Wednesday, April 21, 2021

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Michele Nicole Vanderwal and Michelle Arnett on Rose Garden Press

Rose Garden Press is a new micropress (founded in 2020), based in small town Mount Brydges, Ontario. They publish handcrafted poetry chapbooks from new and rooted voices, aiming to publish 3-5 titles per year. They accept all forms of poetry, though they favour unexpected metaphors and rich imagery. They accept additional types of narrative devices, including stream of consciousness, belles lettres, and work that includes an artistic element.

Michele Nicole Vanderwal has self-published two collections of poetry,
Touch Consciousness (Lulu, 2014) and the bird bath poems (Rose Garden Press, 2020). She currently resides in Mount Brydges as the Publisher and co-founder of Rose Garden Press.

Michelle Arnett resides in London, Ontario and is a co-founder of Rose Garden Press, through which she self-published a collection of poetry, the bird bath poems (2020). Recently, her poetry has also been published by Canthius (2021). She holds a Master’s of Library and Information Science from Western University.

1 – When did Rose Garden 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?

Press musings began November 2019 in a pub after attending an exhibit at Western’s McIntosh Gallery, called “Publishing Against the Grain.” We saw some really amazing independent publications (including some of Karen Schindler’s Baseline titles) and were astonished by the quality and attention to detail that these artists/publishers were putting into their books—their passion was obvious and manifested beautifully in these perfectly “imperfect” chapbooks. As long time writers, we decided we wanted to try our hand at crafting a chapbook of our own; along the way, we grew inspired to launch a press with the goal of publishing work from other writers as well.

I suppose the biggest lessons we’ve learned so far are the varied demands of the press, and the amount of diligent work that is required—everything from hunting down materials, creating promotional content, engaging on social media, the manufacturing process, as well as communicating with authors and taking part in different events. We were fortunate to meet with Karen Schindler (of Baseline) early on, and she provided a tremendous amount of guidance and support in a lot of these areas. Since then, we’ve started to find our footing, though of course there has been a lot of trial and error along the way—and a lot of paper lost to some initial blind confidence. 

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

Michele - After I self-published a collection of poetry in 2014, I fell in love with the processes of tweaking, formatting, and designing everything just so. This was before I had any direction in terms of what I wanted to pursue academically; but once I released this title I knew I wanted to study publishing and find work in the field. The route I took included finishing my BA in English and Cultural Studies at Huron University College and then taking Ryerson’s post-grad Publishing Certificate program. I also did an internship at Penguin Random House in Toronto, which opened me up to the many facets of trade publishing.

Michelle - There was always an inkling that I wanted to work in the realm of creative writing, or with books in some capacity—I’ve been writing since I was little and studied English and Philosophy in my undergrad. After that, I started Western’s Library and Information Science program, and it was really then that publishing was on my radar. In my classes, and during my co-op at Western Libraries, we talked quite a bit about the large publishing companies that have a monopoly on the majority of publications we come into contact with. I started to really appreciate the importance of independent publishing, and the open-access initiatives that were happening at the university. I think this ideological shift that seems to be happening—the prioritization of  accessibility and opening up channels of creativity/knowledge dissemination—is so inspiring and crucial to making sure the arts and other modes of knowledge transmission aren’t entirely consumed and dictated by profit motives.

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

I think it ties back into the last question—to be one of the many outlets that is open and accessible for people to write about their experiences in a way that feels most authentic to them, that might not have a home in traditional publications.

While each writer’s style is personal and complex in its own right, we love the idea of “authenticity” as being able to share from the realest/most vulnerable part of yourself, wherever you’re at, and to be able to learn and grow from this—both as a writer and also as someone reading the work. 

Ultimately, we want to create chapbooks that are as rewarding for us as publishers to craft, as they are for the author and reader to become fully immersed in.

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

Well, our start-up has been unconventional to say the least with publishing our own work as our first release. We really like the idea of each chapbook standing completely unique on its own—accomplished through the use of artistic//multimedia elements, and material choices specific to each author’s vision. The same goes for typesetting and formatting. For instance, our first chapbook included some artwork—a drawing, a postcard we transfused with text and a vector image of a birdcage, as well as marginal comments.

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

Diligence to promote—publishing work we’re genuinely passionate about makes that very easy. Also, getting involved in the literary community, showing up and building relationships with multiple and varied vendors, and other like-minded people in the community.

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

With our first title, we were quite critical in the editing stages because it was our own work and thus editing became a never-ending process. We would constantly find new ways to word an experience, a feeling—which I suppose is typical when editing one’s own work.

Poetry is a tricky genre to edit because there isn’t a clear “right or wrong” way to do it. It’s so fluid. With others’ work, we do go over it with the same attention to detail in the sense of  looking at every single line, but we’re also aware of each poem being personally crafted by the author. We’ll make a few suggestions but consciously try not to over-do it to the point of creating a completely different piece than what was intended.

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

Mostly through our website, but we have managed to sell a few copies through some local independent bookstores. We’re hoping as things progress and Covid eases, we’ll be able to  participate in more fairs and events, including Indie Media Fair and Meet the Presses. So far, we’ve been doing small print runs of 40 and going from there based on demand.

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?

Right now it’s just us doing the editing, design, production, etc. For our 2021 titles, we plan on working with some outside artists for some of the cover and interior artwork. We’d like to think our approach is very collaborative in the sense that we encourage the authors to have a significant say in how their books are designed. That being said, we each have a specific aesthetic that we’re partial to, so in the future we might get more serious about incorporating a few more sets of eyes to offer different perspectives.

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

I find it’s sometimes a struggle to focus on my writing when in the thick of working with other texts. It can be difficult making the transition from editing/ensuring clarity to letting the creative juices flow, and letting the “rules” drop in order to focus on my own ideas and their creative articulation. I’ve also done a fair bit of freelance editorial work and have found that after editing business documents or academic work, the brain processes involved don’t typically translate so well to poetry.

That being said, our experiences editing academic documents and working in that kind of headspace have also shaped how we write in an interesting way. And of course, working with other writers helps to inspire and keep the creative flame hot.

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?

Undoubtedly we are a bit biased as our first publication with the press was our own work (even though we didn’t necessarily start out with the intention of establishing a press when making our chapbook). However, we don’t have a big problem with this either—I think there’s a history of some great writers publishing their own (and their friends’) work. We admire the spirit of pushing back against large publishing entities, and creating for the sake of creating.

That being said, this can also be limiting if done as a shortcut to produce something in a bubble. We think it’s important to integrate yourself in the creative world outside of your immediate grasp and capabilities as well—there’s much to learn through collaboration and getting involved in the literary (and other creative) communities. These sorts of connections are enriching on both a personal and professional level.

11 – How do you see Rose Garden Press evolving?

We’d love to invest time and money into working with other printing techniques such as letterpress printing. Also learning more about different bookbinding techniques. We’re both big-picture thinkers, so we’re always dreaming and planning. We hope to grow our readership and continue to learn as we go. We’re always open to new ideas and experimenting with different ways of doing things—which, of course, is also shaped by the authors we’re working with and what they envision. 

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?

Since a lot of what we’ve done thus far has been the product of trial and error/experimentation, there are always lessons learned. For instance, we wasted a lot of our “fancy paper” on test prints when, in hindsight, we should’ve used draft paper. Frustrations have certainly included hiccups with technology and troubleshooting with equipment and techniques. We’re proud of persevering through the initial frustrations of setting everything up while simultaneously navigating the limitations of what we could feasibly accomplish—not being able to visit stores in-person to shop around for paper and equipment during a pandemic made our options semi-limited, though we’re happy with what we have done.

Initially we also struggled a bit with self-imposed expectations and some imposter syndrome—being a new press, we worried about being taken seriously and gaining traction. However, we received a lot of encouragement and guidance from other presses in our community, and were so warmly welcomed that these anxieties quickly subsided.

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

Undoubtedly Baseline Press as they were our first local connection. Also Gaspereau Press for their incredible letterpress projects and how willing they are to share their processes via social media. Same with Porcupine’s Quill—I love how they share so many insights into their publishing projects, showing their equipment and the “grit” of their processes as well. And Coach House Books, of course, too.

Each of them have qualities about them that inspire what we do, and also what we hope to be able to do in the future.

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

We’ve been involved in a number of different events/series—our initial launch with Baseline and 845 Press, for instance. We spoke at one of the London Writers Society monthly meetings, participated in TAP Centre for Creativity’s LOMP reading series earlier this year, and we’re also judging Western University’s Alfred Poynt Poetry Award. These conversations and experiences have been vital to get exposure, generate interest for future submissions, and establish a readership. Both Baseline and 845 Press have relayed so much invaluable information and support to us, from information on materials, equipment, contracts, etc. We’re so grateful for their time and support; we really feel this great spirit of knowledge sharing/imparting wisdom that is intrinsic to our local creative community. We hope to be able to pass on what we’ve learned to others in the future in the same way.

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

We’re planning to host a launch for the three authors we’re currently working with for our 2021 publication year. It will be happening in the fall, and depending on the state of the world, is anticipated to be online. Moving forward, we’re excited to take part in public readings and events—we see these as valuable and fun opportunities for both authors and audiences to interact with and share experiences/resources.

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

To be honest, neither of us are big on technology. That being said, we do use social media to engage with the community. Given pandemic limitations, social media admittedly has been an effective tool to expand our readership and a useful means to stay connected.

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

We accept submissions through email, though currently we are closed for submissions. We don’t like putting limits on the type of work that comes in, as we’re curious about sifting through what organically finds its way to us. Though, we’re not looking for content lacking in intricacy/complexity—we’re big fans of unexpected metaphors, as well as visceral and unique arrangements of thoughts. 

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

We absolutely cannot wait to share work from our 2021 authors: Andrew French (Vancouver), patti sinclair (Edmonton), and Laurie Koensgen (Ottawa). These authors have already done amazing things in their literary careers—between winning awards and previously publishing beautiful chapbooks. While all lovely writers in their own right, we also feel that when presented together, each author’s writing compliments the work of the others in a really fantastic way. And these titles are an especially big deal for us, as we’re taking everything we’ve learned from publishing our first book and hoping to hone in on the quality and attention to detail. We’re in the early stages of editing and design right now and soon will be looking into flyleaf and cover stock options—we’re very excited!

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

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