Tuesday, November 15, 2011

12 or 20 (small press) questions: Dawn Marie Kresan on Palimpsest Press

Palimpsest Press publishes poetry in both trade and limited editions, and select nonfiction titles that deal with poetics, the writing life, aesthetics, and cultural criticism. Magpie Books, our children’s imprint, publishes poetry in picture book format and juvenile and young adult fiction.

Dawn Marie Kresan has her Master’s Degree in literature from the University of Windsor, and has studied a variety of creative interests including writing, bookbinding, typography and design, letterpress printing and stained glass. Her poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals and the chapbook Framed. Her first full-length collection, Beata Beatrix, is due out by Tightrope Books in 2013.

1 – When did Palimpsest 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?

Palimpsest began in 2000. At that time I was publishing a literary journal called Kaleidoscope. It wasn’t until 2004 I began to publish trade books and then later chapbooks. It was a very gradual process for me. It took me a long time to view myself as a publisher, and then even longer to do things like get proper distribution, hire editors, and apply for grants. It wasn’t until 2008 that I first applied for a grant. I was very conflicted about this leap. Funding meant that I could afford sales representation, warehouse storage, and hire editors and designers. When I received funding I started doing more and more, because I could, and then when my funding was decreased, I was left with a lot of debt. My first four years of relative calm anonymity in publishing suddenly turned into a thrilling and terrifying rollercoaster. It’s a lot of ups and downs and I never know what is around the next corner. At this point, I am just trying to hang on. In the beginning I had no business savvy, no five year plan, no funding — I did it because I loved it — but I had to learn to strategize, create marketing plans, do inventory valuations and balance sheets. I’m exhausted all the time. The stakes and expectations are higher, and yet I still do it because I still love it. My original goal was to find and publish great poets, and although publishing great authors is still my overriding goal, the growth of Palimpsest has paradoxically made survival much more precarious.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

My love of poetry and books. I’ve always admired the writer/ artist, who both writes and produces his own beautiful editions. What a lovely bringing together of talent and vision, to be able to make the object, the book itself, say something about the words it contains. The way the design, typography, and materials all work together to communicate the author’s voice truly fascinates me. I started a press to learn more about the process, to be involved in something I found exciting and important.

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

I think the role of the small press publisher is to give voice to those authors that big publishing houses won’t touch, to publish books of literary merit that won’t necessarily bring in a profit. Poets are definitely in that marginalized category. Of course, as a business we as publishers have to find ways to make this economically feasible, by either diversifying our list or by offering other services that we charge for. In my case, I market my letterpress and graphic design services to other publishers and local businesses. I have also created a children’s imprint to sell more profitable titles, like picture books and juvenile fiction.

I also think the responsibility of the publisher to help authors build a literary community and create audiences for their work. Authors are becoming quite adept at doing this themselves, but they should definitely see their publisher as an ally and be able to depend on us for support.

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

In terms of chapbooks, I think that my press pushes the boundaries of what a “book” is or how it functions. Christian Bok’s Triptych is a glass book. The pages are quite literally made of stained glass and backed by sheets of paper with the poem printed on them. The words are strategically placed on the paper so they can be read through the sections of clear glass. And in the future, I have plans to make a “book” of X-rays.

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

Once a book is produced, the author is the most effective tool. An enthusiastic author and plenty of readings ensure sales. An independent bookstore hand-selling a book is also great help. Word of mouth and grass roots is still the best option for small presses.

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

In the beginning I had a very light touch, but now when I edit a book my suggestions are very extensive. I have become more confident in my ability, and although I never say an edit is mandatory, I really go deep and challenge the writer. To be clear, I only accept manuscripts that I believe in, but I do think that manuscripts can only benefit from a close reading and an editorial offering.

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

In the beginning when I only did the literary journal I was distributed by Marginal Books. Currently LitDistCo distributes my trade books with sales representation by The Literary Press Group of Canada, and print runs are between 500 and 2000. My limited edition chapbooks, however, are only available through my website and special order. Their print runs range between 20 and 200. Most are sold to private collectors and special library collections.

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 deal with many other people, four or so editors, two other designers, and a part-time assistant. Before I did everything myself, but bringing other creative individuals into the process has been a great advantage, widening my own vision and knowledge. The bulk of the work, however, still primarily falls on me. Frankly, I love this part: editing a manuscript, designing a cover, typesetting, and selecting the paper. This has always been what interests me. Promotion and sales is something that I must do, that the business of publishing requires me to do, but anything that really inspires me all happens before the book is in my hand.

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

I am, of course, more aware of the process of getting a book into market. Because of this I am less anxious than some writers would be. Being a publisher has forced me to step out of my bubble and face the realities of having my own book published. The artistic process of writing stays the same, as it should. But the process of writing a book has nothing to do with marketing a book, and authors, more and more, are asked to become marketer, publicist, and events planner. That is just the reality of small press publishing.

Perhaps more than the typical writer, I think of publishing a book as a collaborative process. That press is putting their name on the finished book, so the work is no longer completely mine. They are involved in editing, proofreading, cover design and typography, and through that process, part of the book now belongs to them. It isn’t all about what I, as the author, want. As a publisher myself, I realize that each press has its own mandate, its own look to their books, its own audience they are hoping to reach. The final book is as much a part of their oeuvre as it is mine.

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?

In the end it doesn’t matter who publishes you, the work will speak for itself. Having said that though, I wanted my full-length poetry collection to be published by someone else. I did a few of the poems in a limited edition chapbook, creating collaged art end papers and a cover with a key hole that reveals some of the art behind. It was important to me that my chapbook — from start to finish — was entirely my creation. From the writing, printing, folding, collaging, and hand sewing, it is my vision of my work, and yes, even the mistakes are mine. So I’ve had my fun making what I wanted to make, and now I’m curious to see what Tightrope with do with the poems in 2013.

11– How do you see Palimpsest Press evolving?

In 2010 I started renting office space and I now have storage other than the closets in my house, and a real office with furniture and shelves. It is very exciting for me. My Gordon old style is in the letterpress studio, as opposed to my basement laundry room. I have it set up in the front window and I’m hoping it will attract local interest. My intent is to grow these other revenue streams, like letterpress and graphic design services. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of logo design. This, along with the publication of my children’s books, is what will allow me to continue to publish the poetry books I love so much.

I’d also like to expand my nonfiction line, which already includes books on the poetic life and aesthetics, to include books on design and publishing history. Long term I’d like to get into e-books for select titles, probably with my nonfiction, juvenile, and YA fiction. But that is VERY long term…

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?

I am most proud of the growth I have experienced as a designer. I knew nothing about design and the book arts when I started, although I have always been interested in this. I took courses in bookbinding, letterpress, and graphic design, and I think that both the trade books and chapbooks I now produce are so much better than when I first started. I think that people don’t realize the beautiful texture of the paper I use until they actually hold a book in their hands. It is something that has to be touched to fully appreciate. My chapbooks use thick textured papers, sometimes handmade with inclusions, and my poetry trade books use zephyr laid and have coloured end sheets. I think it quite sumptuous for a trade book.

I find it really frustrating when I know I have put out a phenomenal poetry book yet sales are mediocre at best. I don’t know if this failure is because I haven’t pushed the book enough or something else I have no control over. I send out review copies, place select ads, set up a launch and readings, and post it all over the web, so I’m not sure what I am doing wrong. Poetry typically isn’t a high seller, although there have been exceptions, but I still find it frustrating to no end when a fantastic book gets little to no attention.

My biggest frustration, though, is not having the time to do chapbooks, editorial, or even my own writing, the hands on stuff that I really love. The amount of business related paper work I do is really time consuming and energy draining. After an entire day of updating excel sheets I have nothing left to give. Before, I utilized evenings. After my daughter fell asleep I’d read a manuscript or sew some books or write a new poem. Not anymore. Keeping up with reports, applications, crunching numbers — it all makes my brain mush. I could go on. The truth is publishing is filled with frustration. It should be written into the business description. But it is also filled with wonderful moments. A job that allows me to be creative and to connect with people in a profound way is a job that is worth its days in frustration and tediousness.

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

I have always admired Gasperau and Coach House for combining publishing and book production in their press model. They both know who they are as a publisher, which authors best represent them, and who buys their books. Although I still greatly admire both those presses, I currently think the best publishing model is Anansi. They not only publish great books, they are smart about it, diversifying their list without diluting their brand.

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

Windsor Essex has two other publishers, Black Moss and Biblioasis, and I see us all in a dialogue. Black Moss has definitely cornered the local literary market and Biblioasis is much more national is scope. I like to think that we support each other. I know we attend events when we can, and I have certainly received advice from both Dan and Marty. Dan likes to joke that it is my fault that he went into publishing [insert evil laugh here]. I’d say we are all friends, and I hope that we continue to share our mutual interest in literature. Perhaps in the future we will have a joint reading series. We’ve talked about it before but implementation is a whole other matter.

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

Yes, of course we do! Launches and readings bring authors and audiences together. If you have a few authors at a reading, you can also help to expand a fan base by exposing one author’s work to another author’s audience, people who may not have known about the other author. Festivals and reading series are the best option, as many have built in audiences already.

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

It is essential for a press to have an on-line presence with a website, but that is just the beginning. Social networking on the web has really changed the way presses market books. There is facebook, goodreads, twitter, jacketflap, shelfari, and librarything, to name just a few. And, of course, there are blogs, which can be more interactive than a plain website. I think all these on-line networking sites should be used in conjunction with a more traditional publicity campaign. One without the other would be selling the author short. They each have their place, their strengths and weaknesses.

As a writer, I have a blog. It is a mixture of press related news, photography, poetry, design, and anything that strikes my fancy. I blog about things that interest me, whatever that may be at the moment, and how those various interests intersect is always changing. I don’t keep track of how many people are reading my blog and I have no idea if it is furthering my goals as a writer — which I guess is to have readers of my poetry books — I do the blog mostly for myself, to keep track of my goings-on and my interactions with the world. If I do present a viewpoint, I try to keep it authentic and don’t worry about the rest. As a publisher, though, I have to worry about who is clicking on my web pages, and take note of bounce rates and referring sites, for the sake of my writers, who trust that I will do everything possible to get their books out there. But as a writer, I really am ambivalent about all of this.

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

I do take open submissions during my reading time, from the beginning of January through to the end of March. I no longer am accepting chapbook submissions, though, as my production of chapbooks is sporadic at best. And when I do get to them again, I’m going to solicit work.

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

Shane Neilson’s Gunmetal Blue: A Memoir is an investigation of how to be in the world—how to be a doctor, how to be a poet, and how to be both. Tempered with memoir and populated with poetic case studies, Neilson learns about himself as his patients reveal their frailties. I think this book is special because in our society medicine is considered the more productive activity, but Neilson turns many pre-conceived notions on its head.

Richard Stevenson’s The Haunting of Amos Manor is about the Waldman family’s move to a small rural town and how everything starts to go wrong. Karen is having strange dreams and someone keeps moving things. Then there is the strange crow. Are the ghosts of the former inhabitants still claiming resident status? Twelve-year-old Mark Waldman is determined to find out. This book is special to me because it is the first juvenile fiction I have published under my new Magpie Books imprint. Plus it is a great mystery. I have a lot riding on the success of this book.

Laura Lush’s Carapace explores the tensions between life and death as they battle for equal play in the natural world. Lush returns to the themes of loss, death, birth, and rebirth, but with a more unforgiving eye and savage vision, exploring the dualities and ironies of experiencing these states simultaneously. This book is much anticipated. Lush was nominated for the 1992 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and hasn’t had a book out since 2002. I think this poetry collection is her best and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

1 comment:

Michael Bryson said...

very nicely done