Tuesday, April 06, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Cameron Anstee on Apt. 9 Press

Apt. 9 Press is a chapbook press based on Ottawa ON. Its first titles were launched in August 2009. To date, Apt. 9 has printed poetry and fiction, and intends to begin printing non-fiction in the near-future. It can be found online at apt9press.ca, and contacted at apt9press@gmail.com

Cameron Anstee lives in Ottawa ON where he runs Apt. 9 Press. Recent chapbooks include Frank St.(above/ground, 2010) and Water Upsets Stone (The Emergency Response Unit, 2009).

1 – When did Apt. 9 Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Apt. 9 launched its first titles in August 2009. I've not been at it long enough yet to be able to comment on shifting goals. I'm remaining focused on getting out books that I'm proud of. To borrow from Stuart Ross, "things I wish I'd written"; and, to amend to that, things I’d like to read.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

My introduction to small press publishing came during a Canadian Literature survey taught by Prof. Collett Tracey during the second year of my undergrad. She gave a lecture on Souster, Dudek, Layton and their Contact Press that absolutely floored me. I'd never heard anything like it and couldn't understand why they didn't teach THAT in high school. From there, I became involved in the student-run campus little mag and chapbook press (In/Words at Carleton University).

When my time at Carleton was drawing to a close, I was hooked and needed to start something of my own to keep myself in that world.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

I think the only responsibilities are to the writer and the writing. On the scale that I'm working at, money doesn't enter into it. Costs are covered, but there is no money otherwise. So, I try to put a degree of time and labour and care and attention into the production of the book deserving of the time, labour, care and attention the writer put into writing. Once the book is finished, I do my best to get the books into people’s hands. The bottom line is to treat the writer and work with respect.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

I don't think that Apt. 9 is doing anything revolutionary. I believe we are publishing excellent writing that would stand up alongside any being published in chapbooks across the country. I think, in an Ottawa context, Apt. 9 is investing more time in the physical production of the chapbooks than other chapbook presses in the city. All of the books are designed, printed and bound in-house. I'm tearing covers, printing, folding, threading needles and stitching, etc.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?

I've had the most success selling them at readings by the writer in question.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

I try to take my cues for editing from the writer. I've printed relatively new writers who I'm close to personally, and have thus been more involved in the process. In some cases I've been asked to edit more heavily. In others, I know that a manuscript has been through multiple rounds of editing by hands more capable than my own, in some cases has already won awards, and so my only involvement becomes a (hopefully) thorough copy-edit.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

Print runs are 50 copies (though I've done reprints of some for small press fairs/readings, and will do so again in the future). I sell at readings, small press fairs, online, and out of my bag. I can be contacted at apt9press.ca to order books.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

I am the only person involved in Apt. 9.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

As long as I've been writing in a serious, focused way, I've been involved in making little mags and chapbooks, so I'm not sure what sort of writer I would be WITHOUT that world. It seems absolutely natural to be involved in both.

10 – How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

I haven't published myself yet through Apt. 9, but not because I'm against the idea. I'm not especially prolific, and I've been lucky enough to have two chapbook manuscripts accepted and printed by others since Apt. 9 launched, so I haven't been sitting on a pile of material begging for a home. In the past, at Carleton, I did self-publish chapbooks, and I stand by them. I think Canada has a proud tradition of writer-run publishing houses that haven't shied away from self-publishing. Think back to Contact and First Statement and earlier, it’s always been done here, and by many of our finest.

I think there is a difference between self-publishing and vanity-publishing. So long as one is mindful of that line, I see no problem. At the end of the day, the writing will stand up or it won’t.

I think that Amanda, while discussing Angel House Press in this same series, quite astutely noted that the line becomes fuzzier when you’re accepting funding from an external body. At that point there need to be adequate checks and balances during the editorial process to make sure that the writing is accepted because of the writing, not because of a given writer’s association(s).

11 – How do you see the press continuing to evolve?

I hope it will move into publishing non-fiction titles focused on Ottawa's literary history. I also hope that I’ll continue to develop as a book-maker and designer. The chapbooks, to date, have been uniform in design and binding, but there is a book coming along this summer that will radically break that mould. I’d like to experiment with different binding methods and designs, as well as book sizes and lengths. Apt. 9 is not even a year old yet, so I'll hold off on making any further assessment for the moment.

12 – What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

I'm proud of the list of writers I've been lucky enough to work with. In order of publication: Justin Million, Monty Reid, Sandra Ridley, Ben Ladouceur, Michael Blouin, Michael Dennis, Stuart Ross, and those forthcoming. I think Apt. 9 has published a good cross-section of writers, both new and established, poets and fiction writers, with non-fiction on the way.

I’ve not been at it long enough to have frustrations of that sort. I’ve been thrilled by the response to the books.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

Contact Press, Raymond Souster’s Contact and Combustion mags, weed/flower, Tish, New Directions, Proper Tales, Bookthug, your above/ground, loads of others...

14 – How does Apt. 9 Press engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see your books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

We're trying to print a small fraction of the variety of writing in Ottawa (though not exclusively, Ottawa-writers are favoured). We'd like to help to document Ottawa's literary history with a series of non-fiction titles. Ottawa has a relatively small community of small press publishing folks, I think Apt. 9 is in dialogue with them all in one form or another. Like I said earlier, in the past I was involved with the student writing community at Carleton, and with In/Words. I have the most literal dialogue with members of that community on a weekly basis, and it continues to inform my reading, writing and publishing in positive ways.

More broadly, I think that The Emergency Response Unit and Ferno House in Toronto are two that I follow and feel some kinship with. Some of their editors were previously based here in Ottawa and active with student writing communities. The amount of care and energy that go into the production of their books is a real inspiration. It is strong motivation knowing they are there, doing great work. I look to what they’re doing regularly and hope that Apt. 9 lives up in our small way.

I think these communities always move between cities, between writers and publishers. If you care about the chapbook form, I think you’ll seek out people doing similar things in other places, and other times. I think a writer needs a community (however big or small), and communities need other communities. In absolute isolation it is very difficult to accomplish much of anything.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Apt. 9 has only hosted one reading/launch to date, but another is on the horizon. As well, we produced a chapbook by Stuart Ross to coincide with an already scheduled reading of his in Ottawa. It was a great opportunity to print something by a non-Ottawa writer, given that Apt. 9 does not have the resources to bring people to Ottawa independently. I think readings are important to get the work into people's hands.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

We have a website (apt9press.ca) with information on books, events, contact information, submissions, all the usual. It's useful for organizing events, contacting writers for manuscripts, contacting others to distribute work, etc.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

We don't presently accept unsolicited poetry or fiction. The books are time and labour intensive, and I'm always pleasantly surprised when production is finished on each. There is always a nagging doubt that each won't be, so I'm trying to not commit to too many books in advance. I have 3 or 4 lined up at any given time, but more than that and I'd be afraid of sitting on someone's manuscript for 6 or 8 or more months without being able to offer them a firm timeline, and that just isn't fair in the world of chapbook publishing.

We DO want non-fiction projects and proposals. We’re interested in books to do with all sorts of interesting aspects of Ottawa’s literary history. Whether it be a reading series (past or present), a mag (past or present), a press (past of present), a writer (past or present), in whatever form (essay, history, memoir, primary documents, interview, etc…), send us a proposal (250-500 words).

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

The two most recently completed books are how are you she innocently asked by Michael Dennis, and I Have Come To Talk About Manners by Stuart Ross. Dennis and Ross are two of my literary heroes, so these two are very special to me personally. The sustained energy and commitment to all things small press by these two is a real source of inspiration at Apt. 9, and I was thrilled that they agreed to trust me with their work. Michael’s book mixes poems and short stories, and the reader gets glimpses of a surreal bent in his writing that is rarely talked about. As well, his prose is not widely published; he tells a great story! Stuart’s book is his first set of poems since Dead Cars in Managua (2008) outside of magazine publications, and that is cause enough for celebration. These are wonderful poems, they’ll make you laugh and then they’ll punch you in the gut.

Forthcoming, I’m very proud of a descriptive bibliography of William Hawkins. It’s an item I’ve been compiling over the last year, and recently Bill came on board with the project. He has agreed to have his original, legendary poster poems from the sixties re-printed in the book. I think it will prove an important object in his catalogue.

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