Thursday, October 20, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Peter Vanderberg on Ghostbird Press

Peter Vanderberg is the founding editor of Ghostbird Press.  He served in the US Navy from 1999 – 2003 and received a MFA from CUNY Queens College.  His work has appeared in several journals including Mud Season Review, CURA and LUMINA, and his chapbook Crossing Pleasant Lake has recently been published by Red Bird Press.  He teaches at St. John’s Preparatory School and Hofstra University.

Ghostbird Press is a small chapbook press that publishes poetry, fiction, non-fiction, translation and cross-genre works, actively seeking new and underrepresented voices.  Our books are each a collaboration of both writing and visual art.  The words aren't illustrated, the images aren't explained.  Word and image coexist to increase your chances of epiphany.

Please check out our books at  If you are a writer yourself, send us your work.  With any luck, one day we will meet at a reading or launch party or backyard BBQ.

1 – When did Ghostbird 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?
Ghostbird Press began in 2011 after my grandfather's passing.  Starting a small press was something I had thought of since attending the CUNY Chapbook Festival in 2006 while at CUNY Queens College for my MFA.  I was so inspired by all the small publishers there, making things, often with their own hands, that would bring writing to life in the real, physical world.  I loved writing, but I also loved the idea of making things, of doing the work of publishing.  My grandfather had started his own business after World War II and his work ethic has always been a guide for me.  After he died it just seemed like the time to get going with my own small venture.

The goals for the press haven't changed much.  I have reigned in my expectations a bit as I continue to balance Family - Writing - Teaching - Publishing.  But I still read submissions and work with authors that I love and publish 3 - 4 chapbooks a year.  One change:  we just put out our first comic book, so now that's happening.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Again, it was really the CUNY Chapbook Fest that made it seem possible for me to try publishing.  The small press editors and publishers there exuded an energy and optimism that was infectious.  I fell in love with the idea of engaging with literature on that very real and personal level, while also building the community that grows from a small press through events and of course books.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I believe small presses are in a unique position to try new things regardless of market / industry norms.  Of course we should be aware of the industry and its workings, but I love that I can sign an author that is totally unknown, who is writing very different, risky stuff, and I don't really worry about the profit margin.  The questions is simply: do I believe in this work?  I also think small presses, maybe all presses, have a responsibility to seek underrepresented voices and stories.  For example, I'm actively seeking an American Indian writer.  I want to read those poems, stories, perspectives.  I don't see enough of that.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Ghostbird Press is committed to the visual arts as well as the literary.  Each book we publish has an original cover and several internal images that are made by a single artist.  My main artists are my two brothers James and Paul, I have a certain commitment to them, but I am open to others and we did produce a book by a writer whose wife did the cover and internal art (eco-logic of the word lamb, Roger Sedarat). 

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
To be honest I'm still trying to figure that out.  I use social media, but I'm not really into Facebook.  I do love twitter for some reason.  My favorite way is through events.  Each year we host a launch party for several authors.  I love how that builds the community because folks come out for one author, but they meet the others as well.  Going to readings and book fairs is great too, because again, you actually shake hands with people, hand them a book, converse about art and writing.  There's nothing better for me.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I prefer not to touch the writer's work.  At most, if I think something is amiss, I'll just ask why a certain decision was made and as long as there is intent there, I go with it.  Working the internal art into the manuscript is a more involved process because I want the writer to be happy with their book so we discuss image choice and placement more in depth.  I'm a writer as well as a publisher and every word and punctuation mark of my own work has a reason behind it.  I'd hate to have my work accepted on condition so I don't do that to my authors either. 

7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We distribute through our website sales and some local book stores.  Of course readings and events as well.  We use print on demand services so I'll usually print out 50 initial copies for the author's copies and our own events, but the books do not go out of print.

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?
Nope.  I'm the guy.  Just me.  Again, I work with the artist and author, but final decisions are made by me.  I'm a despot. 

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I can't say as it has changed my writing in any real way, but it has helped me to be more confident in submitting to journals and small presses.  I have an inside perspective into how the publishing world works, so I feel less intimidated by other small presses.  I' also less depressed by rejections - I don't take them personally anymore.  It still disappoints me to be turned away by a press I admire and want to work with, but I know they are receiving many many submissions and that mine just isn't right at that moment.  I hope those writers that I don't accept know that.  I'm also less begrudging of submission fees.  They are so essential to keeping a small press alive.  I think of fees as my donation to a worthy cause. 

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 have mixed feelings.  The first book I put out was a collaboration between myself and my brother James and I treated it as a kind of experiment to see if I really wanted to try publishing.  I loved making that book and am very proud of it, but I'm not sure I would put out my own work through Ghostbird again anytime soon.  I very well might do so in the future though.  I guess my feeling is that it's fine as long as it isn't the prime focus of the press. 

11– How do you see Ghostbird Press evolving?
I have a dream of taking on a partner, but I have zero budget for that right now.  I'd like to partner with another institution, maybe a museum or university.  And some day I'd like to develop a reading series for our authors beyond the launch party. 

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'm very proud of the writers we have published - their work is all brilliant.  I love how the visual art converses with the written word.  My biggest frustration right now is that I'm having a tough time getting our books reviewed.  I'd like to see what they think.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
One of the first chapbook presses that I admired was Flying Guillotine Press.  Their books are hand made genius.  I've always admired H-NGM-N press.  I think Nate Pritts is doing great work over there.  And I love all the strange little publications that Greying Ghost puts out.  I'm certainly in awe of larger literary presses: BOA editions, Alice James, Tupelo, Copper Canyon, but I love the little guys too, the ones that are making books solely for the love.

14– How does Ghostbird Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Ghostbird Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We are still a young press, but I see us in dialogue with the local NYC chapbook scene.  Specifically, there is a growing and vibrant literary movement in Queens which I'd love to be more engaged with.  Queens keeps it real in so many ways and I see that in the writers groups and publications that come out of Queens.  I'm a Queens College MFA alum too, so I'm always looking for ways to be a part of that amazing community. 

On the other hand I do feel like there are presses and journals beyond NYC that I feel a kindred spirit with - Mud Season Review in Burlington VT is so cool, and H-NGM-N is, I believe, physically located in upstate NY.  I admire many small presses but I'm not sure I would assume to be in conversation with them.  Wouldn't they need to talk back for a conversation to unfold?

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
As mentioned, we host an annual book launch and that is my favorite way to engage with the public.  I think public events are the best way for people to get to know us and to create real relationships with venues, writers and readers.  I love the internets as much as the next guy, but I prefer to shake hands with people. 

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Our website is our prime means of outreach - it's our storefront, though I'd love to have an actual storefront someday...add that to the dreams list above.  The internet is really essential to all aspects of the press from receiving and replying to submissions, to editorial work, to the proof process and's all on the web.  If they turn off that internet switch, I guess I'll put up a table and sign on my front lawn on nice days.  That could actually be fun.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We are always open for submissions.  We are not looking for bad poetry.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Resplendent Slug by Kimiko Hahn, is a collection of poems inspired by natural biology, particularly animals that glow.  But Kimiko Hahn has such a talent for weaving the strange and very real world of science with the stranger and arguably more real worlds of being a woman, a mother and a lover.  her work is full of loss and passion and the striking beauty that only she can communicate.  The drawings that accompany these poems blur the lines between the real and the abstract and in so doing, illuminate the text. 

Eco-Logic of the word lamb by Roger Sedarat is a translation / imitation of Virgil's Eclogues.  Roger Sedarat does not attempt another verse translation here, rather, he offers his Eco-Logic: born of the Eclogues, but every bit as grounded in contemporary experience / culture as Virgil's text was over 2,000 years ago.  Janette Afsharian's images are powerful and symbolic as tarot cards and their interplay with the text deepens the reader's experience. 

For My Son, A Kind Of Prayer by Richard Jeffrey Newman takes for its inspiration the totality of fatherhood.  All of the anguish, fear, strength, passion and vulnerability of being a husband and father are expressed here in such honest and beautiful ways.  I gave this book to my own father for Father's Day last year, so it has my endorsement as publisher, father and son. 

They are all so special I can't even count the ways - please get a copy for yourself and see what's so great about them!

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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