Tuesday, July 24, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Aaron Kent on Broken Sleep Books

Broken Sleep Books are dedicated to works that transcend the page, and are more than just poets writing poetry. We believe the greatest pieces of writing exist outside of expectation, and are written with more than the act of writing in mind. 

We are particularly devoted to minimalist cover designs (such as the wonderful books by presses like Little Island), and wish to encourage more working-class writers to submit.

Our interest lie in the works of J H Prynne, Haruki Murakami, Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong, and Kim Addonizio.

Aaron Kent is a poet from Cornwall, UK. He has had books published with zimZalla, Hesterglock, and Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and has books lined up with Guillemot, and Knives Forks and Spoons. He tweets from @GodzillaKent and is particularly fond of the works of Haruki Murakami and J H Prynne

1 – When did Broken Sleep 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?

I came up with Broken Sleep last year, and started a website but kept it private. The name related to three things: JH Prynne’s poem Smaller than the Radius of the Planet, my lifelong battle with insomnia, and the birth of my daughter Rue – and the disruption that brought to the sleep of my wife and myself.

Initially the plan was to release pamphlets in cassette cases, and full collections in VHS cases – which we did with the first edition of Chris Kerr’s Citidyll – however that became too costly, too time-consuming, left us with too much plastic waste (which we oppose) and meant we couldn’t take on many poets at all. So we shifted to a print-on-demand model, allowing us to publish more of the work we love.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

I first began publishing in 2014/2015 with I Came Here Looking For A Fight – I wanted to publish books in a different way so made books with holes cut through them (so the poems relied on the words seen on the pages below), and gave out free poetry voucher booklets (vouchers with poems on them for certain situations). Then I found two manuscripts I love from Zach Jackson and Jodie Matthews and published them. I folded the press a year or so later after doing a couple of digital magazines, I was training to be a teacher and didn’t have the time to commit any longer.

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

Support other presses, support other writers, and support the poetic world. I would love the poets I publish to go on and make names for themselves at bigger presses, with a biggert reach, or to release with other amazing indie presses. I just want their work to be read – because that’s what it deserves, and that’s why I publish.

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

We don’t have a set vision or genre of poetry that we exclusively want to publish – all we want is to take on work that we like, whether it needs editorial work to become a stronger piece, or whether it is fully-fledged and ready to go.

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

I like the print-on-demand model a lot, it is both environmentally sustainable, means no pulp or extra-costs for books that may not sell, and you only print what is ordered. This also frees publishers up to focus on the editorial and promotion side – knowing that ordering etc is dealt with.

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

It depends on the book – I am keen to offer feedback, as is my assistant editor Charlie Baylis (who I think is one of the best editors in the poetry game), but  I don’t want to do it for the sake of it. Some poems may have a few suggestions, others none at all – one thing we are constantly aware of is ensuring the books are tight, and don’t have poems that feel they exist just to fill space – I’d rather have twenty great poems, than 50 average ones. 

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

We are print-on-demand, so no exclusivity on runs etc. We distribute through Amazon, but we get a little more profit if people go through our website.

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?

It is just Charlie and myself. I do typesetting, editing, promotion, website, social media, submissions (but I usually get Charlie’s advice on this), proofs, release. Charlie almost exclusively does editing, I don’t know if he’d want to get involved with the other side of things but I do know he loves poetry and loves the editorial work.

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

I’m more aware of unnecessary phrases, words, or even whole stanzas. I also find that the best way to improve is to read lots, and I get to read a lot through this side of work.

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’d like to publish one work by myself and one by Charlie, but that’d be it. We’re releasing my pamphlet Angels the Size of Houses in October, and Charlie is doing all the editorial work on that and I’ll do the same for his Drag City in November – I’m fine with editors releasing their own work, but excessively doing so taints the whole press. Maybe stick to one every 5-10 years.

11– How do you see Broken Sleep Books evolving?

I’d like to get our authors award nominated, and to get reviews in journals/magazines etc. I’d also like to eventually do reading events, even if it is only once a year from a selection of our authors that year – we do an anthology of five poems from each release per year, so it’d be great to launch that with the poets.

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?

Starting a publishing press from scratch by myself is one hell of an accomplishment and makes me so very proud. Also, the two books we have released so far are fantastic and make me proud to have given Chris Kerr and sally burnette’s poetry to the world. No major frustrations, I feel the world needs more community via presses and less rivalry though.

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

I love the work Tom Chivers has done with Penned in the Margins, also Little Island Press and Guillemot are wonderful presses.

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

We haven’t really done so as of yet – we have only released two books, though our schedule is loaded up until June 2019. I’d like to look at options regarding dialogue with other presses, and see how we can all support one another.

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

Our authors are so global that we can’t really do readings once every two weeks – but we welcome them setting up their own which we will of course promote and advertise. As I said earlier I would love to do a once a year anthology reading – I think readings are very important, I just don’t do them myself.

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

We rely on the internet for a lot: social media, promotion, uploading to print-on-demand, we use InDesign and Photoshop, our website, our Amazon affiliate links.

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

We do, but we probably publish more from poets we go directly to than submissions. For example I’d read Brian Ng’s work and absolutely loved it, so got in touch after I started the press to ask if he had anything published, he hadn’t had a book published so I suggested we put one together. I’m very excited about his work.

We don’t really go for rhyming poetry – and it’s an instant turn off if all of your work is centre-justified, also no instagram poetry.

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

We’ve had two released so far:

Chris Kerr’s Citidyll which I did some editorial advice on before I started Broken Sleep. I kept thinking about it over the months after and I knew I had to get it out into the world, it is such a clever, razor-sharp, unique work that I just had to publish it.

sally burnette’s laughing plastic was a rare submission we took on, I read it and instantly sent it to Charlie who also loved it. The clever interplay between identity, queerness, and Barbie/Ken dolls was incredible and necessary. I had to publish it.

Sarah Cave’s An Arbitrary Line is out on 30th November and I truly believe Sarah is one of the most interesting and brilliant poets in the modern era. She will go on to great things and this is just the start of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if her name is at the forefront of poetry for years to come.

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