates quickly, for some reason. But it was there & you felt good about it & everyone claps & gets up to socialize & you sit for a little bit longer & watch it happen & drink your wine. S: BAP will be holding an its annual open reading period this coming June. When you bring a new author on board, what does the ideal author bring to you? JP: Well, the ideal emerging author brings a sense of urgency & humility to a project, along with a desire to make his book the best it can be; he realizes his work is good but probably needs a healthy dose of editing; that what he wrote is not a precious object but a still-developing system, alive, & therefore growing, malleable, until it is finally not; he is an avid proactive self-promoter (ie, he’s willing to set up a reading at his local bookstore, or if he teaches, his university/college/school; he uses social media; he has videos on YouTube of him reading; etc); he has a complex understanding of where his work stands in relation to the work of other authors (or if really special, different camps, cultures, languages, & eras), & is confident in his ability to express these relationships from the perspective of a student, though he is humble & self-mocking of his own work & in no way self-congratulatory; he is generous with the time he gives to other authors & quick to make friends; he is above all curious—this is the ideal emerging author, from a publishing perspective. A smart, kind, efficient workhorse who loves literature the way literature deserves to be loved, & who will continue writing books with this goal in mind. This will make you proud while also growing your catalog, with the hope that his future readers will find their way back to earlier publications, one of which you own the rights to. The ideal accomplished author, for lack of a better term, from a publisher’s perspective, would be someone already famous for his talents who has sent you his latest surefire hit of a novel because he wishes to help launch your small press into the stratosphere by building a cult around it. Half of his book’s proceeds have been earmarked for dissemination to worthwhile charities. Also, he is a chef & loves cooking for you. S: Where do you imagine Brooklyn Arts Press to be headed over the next couple years? Are there any changes you foresee taking place in the near future? JP: Like I said, more long-form fiction & projects of interesting performance. In 2015 we will be publishing our first academic book with the Norwegian Theatre Academy, with support from MIT, the University of Kiel, & other renown international universities. After I took that project on, I realized the press had to change to meet my broader vision, devotions, & tastes. I really just want to publish work that excites me. None of us are here for very long. S: What one or two small presses deserve serious recognition in the eyes of BAP, and why should more people be checking them out? JP: Last summer I brought some small presses up for a residency at Mount Tremper Arts Festival in New York. Those presses were: Argos Books, Birds LLC, Epiphany Chapbooks, & Fewer and Further Press. These are run by people who love poetry, plain & simple, & they spend an enormous effort making sure good work sees the light of day. I also continue to be impressed by Wave Books, H_ngm_n, Black Ocean…I wish there was more small-scale fiction collectives out there, doing the kind of work Foxhead Books is trying to do. I understand that this is more than two small presses & I feel bad about it but I’m a talker & these are good presses. S: What’s at the top of your list to read this summer? JP: Manuscript queries & then full-length manuscripts, approximately 300-600 of them. I’m always weirded out by having to list the titles of books I’m reading for an interview, knowing they’ll end up in print, & if they turn out to suck, I can’t erase them. I have about 20 chapbooks I purchased or traded for at the CUNY Chapbook Festival that I’m eager to pace through, a few big old school novels from the turn of the century (this turn, this century), & some work by friends. That’ll do, I think. S: Just for fun (because we like fun), if Brooklyn Arts Press had a brain, what three things would it be thinking about obsessively? JP: It would obsess over its strange, newly developed cover art fonts, its burgeoning marketing initiatives, & the overwhelming anxiety it often feels early in the morning & late at night, stemming from a juvenile sense of predestination & doom. You’re gonna be fine little fella. —– To check out Brooklyn Arts Press online, visit: http://www.brooklynartspress.com/ —– Joe Pan’s debut collection of poetry, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named Best First Book of the Year by Coldfront Magazine. His poem “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” a piece about drones, recently made the front page of The New York Times. He grew up along the Space Coast of Florida, attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, & serves as the poetry editor for the art magazine Hyperallergic. His poetry has appeared in such journals as Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Epiphany, H_ngm_n, & Phoebe, his fiction in Glimmer Train &Cimarron Review, & his nonfiction in The New York Times. Joe is the founder & publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press, an independent publishing house.
Archive for the ‘Brooklyn Arts Press’ Category:
(pictured top left clockwise to bottom left: Martin Rock, Jess Mynes, Joe Fletcher, Sampson Starkweather, Ana Božičević, Paige Taggart, Bianca Stone, Liz Clark Wessel, Mathew Pokoik, Iris Cushing, Aynsley Vandenbroucke, Joe Pan) Wendy P. & Liz S. not pictured. The trip to Mount Tremper Arts Festival was incredible, magical, a relief, a renewal, & so on. I was lucky enough to share this space with these amazing people for five days. We fished, we talked poetry, we wrote, we performed, we debated, we answered questions from the audience, we learned from one another, we ate incredible food & lounged & watched Kota Yamazaki and Asa perform two Butoh dances. & we saw bears, one big one in an apple tree & a cub in Phoenicia. & we had fireworks. The small presses represented were Argos Books, Birds, LLC, Brooklyn Arts Press, Epiphany Editions, & Fewer & Further Press. Someone will write more about this trip, but for the time being, I’m just going to enjoy remembering it on my own terms.
Brooklyn Arts Press will be attending the Mount Tremper Arts Festival on August 3rd. The images and text below comes from their catalogue. Recognize the pic? It’s going to be a blast. I’ve already signed up Jess Mynes from Fewer & Further Press, Martin Rock from Epiphany, Iris Cushing and Elizabeth Clark Wessel from Argos Books, and am hoping to snag possibly one more indy publishing house for the pig roast / reading / Q&A with Publishers & Editors of Small Presses. Mount Tremper is an amazing artist’s retreat located in a small town outside Woodstock, NY. Having known Aynsley Vandenbroucke (owner & operator of the farm & festival, along with her husband, photographer Matt Pokoik) from her dance school days at NCSA, I saw the property in various stages of development. Today their festival is recognized as one of the great New York summer art events, as well as an established residency and retreat for artists. The poet Christian Bök will be reading there on July 27, the week before we arrive, and the choreographer Kimberly Bartosik will be showing a new piece on June 23rd. I saw one of Kimberly’s pieces performed with two of my friends, Jonathan Allen and Joanna Kotze, at Dance Space last year, and was wowed. I had the chance to meet her at a picnic last Saturday and she’s excited about the piece, which she began working on at Jacob’s Pillow recently. I’m also thrilled to be able to catch the Kota Yamazaki dance being performed the day after us; the whole thing should be fun, so if you’re in the neighborhood, or fancy a drive, visit www.mounttremperarts.org for more details. Join Brooklyn Arts Presspublisher Joe Pan for a dynamic reading by poets-in-residence followed by a barbecue and Q&A with small press publishers and editors discussing their experiences in the field.Small presses have served an historic function within the literary community, at times helping to define the eras in which they participate. From launching careers to fostering deserving but overlooked writers to preserving the aesthetics of book arts, the initiatives taken by DIY publishers today are as important as ever in ensuring important writing finds its readers.Brooklyn Arts Press is a small press that publishes full-length poetry books and chapbooks, art monographs, and lyrical short fiction from new and emerging artists and writers.
I spent the last two days selling books at the Chapbook Festival held at CUNY, and had a blast. So many poets and writers interested in the crafting of these small, intimate objects of varying sizes and shapes and textures. I have a book from the Flying Guillotine Press with gauze webbing hanging from the edges. Lots of saddle-stitched and stapled books, some perfect bound (like mine), and others bound in the most imaginative ways (I’m thinking of Small Fires Press’ matchbooks). I sat next to Robert Snyderman of The Corresponding Society and Kate Angus of Augury Books and had a great time talking with them. Because the event was so small, roughly 50 independent houses, I was able to walk around and speak to most of the other vendors, and was pleased to make some new friends from my fellow bookmakers. I also enjoyed talking to people about the future of ebook technology, and what that may mean for chapbooks. I also did a bit of swapping and shopping. Here’s what I picked up: The Blacksmith by Robert Snyderman (The Corresponding Society) Leaving the Atocha Station (IHP Pamphlet #3) by Ben Lerner (The Physiocrats) Abu Ghraib Arias by Philip Metres (Flying Guillotine Press) To Mend Small Children by B.C. Edwards (Augury Books) Mass of the Phoenix by David Brazil (Trafficker Press) Fossil by BJ Love, Friedrich Kerksieck, & Cherie Weaver (Dusie Kollektiv) Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me by Mark Leidner (Factory Hollow Press) Parents by Farrah Field (Immaculate Disciples Press) Szent Laszlo Hotel by G.C. Waldrep (Projective Industries) Wichman Cometh by Ben Pease (Monk Books) Deformation Zone by Johannes Goransson & Joyelle McSweeney (UDP) Matchbook Volume #3 (Small Fires Press) Evelyn Evelyn Evelyn Ballard by Brian McDonald (Charlton Publication) The Sea in Me by Popahna Brandes (The Corresponding Society) Into by Christopher Sweeny, Robert Snyderman, Lonely Christopher (TCS) Why I Like Chapbooks by James Haug (Factory Hollow Press) Badger, Apocrypha by Adam Day (The Poetry Society of America) In Search of Mariachis by David Shumate (Epiphany Editions) Talking Doll by J. Hope Stein (Dancing Girl Press) Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit (Birds, LLC) List by Deb Olin Unferth (New Herring Press) 31 Poems by Dean Young (Forklift, Ink.) Can’t wait to do it again next year. A special thanks to Sampson Starkweather, who put together the book fair and who is awesome.
So Lizzie Simon from the Wall Street Journal interviewed me about BAP (click to see), which was a strangely stress-free experience. I met her at El Beit cafe and she told me how beautiful our books were and we talked and she scribbled down notes and I made her laugh a few times and when that happens you know everything is going to work out. Prior to the interview, she asked me to come up with some fun numbers for a graphic that would accompany the interview. Well, I provided a lot of numbers and they used the more business-y ones, which makes sense. Below you’ll find the entire list I provided. All in all, a great experience. I love that they used the trees quote. I wish there had been enough space to include more of the interview. Here’s a longer quote in regards to being an editor: “I’m an old-school editor, versus the modern day poetry curator employed by literary journals. Once it hits my desk I am going to edit it. If something’s not working, I am going to tell them.” Lizzie was a total sweetheart and somehow boiled half an hour of conversation down to a few informative paragraphs, so I’m thrilled, and what a great thing for Brooklyn Arts Press! WSJ Numbers from Brooklyn Arts Press 3: Poets whose books have been used to successfully woo 38: Average number of emails between a BAP editor and author 45: Percentage of books thanking or dedicated to, in part, a significant other 27: Percentage thanking or dedicated to a parent 100: Percentage of book cover art referencing trees or vegetation 6: Average monthly free coffees awarded publisher by El Beit baristas 26: Known BAP acronym nemeses in the publishing world 3: Pages it normally takes to know if a manuscript is any good 4: Known people who’ve lied to our authors about purchasing a book directly from our website 1: Percentage of manuscript submitters who unsubscribe from our mailing list after rejection 1: Neighborhood whiskey-store owners amazed poets still exist 10: Most hominids referenced by cover art of a book (Barry Bonds, Jesus, Mary, Os Gomeos character, scary model face, dancer hand, author, author’s brother eating a Whopper, Toulouse Lautrec drunk) 93,553: Total words in BAP’s entire catalogue 5.77: Average number of letters per word in BAP catalogue 26: Number of characters in longest title (Autobiomythography & Gallery) 5: Number of letters in shortest title (state) 250: Number of books normally printed in a first run 4: Digital printers, out of 434 contacted, whose production value rivaled that of an offset printer 7: Proofs rejected for printer errors (1 was printed backwards) 340: Pounds of BAP books currently in my office 136: Rejection letters sent out in February 0: Acceptance letters sent out in February 488: Steps from my office to the nearest bookstore carrying BAP titles (Spoonbill & Sugartown) ****************** By LIZZIE SIMON (From The Wall Street Journal) When we asked Joe Pan, publisher and editor of the Williamsburg-based Brooklyn Arts Press, to assemble numbers related to his art monograph and poetry chapbook operation, he discovered that all of his books had images of nature on them. “I had no idea I was so earthly,” he said. “Trees on everything.” Brooklyn Arts Press, which allocates between $600-$2,000 to produce each volume, will have a table this weekend at the fourth annual City University of New York Chapbook Festival at the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Ave., in Manhattan. While the recession halted production in 2008 and 2009, in 2010, “we broke the barrier where each book pays for the next.” The audience for poetry is “mostly poets,” he said. “MFA programs abound.” To market to them, he frequently pushes his authors to promote themselves on social networking sites. “They spend so much time in the writerly dark, but you’d be surprised: some of them have business acumen.” Mr. Pan is always on the look out for “range and sensitivity, accuracy, style and depth.” Most of the poetry he reads he rejects by page three, but work that passes muster provides his job’s greatest gratification. “You’re chasing the tail and chasing the tail and then suddenly the thing turns around and looks at you,” he said. An “old-school editor”, Mr. Pan, also a poet, regularly puts himself on the inside of his poets’ stanzas: “Once it hits my desk I am going to edit it. If something’s not working, I am going to tell them.” —Lizzie Simon A version of this article appeared March 26, 2012, on page A24 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Pressing for Good Poetry.
Today the Best American Poetry blog published an interview I did with Nin Andrews. It’s good to have so much to talk about with regards to BAP and my own work now. So much of my time is spent plodding along in the writerly dark, so to speak, keeping things moving, pushing myself in new areas, that to have a little bit of light shed on it feels strange but exciting. I hope in some way it leads people to read more BAP writers.
A Quick Email Correspondence Regarding Small Publishers, University Presses, Their Authors, Shared Responsibilities, and the Future
The other day I received a nice email from Allen, who is security services & systems engineer, and also a poetry reader, regarding how well he liked the look of one of our poetry books. The email exchange kept up for a while, and in the end I felt like I had remarked upon a few things I felt were important to understanding how a small press operates, so I wanted to share them. Allen confirmed it was okay to share the exchange, though I have changed a few specific names in order to make the emails available to the public, without drawing any unwanted attention to third-parties. *** Dear BAP: I bought your “Already It Is Dusk” by Joe Fletcher (from SPD) and want to tell you that the layout, cover and binding are all nicely done. Very simple, very clean. Nice job. Allen Senior Systems Engineer Safety and Information Security Services Division *** Allen, Thanks so much. We just started making chapbooks at the end of last year and wanted to create books people also valued as objects. That said, we think the poetry inside outshines the covers. Cheers, Joe Pan BAP *** Dear Joe: Perhaps poetry will outshine the covers, but lacking SPD’s write-up, it’s the cover that will make folks pick the book off a shelf. And your cover would do that for me. Do you stripe the spine on your other chapbooks? I poked around your web site a bit – you use volunteer (unpaid) editors to screen submissions? Great idea of course. Al *** Allen, We do stripe the spine on the other chapbooks, all except Lauren Russell’s, which was too thin to perfect bind, or it would have had a blue stripe. I wish I could pay my readers and editors in something other than copies. I don’t even pay myself anything. The money we make from books gets poured into other books. Such is the world of poetry publishing. Joe *** Ha! You must have a trust fund! I am not a poet or other kind of author but have several friends who are both authors of the academic variety as well as poets in their own right. They have shared some of their stories about trying to find a publisher and then, once they do, how tough it is sometimes to get the books published and even tougher sometimes to get the publisher to do any advertising. Several of my friends write on Robinson Jeffers and are published by **A LARGE UNIVERSITY PRESS**. The authors have expressed frustration about **THIS PRESS** not doing enough to advertise their work, which is understandable, but what strikes me the hardest each time is the fact that academic press runs are so small. I’m talking about people who have put years into developing and researching a book, only to have a press run of 500 or so copies. Makes me shudder. A friend of mine (with some help from me) has started the arduous process of shopping for a publisher for a new bibliography of Robinson Jeffers. Initial responses have been tepid and have included the need for us to fund the book ourselves. We will eventually find a publisher but, as with you and BAP, our work will forever be on our dime. Al *** Allen, I don’t have a trust fund. I just choose great writers and great cover designs and push my authors toward self-promotion. I’ve known many writers over the years who have had, like myself at one point, the expectation that once you finish writing a book and ship the final proof to a publisher, your work is done. From there, the publisher’s marketing dept. would immediately get on the horn with the top newspaper editors and radio shows and heavily push the book. I actually had no idea how books got promoted before, so my expectation was the product of magical, or rather “unrealistic,” thinking: drop book in publisher box, rub box, open box, money and fame inside. Promotion differs between large and small presses, just as it differs from between what genre you’re pushing. A 500 book print run for an academic book on a California poet beloved by the 60s-70s generation but relatively unread now doesn’t seem too low to me (I’m assuming it was printed in hardback). Your friends, unfortunately, and I hope not to sound rude, might have managed their expectations better. Their type of book may sell to libraries and lovers of Jeffers work, and to friends and family, but beyond that, its popularity is limited. A first run of 500 also signals to me the publisher was testing the waters–if the book sold out quickly, they could have a larger second one printed out in a few weeks at a greater cost-per-book but without sinking too much money into what is essentially a crapshoot. When a publisher “pushes” or “gets behind” a book, that means advertising money spent, and it doesn’t necessarily translate into big sales. What generates big sales is word of mouth, popularity of the subject, the artist’s popularity, and a full combination of other things. Academic presses like the one publishing your friends’ book don’t receive a lot of funding, meaning they probably can’t afford to shell out $6k-$12k for a New York publicist to hound large newspaper reviewers and radio and TV talk shows to give you some space/time to promote your book. At most they may take an ad out in Poets&Writers or some such magazine, and do what we all do, which is send review copies out with nice notes and hope for the best. What I didn’t realize until I started publishing books is that self-promotion is a writers’ greatest asset. Blogging and new media development, personal contacts, personal emails sent to potential reviewers asking for consideration, setting up readings, searching out places to advertise freely, etc. That’s what gets people’s attention and that’s what sells books. A small publisher is already busy reading other manuscripts, laying out other books, contacting printers, contacting distributers, contacting bookstores, mailing out books, setting up book fair tables, answering emails, traveling, updating calendars and websites, and trying to publicize both itself and its many authors to throw itself fully into the sink-or-swim effort of a sole title. We just can’t do it. We rely on our reputations, our author’s reputations, and a singular book’s inherent meaningfulness **and salability** for any press we may receive. Also, cover art? If you don’t have friends doing it, that’s $1k-$2k in “advertising” money right there. Book setup? $500 to $2k to a graphic designer using InDesign. Editorial and proofreading work: $1k-$3k, depending on workload. Cost of offset-printing a 300 pg hardback with dustjacket at 500 books? $6k. Advance to author on royalties? Probably nothing, but let’s be generous with $3k-$5k **if you’re looking to nail down a big name**. What should we spend on advertising, now that we’ve already spent upwards of $18k on a book that will now have to priced at $50-$60 a piece to turn a minor profit? Probably not much. To be fair, this was the old way of doing things, but many academic presses still stick to it, which is how we get academic books with a $60 price tag. If they switched to digital printing or POD, they could raise their profit margins and possibly spend more on advertising, but again, no amount of monetary “push” can help force-feed a reading public any book or author. And any book on Jeffers should be viewed as a labor of love, with the hope of garnering more interest in his poetry and lifestyle and “inhumanism.” If you are going to self-publish a book, I suggest starting a small press and printing it digitally through CreateSpace, selling it on Amazon and in ebook form through the many outlets, and spending the majority of your time contacting Jeffers devotees directly with a free copy and inviting them to blog about the book. Damn, I’m sorry that was so long, I think I just needed to get that out. Cheers, Joe Pan *** Hi Joe: Your email reply makes eminent good sense and makes me doubly glad to be an engineer with a 9-5 type job – or in my case a 0630-1500 type. Warm regards and keep doing what you’re doing, Al *** Allen, Both of my grandfathers were engineers–Martin-Marietta, Pan Am, NASA. We lived on the Space Coast in Florida. The closest I ever got to engineering was research for a 12-page poem about the MQ-9 Reaper Drone. Cheers, Joe *** There’s hope for you yet. Al *** Ha! And for you, SPD buyer of poetry. Stay well, J *** So that was the exchange. Reading back through it, there are lots of little things I would like to change or tack on, like saying that “any book of Jeffers should be viewed as a labor of love,” which discounts the possibility of an “Hours”-like novel resurrecting Jeffers in his primacy and element, which could sell a ton of books, etc. Also, certain academic presses absolutely do receive good funding, just not many of them, and not necessarily from their namesake institutions. Most university presses are non-profits that rely on outside grants and a great deal more outside funding just to say alive. Very few, if any, live off their sales entirely. Check out this TERRIFIC SLIDESHOW by Darrin Pratt of the University of Press of Colorado. To quote his findings: “No university press in the country generates an excess from its book publishing operations alone.” The University of California’s publishing unit may lead the field with $6 million in sales, but that isn’t all coming from sales, apparently. And only 30% or thereabouts is coming from the university itself. Here’s another quote: “Over the past 30-40 years, average unit sales of scholarly monographs have declined precipitously,” going from 2000-3000 typical print run copies to 300-500 copies, just as Allen had said, with a 75%-95% decline in sales. Ouch. Also, my $18k figure pales to their $31k figure for a monograph! I can only assume this was for a larger print run, but maybe not. So what’s the future for university/academic presses? How are they planning to make sales? Are they planning on making sales, or just procuring grants and monies from fund-raising? Is the book-buying business not really about book-buying any longer? I’m not trying to be a dick, I’m seriously interested in understanding how these presses hope to survive in the new decade, and whether or not they plan to phase out old methods and what new methods they plan to adopt. Chime in if you have any personally relevant information.
(Above, left to right: Christopher Hennessy, Wendy Millar, Matt Shears, Lauren Russell) I now realize that there’s no way to write about AWP without name-dropping, so let it rain! We took Brooklyn Arts Press to the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference for the first time this year. It was held in Chicago, a city I love, a chilly city, a city with dense little clusters of Williamsburg-esque neighborhoods – bars with 80′s dance beats, indy bookstores, vinyl music shops, and well-lit cafes where feverish writers tap-tap-tap and slurp chai lattes and mine their inner-space to the tunes of the New Pornographers or beam their minds to outer- with Skrillex while keeping their Twitter accounts working overtime. We didn’t quite know what to bring along, having never done this before, so we decided on shipping 30 copies of each book from our catalogue to the Congress Plaza Hotel, where we were staying, along with 400 handmade books (print, cut, whiskey, staple) containing a few samples of each writer’s work, which we intended to hand out to attendees who signed up for our mailing list. (This paid off: we left with 220 emails and lots of business cards.) But the trip didn’t start off so smoothly. Arriving at the airport, we found our bags had been placed on a later flight, which we were assured would arrive in 15 minutes. We were given a choice to have the bags delivered or to wait, so we waited. Though a $12 Starbucks coupon may be tempting, I’d encourage anyone in this position to go ahead and leave for your hotel, as your bag may not actually be on the next flight, and the time you spend playing computer chess (while the TV in the common area blares a grisly interview with the parents of a child shot to death by his schoolmate) might have been better spent nodding off in a cab. Upon arriving at the Congress, I found that the shipped box carrying the 400 pocket-sized books had been squashed, with the small books emptying out the side. No worries, though, not too many damaged (did they not have tape at the hotel?), but then our room brought a bit more distress – the internet ethernet cord was broken and I locked my laptop into a safe that refused to prompt me for a security code, for which I had to call hotel security. After taking a deep breath, washing up, and settling in, Wendy and I took a stroll down to Buddy Guy’s Legends, a blues joint downtown. The food was amazing raging cajun (I ordered the catfish smothered in crawdad gumbo) and served in large portions; the band onstage was adequately bluesy. After a bit I wandered to the bar to grab a local pale ale and watch the Bulls game. Next to me sat an elderly gentleman in a workman’s lined blue shirt and brown Stetson hat and we watched the game together and made the appropriate oohs and aahs and eyeballs for great shots. Pretty soon an entourage of musicians showed up and accosted the old man and after two cognacs he stood up and said Fuck It and walk up to the stage to great applause and sang some of the best old school blues I’ve ever heard live. This was Buddy Guy. That’s him in the photo signing a CD for Wendy. After we left, we closed down the hotel bar playing darts with poet Michael Vizsolyi, who lives in our Brooklyn neighborhood but who we had to fly all the way to Chicago to meet. Michael won the National Poetry Series in 2010 and had his book put out late last year, and was psyched to see it on display. The bartender at the Congress is also named Mike, I believe, and he was a great bartender – good service, blind pours, quick with his jokes and a busybody of sorts with anecdotes of amusing local scandals on reserve. The next day I spent selling books to a substantial portion of the roughly 10,000 attendees. At AWP I learned that if I ever lose the taste for writing and publishing, I can always make it as a carney barker. I become somehow actively more socially adept than most when I have little to lose and much to gain. Nobody got by the BAP table without some offering of my interest in them: a smile, a wave, a slatternly wink. Before arriving, I’d read an account by a blogger who credited his ability to sell more books at AWP than his rival presses by simply being prepared to engage people on all manner of subject (much like my bartender, whom I tipped generously). If our book covers didn’t catch their eye, I called out to people, pulling them back and engaging them in conversation about poetry or Brooklyn or our decision to make our chapbooks using felt 80lb paper because we admired the look and feel of it. I sold poetry to fiction writers who didn’t normally read poetry, to small press owners, to avid poetry readers, and to writers who – and this is always exciting – people who already knew of BAP, who followed the press or our writers or had read a review of one of our books. Some people actually wandered over just to talk about Brooklyn, and I sold them books, too (there were lots of Williamsburgians and Park Slopers in attendance). This back-and-forth is the great pleasure of attending AWP as the representative of an independent press. I carried on a fifteen minute conversation with one woman comparing the subtle differences between lyrical short fiction (in the case of Carol Guess’ book, Darling Endangered) and prose poetry. I spoke with a poet whose publisher had told her it was impossible to put out any poetry book as an eBook, which is simply not true, it’s just difficult, and only truly difficult if the poet uses tabs and realizes the full usage of the blank page as a spatial reality. A person from Poets & Writers stopped by to say she loved our press, and Clay from Small Press Distribution paid us a visit and tried to make us feel like rock stars. Over and over, we received the same praise – for our choice of authors and the quality of our books. It was overwhelming. If you have a small press with over 5 solid books and are wondering if the $450 table fee is worth it, I’d reply with this: $450 can get you a quarter to half-page ad in a decent-sized lit journal, or it can get you a seat at a sold-out conference full of core potential buyers, writers, supporters, reviewers, bloggers, etc who share your general if not specific interests. Now, when your press begins pulling in a little more money, you may consider seeking larger avenues of advertisement (especially in terms of supporting great literary journals), but for sheer publicity, the AWP has a lot to offer the small publisher on a budget. We sold 75 books and gave away 5 to potential reviewers for big-name journals, which means we made back the money we put into renting the table BAP, including my pass, and the books’ shipping costs. Hotel and meals were monetary losses, but worth every minute of face-time with writers and publishers and panelists. Plus, you get invited to after-parties and off-site readings, and famous writers and writers you’ve admired over the years will simply walk up to the table and start conversing with you, as if fame were an illusory stoplight at the crossroads of Fear and Celebration replaced this day by a Yield sign where you, a lonely tinker, can peddle his wares without concern that the sheriff….The AWP will not make you better at off-the-cuff elliptical metaphors. The point is, it was worth the time and money to attend. I also finally met the wonderful Bryan Borland from Sibling Rivalry Press and Assaracus, who did Christopher Hennessy and myself such a kindness by placing postcards of ours in his books, and Martin Ott, whose book BAP will publish this summer. Matthew Hittinger stopped by and showed us his forthcoming book Skin Shift (the cover is beautiful; it looks like something from a Hayao Miyazaki film) and we ran into Eduardo C. Corral (an old friend from Iowa who won the Yale Prize last year) several times as he wandered around promoting his first book, which is due out on March 11th (got my copy). I was so busy that first day that I actually forgot to eat. I did, however, get the opportunity to check out the books at the Ugly Duckling Presse table, which is my favorite small press on the planet. Their books are beautifully rendered and perfect little example of how far care, book arts craftsmanship, and strict editorial curating can carry a small publisher. UDP is the oft-overlooked cousin to the premier-level platypuses, publishers now referred to as the Big Six. If I were a dirt-flecked, mild-mannered boy with a bowlcut at a prom I would stare down Ugly Duckling all night long wondering what rash bit of daring I might enact to get her to notice me. I would imagine building an empire out of thought-provoking hand-sewn limited-editions of 19th Cent. Russian translations, which I would use to woo her, and together we would adopt and nurture little Factory Hollow Presses and Milkweed Editions and Coffee House Presses and grow them into the Groves and Eccos and New Directions of their time, and buy several islands in the Keys or Everglades and pronounce them Poetry Cities on the Swamp and defend them against pirates and gatormen and rabid critics all. But as that child I’d probably just end up trying to introduce myself and spilling punch all over the front of my jeans. The rage comic I’d go home and make afterwards would be badass, though. Shit would get mad upvotes on Reddit. Blogging is an artform of economy and grace. After the end of the first day, trekking back to our hotel, Wendy and I ran into Steve Marlowe of Foxhead Books and Paul Kerschen. We sat with them for a drink and I noticed across the way Nikki Giovanni (whom I’d met a long time ago in Virginia) and NBA-winner Nikky Finney. Famous people everywhere. Later I rolled out with Spencer Short, who has been a big supporter of BAP and my own writing, to meet Amy Lingafelter and listen to Tanya Larkin and Debbie Kuan read their work for Saturnalia with Campbell McGrath at a tater-tot-serving bar. Later still, we migrated to the Hilton for some drinks and oysters and deep poetry talk and ran into Megan Levad, Stephanie Soileau, and Jorge Sanchez (friends I rarely get to see, being in different cities) and was introduced to Steph’s old roommate, Jesmyn Ward, who just won the National Book Award for her novel, Salvage the Bones. We had some drinks and laughs and then Spencer and Tanya and I headed out to another reading/karaoke thing, where we lost Tanya but picked up Heather Gibbons, who has a wonderful chapbook out, and headed down to a local townie bar for a nightcap and some dancing. I remembered to rehydrate before grabbing a cab. And that’s a pretty typical night for AWP, from what I understand. AWP is a mixer, really. It’s a place to make connections, talk about writing and publishing, get feedback and, truthfully, let loose a bit. The experience can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve seen plenty of people retreat into the corner, overcome, each with that thousand-yard stare. I’ve seen people drink their drinks too quickly out of sheer nervousness and lose balance quickly. There are definitely social butterflies in attendance, but most of us get carried along for the ride, because there are lots of panels to attend, plenty of readings to catch, plenty of book tables to sort through, new people to meet, and all of the bars and restaurants of a city to explore, that to stay still isn’t much of an option unless you choose to disappear into your hotel room, which you should probably do one night or risk getting Vegas-legs and Times-Square-eyes. The best part of AWP, for myself as a writer, is to go around thumbing through and purchasing books published by different presses and literary magazines in the hope that I might locate a few seemingly specifically tailored to my interests, aesthetics, and writing style – places I can send my work to. The best part of AWP, as a publisher, is to sit down with your writers at the table and explain to passersby just how awesome they are. We were joined first by Matt Shears, and later by Christopher Hennessy, Joe Fletcher, and Lauren Russell, each of whom took time to sit with us and sign books. Over the course of several days I had developed a shorthand way of selling each of their poetry books. I’d ask the customer what sort of poetry most interested her/him: “lyric, narrative, experimental, mythic, urban, language-y, a mixture?” For each answer, I had a book in mind. And I sold a lot of books with that simple formula in mind. If it was obvious they weren’t going to purchase a book, I pointed out the rows of handmade samplers: “Well, we’re giving away free samplers in exchange for an email address…” Christopher was having a particularly busy day when he sat down: he’d just hosted a panel that included Mark Doty, David Trinidad, Kevin Killian and Stephen Motika called “Recovery/Discovery: The Art of Bringing Queer Literary Heroes Back into Print.” And it was by some stroke of cosmic fortune that his poem “Carriers,” which we’d published in his book Love-In-Idleness, was up on the Poetry Daily website as their poem-of-the-day during the conference! Unfortunately, Carol Guess was one of the many writers locked out of the conference by limited ticket sales, and we missed her dearly (I still have yet to meet her and was looking forward to it) but we sold more copies of her book, Darling Endangered, than any other. Carol has quite the following, and fiction writers especially seem drawn to her wonderfully sonic, tightly crafted narratives. We also sold a good number of Broc Rossell’s new chapbook, even though Broc was up in Vancouver and couldn’t attend. AWP is for writers, but we brought along the art books of Jonathan Allen, Anne Beck, and Greg Slick anyhow, and those books sold as well. I could go on describing each day, but I think I’ve written enough to give you, reader, a taste of AWP as seen from the viewpoint of a small press owner attendee. The only panel I was able to attend was friend Seth Harwood‘s, as my main mission in Chicago was to stick close to the table and sell books. I would also like to take a moment to point out two small presses, started by friends, which I think you may enjoy: Nate Hoks’ press Convulsive Editions and Genevieve Kaplan’s Toad Press. Enjoy these cared-for editions to literature. I also have to say, even though you have to wait in line out in the cold for half an hour, the tacos and margaritas at Big Star in Wicker Park are to die for. My friend Johnny Schmidt, who drove up from Knoxville for the event, concurs. Shout outs to Vu Tran, Nick Arvin, the cigar-smoking Tim Liu, and Brendan Kiely from the Coffin Factory. In the end gatherings like the AWP are important because they carry forth the necessary torch of writing and reading into this new century in an open and involved way. Some day the AWP, or some conference like it, might be relegated to a Skype-systematized chatroom of sorts where we can peruse panels without concern for slow elevators or alarm clocks or crowded lobbies, but I hope it never comes to that entirely. I enjoy ebooks and I’m an internet junkie, but there’s nothing like handing a printed art object to a reader and having them observe the quality of the thing right in front of you. It’s like magic. Here, have some magic. I worked for months designing this. I read through boxes of manuscripts and edited this line for line because I am a old-school like that and I sent it to a printer who tried their damndest to print it funny but it survived its birth and now it’s here and in your hands and if that isn’t magic then what the hell is?
I’ve been up all night, all January actually, working on books. Prepping for BAP’s first AWP. I’ve uploaded a free copy of a catalogue I’ve created to give away at the conference. Just click the link below and it’s yours. The writers and books included are: 10,000 Wallpapers by Matt Shears Darling Endangered by Carol Guess Love-In-Idleness by Christopher Hennessy Already It Is Dusk by Joe Fletcher Unpublished Poems by Broc Rossell To Lose & to Pretend by Chris O. Cook Dream-Clung, Gone by Lauren Russell Autobiomythography & Gallery by Joe Pan Click here for the PDF: BAP Mini Catalogue Forgive the format. Wendy and I are going to chop these things in half and staple them together on Saturday. There wasn’t enough time to have them professionally printed. This whole thing came about when Wendy *hand typed* the entire book for me for Christmas. She’s amazing. I need to sell enough books one day so she can quit her job and work for me.
I’ve updated the page for my first book of poems, Autobiomythography & Gallery. Check it out by clicking the link above!