Sunday, March 01, 2020

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Josh Dale on Thirty West Publishing House

Thirty West Publishing House was founded as a passion project when our editor-in-chief was an undergraduate at Temple University. Since 2015, the hand-made aspect of the chapbook has been paramount, augmenting the reading experience with common and unique materials. Every book project comes with new responsibilities and new expectations; they grow legs of their own and can go anywhere. Our award-winning authors become family from Day One and go on to expand the contemporary literary canon. From the moment you read this, Thirty West is growing alongside you and values the community at large with more than just publishing. Peruse our catalog and past events to see all that we’ve accomplish and all that is to come. We will save a seat for you. See a recent interview over at Entropy here.

1 – When did Thirty West Publishing House 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?

Thirty West was founded late in 2015 as a class project. My professor, Brian Teare, had us research some New York and Philly-based small presses and we were tasked in designing our own logo, mission statement, and develop the first publication (in my case, it was a single short story printed in a chapbook). The rest is history.

While I’m looking to establish a chapbook and full-length division, I will always take initiative into binding books. Virtually every chapbook has passed through my hands and the hands of many volunteers over the years.

I’ve held close to the DIY aspect of binding books, with anything from a full-length, perfect-bound book, to a single broadside. I’ve learned many things since that first book was created, but the main thing is that I’ve seen how many other independent presses there are and the even larger number of authors that take the indie route.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

Essentially that course I mentioned was a gateway. Things really have evolved since then, regarding how the books look, the work we publish, and how we market our wares/ourselves, but I find it both a noble and needed pursuit in publishing. While the gatekeepers of the Big 5 and their imprints keep rolling through a digital age, there is still a large market for books and those that are not able to publish through those avenues. That is, primarily, why I am here.

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

I can see small press as a voice for the underrepresented and also unrepresented. It’s not like we are reinventing the wheel. People have been publishing for centuries in varying capacities. While our eyes get pulled to the books with the limitless marketing budget, it is the foundation that matters. The books that get traded amongst authors, similarly how some athletes trade jerseys after games. The book that are sold at open-air festivals and flea markets. One may not think they matter, but they do, for they exist.

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

Our limited-edition chapbooks seem to have the most unique edge our press can offer. We’ve done many things to the texts. From burning pages, making a vellum dust jacket, rubbing charcoal on the pages, spattering fake blood, and even building a cherrywood box from scratch. It takes an immense amount of labor, but, for the most part, our authors are blown away at the sentiment and craftsmanship.

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

Social media is the easiest, low-cost option. However, these platforms constantly tweak and tinker with algorithms and layouts to make things worse for those selling wares. Using a combination of word-of-mouth and social media is the way to obtain validated promotion. Because if someone is willing to spend their money and talk about it, others are more compelled.

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

Me personally? I like to deal more with concepts, themes, and character development (so more with prose, but I’ve edited poetry as well). Our editorial team is a mixture of students, teachers, and readers, so we all bring our own platter to the table. Most poetry chapbooks, we comb through mostly with grammar and metaphor, but won’t rewrite pieces unless requested.

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

We do a lot of in-house processes, including distribution. We’ve done some workings with Amazon (regretfully) and most recently IngramSpark for longer titles. Some nice bookstores also run consignment and even buy some of our books, so that is a plus! Our print runs can range from 50-100 and easily print as needed if demands spike. Sometimes you never know what may happen when a book takes off.

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?

Keeping up with the in-house mantra, our editors are essentially commissioned staff. They would also be considered my first employees if we end up making that next step up to incorporation. We are friends first, coworkers second and focus greatly on communicating via email, text, and phone. I’ve never liked having more moving parts then necessary, so we take pride on our camaraderie. Every so often, we open our workshop (apartment) to those looking to help bind for the day. All of the volunteers enjoyed the experience and some free food & drink for their time. If our team has fun doing it, we should show others how exciting it is, too.

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

Now this is a question…I’m not sure sometimes. Publishing takes a lot of time out of my already loaded workday (and night class), so there’s one argument about taking the dedicated time to write. But, on a positive side, reading all of the stellar manuscripts we get brings some hope into my own work. I’m paraphrasing here but our creative works are the sum of all things we experience/read. Some fiction writers really move me to try and just pick up my pen and see what happens. It also gives my writing time a stronger priority. When I do it, I do it with intent, keeping distractions to a minimum. Nothing a blank desk and noise-cancelling headphones can’t fix.

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?

That was my method at the beginning. Not only was I obligated to provide content for Thirty West, but I also was interested in self-publishing. For once, it felt accomplishing enough to say, ‘I made this and I am proud’ but it’s been since 2016, so I haven’t considered it anymore. Like authors who submit to us, I, too, submit my work to other venues. The press is for the people now.

I think it’s an option for founders of small press to do such a practice at first, unless you have enough contacts and influence to sign someone else.

11 – How do you see Thirty West Publishing House evolving?

The next thing I wish to do is publish longer works of poetry and prose. We have a handful of titles, but I want a whole lot more. I wish for TW books to be in more bookstores, utilized fully in SPD, and to be viable, tangible goods for avid readers. While chapbooks will still be going on, it will be a slice of the pie and not the whole thing. There have been brainstorming talks about significantly upgrading our infrastructure, business model, and even considering some sort of storefront business. My motive is once I’ve completed my Master’s, I will be able to spend more time with the operations of the press and start plotting out such ambitious goals.

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?

The inherent joy of turning a novelty into a brand identity that gets international hits is something to be proud of. It’s a nice conversation starter and a way to make friends with other publishers and writers.

Ultimately, I hope more people that don’t identify as writers/academics/publishers take some more chances with small press books. The quality can be there, just not the outreach capabilities. In that regard, I want chapbooks, and even the short story, to obtain more prominence. You don’t necessarily need a novel or a poetry collection to ‘make it’, at least not today.

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

In that class I mentioned earlier, I was assigned to research Fact-Simile Editions, a press that specializes in eclectic paper products and limited-edition chapbooks. Their rationale behind that gave a basis for TW in the hand-made aspect, yet I’m still bewildered by some of their designs and can only dream of doing such projects. There are a myriad of others that I could mention but I think I can do some name dropping in a future question.

14 – How does Thirty West Publishing House work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Thirty West Publishing House in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

I’ve published a good number of Philadelphia-area writers and continue to do a couple per year. That alone fuels a local writer economy, with book release parties, stocking books, and overall awareness of the scene at the time. For a couple of years, I used to host Thirty West Presents every month, which brought in a huge number of people. Even some travelled out to come to them. I host them when I can now, but it’s essentially on hiatus while I focus on other things in my life.

I’ve made some close connections with presses. For starters, I’m tabling with Hoot Review & MMPP at AWP this year, so that alone pays its weight in gold. I’ve done tables with Rhythm & Bones Press & Writely Me. I’ve seen the efforts of other Philly-based presses like Empty Set, Lanternfish Books, Moonstone, Toho, and so-so many more. Then, there’s plenty of others in many states that I could itemize at this point. Overall, it’s good to communicate on trends, philosophy, the “grind” of bookselling, and so-on. It’s a way to build community and also be supportive of mutual endeavors.

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

I do my best to treat launches like an ‘auxiliary birthday party’. It’s a very personal moment, seeing one’s creation being brought into the world. It’s an extension of their self, so we should celebrate it! Readings, too, can be special. It humbles me to see someone give an anecdote about it being ‘their first reading’ and subsequently overcoming the anxiety of doing it.

Any variant of the reading should be accompanying any literary community. I’m fortunate enough to have one downtown that captures nearly everyone, but not everyone has such a privilege. If you see there isn’t one, I implore you to try starting your own. Libraries are inherently perfect, but also coffee shops and some bars that want to spruce up a random Tuesday night. It’s possible and out there, just need to tap into the resources at hand.

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

Using ‘The Big 3’ of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) helps out significantly. Mostly, the goal is to throttle traffic to the website and each platform is a different challenge in itself. We rely heavily on online sales, so the easiest route of getting people to our site, the better it is for us.

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

Right now, we have plenty of open calls. Our chapbook contest, which is now on its fourth year, looks for poetry and prose that fits our guidelines for a chapbook. We also have both our online journal, The Weekly Degree, and our imprint/print journal, Tilde~ open for submissions at the same time. Both are pretty fluid in both genres accepted and how many individual pieces per, so make sure to take a look there.

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

We’ve had quite an interesting end of 2019/start of 2020. It all ended by last year’s chapbook contest winner, Ting Gou, and her stellar chapbook, The Centrifuge Brain Project, which is reticent of the mini-documentary of the same name, but with themes such as marriage and cyclical existence peppered in. It was quite a decision, and we were amazed by the cover.

The last chapbook of the year, Not Great/Thanks for Asking, was by Cody Roggio, a local author that I first met, funny enough, at a soft-release of another author last summer (sounds like a confusing timeline, but it’s not!) His work is delicate, humorous, and, at times, fantastical. He’s big on magical realism, so that really shines in his debut.

Lastly, the start of 2020 features the return of a previous author, Jules Archer. We were blessed to come across her unsolicited chapbook, All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had, sometime in 2017, and have since fostered a great working relationship. So much so, that we asked for more! Little Feasts, which at the time of writing this will be out officially in a week, is flash and traditional short stories collection about femininity, weird men, and an ancestral iron skillet, among other eccentric things. We are so glad to have here first two titles through our press and hope you enjoy her work, too!

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