Tuesday, April 30, 2013

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Carleton Wilson on Junction Books

Junction Books is an independent Canadian chapbook publisher that was started by Carleton Wilson in 1999. In 2003, Junction Books also began publishing trade books in a poetry imprint with Nightwood Editions, and this was the sole activity of Junction Books from 2005–2012. In 2013, the chapbook publishing program was reintroduced, with the addition of Blaise Moritz as managing editor and Adrienne Weiss as copy editor.

Carleton Wilson is a poet, editor, book designer, and the publisher of Junction Books. He lives and works in the Junction, Toronto, Canada.
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1 – When did Junction Books 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?
I started Junction Books in 1999 and published 34 chapbooks within its first five years of operation, but in 2004 I had to put the chapbook publishing on hiatus for financial and personal reasons. I initially began Junction Books in order to publish new writers, mostly poets. However, there is no particular direction we will be taking with the renewed publishing program; we'll just publish writings we think would make great chapbooks. I did not know much about publishing before starting Junction Books, so the experience has taught me something in almost all areas of publishing, especially in design and typesetting.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I attended the Toronto Small Press Book Fair in 1997 or 1998, and I thought that it was wonderful that people were publishing at this grassroots scale. I did not realize before attending that event that being a publisher was a possibility for anyone. This inspired me to start Junction Books, and such grassroots publishing is still the most meaningful publishing to me.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
Generally, the wonderful thing about publishing at this grassroots level is that you can set your own role and responsibilities. If you have a particular vision you want to pursue with your publishing program, you can do so. I think publishers have a responsibility to the writers they are publishing to represent their work in best way they possibly can, given the resources available to them. Beyond that, the way a publisher goes about their publishing program is an individual expression of the vision they have, and that's the great thing about independent publishing, especially at the grassroots level.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
When I started Junction Books, I published a lot of young writers who were in the literary scene at the University of Toronto, though that focus did broaden towards the end of our first publishing run. With respect to what is happening now, we will be printing and binding the chapbooks ourselves, and each publication will be issued in both softcover and hardcover chapbooks, available in a limited edition. Once the initial print-run is sold out, we will be issuing a print-on-demand version of the chapbook that will also be available only for a limited amount of time before being classified as out of print. We are also excited to begin publishing well-designed poetry broadsides that we hope will be of interest to people.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
The most effective way to distribute chapbooks is through events, either launches, readings, or book fairs. It's also helpful if the writer has a good number of family and friends who are eager to purchase their chapbook.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
It really depends on the manuscript I receive, and even more specifically on the individual poems in a manuscript. I can have no suggestions for one poem in a manuscript and then the next page is filled with editorial suggestions for that poem. So I don't have any preconceived way of going about editing a poem or manuscript.

7 – How do your chapbooks get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
In the first years of operation, print-runs for chapbooks were usually around 150 copies, and the chapbooks were distributed through launches and the Toronto Small Press Fair. With our new publishing program, chapbook print-runs will be small, approximately 50 copies, which we will print and bind ourselves. And as I stated previously, if that initial print-run is sold out, we will issue a print-on-demand version of the chapbook for a limited time, either 6 months or a year, and then the title will become out of print and not available via print-on-demand any longer. Having been out of the indie publishing game for several years, I'm actually not really sure how much of a market there is these days for chapbooks, so I am being quite conservative in my estimates with production numbers, at least until I see what the market is like. Distribution will be through the usual ways, launches and small press fairs, though we will definitely look into selling items through our website.

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?
Blaise Moritz has joined Junction Books as managing editor, and he will help me with the chapbook production. Also, Adrienne Weiss has agreed to be our copy editor and proofreader. I enjoy working with other editors, and it usually works out well. I believe it is important for me to include others in the publishing process, because it ultimately will be a benefit to the end product. When you have a good team working well together, then the responsibilities and stresses are shared and no one person is being ground down by the process, which happened to me previously. The challenges in this are mostly logistical, getting everyone together and on the same page, but they are easily surmountable if everyone is keen and excited about the project you are working on.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I don't think editing and publishing has changed the way I think about my own writing in any meaningful way, outside of the fact that doing all of this editing and publishing has kept me from actually thinking about and working on my own writing. It doesn't help that I am a slow writer, which compounds the effect of the time spent away from it.

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?
Generally, I have no issues with publishing my own writing, but I do think the question is relevant, and I do question myself about it occasionally. However at the grassroots level of publishing, I think the relevance of this question diminishes because the stakes are completely different than for publishers of full books where outside funding is part of the equation. If you start a chapbook press that also publishes your own writing, I don't have any problems with that, I've done it myself. I'm a big proponent of self-publishing at the grassroots level. I do think once you get to full books, things have to be weighed more carefully, but I still generally do not have a problem with it, as long as your book goes through as rigorous a publishing process as any other book would.

11– How do you see Junction Books evolving?
I don't know how Junction Books will evolve in the future; we just finished evolving into what we presently are. I believe the plan I have over the near future, publishing one or two chapbooks and a broadside per spring/fall season, is fairly sustainable, but beyond that I do not know. Maybe the future holds more change, but there are no plans for any at 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?
With respect to the past, what I have found most fulfilling in my work with Junction Books is publishing the first collections of writers whose work I thought was excellent, but who were not being published elsewhere. Giving these young writers a literary platform by publishing their first chapbook is something that has been very meaningful to me. We'll see how things go with the new publishing program, but I have hope that it will be equaling fulfilling.

Most of the chapbooks I published are now out of print, and came out over a decade ago, so if you weren't active in the literary scene in Toronto before 2005, then all of my chapbook publishing work is probably unknown to you. So now I am essentially starting anew, and the first chapbook has yet to be published, so really at the moment there is nothing to overlook. The biggest frustration has always been in selling enough chapbooks to break even on a project. I've never found that an easy thing to do, which is why I am starting out small this time and will see how things go.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Any publisher that was at the Toronto Small Press Fairs in the late 1990s was an inspiration to me. I loved that everyone was doing their own thing, and that showed me that it was possible for me to be a publisher as well.

14– How does Junction Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Junction Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I don't really have an answer to these questions yet. As I said, Junction Books has been absent from the Toronto micro-press community for several years, and is just starting to wend its way back into the scene. But I am very much looking forward to building new relationships with writers and other micro-press publishers. Such relationships and dialogues are a real driving force for me to do this kind of work, so they are and always have been important.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
No, at the moment we do not have regular events. I have not yet decided how we are going to do launches. It is important so we'll figure out something because a launch is, in my experience, where you sell most of a print-run. In the past I had big launches for chapbooks and invited local indie bands, like The Bicycles and Justin Rutledge, to play, but that was when I was launching 4 or 5 chapbooks at a time. I'm publishing on a smaller scale now so I will have to figure out what will work for us.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
I have a website (http://junctionbooks.ca) which includes information about our publications and a blog, and I started a Twitter account for Junction Books (@JunctionBooks), but I am not particularly adept at social media. We will also use a print-on-demand service, via the web, for printing chapbooks when the initial small print-runs have been sold out. I eventually would like to sell our chapbooks and broadsides through our website, but I will wait to see how sales at events go before moving in that direction.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Junction Books does not take submissions. We are only publishing two to four chapbooks per year, and most of our time and energy will be taken up with editing, printing, and binding those chapbooks. So we won't be accepting submissions anytime soon.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Since the most recent titles are several years old, I will talk about the first title that Junction Books will publish this spring. The chapbook is called Production 1060: The Oz Monologues by Adrienne Weiss, and the poems imagine the lives of Oz’s famous actors and their alternative selves both on and off set, further blurring the lines of identity, performance, and real life. The first broadside we will be publishing is a poem by A.F. Moritz.

Thank you for the opportunity to (re-)introduce Junction Books to your readers.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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