Wednesday, January 27, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with William Kemp and Nicole Brewer on words(on)pages

About William Kemp:
William Kemp is one of the founding editors and poetry editor at words(on)pages, a Toronto-based micropress. He has been published in In/Words Magazine and online at The Hart House Review. He has an illustrated book entitled The ABCs of 20-Something Anxieties and likes dogs of all shapes and sizes.

About Nicole Brewer:
Nicole Brewer is a writer, editor, and micropress publisher in Toronto, Ontario. She is the co-founder of and fiction editor at the micropress words(on)pages. She is passionate about emerging writers, small press culture, short fat dogs, and tea.

words(on)pages was created to be a centralized location through which we do pretty much any of the creative things you associate with literature, some for ourselves, some for others, some for money. These include, but are not limited to creating, designing, editing, and publishing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. We are also open to suggestions.

We are an organization created by emerging writers for emerging writers. We know that, without a big name to put in your byline, it can be nearly impossible to get recognition for work that may well deserve accolades. We know that getting rejected by publishers and literary magazines gets frustrating. We know that doing open mics week after week for no apparent reason can be disheartening. We know that sometimes it sucks to have a passion so hopelessly non-lucrative as writing, and we want to remind you that your work is valuable.  We want to give you something you can put on a bookshelf, something you can peddle at readings, something you can sell to kind friends and curious strangers. We want to give you proof that your years of late nights and awful jobs and first drafts and rewrites are worth it. Think of our work as tangible proof that hey, your shit’s pretty rad.

1 – When did words(on)pages 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?
Officially, words(on)pages was started in March 2014, when we launched our “first” three chapbooks—they were by us and a friend, and we were essentially self-publishing under the name “words(on)pages.” Shortly after that, we started taking it seriously as a micropress, figuring out what we we wanted to produce, and how to produce it. The first step was our bi-monthly literary magazine, (parenthetical), which launched its first issue in May 2014. As we produced more issues and booked more readers at our reading series, we were overwhelmed by the amount of talented writers who still hadn’t had the opportunity to be published in a collection of any length, so we decided to open ourselves up to chapbook submissions. Just this April, we launched our first official words(on)pages chapbooks, by Domenica Martinello, Daniel Scott Tysdal, Simina Banu, and philip gordon, and then in October, to round out our first year of chapbooks, we published JC Bouchard, Susie Berg, Astoria Felix, and philip miletic.

Our original goals haven’t exactly shifted since we started—they’re more sharpened, as we learn more about what else is out there and where we belong in the community, what we can do to make ourselves unique as a press and as educators, how much production costs at different levels, who’s being acknowledged and who’s being regularly overlooked in the Canadian literary scene. More than anything, we’ve learned what our “for emerging artists, by emerging artists” mission statement really means, and how we can best stay true to it.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
In September 2013, we attended the Small Press Fair at the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, and that was our first real exposure to what small presses were doing. We’d been aware of the small press community before this, and picked up small press books here and there, but it was incredibly inspiring to meet presses like BookThug, Thee Hellbox Press, and above/ground press and see all these beautiful and varied books and chapbooks in person. Nicole had just finished a graduate publishing program and Will was in the last year of his publishing program, and we were becoming increasingly aware of how difficult it was to get paid internship or work opportunities in the industry—particularly anywhere cool, like the presses at the fair. So we said, “Fuck it. Let’s start something.” And we did.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
The number one responsibility of small publishing, we believe, is to take chances. One aspect of that is publishing authors that will probably never be on the bestseller lists for one reason or another, but are doing important work and contributing to the ever-growing canon of Canadian literature. Another is taking chances on new or debut authors, who might someday end up being poached by a larger press, but right now you’re the only publisher in their corner. It’s kind of a shitty responsibility, sometimes, because it might mean not selling a ton of books, or getting a ton of press, but we really believe that small press publishing makes up the pillars of literary culture in Canada—by doing the difficult, important work of fostering new and different voices.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
There’s no one thing that sets us apart from anyone else—so many people and presses are doing great, original work that overlaps with ours in many ways, but we do feel that a combination of things we’re doing helps set us apart. We have a real focus on community-building and education for young, new, and emerging writers, which means we’ve run workshops about the behind-the-scenes of small press and literary magazine culture, as well as the ins and outs of being an emerging writer, and in June of 2016, we'll be running our first ever multi-week, multi-part workshop (you can find more details here: We also provide feedback on all submissions (the writing itself and the actual submission) to try to help writers improve on their submission process. Essentially, we want to make our process transparent, because even after four (or more) years of schooling, we realized there was so much we were never taught about both writing and publishing—stuff we didn’t learn until we were on the other side of it. Another aspect of community-building is going out of our way to find other publications, events, launches, writers, and so on that we appreciate, and sharing their events, or new issues, or new publications, etc.—not because we feel like we need to, but just because it’s cool shit, that we want people to know about, and it helps connect writers, publishers, and publications with one another.

On a more material side, we think publishing a bi-monthly literary magazine sets our press apart (many are quarterly or biannual), and having that literary magazine be hand-bound is also sort of different. Everything we make is hand-bound, which isn’t unique in the small press community, but we haven’t seen a lot of hand-bound literary journals. In addition to that, 100% of the content we publish—chapbooks and literary magazine—is from submissions. We don’t solicit any work, so that we can always find room to publish writers with few or no publication credits. Again, it may not be entirely unique, but we’re a part of a small group of small presses and literary magazines that highly values emerging writers.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
Oh gosh. Well, we’re only one year into “real” chapbook publishing, and so far we’ve sold chapbooks in person at our launch, through our online store front, and we're in the process of slowly getting them in local book stores, boutiques, and art stores that will stock them. So we’re no experts. But the number one way seems to be by handselling them: having a launch (and having more than one chapbook at that launch), tabling at fairs of all sizes (art fairs! craft fairs! literary fairs!), booking readings and bringing the chapbook along, etc. Because of that, it goes a long way to have a chapbook that can stand out for how it’s made: to us, the materiality (as in the actual feel and aesthetics) of the chapbook is as important as the content, and a good-looking (and -feeling) chapbook will find its way into the hands of passers-by. Things like having excerpts available online may help, or having a kind of marketing one-sheet to bring or send to indie bookstores or niche boutiques might also help. But for us, so far, the reality has been that most sales happen in person, or through word of mouth about either the author or us as a press.

It sounds simple, but being passionate about what you’re producing, and who you’re publishing goes a long way, and that shows in not only how you produce the chapbook—giving them the respect they deserve by publishing a chapbook you’d want to spend money on yourself—but how you talk about it.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
With (parenthetical), we do almost no editing whatsoever, partly because of time constraints, and partly because we get tons of amazing submissions that don’t even need any editing—they’re immediately publishable. With our chapbooks, it varies a bit more. We feel we get a lot of work that has already clearly been edited multiple times and polished to near perfection. We received lots of great submissions for our 2015 chapbooks and that trend continued with our submissions for 2016, and some of the manuscripts didn’t need any work at all, other than proofreading and some copy editing for house style. Others we ran through lightly a few times. A few others we worked with more closely, whether it was structural or editorial or both. If, down the road, we get to devote more time to words(on)pages than our current day jobs allow, we’re open to working with authors on polishing and shaping manuscripts from their fledgling states.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
So far we’ve simply held launches for our chapbooks and our literary magazine, sold them online, and have (parenthetical) in a select few stores in Toronto—huge props to Book City, TKVO, Art Metropole, and the TCAF store for stocking (parenthetical), btw! Our usual print runs are about 40 to 60 copies, and we print on demand from there.

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?
We’re the only editors for all of it, and we essentially split the tasks: Will is, officially, the poetry editor, and Nicole is the fiction editor. We both read everything and each get a say in both areas, but defer to the “official” in any disagreements. The main reason we don’t work with other editors is because we’re not into taking work for free, and currently don’t have the budget to pay anyone. We're also pretty passionate about our vision and editorial mandate when it comes to both our chapbooks and (parenthetical), which makes giving up editorial control a bit hard. This is the closest we have to a real, breathing, human baby aside from a pet, and our landlord is allergic to cats and we're too broke for a dog, so giving up control of (parenthetical) or our chapbooks is hard.

In terms of production, we print (parenthetical) covers and our chapbook contents, along with some covers, with an outside source, Swimmers Group. The contents of (parenthetical) we print at home simply for the sake of convenience. We also have an awesome friend that has provided us with their screenprinting abilities for chapbooks. The only drawbacks to these outsourced production aspects are that they increase the production timeline by a few days. And that’s hardly a drawback.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Perhaps the most positive change has been that we really understand, now, that rejection isn’t personal. Rejection isn’t even always a reflection of the work you submitted. There are so many reasons that a piece could get rejected, and “it sucked” is definitely towards the bottom of that list. It’s helped us realize that a “good” story or poem isn’t always a “publishable” story or poem, either because of how it jives (or doesn’t) with the rest of an issue, or maybe because it just doesn’t stand on its own very well. And that a “catchy” story or poem isn’t always “good.” It’s helped our own submission process as writers, because we realized how much a good submission e-mail can put a positive spin on the work you’re submitting. And finally, we get to read so much amazing writing that it’s helped us really pin down what works and what doesn’t in terms of literary techniques and style and presentation—and what works for certain publications.

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?
Well, that’s how words(on)pages started, was by us publishing our own work. So we’re certainly not against it. But we also probably wouldn’t do it again any time soon, because we don’t want to take our meagre resources away from the incredible work we receive from other people. We receive enough of it to have a full publishing schedule, so we just don’t see a reason to publish our own work. That said, we each write a review in almost every issue of (parenthetical)—although that’s less about publishing our own writing, and more about the fact that we want to include non-fiction, but don’t get too may non-fiction submissions. It’s not that we feel the question is irrelevant, just not exceptionally important (to us) in the grand scheme of small publishing.

11– How do you see words(on)pages evolving?
Wow. Geez. A lot of ways, rob. Big dreams, small wallets. We would really love to continue to expand our online reach, both for our blog and for the online version of (parenthetical). We love what we publish, so obviously we want more people to read it. That means putting more time and more resources into building that online platform, creating a beautiful, effective, interactive online platform for online reading. But we also want to stay true to what makes us unique right now: handmade, artisan, limited edition products. So we could see ourselves producing a limited print run of our products for contributors, collectors, and local supporters, while continuing to build an online presence. We would also like to continue building on our presence in bookstores—to reach not only more in Toronto, but other bookstores that promote awesome Canadian work. Perhaps, someday, we could see ourselves producing one or two special edition “real” books, with spines, per year. Maybe from there, if the time allows it, we publish more “real” books with spines, but that starts to bring about a whole mess of questions about staying true to what makes words(on)pages words(on)pages. And maybe we start a different press for “real” books. Or maybe we don’t. That’s for the future to decide.

We would also really like to keep pushing the community-building and education aspects of words(on)pages—and that means we really hope our first multi-week, open to the public workshop goes well. And it means not only do we grow in our readership, but we bring in new and diverse readers with new and diverse voices from emerging writers. “Getting big” is nice, obviously, but we hope it's never at the expense of our mandate to promote emerging writers and engage with and foster a big ol' loving community of rad writers and publishers doing rad work.

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?
It’s impossible to choose between our children, so our proudest accomplishment is twofold. We are incredibly proud to have produced eleven issues of a literary magazine, and to have an issue practically always at the ready, we’re not stopping any time soon. We’re proud because we’ve published over 100 writers, and that group is so diverse: from conceptual and visual poetry to narrative or formal poetry to flash fiction to magic realist short stories, and everywhere in between and beyond. Because we’ve published a previously unpublished fifteen-year-old, and we’ve also published people “with a name”—people like Jay MillAr. So that’s one of the things we’re most proud of.

The other was our two successful chapbook launches We poured everything into producing those first four chapbooks, and the day of the launch, we were nervous wrecks. And then it went better than we ever could have expected—great turnout, unbelievable sales, and everyone we talked to seemed to have had a great time. And we thought we couldn't recreate that with our fall launch, but we ended up somehow way under budget and things went off without a hitch again and it was absolutely staggering. More than anything, that’s what we want: we want to make things, and host things, that make people feel good about buying them, or going to them. And our launch was the perfect example of the perfect execution of that goal.

We don’t really feel like anyone has necessarily “overlooked” anything about our publications, but we do lament that not as many people are looking as we would hope. And that ties in with the biggest frustration: because of our inherent small-ness and our focus on emerging writers, we haven’t really gotten a lot of “notice” so far. That’s not to say we don’t have support. We have an amazing group of people who have supported us from the get go, and that group does seem to grow with every new issue or chapbook we produce, but it’s a slow burn. We don’t often have those “big names” that garner big attention, and when we do, they’re alongside half a dozen other writers with just one or two publishing credits. And we love that about ourselves, but it does mean that our reach has built slowly. It’s only in the past few months that we feel like we’re starting to make an impact and reach a new audience, while we’ve seen other publications start with a wider audience “built in” because of solicited work from bigger names, or connections that we simply didn’t have.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
Ferno House and BookThug were our two main inspirations starting out. Ferno House made the most beautiful chapbooks we’d ever seen, from the shape to the paper to the design to the typesetting—everything was amazing. Those chapbooks were what made us say, “Hot damn, let’s learn to bookbind.” (At our spring chapbook launch, a few people compared our chapbooks to Ferno’s, and we swooned.) Jay and Hazel at BookThug were inspirations in every way: as mentors, as people, as a couple, as publishers, as a team—in addition to loving every single thing they publish, their work ethic is unbelievable, and their conviction is inspiring.

14– How does words(on)pages work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see words(on)pages in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We try to engage with the immediate literary community in every way possible: in person by attending shows, events, and launches, as well as online by sharing news or deadlines or events. And buying books and journals because we know first-hand that these publications and publishers don't exist without monetary support. For the community at large, that goes back to our education-based initiatives like workshops and presentations. As well, we work really hard to sort of break down any perceived barriers between different “kinds” of writing and performance—in Toronto especially, the literary community can seem quite clique-y, and it’s created a number of divides, whether that’s between spoken word and page poetry, or between poetry and fiction, or playwriting and “other” writing, and so on. We want to encourage writers and readers from all backgrounds to be open to new forms of writing and performance, both from an audience’s perspective, and a creator’s perspective. To us, good writing is good writing is good writing, and we just want to create a space for showcasing it, whether that's on a stage or in print.

We also try to create a dialogue with as many presses and magazines as possible, but in particular we have strong dialogues with The Puritan, The Quilliad, untethered, In/Words Magazine and Press, Anstruther Press, Meat Locker Editions, Desert Pets Press, and BookThug. These dialogues take shape in a few forms, to us. For example, with The Puritan, Anstruther Press, and BookThug, not only do we admire the work they publish and aspire to a lot of their editorial sensibilities, but we share their new issues/books online, and go out to their events to show our appreciation in person and show some solidarity to them as friends and admirers of what they do. For places like The Quilliad, untethered, In/Words, and Meat Locker Editions, we feel like they all very much share the sentiment of “for emerging artists”—they’re all willing to take risks on virtually unknown writers and showcase them like we do.

Another kind of engagement comes from meeting, knowing, and publishing people who are involved with other literary magazines and presses. For instance, in one of our early issues we published a few writers who had been heavily involved with In/Words Magazine and Press in Ottawa—the next issue, we had over a dozen submissions from people who were involved with or had been published in In/Words, and we published a ton of them. Something similar happened with untethered as well, and it’s also happened in reverse: we’ll publish a writer with just one or two previous publications, then see them pop up in two or three or four more magazines whose submissions calls we’ve shared. Through a combination of sharing each other’s new issues and deadlines, as well as writers sharing the issues they’ve been published in, we create a kind of collaborative way of building new writers’ portfolios and extending the reach of each press or magazine—without even really meaning to. We’re all just really interested in getting good, previously under-appreciated writing out into the world.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We host a reading series, words(on)stages. For the first year, we held it monthly and featured 2-3 readers each month. Every second installation would double as a launch for (parenthetical). As of our second year, and continuing on into 2016, we are only hosting words(on)stages bi-monthly, to coincide with (parenthetical) launches. In part, it was a financial decision, but we also didn’t want readers in non-launch months to feel like they weren’t drawing a big enough audience, compared to launch months. For our chapbooks, we have spring and fall launches in April and October respectively, where we launch a handful of our chapbooks—and sometimes collaborate with other chapbook presses and have a co-launch, what with community being so important to us.

We feel public readings (and such) are the lifeblood of the small press community. Whether it’s a launch or a reading series or a reading at a festival or a one-off event, these public readings are the best opportunity to show not only other people in the literary community, but the public how passionate you (the publisher, the author, the bookseller) are about the literature. But beyond that, beyond the sales aspect of it, it’s an opportunity to meet other people in the community, the people behind the presses or the books, or even just other people who like what you like. They are, literally, the community.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and our website to promote all the work we publish, as well as to spread the word about our events—as any publisher ought to do. More than that, though, we’re all about building our community outside of those we can see and talk to in person. That means we not only showcase work and events from other presses and writers we like, but we try to share things like readings and launches, as well as submission deadlines for other literary magazines or contests to get people involved with presses we respect and bring communities around the country together. We are, after all, a part of Canadian literature, and not only do we publish work from around Canada; we love work from a lot of publishers around Canada too.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We do, indeed—for both (parenthetical) and words(on)stages we’re always accepting submissions; for chapbooks we have a time window that we announce on our website and social media and all that good stuff. All of the info for submissions can be found here:

As for what we aren’t looking for: manuscripts longer than thirty pages, genre fiction (nothing personal, just not for us as a publication), and submissions that don’t follow our guidelines. Anything else we’re totally up for.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
WOOL WATER by JC Bouchard: WOOL WATER, JC Bouchard's second chapbook (his first the fantastic “Portraits” from In/Words) is the culmination of ten days spent (mostly) in isolation in Reykjavik, Iceland, and several more months wittling the experience down to a sparse, stark long poem broken up into parts. JC distilled his experience in Iceland into this fantastic manuscript of bite-sized sections that immediately grab you, then linger, that get under your skin and form a narrative that not only stays with you, but you want to share, that you insist on sharing by reading pieces to anyone who will listen and forcing the pocket-sized little collection into their hands. JC's parts form a narrative that's just as serene and calm as it is dark and manic, and it does so in such a way that we've never seen JC play with language and form.

MOTHER2EARTH: an instruction booklet by philip miletic: Though quite the motherfucker to lay out, MOTHER2EARTH: an instruction booklet was a fantastic, weird, eclectic manuscript about the seminal JRPG Earthbound and its Japanese counterpart, Mother 2. The chapbook goes beyond exploring mistranslation. It revels in the translation and mistranslation of the script not only in its story and dialogue, but the actual script of the game's code, and experiments with form, style, reader, and player expectations in such a way that only an awesome, funny, risk-taking, and talented dude like philip miletic can.

meat//machine by Astoria Felix: Encountering Astoria's work first in (parenthetical), we were staggered by how talented she was, and then she sent us a smattering of her work that came together as meat//machine, her debut chapbook that's a culmination of several years of working through trauma and identity. Divided into three parts informally entitled "summer sheets," "circuit board: an interlude," and "meat//machine," this chapbook works through notions of beauty and identity. There's a constant feeling hat something isn't quite right, that somehow the words don't sit easy with the speaker—or the reader for that matter. And what we love is that Astoria was so willing to explore and subvert notions of beauty and identity, and do so in such a stunning and honest way.

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