Friday, June 11, 2010

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Dave Proctor on Wooden Rocket Press

Dave Proctor is a freelance writer and publisher whose short stories have appeared in Broken Pencil, Invisible City, and Darling Magazine. His first self-published novella, Blank State volume Zero: Condopocalypse Now! is available through He lives in Church-Wellesley Village and works at a bar on the weekends.

The goal of Wooden Rocket Press is to become so much more than a one-author vanity press by releasing quality stories that experiment with form, whether it be through a serial, like Blank State, or a choose your own adventure, or a children's book, a zine or a pasquinade. 

1 – When did Wooden Rocket 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?

Wooden Rocket Press started last April as a means for releasing the first book in my series, Blank State, so that it has the credibility of a company name and, honestly, so that I can save a little on the printing process--publishing companies do not have to pay PST, and can save a lot on GST too. But from the get go I did not want the company to be just my own work, and if anything I'm closer to realizing that goal now than I was a year ago... but I'm realizing it is not an easy process at all. Projects do not get done on schedule and they do not get the attention that you think they'll get unless you put every ounce of effort into them. I wanted to be ready to release my 4th installment of my serial by now, as an example, but I haven't yet released the second.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

The idea to become a publisher came from the ever-present desire to write, and the knowledge that, while it's difficult to write all the time and make a living off of my own writing, it might be more feasible (and ultimately more rewarding) to help other authors get published and build a business on more talent than my own.

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

I believe the goal is to produce works that are outside the realm of conventional or mainstream publishing, either by challenging people through subject matter, or style, or form. I believe it's important to provide another perspective, another alternative to the vast amount of literature that is available and hope that people notice and start to pay attention.

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

Right now the wheels are turning on new projects, but the proudest contribution WRP has made I would say is the straightforward reference to Toronto in the Blank State series. The book is very much about Toronto and the Toronto art scene and unambiguously references landmarks and people that those outside of the city may not understand. This of course is limiting to my readership, but I hope that people come to appreciate the honesty that I'm writing with and get the message I'm delivering.

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

At this level the most effective way to do anything is the old two-feet-and-a-heartbeat model: going store to store and securing consignment deals, putting up a website with the associated marketing tools, going to fairs, tabling for yourself, getting your name out there any way you can. Most importantly, get to know your local book store owners. They are the salt

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

I have a trusted support system of three very good friends and my mother who are great for finding different problems with my work, but when it comes to editing I believe the onus lies largely on the writer. I would not send anything to even my editors that I have not myself gone over at least twice, so I would expect the same of the people that contribute to WRP. I think my oft-paraphrased quote of Anne Lamott's, that all good writing is based on shitty first drafts, holds true no matter what you're writing. But you want to get past that first draft and write it again before the editing can even start. But once there, I would rather work with the author and produce something that we both like than dismiss them and tell them its not what we're looking for.

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

I print small runs of 100-150 through University of Toronto Press Print division, because they have the ability to do no minimum runs and, being the small print company that I am, I find it a very attractive selling point to a printer that doesn't need me to order 1000 books right from jump. As for distribution, I am a subscriber to the pound-the-pavement model as I mentioned above. At this level, it's pretty much the best way to do it.

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?

I have a very good friend that does my art and web design for me, simply because he can draw and is very talented and, at least in that area, I absolutely am not. All of my editors work for (thank you thank you thank you) free, or pretty close to nothing have done so since the beginning. This is great to see the many different input styles and to take a lot of the pressure off of me as the sole CEO of the company. The downside here is, obviously, that since my work is done for free (thank you again) it must ride backseat to jobs that pay. That just makes sense. I've learned not to rush them and to be incredibly grateful when things do get done.

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

It's beneficial to see what people do wrong, and to write things that almost make up for other's mistakes in terms of where someone might have dropped the ball in character development or story arcing. Granted, I inform them of these mistakes, it just helps to know the kind of mistakes you can make.

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?

As I said above, it's most of what I do right now. I don't think there's a problem, so long as you get as much outside feedback as possible. It's very easy to start your own company and release your own work because no one else will, but one must ask the question: why won't anyone else release this? That is where a solid team and support system comes in handy, to edit and read and give honest feedback. I've been blessed with having the editorial input of Sheila Hawks, who also used to run Cormorant, and she helped me come to grips with editing shortfalls I had, as well as the simple fact that no major house would put out an 80 page book (which I've written). Another house may be interested in the Blank State series as a whole when it is all done, and that may be a great way for me to branch out and get other people to put out my writing.

11– How do you see Wooden Rocket Press evolving?

I see this company building like a record label. I would love to get a stable of talented authors and continue to put out their books, throw launch parties and do cross-country tours out of the back of a van. I see this turning into a very big company that still operates out of the back of a van, hand to hand with the real readers.

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?

Breaking even at the first Blank State launch was the greatest moment of my life, as I was quivering thinking that no one would come or read the book right up until the day of the launch. My biggest frustration is that I do not have the means to punch out these books any faster. It hurts to hear people ask "when's the next one coming out?" and want to say to them "Be patient, I'm trying my hardest," but secretly feeling that I too am getting impatient waiting for this next book.

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

I mentioned an attraction to the record label model of DIY ethics, pressing things yourself and moving it on the street. I grew up doing the same with music and I saw no reason why it couldn't happen with books. I give away a lot of books. A few publications in Toronto have about 2 copies each and still haven't reviewed Blank State. I believe that it has to start here until I can find a distributor that will make the company a little bit more omnipresent. 

14– How does Wooden Rocket Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see your books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

I am trying to incorporate not only the literary community, but the whole of the Toronto art scene into the fold of at least Blank State, if not all of WRP. Blank State is a send-up of the state of the Toronto art scene, but rather than just complaining, I think it's really important to have events and readings that incorporate other writers, musicians, painters, etc. and make the literary scene something that has clout in Toronto, something that's not just a cloistered-in group of writers reading one another's books, but a celebration of the art that all of us are producing. I work a lot with Sarah Pinder at Bits of String press to plot out zines and future projects. She is an incredibly talented writer and challenges me to make good work and put it out in a simple yet respectable way that will get people's attention. Cross-collaboration is absolutely essential to make your art better and to make this scene less of a disconnected pile of people. I'm also looking for a graphic novelist to start a webcomic.

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

I believe the launch to be the most important element, right now, beneath the quality of the book itself. From the business standpoint, a book that is sold for a cheap price WITH your cover to get into an event moves a lot of units and gives people twice the reason to actually come out. As I mentioned at great length above, bringing people around to the idea of a book launch as a great thing to do on a friday night is really important to keep people reading. I'm not saying every book launch has to be a punk rock show, but I do believe it helps a lot to never take yourself too seriously. A lot of book readings are where people sit in a quiet room and wait for the author to read, and then leave. There's so much more to literature than that. Margaret Atwood's tour for Year of the Flood is a great example of an experience that deepens the meaning of the book. Everybody reads books. Let's make that fact fun.

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

So much. Half of my sales are done online and the marketing machine of twitter, Facebook and my own blog at is something that people read to be reminded of the kind of stuff my press is into, and that we are a reputable source of entertainment and information. A lot of talk gets thrown around about how everyone needs to be "aware of your brand" for you to be successful. It's true, it's all true--but I'm not cynical about it. As long as you're offering something people want to see, like a quality book or a great essay on a blog, you shouldn't be ashamed of promoting it or making it known to everyone on the interweb.

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

Right now I'm looking for very specific things. The first project is a call for a short fiction anthology. I will take submissions and I will tell people that I am not looking for anything that's been done before. The submissions I receive have to bleed on the page. They have to be honest, and, ideally, they have to push the boundaries of the book itself. I know that's vague, but that's where the creativity comes in.

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

Since WRP only has one book out now, I will explain it and it's two successors that are to follow this year. Blank State volume Zero: Condopocalypse Now! is a satire on the Toronto art scene that is slowly working its way into book stores across the city. What's great about it is it's accessibility and length, and the humour with which it accomplishes it's goals. It's written from the perspective of a filmmaker, so the story itself follows a loose screenplay format, with very terse, end-stopped sentences and a lot of flashbacks. This to me is pretty innovative.

Blank State volume One: Death of a Spearholder is going to come out in mid-may, and is a followup to the first book. The great thing about having both books back to back is that the scope of my goal for the series is starting to be realized. The second book is written in a completely different manner, told from the perspective of the Actors in the story in a play format. It is broken down into acts and scenes and is very dialogue heavy. Each book is going to embrace a different artist's perspective and really push how a story can be told.

An Adventure of Your Own Choosing is the project that I am most excited about, and I'm hoping to have it ready for summer. It is a flash fiction anthology written by over a dozen authors. The stories stretch from 50 to 500 words and all deal with the same characters and themes and locations. What sets it apart from other anthologies is that the stories will be sewn together into a choose your own adventure. I can guarantee that they wont necessarily connect, but I think that will be part of the fun.

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