Sunday, February 27, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: John Calabro on Quattro Books

Quattro Books’ mandate is to publish new and established Canadian authors whose work has outstanding literary merit. We aim to fulfill the vision that Canada is extremely diverse and the literature it produces, regardless of its style, or the context that informs it, should be accessible to all. Quattro places special emphasis on the novella, or short novel, a narrative form with strong roots in European and Latin American literature, but not issued by many Canadian trade publishers. We are cognizant that the novella poses special challenges to fiction writers and is, therefore, a genre that is evolving in Canada. Our other main focus is poetry. As with our novellas, literary quality is paramount, whether the author is a young emerging writer, or an established author working in a different genre.

1 – When did Quattro Books 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 in the summer of 2006 and published our first two titles in the spring of 2007. When we started we had a vague notion of publishing authors that had problems finding a home for their manuscripts, we had this idea of publishing the “other”, to create a publishing list that reflected Canada as it is now. We wanted to publish both literary fiction and poetry. We soon realized two things; most other small presses were doing what we wanted to do with various degree of success and that there was no money to be made in publishing. We very quickly modified our mandate. We decided to focus on the Novella as a genre, so that our publishing list would become 75% novellas, and 25% poetry. The literary novellas explored the darker side of the human psyche and the underbelly of society. The poetry reflected the sensibilities of the three poets in the company.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
The four of us started a monthly reading series in 2004 called Wordstage. We were very successful, over 100 people at each reading. We found that we were very different but that we worked well as a group, that we were quite eclectic but somehow it came together. We also found that a lot of the readers had difficulties placing their new manuscripts. We decided to start a small publishing house to give a home to those manuscript.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
To find and nurture new/young writers, to give a home to writers who have difficulties getting their manuscripts read because of ethnicity, race, gender, or any other obstacles they may face, and to find and nurture experimental writing.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
The main difference is that we solicit, nurture, publish and promote novellas in English Canada. We go looking for writers in the communities we are interested in giving a voice, for example, the aboriginal community, and the different ethnic communities in Toronto. We don’t just wait for them to approach us; we go out and seek them out. We will be doing more of that in the future by giving workshops in those communities.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
From a writer’s point of view: to become part of the literary scene, read the local authors, go to their readings, find out who the local publishers are, find writers’ groups, in effect join the writing community. You need their nurturing at first, and then you can branch out.

For a publisher: to put the book out in print, in electronic form and to send it out to as many reviewer and prizes/contest as you can, to believe in the product and tell everyone that will listen.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
All four partners pick projects to edit and we also use outside editors. We all have different approaches, some heavier than others. Even as individuals we do both, it also depends on the project, some need more than others and it depends if we are working with a young author who may need more direction or an established author where we can be very light and allow them a lot more creative freedom.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We have a national sales force through LPG and a national distribution system through LitDistCo. Our print runs are as low as 400 and as high as 1000, with quick reprints if need be.

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?
There are six of us in editing and production. We contract out cover design. We are just starting to work with outside editors like AF Moritz and Russell Smith. So far it has worked well. It brings in a fresh and experienced approach, the only drawback is that it costs more than if we were doing it ourselves, but that is to be expected. We like it and we want to bring more outside editors.

9 – How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
It has limited my writing time. It becomes more and more difficult to find time to write. I have a pretty solid voice that I write in and which I am comfortable with, so that I can appreciate other writers but not change my approach to writing. I have learned about how difficult it is for publisher to promote books and that has made me more sensitive to the limitation of publishers, as a writer.

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 thought for a long time about it, especially with my last book The Cousin. Cormorant took a look at it, and said it was too short, that I had to add 100 pages and it would be published if it all worked out 2-3 years later. I did not want to make the book longer. At the same time we at Quattro were pushing top become the home of the novella. My partners read my novella, liked it, and encouraged me to publish it with us. The argument is that if the writing is solid we should be proud to publish with our own house. Since then it has not been an issue.

11 – How do you see Quattro Books evolving?
We want to be the go-to publishers of the novella in English Canada, for established and new authors, for national and international authors. We want to do more international translations for both poetry and prose. We want to teach people how to write novellas through workshops. We want to give an identity to the Canadian Novella.

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?
We are very proud of the number of new authors we have published, we are proud of the number of novella manuscripts we attract each year (about 100), we are proud of some of the more experimental writing we have published in both prose and fiction, people such as Matthew Remski and Paul Seesequasis. People have overlooked how fast we have grown and how much of an impact we have already made on the literary scene in Toronto and in Canada, especially with our novellas. Money and lack of grants is our biggest frustration. We have paid all our bills but not drawn a salary in 5 years.

13 – Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We did not have any; we wanted to reflect the unique sensibilities of the four partners and to have a bit of fun with the press. That is why tequila is the official drink of Quattro.

14 – How does Quattro Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Quattro Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We attend many workshops and conferences with other publishers; we give workshops on the novella. We attend countless of readings and scout new talent. We partner with the library system and high schools, as well as writing schools. We are in very good terms with different presses like Cormorant, Guernica, Mansfield, Tightrope, and Coach House. We have learned a lot from talking to them.

15 – Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We have 4 main launches a year in Toronto (very well attended 80-120 people), and various ones in the authors’ home towns. I think they are extremely important for small presses who are introducing new writers. They have been very helpful to us.

16 – How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
We are strong users of Facebook, Twitter, and (less so) of YouTube. We want to do more. We are redesigning our website to make it more of an interactive place for writers. We sell our books on our site, and on Kobo and Kindle.

17 – Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes we do. We get too much poetry. We don’t accept genre novellas, like Romance, Sci-fi, Erotica or Mystery. At least not yet.

18 – Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Being the senior fiction editor, I can only really speak about our fiction. Of course I am very proud of my own book, because it uses the form of the novella to its full advantage and turns a well explored Italo-Canadian theme (going back home) upside down and sideways. But I am very proud of Tobacco Wars and how it explores and blends aboriginal issues of history, myths and present day living for First Nations people. Break Me explores the thin line between normal and abnormal, between sanity and insanity. Shrinking Violets explores the theme of abuse. I like the strong female voice, which seems oblivious to the horror around her. You want to jump into the narrative and shake her. Having said that I must admit that we carefully choose all our novellas and I am proud of every one of the 15 we have published so far and the 8 we are publishing this year.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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