Tuesday, June 09, 2015

12 or 20 (small press) questions with JenMarie and Travis Macdonald on Fact-Simile editions

Fact–Simile editions publishes handmade books, poetry trading cards, and an annual magazine. We craft books that unite content and form and expand the definition of (while bringing greater awareness to) the act of reading. We use recycled and reclaimed material when possible. Visit us at www.fact-simile.com.

JenMarie Macdonald is a writer and bookmaker living near Philadelphia. DoubleCross Press is publishing her chapbook of two essays in their Poetics of the Handmade series this spring. She collaborates with Travis Macdonald on chapbooks, including Graceries (Horse Less Press) and forthcoming Bigger On the Inside (ixnay press), as well as their press Fact-Simile Editions.

Travis Macdonald is a 2014 Pew Fellow in the Arts. He is the author of two full-length books – The O Mission Repo [vol.1] (Fact-Simile Editions) and N7ostradamus (BlazeVox Books) – as well as several chapbooks. He is a creative director by day and by night he co-edits Fact-Simile Editions  with his wife JenMarie.

1 – When did Fact-Simile 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?
In 2007, Travis started publishing some short-run, staple-bound chapbooks by fellow Naropa students under the name Fact-Simile. But it wasn’t until JenMarie joined in the spring of 2008 that the press really and truly got up and running. Our original goal was pretty broad early on—we simply wanted to make lively, living spaces for our fellow writers.

At first, those spaces took shape as the simple, mimeo-style, staple-bound literary journal we still publish today. As we began experimenting with chapbook forms and learning more about the craft of bookmaking, our goals became more focused. Today, our aim is to create books whose structures perform their contents, providing tactile interactive experiences that expand upon and redefine the act of reading.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

We both came to publishing from very different backgrounds. Travis from poetry and JenMarie from magazine journalism. Ultimately, though, what drew us both to role of small press publisher was the desire to discover and share new work. We both completed our grad studies at Naropa where there was a palpable sense that, as writers and as readers, it is absolutely critical that we create community and participate in the bigger conversation. Whether that community is enacted through a reading series, a journal, a blog, etc…the medium doesn’t matter so much as the act of connection. In many ways, that sort of public contribution feels just as necessary as the more personal acts of writing and reading.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
It’s probably safe to say that the role of publishers in general is, at its most basic, to connect writers with readers. In the not too distant past, that connection was made largely by a relatively small number of big publishing houses with broad distribution networks. But with more writers and (we hope) readers alive today than at any other time in the history of civilization, those monolithic publishing houses simply can’t serve the needs of an increasingly diverse population with increasingly fractured interests.

As the speed of information continues to accelerate, it enables the creation of loosely interconnected communities, connecting those fractured interests and audiences beyond geographical boundaries. We see the small press as a locus for that kind of connection, creating spaces for the exchange between writers and readers who might otherwise be disenfranchised by mass market publishing.

Since small presses are mission driven rather than profit driven, they are also able to take bigger risks than big publishing houses. This enables them to push the boundaries of what is possible in a way that we believe is vital and necessary.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
There are a lot of talented and dedicated people running a bunch of really amazing small presses in the world today. Each of us specializes in a different combination of aspects of publishing, editing, bookmaking, etc. So there isn’t really any one thing that we are doing that no one else is, but  we may spend more time considering the act of reading and how the physical form of the book affects the reading experience for each individual book more than other presses. Whether that’s through poetry trading cards or more obscure forms.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
For the more tactile, physical book objects we create, we still believe in the power of the post office. And other good old fashioned methods like face-to-face exchanges through book fairs and readings and such. But when it comes to building our readership, we’ve embraced many of the more technologically advanced media for promotion and communication: Facebook, email announcements, etc.

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

We look at ourselves as collaborators rather than editors. We select work for publication that we consider to be a more or less finished product. Of course, we proofread all our publications and query the writer with small suggested edits or to identify potential errors. But, for the most part, we see it as our job to focus on creating a form for the book that works with and through the text, rather than manipulate the text to fit a pre-established form or expectation.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
The ability to take control of the means of production and distribution was really one of the things that drew us to small press publishing. While we occasionally turn to commercial printers, for the most part we make and distribute all of our books ourselves. We sell them online through our website (www.fact-simile.com), at book fairs and at readings. Because we use almost entirely recycled and reclaimed material to make our books, our print runs depend on the quantity of materials we have. But it’s typically around 100 for chapbooks. The PDF version of the journal we distribute for free online and the print version usually comes in somewhere in between 350-500 copies that we print ourselves. For the poetry trading card series, we printed 500-1000 of each.

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?
Fact-Simile is just the two of us. The benefit is that we live together, so we don’t have to work around a bunch of schedules or coordinate big editorial meetings. The drawback is that, depending on what else is happening in our life, press work can get sidelined at times.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
If there’s a secret to writing, it’s reading. As writers, WHAT we read ultimately influences our writing. Which raises the question of access. If we allowed Barnes & Noble or Amazon to curate everything we read, we would be much different writers. And with so many small presses out there publishing so many different kinds of work, curating our own experiences online can be daunting at times. As editors, we are very aware that we are curating a distinct experience for our readers. That awareness not only informs our consideration of the work that is submitted, it also helps us be more aware of how another editor may consider our own work when writing, editing and submitting. In the end, approaching our work with the understanding that every editor is curating a different sort of experience loosens the grip of doubt a little and lets us lessen our attachment to what is on the page so we can be more ruthless and risky in cutting and experimenting. 

On the other hand, whether or not they know it, the readers and writers who submit to our press, are curating our reading experience in interesting and often unexpected ways, exposing us to work we may not have sought out or encountered on our own. That inevitably has a significant impact on how we read and edit our own writing.

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?
One of the first books we published was The O Mission Repo, Travis’s erasure of The 9/11 Commission Report. It gave us autonomy and the luxury to put out the book as we wanted on a specific timeline. We could be riskier with our editorial choices, and we could release the book while The 9/11 Commission Report was still something relatively fresh in people’s minds. So while we aren’t against publishing our own work in certain instances, our primary aim is to make space for the work of others.

11– How do you see Fact-Simile evolving?
In addition to the chapbooks that we make, we’d like to create more intricate book arts pieces. Eventually, we’d like to enlist some more editors and bookmakers. We’d also like see Fact-Simile evolve beyond a press into a community-based literary arts organization. With that goal in mind, we’ve recently begun collaborating with Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia to host craft talks and poets theater. We’re also exploring the possibility of taking on interns and eventually offering workshops.

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’re most proud of making magazines, books, and book objects that bring people new reading experiences. We have no pre-set expectation for how people should perceive and engage our work, so we can’t identify anything they’ve overlooked or that really frustrates us. Once our books are in their hands, it's about their experience, not ours. On thing does come to mind, though it’s more of a fascination than a frustration: some of our books go unread because some people are afraid to open and handle them. For instance, some people have confessed to having never broken the seal and unrolled Dale Smith’s July Oration or pulling off the rubber bands and opening the scrolls of our a Sh Anthology. This sort of behavior points to one of the ways that people engage with and develop relationships with books, letting them sit unread on shelves. Ultimately, that’s the sort of relationship we’re hoping to help shift.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
As we’ve already indicated, Naropa was a fertile and supportive place to start a literary journal, and we were taught about the history of small press publishing. Naturally, other Naropa small presses like Hot Whiskey and summer stock were models, but also Angel Hair, Big Table, Kulchur, The Floating Bear, 0 to 9, United Artists.

Elizabeth Robinson (of Instance and Etherdome) and her generous heart were huge inspirations. The Waldrops’ Burning Deck. Catherine Taylor of Essay Press was an early influence for JenMarie. The way we wanted at one time to collect every single Black Sparrow hard cover regardless of the writer, simply because they are so gorgeous. The book artist Suzanne Vilmain and her Counting Coup Press were also big influences.

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

We consider ourselves extremely lucky to live in Philadelphia where there is an incredibly rich, vibrant, diverse and exciting literary community. Our most immediate interactions and engagements with that community takes place at the many readings and events we attend and host. If we extend our definition of community a little bit further, the magazine has put us in touch with an incredible network of writers across the country and beyond. While we each have our own favorite small presses (too numerous to name here) the real dialogue, from an editorial standpoint, is found in the bios of the writers we publish. As for the importance of these different levels of dialogue? It’s critical. The threads that connect the small press community are like an intricate, ongoing series of overlapping conversation where you can tune in at any one point and follow along to find yourself in some of the most unexpected and invigorating places.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
Readings and other events are very important as they are phenomenal and often fertile social spaces of play, discovery, mourning, celebration, activism, generosity, etc. 

For a long time, we avoided creating our own reading series simply because Philadelphia has so many great ongoing and spontaneous events that we can’t always attend them all. So, while we held sporadic, occasional readings for launches and have hosted reading slots a couple of times at the Boog Festivals in NYC, it wasn’t until this year we started hosting regular literary events for a local Philadelphia gallery called Vox Populi.

Our first event was a pair of wonderful Kevin Killian plays brilliantly performed by Philadelphia poets Jenn McCreary, Jason Mitchell, Mel Bentley, Philip Mittereder, and Alexa Smith. Our next event is a craft performance by Kristin Prevallet of her most recent work “For He Who Will Never Know How Pornography Kills the False Woman and Prevents the Live One From Breathing,” which is available for free on the Essay Press website.

A poetic game play event called “What’s the Science?” (based on an in-class prompt described to us by the poet Zach Savich) is in the works and will be a collaboration of several local presses including Philadelphia Stories, Gigantic Sequins, Apiary, and Cleaver Magazine.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
The internet is an important virtual social space of play, discovery, mourning, celebration, activism, generosity, etc. The internet has made it possible to better engage and unify a local community as well as cultivate and engage with a global community in real time. We share news and events on Facebook and Twitter, and the only place (beside our house and at book fairs) that our whole catalog is available is on our website. In this way, it’s a device of curation and canonization for people much in the way that anthologies have been in the past, so it has become important to provide content in the possibility that it could end up in an individual “canon." For a press focused on the physicality of books, we maintain a good deal of our relationships virtually.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We have an annual submission period for the magazine, usually January 1 through April 1 (but we opened late this year, so we may read longer). In the past, we’ve run an annual Equinox Chapbook Contest in order to accept chapbook submissions. We’ll probably open this back up next year but we’re also exploring the possibility of a more collaborative, solicitation-based system that would allow us to explore new book forms in conjunction with the writer. At this point, we’re not looking for full-length manuscripts.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
We’ve just released Jane Wong’s graceful chapbook Impossible Map. It’s a quiet, meandering text that whispers in contractions and expansions…a stillness upon which every sound is magnified. The physical book is a small 6x6 square with several Turkish map pop-up pages that unfold to four times the book’s size. Papermaker & artist Nicole Donnelly harvested the kozo for and made the Amate paper covers.

Brian Foley’s TOTEM is a microscope for image and syntax (and/or for experience) that reveals language as an (un)equatable talisman. The physical book is a denim and leather girdle book, a medieval form mostly used to hitch Bibles to a person so that they may lift it and read at any time.

Frank Sherlock’s Very Different Animals is a long poem which stops at the beginning and starts at the end. The interstitial space between these that is/is not the poem wilds itself between aggression and generation. The physical text is printed on a long sheet, accordion folded, and caged in the back hollow of a miniature canvas. Each canvas-as-cover features an original painting by the artist Nicole Donnelly.

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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