November/December 2014

Kevin Larimer

Eleven small-press authors and their publishing partners discuss the independent approach—and all the passion, commitment, and love that comes with it—to bringing books into the world.

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The independent presses that are really worth a writer’s attention are pretty easy to identify because, well, they have a solid identity. Not a marketing gimmick or a clever sales pitch, but rather a depth of character that can be developed only through the deliberate and consistent publication of writing in which the editors truly believe. Call it a mission; call it moxie. Call it whatever you’d like. You’ll know it when you read it. You’ll feel it.

It is no surprise then that common threads run through many of the stories of publishing partnerships. Fun. Pride. Family. Love. This is independent publishing.

Founded: 2005
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Publishes: “We characterize the work that we are drawn to as bold literary fiction,” says editorial director Eric Obenauf. “We publish five or six books a year, almost exclusively fiction, almost entirely novels.”
Accepts: Manuscripts with a three-dollar reading fee through Submittable; no proposals or queries
Contact: twodollarradio.com; twodollarradio.submittable.com/submit

SHANE JONES, the author of Crystal Eaters, published in June by Two Dollar Radio: After publishing two novels with Penguin I was told by my editor that if sales didn’t increase it would be difficult to proceed with a third book. The following year was a brutal time of stagnation—e-mails to my agent on where to submit next that went unanswered, erratic editing on my book, and fits of jealously over friends’ publishing deals. I would gladly have this time mind-erased.

I had been a fan of Two Dollar Radio for more than a year when I submitted Crystal Eaters on a Thursday afternoon. I had become frustrated being at a large literary agency and a major publishing house—an experience that at its worst resembled answering office e-mail. I occasionally felt like I was doing something wrong when it was impossible to be doing something wrong. My time spent with independent presses in the past (Publishing Genius, for example) was more akin to building a tree house in the dark by candlelight, hoping you create something to stand on. Crystal Eaters was accepted Monday morning and a contract came days later.

What appealed to me about Two Dollar Radio was a combination of things: from its dedication to publishing outsider voices all with a cohesive aesthetic (I’m still not sure how they pull this off) to a publishing philosophy that mixes family closeness and punk aesthetics (think of a record label like Drag City). I wanted to be there. I wanted to go back to the tree-house feeling. When Eric Obenauf sent me an acceptance letter just under a thousand words long (keep in mind, this is four days after submitting a book I had sat with for more than a year) I was excited again. It felt raw and dangerous to be publishing a book like this again. Not only did Eric have a vision for Crystal Eaters (which he would help expand fifteen thousand words and cut thousands more), but there was also a close, loose, “let’s just do this” vibe. Things felt fun again, and if it doesn’t feel fun, why do it at all?

ERIC OBENAUF, the editorial director of Two Dollar Radio: I knew who Shane Jones was when he submitted his manuscript for Crystal Eaters, though I hadn’t read any of his earlier books. I spied Light Boxes displayed on a bookstore shelf a couple of years ago, after Penguin reissued it, and thought that it sounded brilliantly bizarre, original, and moving. It sounded like something no other writer was working on. It sounded like something that I would have liked to publish at Two Dollar Radio.

When Shane’s e-mail arrived, it was late in the week and I was sick with a head cold, which typically means I run on the treadmill or watch Dual Survival. After I read the synopsis, I opened the manuscript and didn’t stop. I loved the setting—a village where everyone believes in “crystal count,” that you are born with one hundred internal crystals and when you reach zero you die—which felt to me like Shane had blown life into one of the video games I played growing up. There is a city encroaching on the village, threatening its antiquated life; also, the sun is creeping closer by the day. The allegorical elements, combined with the brave young female protagonist, reminded me of Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I had seen recently and adored. Needless to say, I fell in love, and on Monday I wrote Shane to accept the book.

When I draft that initial letter of acceptance, I always mention sections that I plan to focus on in revisions. It’s important that the author and I share the same end-vision for the work. I wanted to ground the story to draw out the details of village life, as well as thread those threatening elements (the city, the sun) more throughout. Shane is a pro, and was open and amenable to my suggestions. I understood that Penguin had put Shane through the wringer, that he had begun to feel disillusioned with the process, and that he was renewing his commitment to producing art for art’s sake. And for him, that meant returning to his indie-press roots. I’m thrilled it was with Two Dollar Radio.

New and Forthcoming From Two Dollar Radio
Nicholas Rombes’s debut novel, The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing (October 2014)
Sarah Gerard’s debut novel, Binary Star (January 2015)
Carola Dibbell’s debut novel, The Only Ones (March 2015)

Founded: 1990
Location: Portland, Oregon
Publishes: Fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry: “I tend to like work that blends genres,” says publisher Kevin Sampsell. “We’ve done a lot of hybrid nonfiction kind of stuff, but we’re still very much interested in fiction.”
Accepts: “We don’t take submissions right now but our website does encourage people to e-mail us and say hi and let us know about their work.”
Contact: kevin@futuretense
books.com; futuretensebooks

WENDY C. ORTIZ, the author of Excavation: A Memoir, published in July by Future Tense Books: My book was making
the rounds of editors at publishing houses in early 2013, and the rejections I received via my agent included adjectives such as “strong,” “compelling,” “powerful,” and “beautiful,” in addition to how “tough” the topic is, and how difficult it would be to sell to an audience. The Nervous Breakdown published an essay of mine, “Mix Tape,” that essentially broke down the story in the memoir into a mix tape form. Kevin Sampsell, editor and publisher of Future Tense Books, came across the essay and left the comment: “A spectacular essay.” Soon after, we were “meeting” over e-mail and he asked if I was working on anything full-length, so I sent him the book.

Independent presses have always appealed to me, and with Kevin, who has worked at Powell’s Books for a number of years and is a published author himself, I knew my book would get the benefit of his knowledge of the traditional publishing world while maintaining an integrity and cutting-edge quality that my favorite kind of independent presses are known for. When he e-mailed me the screen capture announcing my book’s acquisition by him in Publishers Weekly, it was unexpected, lovely, and special. That was only one of many times that confirmed for me I’d made the right decision.

Around the time the book was released, I opened a fortune cookie with a fortune that read, “You will continue to take chances and be glad you did.” Those words couldn’t feel any truer than they did in that moment. My book has a cover that people continuously exclaim over and that I had a choice in; the editor I was paired with was strong, capable, and we worked perfectly together; Kevin’s guidance through the whole process was personal and kind. I recognize these as hallmarks of having gone with Future Tense Books for Excavation: A Memoir, hallmarks I can’t say I would have experienced with a traditional publisher.

KEVIN SAMPSELL, the publisher of Future Tense Books: I was excited to have the chance to read Excavation when it finally came to me. I was a huge fan of Wendy’s essay “Mix Tape,” which was about the same troubling relationship with her teacher that she explores in her book, but from a different direction. Wendy told me that her agent was shopping to all the big presses so I had to wait a few months, but those presses weren’t quite excited enough to make an offer. In a selfish way, I was happy to have it land with me at Future Tense. I think, in many ways, small presses can bring this kind of book to life without compromising it or editing it to a point that makes it more commercial or whatever. I liked that Excavation takes on a messy subject and doesn’t deliver the obvious victim and perpetrator roles. It’s more complicated than that, and I wanted Wendy to explore that. That’s what makes the book a rewarding experience. It grapples and meditates in equal measure. It’s beautiful and brutal. I have a newer editor working with me at Future Tense named Tina Morgan; she appreciates this kind of book as well, and I wanted to have strong female input on the editing and shaping of the book. Tina and I worked really hard on bringing out the boldness of Wendy’s voice, and as readers have seen, it’s a pretty clear and stunning voice. Wendy is also just a great person to work with, and working with Future Tense authors has always felt like a family. It’s not a requirement to become my best friend if I’m publishing you, but I do often end up with a special bond with the writers I publish. I love these people. Wendy was someone I was excited to welcome into the family.

I’m not sure why other publishers didn’t take on Excavation. But when you’re dealing with a big company, there are so many doors to pass through, more people who have to give it their approval. You have editors in charge of other editors, and you have marketing people trying to figure out what the next big thing is, and you have the people who sign the checks, and if one of them isn’t comfortable with representing your book (or maybe its subject matter), you can’t get a deal with them. It’s funny then, when people who work for those big publishing houses order the book from us online. It’s kind of gratifying to go to the post office to mail another copy to another editor at HarperCollins or Penguin Random House. I like to think the fact that Future Tense and other small presses are putting out “difficult” books that then become successful is inspiring the bigger houses to take more chances with authors like Wendy and books like Excavation.

New and Forthcoming From Future Tense Books
Litsa Dremousis’s essay e-book, Altitude Sickness (October 2014)
Troy James Weaver’s debut story collection, Witchita Stories (February 2015)

Founded: 2008
Location: Marfa, Texas
Publishes: Poetry collections
Accepts: Manuscripts through Submittable during the open submission period (usually February)
Contact: canariumbooks@gmail.com; canarium.org

DARCIE DENNIGAN, the author of Madame X, published in April 2012 by Canarium Books: On the eve of 2011, I resolved—on a scrap of paper I then burned and set free over a polluted river—to finish my manuscript and send it to my three ideal publishers, one of which was Canarium. In April, before I could finish the manuscript, Canarium e-mailed me out of the blue. It was such a gift to have this publisher I loved ask to see my work. My manuscript wasn’t ready, but every night for a week I would put my daughter to sleep and then sit up on my bed and type up the poems I’d been working on, because I was so determined not to blow this opportunity to show them a book.

Canarium had published Ish Klein, whose messy, sometimes feverish work inspires me. I am also a huge fan of editor Robyn Schiff’s poetry. Since joining up with Canarium, I’ve watched the other editors, Josh Edwards, Lynn Xu, and Nick Twemlow, publish books as well, and it’s pretty cool how gorgeous their poems are in completely different ways. They kept a pretty light hand with Madame X—I was surprised and grateful at how messy they let me keep the poems. At the same time, Josh helped me improve upon the original title and organization, and he did some awesome things with the book design. When I asked if we could use one of my husband’s drawings for the cover, he said, “Of course! We like to keep it in the family.” That also is typical of Canarium: It’s a family affair, and the editors have a talent for making you feel like you’re part of something that doesn’t have to be separate from your other life. Josh is always inviting writers to come with their families and set up a tent on his land in Marfa, Texas. Last fall, Nick organized a mini book tour in the Midwest for me and Farnoosh Fathi (whose book came out the year after mine but whose work I had loved and followed since 2008), and he and Robyn were so kind about my mom and three-month-old baby tagging along too. If they’ll have it, I want Canarium to publish my next book too, but not just because I feel an affinity for its editors. I need a publisher committed to not only publishing books but also to helping those books find their way in the world by organizing readings and putting books in the hands of great reviewers, and Canarium is absolutely terrific at that.

JOSHUA EDWARDS, the founding editor of Canarium Books: In April 2011 we were considering manuscripts during our open reading period and were looking for a few more. I was a big fan of Darcie’s first book, Corinna, A-Maying the Apocalypse (Fordham University Press, 2008), and I loved the more recent work I’d come across, so her name was at the top of my list of people to query. Robyn Schiff, Nick Twemlow, and Lynn Xu were also keen to read her second manuscript. We sent her a note and she got back to us saying she was nearly done with the collection and she’d been thinking of sending it to Canarium; she just needed some time. A week later the manuscript that would become Madame X arrived. We all thought that besides being an absolutely fantastic manuscript, it would contribute greatly to the conversation (or constellation) of the other books on our list. In June we let her know we’d be thrilled to publish her collection. One of her first questions was if she’d be able to have input in the cover art, since some of the poems in the book were the result of collaborations with her husband, the artist Carl Dimitri. We were happy to oblige. As a small press, it seems the only viable measure of success is the happiness of everyone involved. To this end, we try to make the whole process as personal as possible. Each book is assigned to one primary editor, with all of us helping out. Because of my particular interest in the themes of Madame X, I worked with Darcie. At the end of February 2012, the book was ready, and I had the pleasure of watching Darcie read with Anthony Madrid at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. There’s a distinct pleasure to seeing the resonance and texture we find in editorial work come to life. Each year two Canarium authors read together for the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, and we also try to organize at least one extensive tour. We try to stick with our authors, and I’m thrilled that Canarium gets to publish Darcie’s third book.

New and Forthcoming from Canarium Books
Tod Marshall’s poetry collection Bugle (November 2014)
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa translated by Sawako Nakayasu (January 2015)
Poetry collections by Emily Wilson and Michael Morse (April 2015)

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Founded: 1994
Location: Pasadena, California
Publishes: Poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction: “We do a few memoirs but most of our prose list is made up of novels or short story collections, and we love flash fiction,” says managing editor Kate Gale.
Accepts: Queries and full submissions (preferably as a PDF) through Submittable
Contact: redhen.org; redhenpress.submittable.com/submit

PETE FROMM, the author of If Not for This, published in August by Red Hen Press: If Not for This, my tenth book, was swimming upstream in New York. My old publisher had transitioned to a paperback reprint house, and homeless, hitting the market just after the economic downturn, the book stacked up glowing rejections filled with mutterings about “the powers-that-be” and lines like “They are looking for books that can print at least 45k copies on a first print.” While my books had always sold, suddenly they had not sold enough. The guys in the green visors had taken over.

My “career” was kept afloat by a new French publisher, Oliver Gallmeister, translating a book of mine every other year. While a keen businessman, he still worked only with books he truly believed in, books he was passionate about. In the United States I found nothing similar until I read a chapter of If Not for This at the Writers@Work conference in Utah. As the next reader was introduced, Kate Gale of Red Hen leaned over and whispered, “Who is publishing that novel?” I said, “Nobody yet.” She grabbed my wrist, and said, “Let me. Please.”

I looked at this bright, effusive woman, someone who would no sooner consider prior sales figures than she would ask to see my bank account. She had fallen in love with a story and knew she would do whatever it took to share this thing that had moved her.

Over the following months, as my agent prepared the next blitz of submissions, Kate kept after me until I finally understood that it was exactly her passion and belief in the power of story, of characters who can change your life, that had been missing all those years in the chill skyscrapers of New York. I called my agent and said, “Please take If Not for This off the market. I’ve found a home. A good one. A great one.”

And the night of the book launch, going head-to-head with a Paul McCartney concert in Missoula, Montana, in an independent bookstore crammed to standing-room-only, I knew I was no longer caught in the world of publishing, but in the love of books. It was great to be back.

KATE GALE, the managing editor of Red Hen Press: When Pete decided to work with Red Hen, I’m sure he felt he was making quite a leap. After all, we’re not Picador. Our marketing, publicity, and sales staff, along with their intern assistants, work in two small offices that occupy the top floor of a bank in Pasadena. We publish ten titles a season, and those titles are their focus. They love Pete’s book, and even more important, they love working with Pete. What an indie press brings to the table is a small group of people the author can wow with kindness, and that kindness causes them to work hard, and that creates the numbers. At a big press, big sales numbers might create respect and kindness. At a small indie, it’s the other way around. An author like Pete is going to get a lot of marketing-and-sales attention from a small press because he’s working so hard for the book and because he’s so easy to work with. I’ve personally handed out galleys of his book all over New York. Pete is part of the Red Hen family. We didn’t get into books for fame and fortune; we stumbled into books for love of great stories and storytellers. We like stories of the West where the sky meets the water because that’s where we live. And that’s what we have with Pete Fromm.

New and Forthcoming From Red Hen Press
Leia Penina Wilson’s debut poetry collection, i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown) (October 2014)
Ellen Meeropol’s novel On Hurricane Island (March 2015)
Chris Tarry’s debut story collection, How to Carry Bigfoot Home (March 2015)

Founded: 2010
Location: New York, New York
Publishes: Fiction (novels, story collections, literature in translation), illustrated books, creative and popular science nonfiction
Accepts: Manuscripts and proposals via Submittable; no e-mail submissions
Contact: blackballoonpublishing.com; Twitter @BlackBalloonPub

KEVIN CLOUTHER, the author of We Were Flying to Chicago, published in May by Black Balloon Publishing: I discovered Black Balloon Publishing through its annual Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize, an award of five thousand dollars and a book deal for a completed but unpublished manuscript. Although I didn’t win, I was offered a book deal as a result of my submission. I liked the press, which appeared totally committed to the quality of the work, from the beginning. When I met my editor, Buzz Poole, to sign the contract, I had to resist embracing him. I’d received my MFA a dozen years previous and had never gone long without wondering what I was doing to myself. The editorial process went smoothly; most of the stories had appeared in journals, and we agreed on the order and title.

For the most part, I worked with publicity director Jennifer Abel Kovitz, who decided I could handle being included on every rejection and acceptance. The spreadsheet she seemed to update hourly lifted a curtain I’d never bothered to acknowledge, and I learned how books get ignored or reviewed. She paired me with Mike Meginnis, the winner of the 2013 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize, for readings in the Midwest. I wrote essays for the Millions and Tin House’s blog. I spoke on the radio and did interviews. I did book giveaways and Skyped into a book club and read throughout the Northeast with famous writers and unfamous writers and alone in bookstores and bars and an assisted living facility. It all felt like one great blessing because I’d always understood nobody needed to read what I wrote, that the moment a reader converted my words into a private experience in his or her mind, I was the lucky one.

JENNIFER ABEL KOVITZ, the publicity director of Black Balloon Publishing: I first read Kevin Clouther’s We Were Flying to Chicago when he submitted it to Black Balloon’s annual Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. My fellow award committee members and I were delighted by the relatable voice of his collection’s title story. We were struck by his visceral rendering of so many memorable characters—praise that would later echo in the Star Tribune’s review of the book, a little over a year after we received Kevin’s submission.

In the end, the seven-person committee would break our own rule (“one winner, one book deal”) to publish We Were Flying to Chicago. We awarded the 2013 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize to another author, Mike Meginnis, but we also offered Kevin a book deal, and his collection was published in May.

And that is what we do for our authors: We break the rules. After all, great writing itself is inventively defiant and thus deserving of an equally bold publisher. My colleagues and I work from the premise that the best (and thus most necessary) storytelling discards conventional thinking, language, and distinctions to reveal underlying truths in a raw, fresh, and invigorating way. So our model of book publishing should rise to the ambition and example of the voices we seek to publish. As an independent publisher, we are not a mere gatekeeper or curator. Instead, we exist to discover and champion talents like Kevin Clouther. As long as writers continue to produce great (read: rule-breaking) work, independent presses like Black Balloon can succeed by forging equally revolutionary strategies to share these stories with readers.

As we look toward 2015, we’ll continue to take risks just as we did when we published We Were Flying to Chicago. Under the creative leadership of our new president, Andy Hunter, cofounder of Electric Literature, and our new editor in chief, the incomparable Pat Strachan, we’ll not just break industry rules, we’ll invent new ones.

New From Black Balloon Publishing
Sean Manning’s anthology, Come Here Often? 53 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar (October 2014)
Mike Meginnis’s debut novel, Fat Man and Little Boy (October 2014)

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Founded: 2013
Location: Austin, Texas
Publishes: “We publish risky, big-hearted fiction—story collections, novels, novellas,” says codirector Jill Meyers. “We’ll be looking to expand our list in the next few years to include essays and creative nonfiction.”
Accepts: “We’re not currently open for submissions, but we would like writers to get in touch if they think their project fits with our mission. We are always scouting new writers.”
Contact: hello@astrangeobject.com; astrangeobject.com/aso

KELLY LUCE, the author of Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, published in October 2013 by A Strange Object: I first encountered Jill Meyers and Callie Collins, A Strange Object’s directors, when they were still at American Short Fiction and published a piece of mine. When they started A Strange Object in late 2012, they e-mailed me and asked if I had a manuscript they could consider. I waited about three seconds before I sent them the book, which they accepted a few months later.

Before this I’d spent a couple of years sending the collection to small-press contests. It earned a closetful of bridesmaid dresses: finalist for the Bakeless Prize, for the Flannery O’Connor Award two years in a row, and four more finalist placements from the Sarabande and Black Lawrence contests. People kept telling me this was a great sign; it meant the book was publishable. I just kept wondering what made my book stand out consistently, yet without ever reaching the top. Now I realize how in love with a book—really—a publisher needs to be to do right by it, and though it’d be disingenuous to say I’m glad I didn’t win those prizes, there’s something special about the book being chosen outside the parameters of a contest.

I knew from moment one that they would do right by Hana Sasaki. I could tell from their introductory e-mail how much heart, intelligence, savvy, and dedication this press would corral. Many moments reinforced my decision: a collaborative and thorough editing process that really improved the book, prosecco and a midnight book signing at the A\SO offices as we rang in the pub date, their hiring Yuko Shimizu to design the cover, a book launch that sent me into space, and a surprise gift of a framed original print of the cover art.

A Strange Object’s style combines all the things we miss about old-school publishing—the personal relationships, a unique, singular vision for each book from acquisition to publication—with a deep understanding of modern media. They truly are the next generation: gorgeous website; elegant, uncomplicated design; cool social media feeds; interactive live events; whiskey. And still, when you order from them, you get a handwritten note.

JILL MEYERS, the codirector of A Strange Object: My codirector, Callie Collins, and I selected A Strange Object’s first title at a picnic table at an Austin coffee shop on a warm December day. We chose it for many reasons—it is a playful, nuanced collection that has a lot of heart; we knew author Kelly Luce’s work well and had published a story of hers ourselves (there are demons and grieving lovers and a woman who grows a tail, for god’s sake). We’d read a pile of manuscripts, but none had clicked with us the way Kelly’s did.

Callie and I came from a national literary magazine, so we examined the stories on their individual merits first. We studied Kelly’s stories one by one and cut a few repetitive pieces, slimming the collection down to ten. In our first of several editorial passes, we gave Kelly detailed notes—we asked her to change the endings of several stories, to be a little messier in spots, and nipped and tucked in order to plunge the reader right into the weird action. Together we tightened up dialogue and stripped out flourishes of explanation in order to provide more “give”—that is, readers draw their own deductions and imagine into the story.

We asked for a title change, too. Kelly had titled her book after the first story, which remains a great one. But to us “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster” suggested a children’s picture book with cartoony toast leaping into the air. We settled on the odd, long Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, after one of the shortest stories in the collection. We also reordered the stories to provide more continuity, to gently tie themes together, and also to give the collection its own bobbing rhythm. And always we were in conversation with Kelly about her vision for each story and the collection as a whole. We believe in working closely with our writers, getting to know them, and coming to deeply understand their vision and project. Hana Sasaki was in some ways a dreamy constellation of a first book—a brilliant manuscript, a lot of hard work, great design collaboration, good publicity, and ultimately, a strange object with staying power.

New and Forthcoming from A Strange Object
Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree’s story collection, Our Secret Life in the Movies (November 2014)
Nicholas Grider’s debut story collection, Misadventure (February 2015)

Founded: 1983
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Publishes: Novels, story collections, memoirs, biographies, essay collections, and histories
Accepts: Queries and proposals via postal mail
Contact: P.O. Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515; algonquin.com

AMY ROWLAND, the author of The Transcriptionist, published in May by Algonquin Books: The Transcriptionist is my first published book (though I have an awful first novel in a binder on my bookshelf—epistolary, mute guy on death row, childhood flashbacks). After abandoning my first effort, I spent years writing The Transcriptionist in fits and starts, without acknowledging for a long time that I was trying again.

Finally, I finished the novel and found an agent, the indefatigable Seth Fishman, who sent the manuscript out. I spoke with three editors, and ultimately the decision was between two publishers, Algonquin and Bloomsbury. The Bloomsbury editor was nice, enthusiastic, and didn’t seem to require a lot of edits—all good things. But as a native of North Carolina, I confess I’ve always had a soft spot for Algonquin. I knew its stellar reputation when I was a UNC undergraduate and would haunt bookstores and search for Algonquin titles, especially the annual New Stories From the South anthology. Also, how can you not love a publisher that started in a woodshed with a sign that asked to keep the gate closed for the dog?

Still, I would have been pleased with either publisher. The deciding factor was my conversation with Chuck Adams. His reading of my novel was insightful, and his understanding of the book’s strengths and shortcomings matched mine, so I knew we would both be working to make the book better, and that we agreed on both the book and the “better.”

I knew I wanted to work with Chuck, but he still had to get approval from the entire Algonquin team. (That’s an advantage of independent presses; if they do choose your book, the whole house is behind you.) At the end of our conversation, Chuck buoyed me by saying that he hoped Algonquin published The Transcriptionist but that I had a bright career ahead and he wanted me to know that, wherever I went. In the end, Bloomsbury and Algonquin matched each other’s offers. I discussed the decision with my agent, who said that Algonquin does a great job with first novels, and that Chuck has a tremendous reputation. We both agreed that Algonquin was the right house for me. I felt that I was coming full circle; Algonquin’s editorial offices are still in Chapel Hill (though they no longer work in a woodshed).

CHUCK ADAMS, the executive editor of Algonquin Books: I was smitten with Amy’s novel from the first few sentences—there was wit, there was the feeling of being let in on insider knowledge about something (in this case, working for a newspaper like the New York Times), there was the “seen-it-all-already” weariness I so love in New Yorkers, and there was that so important but so elusive strong “voice” that editors talk about but are loath to explain. Most of all, though, I felt warmth, a sense that I was going to love this narrator and want to go along on her journey—and I was right. That’s why I loved The Transcriptionist.

But every year there are books I love that I don’t end up publishing. Were I still at one of the big “all-purpose” houses, I could buy pretty much anything I wanted, cost permitting. But at Algonquin, where we publish only ten to twelve original works of fiction a year, love is just the beginning. Next, we have to feel confident that our readers—more loyal than most, I believe—will respond to this writer and this novel. Then we have to have a strong sense that in this author we have found someone who can grow over time, that there will be a next—hopefully “bigger”—book that we will want to publish.

And I have to feel that the author is willing to work with me, to listen to my suggestions, to try coming at scenes, at characters, at plotlines from different angles until we find the ones that work best for the novel. Amy was a dream to work with: receptive, patient during my slow editing process, much more disciplined than I am, and a stickler for detail—all great qualities. She will have a long career, and I hope Algonquin will remain a part of it.

New and Forthcoming From Algonquin Books
Michele Raffin’s memoir, The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered (October 2014)
Brock Clarke’s novel The Happiest People in the World (November 2014)
Tim Johnston’s novel Descent (January 2015)

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Founded: 1998
Location: Arlington, Virginia
Publishes: Literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry
Accepts: Queries via e-mail during the open reading period, from May 15 to August 15
Contact: givalpress@yahoo.com; givalpress.com

THOMAS H. MCNEELY, the author of Ghost Horse, published in November by Gival Press: The one thing I would never do, I told myself, was enter my debut novel, Ghost Horse, in a publication contest. I had worked on it too long (almost thirteen years); my former Stegner fellows, many of whom had landed deals with major trade houses, would look down their noses at me; it would be an admission of failure. And yet, in the spring of 2013, that’s exactly what I did. I submitted Ghost Horse for the Gival Press Novel Award. It was the best decision I have ever made as a writer.

By the time I sent Ghost Horse to Gival, it had already gone the rounds of New York agents. Even those who had courted me before now showed no interest. This was in 2010. At the end of that year, I was diagnosed with cancer. When I returned to Ghost Horse in 2012, I saw it in a radically different way. It’s a novel that mixes the personal and political, and the worlds of childhood and adulthood, in a prickly, idiomatic, very local way—in other words, the kind of novel I like, but not the kind, I realized, that is likely to sell to a trade press.

When I found the contest notice in Poets & Writers Magazine and checked out Gival Press’s backlist, I knew that I had found a home for Ghost Horse, if I was lucky enough to get in the door. By then, I had researched the independent press market as well. Where else would I find a press that was concerned with issues of race and class, especially relations between Anglo and Latino communities, especially in the Southwest?

I feel incredibly lucky that Gival Press picked my book. Because Ghost Horse won Gival’s annual novel award, it hasn’t gotten “lost in the list,” as some of my colleagues’ books have at major houses. I have been amazed by Gival’s constant availability and kindness. We’ve discussed everything from the layout to cover art to where to place ads. Most of all, Robert Giron, my editor, understands my vision for the book. I am grateful to have found a publishing house willing to lead Ghost Horse into the world.

ROBERT L. GIRON, the publisher of Gival Press: When I started Gival Press in 1998, my mission was to publish thought-provoking literary works—by writers of various backgrounds—that, hopefully, will endure. For our novel contest, which we started in 2005, all entries are screened by me, anonymously, because I insist on focusing on the work and not who wrote it. I narrow the pool to the top five entries, then pass the entries to our judge, who also reads the works anonymously, and he or she chooses the winner.

It is safe to say that the finalists chosen by me during any particular year match the sentiment I have for the press, including our mission and desire to promote works that might not otherwise get published by the major publishing companies. I am not seeking a quick reading fix but rather I am searching for works that will endure. Thomas H. McNeely’s novel fits this bill. His style of writing, gripping characters, and the provocation of thought grabbed my attention. This is not sensationalism for pure commercial entertainment.

New From Gival Press
Seth Brady Tucker’s poetry collection We Deserve the Gods We Ask For (October 2014)

Founded: 2009
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Publishes: “We publish a little of everything—urban fiction, creative nonfiction, some poetry, and art books—in all formats, including novels, story collections, essay collections, memoirs, and hybrid books,” says publisher Victor Giron. “We also experiment with highly designed books as well as more straightforward layouts.”
Accepts: General submissions during a few reading periods each year; currently closed but will reopen in the spring of 2015. “We prefer queries/proposals first, followed by further material upon request.”
Contact: info@curbsidesplendor.com; curbsidesplendor.com

MEGAN STIELSTRA, the author of Once I Was Cool, published in May by Curbside Splendor: I was part of the lineup at Reading Under the Influence, one of my favorite live lit series in Chicago, and Jacob Knabb came up to me afterward and asked me to submit [to Curbside Splendor]. It’s one of the many things I love about Curbside: They don’t exist in some ivory tower; they’re out there, in the bars and theaters and streets. They’re listening. They’re searching for the stuff that matters, and once they find it, it’s their pulse.

I knew they’d recently signed Samantha Irby, who writes Bitches Gotta Eat (the greatest blog in the history of ever), and I read through their catalogue and was blown away: intelligent, gutsy, ballsy stuff, and so diverse, in part due to form and genre—fiction, nonfiction; short stories, essays, and novels; experimental stuff and work in translation—but also a wide variety of voice and background and life experience, gender and race and orientation. As a reader, I want that variety of human experience, and as a writer, I want to be a part of publishing and producing that counts diversity among its primary goals.

Working with the Curbside family was a sort of dream. When I first sat down with Leonard Vance, the editor who worked on Once I Was Cool, he said, “I want to tell you what this book means to me.” Then he went essay by essay, telling me how he’d connected with each. I was so profoundly grateful that my work was in his hands, and that gratitude grew every step of the way: Jacob asking if I’d open for the Jesus Lizard; Ben Tanzer telling me about the review in the Chicago Tribune; seeing Alban Fischer’s design for the first time; Naomi Huffman hand-selling copy after copy at Printer’s Row, at Pitchfork; and most of all, Victor Giron, who founded the press on a big-ass dream, telling me how proud he was to count me among his writers.

Real talk: Independent publishing is not six-figure advances. It’s people who love books, who love stories and ideas and the impossible architecture of language so fiercely and furiously that they back it with blood, with sweat and cash and precious, precious time. Curbside Splendor put everything they had behind this book, and I couldn’t be more proud to count myself among them.

VICTOR GIRON, the president and publisher of Curbside Splendor: Running a small, independent press is great because I get to discover and present brilliant new voices that inspire me and my staff. It’s also great because I get to meet and court amazing people, such as Megan Stielstra, and have them be inspired by what we’re accomplishing. That’s especially the case here in Chicago, a city often overlooked in the national literary scene but one that is absolutely thriving when it comes to writing, performing, and publishing. When you work with a publisher like us, it’s extremely personal, all the way through, and that I think is what’s most intriguing to writers like Megan when choosing to work with us. We all become part of the same team, trying to make something impactful.

I’m still new to the publishing world, so I only met Megan a few years ago at a reading series called Reading Under the Influence. She was an amazing performer. I later learned how much of an avid performer and teacher she was, and kept on following her progress. One of our editors at the time had developed a relationship with her, and over drinks broached the subject of our publishing her next book. We all agreed, and the rest is history, as they say. I’m so proud to have published Once I Was Cool, Megan’s debut essay collection composed mainly of pieces that were written for live performance but translate extremely well to the page. What I love most about the book is how inspiring it is, without being some sort of self-help book. Megan’s optimism and hopeful view of her life and work compels you to feel better about yourself, all the while bringing you to tears and making you laugh out loud. I dare anyone to read it and not feel the same way.

New and Forthcoming From Curbside Splendor
W. Todd Kaneko’s debut poetry collection, The Dead Wrestler Elegies (November 2014)
Michael Czyzniejewski’s story collection I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life (January 2015)
Halle Butler’s debut novel, Jillian (February 2015)

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Founded: 2006
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Publishes: Poetry collections, short story collections, novels: “There has also been some work that doesn’t fit the mold, like a DVD of films by Stephanie Barber and a book of comics by John Dermot Woods,” says founding editor Adam Robinson.
Accepts: Complete manuscripts, excerpts, and queries during the submission period, one month a year (usually in June)
Contact: adam@publishinggenius.com; publishinggenius.com

MELISSA BRODER, the author of Scarecrone, published in February by Publishing Genius: I met Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius standing outside a bathroom. We talked for hours and didn’t move beyond the bathroom entrance: That’s how good the conversation was. We met as artists first—as poet and poet, rather than poet and publisher. I gained an enormous respect for Adam’s mind that night. I thought he was brilliant, and also fun. We were at the AWP conference in Denver, and I bought his book of poems. On the plane home, I was relieved to discover that I liked Adam’s work as much as I liked him as a person.

Adam and I became artistic supporters of each other, and friends. He read at my New York City reading series, Polestar. He published my work in his online journal, Everyday Genius. I don’t remember who broached the subject first, but when the time came for me to publish my second book, Meat Heart, I decided to change publishers and go with Adam. I remember being at a chapbook festival and one of us saying, “Should we do it?” and the other one saying, “I don’t know, should we?” And then I remember being on a train and receiving an e-mail from Adam that said, “We should do it. Let’s do it.”

The experience of publishing Meat Heart with Publishing Genius was fun and inspiring. Adam and I edited the whole book together via Gchat over a period of many days, and the work was interjected with jokes and friendly gossip. The mind I had been impressed by outside the bathroom did not disappoint. Also, Publishing Genius makes a gorgeous book. Meat Heart did well, and we were both happy.

When it came time to publish my third book, Scarecrone, I had offers from a few different indie presses but it wasn’t really a contest. I just knew that the process of birthing a book with Adam would be fun. This time we were old pros and had our system down. I knew Adam’s quirks and trusted his time line. Also, after having published two books with indie presses, I was more patient and tolerant of the humanity of the indie press.

Indie publishing is often only one or two women or men behind the curtain of X or Y Press. There is always room for something to go wrong, and something usually will. These brave (and crazy) women and men have to balance their own financial security, families, and creative lives with putting a book of poetry into the world in 2014. You have to be a little crazy to do that. I feel grateful for Adam Robinson and Publishing Genius for believing in my work enough to stay that crazy.

ADAM ROBINSON, the founding editor of Publishing Genius: Melissa Broder first appeared on my radar in 2009, through her reading series, Polestar. I was looking for a place in New York City where I could organize an event for Publishing Genius, which publishes six books a year. As everyone should do when soliciting something in the writing world, I did my research, and discovered that Melissa had written a book called When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother. With a title like that, I had to check it out. I loved it. Loving the writing is the most important thing for me as a publisher (and as a reader).

Then I met Melissa at AWP, at a party hosted by HTMLGIANT. There were hundreds of people crammed into a small bar, and as I squeezed past her down a tight hallway, we introduced ourselves. I told her I was a big fan of her work—but that she’d never returned my e-mail about Polestar. After that we kept in touch. I continued following her poetry, and she ended up hosting lots of Publishing Genius writers at her series after all.

Somewhere along the way, she sent the manuscript for Meat Heart. I accepted it, we signed a contract, and we were off and editing. It was inspiring to work with her—we’d e-mail and Gchat for hours, clarifying the poems and structuring the book. I found that she said things I always thought, but her approach was different and unique. Sometimes I didn’t get what she was doing, and that reminded me of Gertrude Stein’s comment to her publisher, Bennett Cerf: “Well, I’ve always told you, Bennett, you’re a very nice boy but you’re rather stupid.” I give Melissa the benefit of the doubt because she deserves it.

Melissa sent her next book, Scarecrone, over the transom during Publishing Genius’s open-submission period. Given our relationship by this point, she could have simply asked if I was interested. Of course I was. Publishing her wasn’t just enlivening: Meat Heart had done very well, going into several printings. But Melissa went the traditional route, and I was excited when I saw it in the Submittable list. I accepted it and we repeated the process. Melissa understands the ins and outs of publishing as well as she understands the angles and nooks of poetry, and I consider myself lucky to publish her.

New and Forthcoming From Publishing Genius
Mike Young’s poetry collection, Sprezzatura (October 2014)
Craig Griffin’s cookbook, Eat, Knucklehead (November 2014)
Madeline ffitch’s debut story collection, Valparaiso Round the Horn (December 2014)

Founded: 1972
Location: Port Townsend, Washington
Publishes: Poetry collections and prose books about poetry
Accepts: Manuscripts during reading periods only (currently closed)
Contact: coppercanyonpress.org

JERICHO BROWN, the author of The New Testament, published in September by Copper Canyon Press: Part of the drive we have as artists is to make an actual, hopefully lasting, impact—even if that impact is only on the self. And we seek sources outside ourselves—colleagues, prizes, presses—to help us make that impact, to validate that an impact was indeed made, or to lie to us about what our writing actually manages to make happen in the world, in a heart. None of these are options of which to be ashamed.

In 2012, I left a teaching institution for a research-focused university without a contract for my second book. I did this with the knowledge that being published by a trade house would make a difference to a tenure committee at that research-focused university. (Both of my current poet colleagues are published by such houses, and I thought my doing the same might be an expectation.) When those publishers didn’t respond, or responded with rejection, I feared losing my job, my one chance to finally live near the man I loved while doing what I love.

The gift of rejection is that it allowed me to pay a kind of attention that had nothing to do with prestige. I sent The New Testament to two independent presses because of the work they put into making their books happen like events. Both accepted the book, but Michael Wiegers is the one who called me on the day of Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Even then, I wasn’t sure what to do, but a conversation with Copper Canyon publicist Kelly Forsythe is what really convinced me. Kelly is a force of nature who believes her job is to let people know that poetry is a palpable energy. I’ve heard so many poets say that; when meeting someone new, it’s hard to admit that they are doing what they love to do. I chose Copper Canyon because they admit it for me in a way that encourages me to admit it for myself.

MICHAEL WIEGERS, the executive editor of Copper Canyon Press: When I first read Jericho Brown’s manuscript I had little doubt we should publish it. Yet I believe the best publishing decisions aren’t made in isolation. The act of publishing and editorial acquisition is an expansion beyond the self, an inclusion of others. Copper Canyon Press is guided by an ethos that values inclusion, that values the reinforcement—and perpetuation—of the sacred space inhabited every time a reader makes engagement with a writer. We are a mission-driven nonprofit publisher, not a “privasher.” We don’t just make books, we advocate for the art they contain. The act of reading—and the investment it requires—creates worlds beyond our walls.

And with Jericho Brown, as long as one has a pulse and a breath and the ability to read, how could one not want to publish a book like The New Testament? Formally insistent and engrossing, it is so smart, and loving, and tender, and alive. I read it and immediately shared it with my colleagues here at the press: the first act of publishing. As with many of the manuscripts we receive—even those we don’t publish—

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