Monday, September 09, 2013

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Erin Costello and Mark Rockswold on SpringGun Press

A SpringGun is unexpected, sudden, immediate, urgent—it’s happening now. It dwells within the context of cold war paranoia and the new post 9/11 era. A SpringGun is simultaneously insane, comical, violent, practical, ingenious, irresponsible, terrifying, vulnerable, and deadly. We’re not necessarily looking for political work, but work fueled with its own sense of urgency, play, and importance is a must. We’re interested in the internet as a medium both for its networking potential and accessibility; we want to create a platform for newer art forms to emerge and pull new intelligent voices into the literary fold. We’re interested in writers who read vigorously and are invested in the continued advancement and development of both “print” and digital writing. We’re looking for artists who believe that it’s important to interact with a community of ideas and artists, who believe no good art happens in isolation.

Erin Costello is a poet, digital artist, and web designer who holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 2009 she founded SpringGun Press with Mark Rockswold: a print press for books of poetry, and a bi-annual online journal of poetry, flash fiction, and electronic literature. She has received awards for both her traditional and electronic writing and her work has been featured in various venues and publications. Originally from Northern California, she currently lives in Denver where she enjoys the incredible literary/art scene and works as an online marketer. More at

Mark Rockswold holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the co-founder of SpringGun Press and his work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, the Electronic Literature Directory, Blue Earth Review, Titmouse Magazine and elsewhere. He lives and teaches English in Denver.

1 – When did SpringGun 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?
We started SpringGun in September 2009 as a bi-annual online journal with the intention of bridging the electronic literature and “traditional” print communities and I think that we have succeeded to some extent with that goal. We were and still are, interested in publishing innovative writing, new voices, new writers and being an active part of the small press community.

Although we have learned too much from SpringGun to list everything here, making sure that we don’t take on more than our schedule and budget can realistically handle has been crucial to our ability to continue on each year. There are so many details to juggle with each publication and we make mistakes that seem huge and insurmountable at the time. We take SpringGun incredibly seriously but the most important thing we’ve learned working on a small publishing project is that sometimes you have to take a moment and try to take comfort in your smallness, learn to laugh at your mistakes, and not take yourself so seriously.  The reason that point is so important to us is that SpringGun brings us no financial gain so as soon as it is overall more stressful and tedious than it is fulfilling, we will stop work on it. Luckily we’ve never been close to that point.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
It was always something that many in our MFA program at Boulder talked about. It wasn't necessarily expected that you start a full blown poetry press, but it was expected that you contribute to putting your community's work out into the world whether it's a small broadside, handmade chapbooks, hosting a reading series, etc. Our professors also all had their own admirable publishing enterprises (Counterpath Press and Letter Machine Editions) and we were involved in the university's press Subito as well.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I think that we see small press publishing like most in our field do: as a place for experimentation, a place to take risks both as a writer and publisher. It’s a place where titles stay in print, and where we support and consume each others work. The question about responsibility is a difficult one. One has to have a sense of ethics--of not only publishing your particular group or friends or school. You also have a responsibility to take risks

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
We have tried to carve ourselves out as a place for work that takes chances with form specifically and for innovative work in general. There are other magazines and journals who feature electronic literature but not many, and we think featuring that kind of work has always set us apart.  Right now we’re really excited about projects that combine paper and the screen: James Belflower’s The Posture of Contour: A Public Primer (SpringGun Press, 2013) has a sound component via SoundCloud; we’re currently working on republishing the currently out of print V (Penguin, 2002) by Stephanie Strickland which exists in both planes, and in 2014 we will be working with artist/writer Eric Meyer on a very exciting paper + screen project. 

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
This is really the million dollar question, isn’t it? You see lots of brilliant books not sell. If we didn’t have day jobs in addition to SpringGun we would be SGP promotional and grant writing machines, but the reality is that we have to just focus on the most time and cost effective marketing channels.

The easiest way to get a book into the world is having an author with a good network who can self-promote. Nothing else is quite as powerful as this combination.  Also, in this crowded independent scene presses have to be sexy since you don't have the built in readership and intellectual credibility that comes with a university press. Black Ocean has probably done this more successfully than anyone else. Word of mouth, friendships, and a general and consistent buzz that a press is able to create after consistently putting out quality titles and forging relationships with authors and their networks is important.

We also think SPD has been a very effective way to get our books into stores and to people who wouldn’t have stumbled across our website on their own. It’s not a particularly cost-effective approach for us, but it does work in getting books out and that’s ultimately what’s important for our project. 

AWP and other conferences and festivals also play a part, but there still needs to be that buzz. We do light email marketing and are very active on social media where we see the best returns on the usual suspects: Twitter and Facebook.

Finally, we do send out as many review copies as we can and we send them to anyone who asks. One of our goals for this year is to have more creative writing and literature courses adopt the books.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
We like to approach publishing as a collaborative conversation and for the most part, it works well that way.  That being said, we never accept a work that we aren’t completely comfortable publishing in its current form with some light editing touches. The Silhouettes is the only full-length that we significantly re-worked and re-envisioned with the author and it was a fantastic experience. The bottom line is that a SpringGun author always has the final say when it comes to their book about everything (within budget and reason of course) whether it’s the cover design, the final edits, trim size, font, etc.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We mainly rely on Small Press Distribution, but you can also find our books in a few stores around the Boulder/Denver area and a couple places in NYC. We’re fairly conservative when it comes to print runs---250 is a usual initial run and when the titles go out of print, we just print more in 100 copy increments. This model works really well for us on the financial side of the operation especially because we like to make sure all of our titles stay in print.

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?
In addition to the two of us, we have a fiction editor (Christopher Rosales) and a poetry editor (Derrick Mund) and we couldn’t do do an annual journal, maintain a website, a social media presence and do three full length titles a year without them. In the past they have primarily helped with journal submissions but they’re starting to now work on our full-length titles with editing, layout, and other formal considerations. Chris is currently working on a project with Stephen Graham Jones that we hope to publish by next year. 

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Beyond giving you the opportunity to see what’s out there and what the competition looks like, it’s interesting to be able to identify trends and fads in content, project, style, etc and know what NOT to write about. I think we always asked ourselves “why do we write what we write?” but being a publisher helps make this question more important. Why take on a particular project? Why is this important to poetry? Art? And what is it doing that’s new in some way? It puts why art is important into perspective.

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?
We’re not interested in publishing ourselves or our editors via SpringGun. We have nothing against presses who choose to do so: it’s just not part of our mission and frankly we don’t have the resources for it without cutting into what we’re already doing.  

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We were particularly looking at small independent presses like Octopus, Counterpath, Black Ocean, Drunken Boat, Born Magazine, Blue Hour and also university affiliated entities like Fence, Subito, and Ahsahta.

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

We do occasional readings to promote our authors and our most recent one was Friday June 14---a late release party for the 2013 catalog. Honestly, there are already so many quality reading series in the metro area between the 4 MFA programs and other independent series like Bad Shadow Affair and Leon (run by our poetry editor, Derrick Mund) that there's little motivation on our part to create an additional one. That being said, we absolutely think that readings are vital to the morale, creativity, and curiosity of the community, because in addition to seeing what your friends are doing, it's the best way to see what other people are doing around the country.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Since our press was founded on the internet it's a basic everyday tool that we use. We’re certainly very present on social media and actively maintain the SpringGun website, and we see it as the future of publishing as screens continue to creep (and sometimes force their way) into our lives. But at the same time we don't think that the perfect technology that is the book is going anywhere soon so we will continue to produce them as long as printing entities like BookMobile stay reasonably affordable and in business.

17– Do you take submissions?
Submissions are how we run both the book and journal side of things. We just took on our first two (and probably only for many years) solicited projects, but that’s very new and rare for us. We hold open reading periods twice a year---you can find all the info in regard to submissions under the "submit" tab on the website.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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