Sunday, April 07, 2019

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Mia Morgan and Stephanie Meloche on Coven Editions

Mia Morgan is the former editor of the Ottawa Arts Review, and former host of the Blue Mondays reading series. Her long poem, Suburbia, was published as a tiny book in 2014 by In/Words press. Her other work has appeared in Bywords, Hussy, Battleaxe and In/Words.

Stephanie Meloche graduated from the University of Ottawa with a B.A. in English Literature and is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Education. Stephanie is the author of two published novellas. 

Together, Mia and Stephanie founded Coven Editions, a literary small press based in Ottawa that specializes in creative, handmade chapbooks. Coven seeks to showcase and circulate work by Canadian writers, both emerging and established, with a focus on marginal voices from Ottawa’s literary community.

1 – When did Coven Editions 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?

Coven Editions was an idea we had floated around since our undergraduate together, but didn’t really solidify as a project until Stephanie travelled to Germany for six months. It was at that point in Fall 2016 that we realized this was something we definitely wanted to make happen. After creating our website and not using it for a year, we finally soft-launched our first print run in November 2017 at the Small Press Book Fair. Since beginning, we have definitely become more confident in the work we put out, and so are able to experiment more with the genres we publish and their formats. Our goal now is to create objects that are more integrated with the work they contain— to make small press that people will want to keep, collect, and continue to enjoy. The process has, first and foremost, taught us that small press is so much work. It’s much more time-consuming than expected, but we are happy to put in that time to create beautiful pieces of art and literature.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

Our love of literature has obviously been foundational, and both of us had always intended to pursue publishing or writing. Stephanie, a self-proclaimed book nerd, enjoys the freedom and creativity that comes with working in small press which isn’t afforded in many other traditional careers. Mia was introduced to publishing through the Ottawa Arts Review while in university, and discovered her love for the behind-the-scenes aspect of poetry.

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

-      to publish thought-provoking and interesting material
-      to support other small presses and local artists and writers
-      to push boundaries in publishing and reading culture
-      to peak the curiosity of people outside the normal sphere of poetry

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

One unique aspect of Coven is that we have tried to challenge ourselves and our submitters with new formats, themed call-outs, and stylistic variance. While we’re certainly not the only press to do so, it allows us to individualize the work we publish.

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

We’ve tried to accept manuscripts from up-and-coming writers, who are active in the poetry community. This does a lot to build our reputation as an accessible publisher. Once we’ve secured and edited a manuscript, it goes something like this:

Step 1: drink wine
Step 2: order lots of paper
Step 3: cancel paper order and buy local (oops)
Step 4: buy more wine
Step 5: start folding

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

This truly depends on the work. For the most part, we’re light-handed editors, but have in the past offered edits and revisionary notes. If a new writer is excited to work with us, we’re usually happy to put in the necessary editorial work to solidify their voice. However, with chapbook manuscripts, most of the editing process is in formatting, ordering, layouts, etc.

7 – How do your chapbooks and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

We distribute from our online store ( and in person at readings, launch events, small press fairs, and craft fairs. Coven’s print runs are fairly small, from 40-100 copies of each work. 100 turned out to be very ambitious, and we’ll likely not do that again soon.

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?

Coven is a two-woman operation, with the generous help of our friends when it comes to book assembly.

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

Stephanie: having only been published in contests and collections, it has made me think more about the quality of work I want to put out into the world. Also, it has helped me realize that there are myriad options when it comes to publishing, and not just the traditional large-scale publishing route. Especially as a prose-writer, small press is an exciting new venue to explore.

Mia: editing others’ manuscripts has definitely made me think of my own work in groups and categories more than before. I’ve also become hyper-aware of formatting and how a poem will look concretely on a page. Coming from a literary studies background, viewing my own work as an artifact is a big shift in approach when it comes to sitting down and 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 Presseditors 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?

Stephanie: I am pro-self-publication. Although I haven’t done it yet, I see it as an opportunity to get a foot in the door. It’s a chance to expand the possibility of becoming more active and serious with my own writing, and of getting work read by the public.

Mia: I am anti-self-publication. If I weren’t on Coven, it’s exactly the kind of press I would want to submit my work to, but I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable editing my own work unbiasedly and objectively.

Ultimately, we consider this more a matter of personal preference than a hard-and-fast small press rule.

11– How do you see Coven Editions evolving?

Hopefully, we’ll be funded! We want to be able to do as much as we can locally and, if possible, ourselves. But, that means putting in the time and effort to select quality materials to create our publications, and also no longer outsourcing our printing, which is a substantial cost. With more resources, we can continue to publish more marginalized voices that may not be heard in mainstream publications. In the future, we want to think about special editions of past publications, maybe expanding our operation to more people, and we’ve also discussed branching into online publishing.

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?

Our proudest accomplishment is definitely producing such a high-quality publication as Places to Hide as our very first chapbook. We experimented with papers, styles, genre, and layout in this work, and set an extremely high bar for ourselves and our future publications. The sheer amount of time, effort, and energy that went into manifesting that chapbook was monumental. That effort is probably the aspect of small press that is the most overlooked; when people see a broadside, no matter how it looks, they don’t see the hours of planning and execution that were required. Unanimously, our biggest frustration is ordering paper. There must be an easier way!!

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

Canthius’s ethos of being women-run and for women was a big influence on our goals starting out, but we knew we wanted to end up making chapbooks. As far as our physical publications, we were inspired by the attention to detail and craftsmanship of Apt. 9, especially in broadsides which are often woefully neglected. Others we looked at were Puddles of Sky, shreeking violet, In\Words chapbooks, baseline press, battleaxe and other local makers.

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

As a press, we try to be present at fellow publishers’ launches and events, and to support emerging writers in the Ottawa scene. It’s so important to us to be supportive of other small presses, if not with our presence, then by cross-promoting events and new releases. We’d probably place ourselves in conversation with other women-led presses such as Gap Riot and Canthius (whom we have had the pleasure of working with). Going forward, we’ll have the resources and experience to collaborate more actively with other small presses.

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

We hold 2-3 events per year, corresponding roughly to new work, and featuring the writer whose work we are launching. Not only do these events allow us to see new and emerging poets, it gives us the chance to meet many of our submitters face-to-face. Furthermore, events engage would-be submitters who might not be confident enough to reach out through our website or through a submission.

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

We have a fairly strong online presence that we use as a point of convergence to share all our new work. Keeping people in the loop through social media such as instagram, twitter, facebook, and our website, allows us to communicate with our readership and community. Furthermore, the website allows our work to reach a wider audience through promotion and through our web store than we would be able to ourselves.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what arent you looking for?

We take submissions occasionally, and often our call-outs are themed in some way, whether in terms of genre or form. Generally, we’re open to publishing a wide variety of forms and have only completely turned down things that go against our values and what we represent as a press. Obviously, we won’t publish work that promotes hate, bigotry, violence, etc. However, we also are trying to stay away from work that is overly traditional, or that operates within a formulaic structure.

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

On Halloween 2018, we launched six new titles, three broadsides (by Conyer Clayton, Jessica Robinson, and dalton derkson), as well as three mini-chaps. The three chapbooks were:

Shards - Frances Boyle
This chapbook is the first prose piece we’ve published, so that was an exciting milestone for the press. Frances’s work is some of our favourite, and she has been a constant supporter of Coven Editions since our inception. It was also a joy to have her come and read this piece at our Halloween launch party.

The Winchesters - Rachel Fernandes
As close friends of Rachel, it was such a privilege to publish her work and bring it to life in this format. It came out exactly as we had both envisioned it; from the font to the spacing to the cover, this book definitely did justice to its contents.

Three Movements - Laurie Koensgen
Laurie’s work immediately spoke to us when we received her submission for our haunted” themed call-out as this piece suited it perfectly. Since we were unfamiliar with her previous work, it was such a pleasure to read for the first time, and to meet Laurie at the launch as well.

These three publications showcased our ability to individualize our work and make manifest the ideas we have for each piece. One thing that was extremely rewarding making these chapbooks was learning how to do linocut printing for all of the covers. We designed, cut, and printed all of the covers ourselves and through trial and error ended up with unique designs for each piece. Furthermore, since the submissions call-out was themed, but also broadened to include fiction, we received a wide variety of work that surpassed any possible expectations we had. The most difficult part was choosing what we liked the most.

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