Monday, February 29, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Sophie Essex on Salò Press

Salò Press is an independent publishing company based in the UK with a focus on experimental / surreal poetry collections & anthologies.

Sophie Essex doesn't consider herself a poet though others do; her work having previously been published in Black & BLUE, The Belleville Park Pages, & Lighthouse Literary Journal. Her first tiny pamphlet Objects of Desire was recently published by PYRAMID Editions.
You’ll mostly find her at poetry nights rambling awkwardly about sex and surrealism. At other times she edits the experimental print-only magazine Fur-Lined Ghettos, and has recently set up her own publishing house, Salò Press.

1 – When did Salò 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?
After much humming-n-hawing Salò Press became a reality in early 2015. It's been an intense yet rewarding twelve months or so in which I've learnt a huge amount; from the boring business stuff like paper weights / colours to dealing with the postal service to convincing Paypal that I'm not money laundering. & the better things: that beautiful sunbeams exist who are just as weird, awkward, passionate as myself.

I don't think my goals have shifted as yet though I imagine they will.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
I started a print-only experimental / surreal poetry magazine in 2012 birthed out of frustration. I had been writing these "things" that I struggled to define or find a home for, thinking back  perhaps I was looking in the wrong place but from that came Fur-Lined Ghettos, which is now on its 8th issue. Natural progression led to single-author poetry collections. Through The Fur I had discovered an obscurity of poets I related to, wanted to collaborate with, wanted to read more of.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I think the role is quite a simple one: to publish the works you love regardless of whether you think they might be commercially successful.

As for responsibilities, I think you have to aim to do your best by your writers & your readers. To always be honest & remain passionate. I say this too often but we're all in this together, if you can do something positive why wouldn't you? Even if it is something as simple as a tweet.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I think this question may be better answered by an outsider, any one other than me. I really don't know. I'm here publishing collections I would love to own, promoting the writers I admire. I'm doing a very small thing. Though, of course, I would hope that there is a "something" about Salò, that there is an overwhelming arc to what we're publishing.

Andrew, as an outsider (he has little involvement with the poetry "scene"), says: I see us as a bridge between a poet moving from chapbooks to major publishing. To get in at the beginning with these writers, to take the chance and publish their first full-length collections, that’s the cutting edge I want us to be at.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
My focus is full-length collections so chapbooks aren't something I've worked with - does a magazine count? Either way, a lot of presses & writers are publishing chapbooks and quite successfully. I think, currently, it helps to have a positive online presence, to communicate regularly with your peers, to be active.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I definitely prefer a subtle approach. I'll make suggestions, respond to queries, offer my advice & opinion. Ultimately I trust the writers, they know their work better than anyone. It's a learning curve, mind. Fluid.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
At the moment distribution is 99% me. I've found that to be given a helping hand you must already be in a position to not need it. It's an incredibly frustrating situation though there are positives: any profit goes direct to the poets, I'm not losing money storing stock or printing books that may, eventually, not sell.

With digital printing I'm in control of stock. Whether I need to print 50 copies or 500 it's easy to do & my preferred way. There's no getting in over-my-head, no paying out for books that I may be holding on to for a long while.

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?
The only other person involved is my partner, Andrew, who has previously run an award-winning press. Having him around is a huge benefit: he knows about printers, distribution, type-setting, working with artists etc. The drawback is that often I want to do everything myself, to learn more of the technical side of things, but you can’t hit the ground running and these are things I’ll develop the longer we get into the process.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
Whether conscious or not I'm definitely taking something away from this. I'm reading submissions almost daily so it's impossible to not be influenced by others.

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 realise some folk frown upon self-publishing for reasons I understand, and I do think there has to be quality control - how likely are you to judge your own writing fairly? - It's important for your work to spend time with others, for someone else to dedicate time & money to your writing. To have input from someone who doesn't know you so well.

On the other hand, some of my favourite poets self-publish. It can be & is a fantastic way to get your work read immediately / to receive feedback / to improve yourself. I'm not sure it's something I would choose to do, though in considering compiling my own collection I have wondered who could be entrusted to do the best by it. My answer is me. That’s the problem with working in the industry, you remove the mystification of publishing and become hyper-critical to everything from cost to typeface.

11– How do you see Salò Press evolving?

Salò is very much in its infancy so at this point I simply hope to continue publishing these beautiful voltaic voices. There are a few ideas floating around of 'where next', I'm excited for that. I'm also hopeful that I'll be working with a few more of my favourite writers, and of course that I'll discover new ones.  I think the important thing is to build a customer base, where readers are buying books because of confidence in the Salò ‘brand’ and know what to expect. It’s also important not to be too ambitious – plenty of small presses have gone under trying to do too much too soon.

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?
That these beautiful collections exist and are out there to be experienced. With our first title - Dalton Day's Actual Cloud - I panicked for weeks that something would go wrong, either the print quality wouldn't be up to standard or that I'd missed something in proofing or there would  be missing pages (I'm told nightmares are standard fare in publishing). Once Actual Cloud arrived I realized I held a perfect thing in my hands; I screamed a lot. It was the best feeling.

I think with any press' publications the passion & commitment  is overlooked - it's easy to not give thought to how much time has been spent on a collection - from the writing of / to hours spent collating / to submitting / typesetting / cover design / marketing etc. Someone, many someone’s, have to believe in the work, have to be dedicated & passionate  to see it through.

Frustrations? Myself. I often describe myself as an insecure anxiety-ridden furled armadillo. I suffer with crippling shyness to the point where I struggle to communicate - even online. My other big frustration is getting the book into people’s hands, getting them to try a writer they don’t know, breaking people’s habits of being cautious in their reading, getting them to read in the first place. Because when you have a thing of beauty, you expect everyone to love it.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
I wouldn’t say there were models as such, but I knew what I didn’t want to do and that was chapbooks. There are plenty of poets who start this way but I wanted to provide a bridge between chapbook publishing and major publishing for poets & their first collection.

I also knew that quality was an issue. Whilst Salò is an independent press, from cover design to layout to final production, I wanted books which would hold their own in bookstores against those from established presses.

Andrew is also a writer so we attend a few SF/F/H conventions here in the UK where small presses are thriving. A few years back I began to notice a press whose design & ethics engrossed me, their covers were definitely my "thing", (check out Chômu Press & the cover for Rhys Hughes' Link Arms with Toads!). I would say Chômu had a small influence. 

14– How does Salò Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Salò Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I live in a celebrated unesco city of literature, which is fantastic (I love it here), but it is very much dominated by the literary spectre of the university, and those connected with it or promoting it do not seem prepared and/or able to think outside that box. Anything with a hint of genre appears shunned and undervalued, and there is a stifling preoccupation with success through major mainstream publishing. We’ve put out feelers to various organizations and there is no interest without those university connections. It could be a skewed viewpoint, but it certainly feels that way, and I’ve had numerous conversations with folk (insiders, too) whose experience has been the same. It’s quite tragic that in a situation where we could embrace each other and create a universal love of literature those in ‘power’ are blinkered to the indie scene.

Having said that, I attend quite a number of local poetry events, and am making myself known as a publisher and poet. Locally, I've had support from George Szirtes (who happily provided a quote for Scherezade Siobhan's collection),  Julia Webb (poet, & editor at Lighthouse Literary Journal), Owen Vince (PYRAMID Editions), Freddie Irvin & Jodie Santer (Norwich Poetry Collective), Peter Pegnall (poet), Catherine Woodward (poet, event organizer), and Helen Ivory & Martin Figura (poets). There are some good people out there.

The other, vital, community is the online one. I'm constantly engaging with writers & publishers & readers where important dialogues are happening, where ideas are shared, where the love is.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
I wish. Those we've published are not living in the UK therefore making it almost impossible to organize a reading. I would definitely love to host a night, maybe that'll be something in Salò's future. I think public readings / poetry events are vital positive things. One of my favourite pastimes is listening to others read. Readings provide a different way to connect. I like them.

Dalton actually held a launch for Actual Cloud at Malvern Books in Texas, which was filmed & is available to watch here ( Having never heard Dalton read seeing him up there was a delight. & who knew fog was a type of cloud?!

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

Without the internet there would probably be no Salò Press. It’s essential as a marketing tool, to have a website, to receive submissions, to have an online store, to make folk aware of us. We’re active on tumblr (where we found quite a lot of our poets), twitter, and facebook. You cannot not have an online presence in today’s world, not if you have any plans to be successful. But it’s hard work: you have to perpetually remind folk of your existence in a world where we all have seven second memories.

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

Salò Press is definitely open to submissions. Poetry Collections / work for various anthologies / and for Fur-Lined Ghettos. I always find it difficult to explain what I am / am not looking for. I'm open to reading everything that is sent in though Salò Press definitely leans towards experimental writing / writing of a surreal nature.

My advice for anyone taking an interest is connect with us online, say hello, read some of our titles.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
A Galaxy of Starfish: An Anthology of Modern Surrealism - Our first anthology is my version of modern surrealism - filled with writings from old favourites, and the new. Eclectic, experimental, rewarding.

During the submission process I had the founding member of a surrealist group ask for my "theoretical statement", which led to a few cross words on his part. Anything that gets folk riled up has to be a good thing, right?
There is no problem in your not being surrealists, but to produce an anthology of surrealism without consulting the surrealists - I have seen this so many times before. There is no official surrealist position to uphold by diktat, but there are principles, and if you do not agree with those principles and do not regard them as essential to an anthology, then it simply will not be surrealist and I can't have anything to do with it.

            from the email / mouth of

Actual Cloud - Dalton Day. Dalton has this soft surreal charm that often leads to me crying &/or breathing a little quicker. I am very much in love with everything he writes. These poems, these structures, these wild animals are a way of being, a constant quivering inside, a gorgeousness of. Dalton's poems can appear, at times, to be childlike in their simplicity, at others layered in movement, yet always they are holding so much weight. His poems are something I find myself returning to, as though a saltlick for my furled-ness.
I didn't answer the

It wasn't ringing
& so my search

of forgiveness goes on

        from Every Button At Least

Father, Husband - Scherezade Siobhan - Scherezade is fiercely intelligent and so far beyond most of us. I am consistently in awe of her & her writing; laden with the history of a person, intense, bound in experience, is a thing I learn from & become with every line. Father, Husband is a breathtaking collection. An uneasy read.
this is how you become / a dexterous anagrammatist / if you rearrange rape, you get pare / to peel, trim, carve / you drag the knife across the stomach / of a syrian pear. you let your fingers cauterize / with the syrup of fruit, you let / the ruptured flesh flee in baby bell curls / you are not eight anymore /

        from anagrammatist

You can find us at, @FurLinedGhettos, @salopress

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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