Monday, March 14, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Jen Tynes on Horse Less Press

Imagined in 2002 and established in 2004 in Providence, Rhode Island, Horse Less Press is a bare-bones, thin-skinned literary press. We believe in the necessary absence of every articulated thing. Many of our publications are constructed by hand. 

Jen Tynes is the founding editor of Horse Less Press and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. She is most recently the author of Heron/Girlfriend (Coconut Books) and the co-author (with Michael Sikkema) of the chapbook from Autogeography (Black Warrior Review).

1 – When did Horse Less 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?

Horse Less started  in 2004, just after I started the MFA program at Brown University. My goals for the press have never been very lofty, but especially not at the beginning. I had no idea how to create a website or make a chapbook or solicit submissions or market a publication, so I spent less time thinking about an aesthetics or intention, honestly, and more about HTML and book binding techniques. I’m not really comfortable being part of a writing community ONLY as a writer; I think it makes both community and writing better when we all know how to put on different shoes, so a lot of my work with Horse Less has been about engaging with people’s writing through my presentation of it, thinking of publication as a very important type of collaboration and presence with a community. 

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I guess I answer this a bit in #1. I started the press because I knew a lot of great writers who weren’t being published yet, or enough, and I wanted to help share their work. That makes publishing sound like some benevolent gesture, but I really mean it in a selfish way – I’m sure most or all of the work we’ve published would have eventually found a home elsewhere, but I wanted all of it to stay at my place. It’s important to cohabitate with words you love.

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

Along with the important role small publishing plays in sustaining community and emphasizing self-sufficiency (what a great contradiction, that it does both), the fact that small presses also have small audiences and small budgets forces a kind of improvisation and focus that I value.  

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

That’s not really a question I think about much. When I started Horse Less, I didn’t (personally) know a lot of people making chapbooks, but that has certainly changed (both because I’ve met more people making handmade chapbooks in their living rooms, and because more people I know have since started making them). When Erika Howsare and I started editing the press together, we were both writing (among other things) these experimental rural landscapes that people kept labelling (incorrectly, I thought) “pastoral,” so I know that was a wire-crossing we wanted to investigate through our publishing; promoting collaboration was and still is also a priority, but our focus has definitely broadened; we don’t have a statement of aesthetics. We aren’t currently doing anything unique in terms of the ways we publish. Every book we’ve made and relationship we’ve developed among writers is singular, and that seems like plenty reason to keep at it.

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

There’s a lot involved in getting new books out into the world; are you asking about a particular part? I have always thought of our chapbooks and temporary and non-archival, best passed along at readings, through word of mouth, good trade for the gift economy. We’ve just started publishing full-length, perfect-bound books and are learning new strategies for managing those, but it seems we’ve gotten our best publicity through readings. If we’re talking about the earlier parts of that process – finding the books in the first place, finding people to help make them become – I think it’s important to identify writers and artists who are interested in the idea of publication as collaboration. All presses don’t have to work this way, of course, but –again, selfishly-- I’m not really interested in just being the mechanism that gets the books out there. Ideally book designer, writer, publisher, and anyone else involved become equally invested in whatever is made.

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

Thus far my editing has been pretty minimal, but in line with my answer to #5, I am trying to become a more engaged editor. I don’t accept work that I wouldn’t be willing to publish as-is, but as both an editor and a writer I think a lot of good can come out of a more active relationship between editor and text.

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

Chapbooks typically have a first run of 50, and then I keep them in print as long as the author and I can agree to do so. Those are available in a few bookstores, but mostly they’re mailed from my living room and distributed at readings. Our full length books are being printed POD through Lulu right now and (in addition to the Lulu website) are available on the Horse Less website and via Ingram.

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?

Erika Howsare has been my co-editor for several years, though working together became harder to arrange once we both moved away from Providence; Horse Less was mostly on hiatus for a few years while I worked on my PhD and Erika and her husband built a house and had a baby. Jennifer Denrow served as guest editor for the last issue of the review, and I think she’s going to stay on helping us for the foreseeable future. I have absolutely no sense of design or visual artistic ability, so I’ve thankfully had a handful of folks designing chapbook covers over the years, including Kate Schapira, Conan Kelly, and Shawn Huelle. HR Hegnauer did a fabulous job designing our two recent full-length books. Scheduling time and finding agreements with your collaborators can be difficult, obviously, but I wouldn’t bother to do this by myself. The conversations I have with them – and the amazing, smart things they know and do – are invaluable.

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

Too many ways to list here, but certainly it’s made me aware of audience in a way that’s actually productive; being an editor makes me think more deeply about how and whom I’m engaging when I write.

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 think this is a personal choice; I’m certainly no more or less likely to read a work because I know it’s been self-published. The first chapbook Horse Less published was mine, mostly because I wasn’t ready to experiment with someone else’s work; if I did a bad job, I wanted to do a bad job with my own poems. Since I am currently most interested in publication as an act of collaboration, it makes more sense for me to send my work to others, and find other people’s work to publish. I think self-publishing can be a very valuable and useful strategy, though; publishing is an extension of the writing process, so why not?

11 – How do you see Horse Less Press evolving?

Well, we’re going to get someone to design us a prettier website soon – that’s for sure. You probably meant our larger goals, though. We’ve really just entered the perfect-bound publishing business, and I’m really excited about that opportunity. We’re committed to publishing at least one, and hopefully two, full-length books next year. We’re committed to publishing more work by women. I’ll be moving from Denver to Grand Rapids at the end of May; although Horse Less has never been place-specific, each move seems to mean a shift in what we do and how we do it, so I’m interested to see how the change of place changes us.

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?

Oh, I’m bad at superlatives; I’m skipping this question.

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

I was house-sitting for Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop just after we began publishing chapbooks, and the handmade books in their library – those they had published and some published by others – were great help. I really appreciate how the Waldrops utilize the community-building and collaborative aspects of publication, how through publishing they have in fact built a community.

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

I think I’ve already answered most of this question. The list of presses I imagine we are in dialogue with (so some of these conversations happen in time and space, through talk or writing, and some only occur in my head) is very long, but off the top of my head some immediate very important presses for us are No Tell Books, Coconut Books, H_NGM_N, Dancing Girl, TYPO, Bloof, Slash Pine Press, Switchback Books, Octopus, Tarpaulin Sky, Brave Men, and Black Ocean. We have different aesthetics, different strategies, etc., but these folks are some of my small press heroes.

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

We have occasionally events but not regular reading series. I hope to change that! As I said earlier, I think readings are vital to both community building and the dissemination of good books.

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

Our journal is electronic, much of our book sales happen online, and as our editors and readership are quite scattered, the internet is pretty important to us.

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

We will have another reading period for the journal shortly; right now chapbook and book manuscripts are read by solicitation only, but that may be changing in the near future. I’m not sure that saying what we aren’t looking for is possible or useful, but hopefully my other answers give a sense of what we do want. As most editors will say, of course, the best way to  figure out what we like is by reading our publications.

1 comment:

red-handed said...

She sounds fleet and pretty sure of what she's taken on.