Indie Spotlight: Etruscan Press

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Etruscan Press began in 2001, founded by Philip Brady, Robert Mooney and Steve Oristaglio, who currently serve as Executive Director, Executive Editor, and Business Advisor. Housed at Wilkes University and partnered with Youngstown State in Ohio, Etruscan is probably best known for poetry (three titles have been chosen as National Book Award finalists and other collections have earned a lengthy list of accolades), but Etruscan also publishes a complete range of rich and varied literature. Novels, memoir, short story and essay collections, criticism, translation, and anthologies all have found their way onto Etruscan’s list.

In 2015 alone, Etruscan is putting out Cannot Stay by Kevin Oderman, a collection of travel essays to destinations that are common, uncommon, and even imagined; a gritty coming-of-age memoir, Crave, by Laurie Jean Cannady; and Poems and Their Making: A Conversation, an anthology “moderated” by Philip Brady and described as “a collection of original poems and essays by a diverse cast of inter-connected contemporary American poets, delving into the origin and development of poetic thought, line, and structure.”

Finally, Etruscan is publishing three collections of poetry this year, most notably The Other Sky, a collaboration between poet Bruce Bond and visual artist Aron Wiesenfeld that will surely show up on a number of “best of” lists by the end of this year. For Ploughshares, Executive Director and poet Philip Brady will share how the press achieves its mission of producing a “body of work in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, criticism, and translation [that] subverts traditional boundaries and manifests the impulses beneath conventional modes.”

KF: Etruscan’s catalogue describes the press as devoted to “producing and promoting books that nurture a dialogue among genres and cultures,” yet your list of titles share such a contemplative and careful approach to both subject matter and precision of language that it seems every Etruscan title could be called poetry. What do you think makes a manuscript uniquely Etruscan? Does genre matter all that much to you over aesthetics?

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Indie Spotlight: McPherson & Company

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McPherson & Company began with a simple mission just over 40 years ago. Bruce McPherson was enamored of his friend Jaimy Gordon’s manuscript Shamp of the City-Solo, so when Gordon was unable to find a publisher, he decided to put it out himself. While he didn’t intend to continue in the publishing world, the novel’s success convinced him otherwise.

McPherson has since put out two more of Gordon’s novels, including 2010’s National Book Award Winner Lord of Misrule, as well as more than a hundred fifty award-winning and best-selling titles that expand far beyond the realm of contemporary fiction.

McPherson & Co. now publishes translations, such as Divine Punishment by Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, which Carlos Fuentes lauded as “the quintessential Central American novel,” and a fantastic line of “Recovered Classics,” republishing authors whose work has been long out of print, including modernist writer Mary Butts and poet and essayist Edward Dahlberg. Plus, there are books on art and culture, belles lettres, and even some esoteric film DVDs of early art “happenings” by Claes Oldenberg.

Almost as impressive as McPherson & Co.’s wide range of offerings is the company’s support of independent bookstores. McPherson carefully manages its distribution, sending titles to independent bookstores weeks before they’re available elsewhere, with the rationale that independent bookstores inevitably support “independent writers from independent publishers,” and deserve McPherson’s support in return.

For Ploughshares readers and authors, McPherson shares how he’s remained independent these four decades, what he looks for in a McPherson title, and where McPherson is headed in the 21st century.

KF: McPherson has had an amazing run since its inception as Treacle Press in 1974. It’s almost a given at this point that every year a McPherson title will win national recognition, whether it’s an Independent Publisher IPPY award, a Pen Center or National Book Award, or inclusion on any number of “best of” lists. What editorial decisions regarding manuscripts do you think contribute to this level of excellence?

BM: It may sound pretentious to say that I simply publish books that seem to me important and worth sharing. But as an independent publisher, without directors and shareholders, I’m free to take risks that others perhaps can’t. I go for the best I can find (or who find me), and throw everything I’ve got behind the books I choose to do. It’s not really all that hard these days to find material of the highest quality. The Big Six still publish excellent books, of course, but seem to have relinquished entire provinces of literature to smaller publishers. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to meet and become friends with writers not only from around the country, but from around the world. Add to this that it’s not uncommon for my authors to point their friends in my direction. Sadly, the front list is very small, three or four books a year. I can’t begin to take on all the books I’d like to publish, and it’s painful having to disappoint authors whose work I revere. At the Book Expo America the other day, a Canadian publisher said he thought we’re living in a golden age of literary publishing. I believe him; the difficulty comes with convincing the reading public.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Brighthorse Books

blog brighthorseHaving published their inaugural titles in 2015, Brighthorse Books is a brand-spanking new venture from novelists Jonis Agee and Brent Spencer. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the press currently considers poetry, short fiction, and novel manuscripts through its annual Brighthorse Prize. By utilizing print-on-demand technology, Brighthorse also offers authors a 50/50 split on net book-sale profits, which, as most starving writers know, is pretty darn sweet.

More importantly, Brighthorse Books has hit the ground running with its initial trio of prize-winning titles. The novel Leaving Milan, by Elizabeth Oness, shares the quiet and powerful story of Harper Canaday, a young woman with more strikes against her than she deserves, who desires nothing more than a better life than the one she sees out her apartment window in a depressed Midwestern town. Rick Christman gives us Searching for Mozart, a collection of poetry both straightforward and poignant exploring the pain that lingers when a soldier returns home from Vietnam.

Maggie Boylan “a spiky little burned-out sparkler of a woman,” stars in Michael Henson’s The Way the World Is, a devastating short fiction collection about the incestuous relationship between local law enforcement and drug dealers as well as the clients they both share—hapless and resourceful addicts, of which Maggie is queen. Henson’s collection is easily the best fictional account of the widespread meth and Oxy wreckage in Appalachia since Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.

The reading period for all three contests began on February 19, and Brighthorse will remain open for submissions until August 16, 2015, so you can enter nowFor Ploughshares, Brent Spencer explains the genesis of Brighthorse, what goes on behind the scenes, plus their plans for expansion in the future.

Kate Flaherty: The first question for any new independent press has to be why? What made the two of you agree to take the plunge into publishing?

Brent Spencer: Over the years, as writers and as teachers of creative writing, we’ve seen many manuscripts that should be published but don’t always find their way into print. At a certain point, we looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we publish them?” We’d each had experience as editors, and I ran a university press for several years, so we thought that, together, we might have the necessary skillset. We also wanted to find a way to give our graduate students in creative writing real-world experience as editors.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Unbridled Books

imgresUnbridled Books was founded in 2003 by co-publishers Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson, who together have more than 50 years experience in publishing plus a terrific track record for finding and promoting literary fiction that sells in the commercial market. Self-described as an independent publisher focused on producing books that are “moving, beautiful, and surprising,” Unbridled’s list is an international patchwork of well-told tales set everywhere from Cuba to Iceland to Afghanistan, as well as America coast-to-coast. For the Ploughshares blog, Ramey and Michalson share the secrets of their indie success as well as what makes a writer Unbridled.

KF: While your press publishes stories from across the country and around the globe, what seems to bind Unbridled books together is a life-affirming humanity. Even in the inherent tragedy of Solveig Eggerz’s World War II-era novel Seal Woman or in the dark criminal underworld of Ed Falco’s Toughs, for example, there exists a spirit of hope and survival that can be difficult to find in these cynical times. What attracts you, as editors, to these types of novels? 

GM: I don’t mind dark, but I’m not much interested in “despair and die.” I’ll leave that to other publishers. If a reader is going to invest the time and energy into a book I publish I’d prefer there was some pay-off that affirms something about the world. Writing, after all, is in the end a hopeful enterprise. 

FR: We’ve published a good many novels that go to dark places in the heart, but I think you’re right. We’re probably less interested in novels that are all razors and needles. It seems we’re drawn more to the story that is finally in some way affirming and that knows full well why and how it got there. This isn’t a question of our being—or the authors’ being—idealistic.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Leapfrog Press

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Leapfrog Press began in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in 1993 as the brainchild of writers Marge Piercy and Ira Wood, whose initial goal was providing an outlet for literary fiction overlooked by the big New York houses. While Piercy has served as judge for Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest, the press currently is in the hands of Managing Editor Lisa Graziano and Acquisitions Editor Rebecca Schwab. Now based out of Fredonia, New York—in storied Chautauqua County on the shores of Lake Erie—Leapfrog’s list has moved on as well. In addition to literary fiction by both new and established writers, Leapfrog publishes a smattering of nonfiction and poetry and a diverse list of middle grade and YA fiction.

What makes Leapfrog stand out as an independent press is their refreshing lack of fear when it comes to compartmentalization. Despite publishing a small number of titles per year, they’ve put out everything from mysteries to memoir, science fiction to how-to, hardboiled exposé to tender and poignant story collections. When Leapfrog says they simply want “writing that expands our webs of connection with other humans and the natural world; books that illuminate our complexities,” they really mean it.

For Ploughshares, Lisa Graziano helps readers understand the why and how of their editorial decisions, provides details on Leapfrog’s annual fiction contest (deadline is May 1!) and gives the inside scoop on Leapfrog’s future.

KF: From Mary Malloy’s historical fiction/mysteries, starring adventurous academic Lizzie Manning, whose expertise and mettle could put even Indiana Jones to shame, to Michael Mirolla’s fascinating and frightening sci-fi tale The Facility, where the future is filled with Mussolini clones, to Li Miao Lovett’s powerful novel In the Lap of the Gods, set in China during the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam project, Leapfrog’s list is wonderfully quirky. What qualities do your divergent titles share? What marketing challenges does this wide range of titles bring you?

LG: Good storytelling first, and we do like quirky, as you put it. But our books share a few themes to which we are partial. Many have a grounding in science, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Some are based in important cultural and/or historical questions, whether or not they are “historical.” We don’t perceive these themes as separate. They tend to run together in many our books. Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Ampersand Books

imgresFounded by Jason Cook, Ampersand Books is the epitome of publishing in the twenty-first century—brash, fresh, and aggressive. Ampersand, and its imprint Bloody Fine Chapbooks, have moved at a breakneck pace on a shoestring budget to produce a list of books thick with dark wordplay and wry humor. From the haunting (and haunted) poetry chapbook Ear to the Wall by Carrie Causey, to the clever collection When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother by Melissa Broder, to Roberto Montes’ funny and frightening I Don’t Know Do You (just named one of the “best, most original poetry books of the year” by NPR), Ampersand hit the ground running in 2009 and hasn’t looked back. For Ploughshares, Jason Cook divulges a secret or two of Ampersand’s success and what he sees as Ampersand’s place in the literary landscape of the future.

Kate Flaherty: Ampersand’s manuscript submission process—where you only consider manuscripts from authors whose work has appeared in your magazine, Ampersand Review—seems supremely practical. What were the grounds for this process? Does it make Ampersand’s inbox slightly more manageable?

Jason Cook: The inspiration for that process is, essentially, laziness. I knew that if I wound up in a staring match with a stack of unread manuscripts, I’d almost immediately surrender and go play on Facebook for 3 hours. Engaging in a conversation with a writer whose poem or story you just published is a whole different thing than reading yet another query letter, and usually you can give a “nay” or “maybay” before seeing it.

I think it also makes writers feel a little more comfortable about pitching me books that don’t exist yet. I don’t think many indie publishers do that, but I’m having fun shaping these books as they emerge.

KF: While distinctive from one another, Ampersand titles share a certain air of cynicism tinged with nostalgia for a world that never was. Ampersand’s fiction titles are particularly melancholy—for example the wistful snapshots that make up Joseph Riippi’s The Orange Suitcase or the exhausting psychological paralysis of Spencer Dew’s Here Is How It Happens. Explain this Ampersand worldview.

JC: Since the editorial staff is composed of exactly me, I guess that’s just what I like. I like books with a broken heart, but with enough self-awareness to wonder whether it matters.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Queen’s Ferry Press

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Queen’s Ferry Press, based out of Plano, Texas, since 2011, is the brainchild of Erin McKnight. While it’s hardly the first independent press with the lofty goal of printing and promoting the best literary fiction, in just a few short years Queen’s Ferry has managed to attract an impressive stable of writers at the top of their fiction game—Sherrie Flick, Sarah Van Arsdale, and Phong Nguyen to name a few. As Queen’s Ferry has grown its catalog, it has garnered awards and accolades along the way for its wonderfully eclectic range of titles. Queen’s Ferry ventures also include the imprint firthFORTH, which publishes fiction chapbooks, and The Best Small Fictions, an annual anthology compiling the best short fiction in a calendar year. The inaugural collection, to be published in 2015, will be guest edited by Robert Olen ButlerTara L. Masih will serve as series editor.

Publisher Erin McKnight shares with Ploughshares the key to Queen’s Ferry’s success, and what’s in store for readers and writers in the New Year.

Ploughshares: Between Queen’s Ferry and firthFORTH, you’ve published more than two dozen attractively produced and well-received books in the past three years, with no sign of slow-down. Both presses also accept submissions year-round. How do you do it?

Erin McKnight: As trite as it sounds, I enjoy the work. The press is deeply personal, so emotional investment is high; making a manuscript into a book feeds my soul as well as my career ambition. Within the past few months, the masthead has also filled out—we now have marketing, editorial, reading, and social media roles—which has made my job far easier; it took me a long time to accept help, but this assistance was worth the wait.Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Hobblebush Books

hobblebushtypecaseHobblebush Books, founded in 1991 by author, editor and publisher Sidney Hall, Jr., is a small press in southern New Hampshire known best for its Granite State Poetry Series and its eclectic list of prose titles. While its poetry series only publishes authors who live in or have a strong connection to New Hampshire—most recent titles are the dark and playful Talismans by Maudelle Driskell and Falling Ashes by James Fowler, a collection primarily of haiku and haibun on “war and love and the rest”—prose offerings are slightly more wide-ranging.

For prose at Hobblebush you’ll find Poor Richard’s Lament, a fascinating novel by Tom PRL_DJFitzgerald exploring the what-if scenario of Benjamin Franklin plunked into the twenty-first century; you’ll discover Creating the Peaceable Classroom by Sandy Bothmer, a wellness guide for educators, parents and students; and finally, you can pick from an assortment of memoirs that take you anywhere from the top of Mount Washington to the ports of New Orleans and Nova Scotia to the plains of East Africa.

For the Ploughshares blog, Sidney Hall, Jr. discusses Hobblebush’s mission, acquisitions, and its increasing public presence in the region (let’s just say they have a reputation for throwing great readings).

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Indy Spotlight: Engine Books

UnknownBased in Indianapolis, Indiana, Engine Books specializes in fiction—novels, novellas, and short-story collections—and the press is also home to the annual Engine Books Novel Prize. Engine Books was founded by publisher and editor Victoria Barrett in 2011, and both she and Andrew Scott, who directs Engine Books’ young adult imprint Lacewing Books, are fiction writers themselves.

Between these two endeavors, Engine Books publishes six titles per year. Recently, the press started an ambitious Indiegogo fundraising campaign with the goal of quadrupling the number of titles published, expanding staff, and establishing salaries for an editorial and marketing team that has essentially worked for free since it all began just a few years ago.

For the Ploughshares blog, editors Barrett and Scott share how the campaign is going, what kinds of manuscripts they’re looking for, and what their vision is for the future of Engine Books.Continue Reading

Indy Spotlight: Paris Press

Muriel Rukeyser

Muriel Rukeyser

During the war, we felt the silence in the policy of the governments of English-speaking countries. That policy was to win the war first, and work out the meanings afterward. The result was, of course, that the meanings were lost. You cannot put these things off. One of the invitations of poetry is to come to the emotional meanings at every moment.

—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry

imagesParis Press began almost twenty years ago with the simple mission of resurrecting Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, a collection of essays originally published in 1949 that explore how resistance to poetry is connected to the modern world’s fear of individual thought and emotion, which then lends itself to a world that seems ever more fractured and confusing.

Over the years, Paris Press continued to publish works by Rukeyser as well as other women writers who had “been overlooked by commercial and independent publishers,” and these books immediately began earning attention from national publications including thelifeofpoetry New Yorker and New York Times Book Review, along with features on programs like NPR’s Fresh Air.

Paris Press publishes all genres by women writers from all over the map, but every text—whether poetry, play, or prose—deeply explores and illuminates those “emotional meanings” Rukeyser describes as essential to confronting and defying a world that remains as chaotic and volatile as it was in 1949.

bosniaelegiesToday, Paris Press is on the brink of several new developments: a more comprehensive website and blog launching this summer; a new award for a short story collection that will include publication by Paris Press; and an increased focus on educational outreach. Jan Freeman, poet and Executive Director of Paris Press, shares what’s in store for readers, authors, and educators.

Q: Due to backlog, Paris Press is not currently accepting new manuscripts. When will the press once again be opening the floodgates?

houdiniA: That’s about to change. We are just finishing updating our website for the press, and the new and improved site will be launched by the end of July. With the launch, we’ll be expanding our programming. We’ll include a blog, we’ll start publishing individual works by writers—both contemporary as well as writers from earlier time periods—and we’ll be accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for our online site. We also will soon begin accepting book-length submissions online, so we’re joining the twenty-first century. The Internet opens things up in an exciting way that Paris Press is now embracing.Continue Reading