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Jun 17, 2013, 8:10 PM

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Poets & Writers

Los Angeles Literary Roundtable Meeting

"Meet the Presses and Lit Mags"

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Ruskin Art Club



PRESENT

Erika Ayon
Neelanjana Benergee, Kaya Press
Laurel Ann Bogen
Sean Carswell, Gorsky Press
Olga Garcia Echeverria, KIWA
Jamie FitzGerald, Poets & Writers
Hannah Huff, CSULB
Erica Jamieson
Keith Jeffreys, US Veterans Artists Alliance
Stefan Karlsson, UCLA
Cheryl Klein, Poets & Writers
Barbara Lodge
Mary Menzel, CA Center for the Book
Bill Mohr, CSULB/Momentum Press
Kevin Mosby, UCLA
JAX NTP, CSULB
Molly Ouanes
Mel Rey
Russ Rubin
S. Pearl Sharp
Sally Shore, New Short Fiction Series and Lit Crawl L.A.
Laura Simko, Silk Road Review
Merna Skinner
Mike Sonksen, Cal State LA/KCET
Imani Tolliver
Conney D. Williams, The World Stage
Lara Wisniewski, novelist/art critic


GUEST SPEAKERS

Diana Arterian, Gold Line Press
Billy Goldstein, Red Hed Press/The Los Angeles Review
Sunyoung Lee, Kaya Press
Crissy van Meter, Five [Quarterly]
Andrew Wessels, The Offending Adam and Les Figues Press

MODERATOR: CHERYL KLEIN

Q: Where do you see your publications fitting into the literary landscape?

Billy: Red Hen is 20 years old, started as a poetry press, and evolved into a general trade publisher. We publish a lot of LA authors and writers all over the world, and growing.

Diana: Gold Line has an annual competition. We publish people early in their career. The imprint Ricochet allows a space for more interesting stuff outside of the norm. We are a stepping stone.

Andrew: Les Figues grew out of a conversation about literature. No one would publish these conversations, so the press was started. The Offending Adam is promoting a conversation as well, and grew out of relationships that began in LA. We all moved away and now are coming back. The journal and press have LA as a physical location, and attempt to bring LA to the world and the world to LA.

Sunyoung: Kaya Press has a focus on Asian diasporic literature. We’ve been around about 20 years promoting Asian writers that otherwise wouldn't be heard because they are too experimental or outside the mainstream. It's been interesting to see how the publishing landscape has changed. There’s more room for people outside the mainstream. That Kaya continues to exist is one of the signs of the flowering of publishing culture, particularly in LA. For many years we were in NYC. We came here and are excited to promote LA as an exciting place for publishing culture—more horizontally oriented, less hierarchical.

Crissy: At Five [Quarterly], we're interested in editorial process and constantly rotating editors. We started in NYC and are celebrating our first year. We asked: How can we get the community involved? We started recruiting editors. We have a list of editors who want to be involved. It's nice to be in LA because there's a whole new scene here, great guest editors.

Q: While small presses have traditionally been an outlet for voices and styles you don't see at large publishing houses, mainstream publishing has been suffering financially and there is a lot of consolidation. What's the effect on smaller presses? Are people who were midlist writers becoming small press writers? Has this changed the type of submissions you receive?

Diana: I've gotten some really remarkable work from big names. I don't know if they're correlated. I wonder if it's because the chapbook is a unique medium. It's smaller; everything supposed to be talking to each other.

Andrew: Bigger and mid-size presses getting rid of the midlist is actually freeing for writers who don't want to be pop stars. You can write a book that is the book you want to write and not the books that an agent or editor wants you to write. At the smaller presses you know there's going to be a certain aesthetic quality or tone. It frees writers to take more risks, creates more interesting books. There may be a loss of readership, but you gain a more effective readership.

Billy: Midlist authors becoming small press authors--that's happening to us. Authors, who ten years ago would have been signed to a larger house, are having conversations with us now. We have the opportunity to publish a lot of things that wouldn't have been a Red Hen book 10 years ago. Kate[Gale] likes to say there's an opportunity to rewrite the margins between big and small publisher.

Sunyoung: We don't base a decision on how much money we are going to make on a book. We think of ourselves as a launching pad for smaller authors. Now things have changed. The authors who started with Kaya and have published with a big publisher come back to us, for a degree of attention, because we are a partner in the process as we go along. I think that's the reason why some folks who've left Kaya for larger houses have come back.

Crissy: The submissions we get for the chapbook contest are getting greater and greater. People are more open to other avenues to publish their work.

Q: Biggest challenges? Most exciting opportunities?

Crissy: We are digital and that's still a challenge in terms of getting that cult following. It takes time to build the momentum of people. The space I'm in is very crowded with MFAs. The big thing coming up is we are getting funding to publish chapbooks and books in the future. The challenges and opportunities are having a digital marketing scheme, developing a following, and figuring out how to take advantage of a crowded space.

Andrew: The hurdle is capital—money and time. Very few organizations have a staff, much less a paid staff that's beyond one part-time person. The biggest opportunity is the internet, social marketing, and access to a global network and readership that was not available a few years ago. It's a lot easier for people to find you. As a small press you are marginalized—you have to exist in the margins—but you can really get a readership.

Diana: Because we're associated with USC’s PhD program, there’s a lot of nuts-and-bolts admin stuff. It's a huge business, and we're a tiny part of a giant machine. But we're grateful for USC and the program. I'm editor-in-chief, which is a rotating position for PhD students. I'm mostly excited about the imprint Ricochet, and I'll continue running it after my time at Gold Line. We go through the slush pile of Gold Line submissions and label things "imprint” and have those writers submit again if we think maybe this is something really brilliant that still needs work. We work extensively with our writers and edit the hell out of things. I'm most excited about getting in there and working with the writer to make something really impressive.

Sunyoung: It is a pain in the ass to publish books. Much less for the diminutive returns. It's a terrible world for making money. But the thing I'm most excited about is being in LA in the presence of these presses and magazines that are trying to do something new, and the potential for collaboration. We have a space at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books dedicated to independent literary publishing, where we try to get people to engage with indie lit culture via participatory programs, interactive stuff with the audience. We are working with Writ Large Press and The Last Bookstore to pool resources . My ambition is to make LA the lit capitol of the world. My passion is to build something here.


AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

Q: Have you ever used Kickstarter?

Andrew: Les Figues used it for an anthology. It was very successful.

Billy: We haven't yet. And that's all I have to say about that.

Crissy: We've thought about it. Other friends have used it successfully. We would need more than publishing one issue.

Diana: Our income is from the competition. The reading fee is how we are able to fund things.

Andrew: The Offending Adam has an annual print project. We fund it through pre-orders at a slight discount before it comes out. It covers our printing and production costs.

Q: Can you talk about fees for writing competitions?

Diana: The contest covers printing and shipping costs. No one on our team gets paid. Our award is $500 which is covered by the program.

Andrew: On Saturday Les Figues starts our 3rd annual contest. The first two winners were people we didn't know beforehand. It's a great opportunity to add to your list. We get to expand our catalogue and read hundreds of writers. If it's not a contest system we don't have the time and ability to read 400 submissions in another context.

Craig Santos Perez has a great blog post where he broke down how contest fees get used through his experience with Omnidawn [http://craigsantosperez.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/putting-the-test-back-into-the-poetry-contest/]. The big question is: How is that money going to be used? There's suspicion that it's going into someone's pocket. Most presses are still losing money, but at some point might break even.

Diana: I like it when you submit and get a copy of the book.

Q: Small journals are dependent on what comes to them, but if they were a little more proactive, they could solicit more. How do you differentiate yourself in that sea [of literary magazines]? Do you have a 10-word sentence that differentiates you as a product?

Crissy: For us, it was changing the way publishing works. The gimmick for us is our five rotating guest editors. They do marketing and promotion. After five issues, our network gets bigger and bigger. We built in our marketing.

Andrew: That was the first quest we asked at The Offending Adam. Why are we doing this? What do we want to do? To create a space that initiated a conversation between writer and reader. The standard journal is a big thick thing that comes out one or two times per year. If there’s an editorial note, it’s about one paragraph. Stuff that's not given context is taken out of context. With the online space we created a weekly journal publishing one author per week with an intro by the editor that selected the work. We publish multiple poems and allow the work to take up greater space. It allows entryways and exits from the work. It helped us to build a readership. It's a lot of luck too.

Diana: As a submitter, if there's a poet I love and I find them in a journal, I think I should submit there. Even if it's a journal I haven't heard of. Being aggressive about soliciting is really important.

Q: What is your relationship with the NEA, either positive or negative, and SPD? How do they affect you?

Sunyoung: We also have another distributor besides SPD, but SPD is our first distributor. They've continued to be a wonderful outlet for us. We've received funding periodically from the NEA. When we were in NYC, we got funding from NYSCA. NEA funding is a vitamin shot. If you're in there long enough, you'll get to know the people. My understanding is that they are looking to make bigger grants. I don't know how easy it is for smaller presses to get grants. SPD continues to be at the forefront for getting books out there.

Billy: SPD was also Red Hen’s first distributor. Now we are with the University of Chicago Press distributor. But SPD was hugely important for us. They are your first crack at national distribution. Before that, you're in your garage, you're doing stuff yourself on Amazon. It's important to have someone else do all that stuff.

We've been funded pretty consistently by the NEA. My sense is that for the NEA, you have be in an established position already and fit their guidelines. I think the smallest grants are around $10,000. You're not getting the kind of seed money, $3 and $5K, which used to happen.

Andrew: We love SPD. Sign up with their newsletter, consider joining. They're not just a distributor; they are a literary organization. They do readings, events, take small presses to book fairs that we would not be able to afford otherwise. Every month they select a small press as a press of the month and sell a book at a discount. They do so much for small presses.

Q: My work ends up being mixed genre. I have the challenge of submitting it. How do you feel when you get something that might have a running a theme, but has poems and short prose? Do you read it as confused?

Also, I grew up between two languages. My work reflects that with mixing of languages. What do you do about that? Do you look at that kind of work? Are there people on your staff who are able to? I get overwhelmed looking in Poets & Writers magazine. I end up circling the few Latino presses that I know will be open, but I want to get my work in other places.

Diana: Mixed media is totally fine. The poetry and fiction competitions are limiting. Ricochet has calls for alternative genres--lyric essays, translations. If the reader is able to get the overall meaning, I don't think it would be a problem.

Andrew: NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) is Les Figues’ contest name. That pretty much says it all. We seek out hybridized genre, genre-busting.

Q: Are there more agents calling you? Is that an issue?

Billy: There are definitely more agents calling us. They can be difficult to deal with. The volume of submissions we get is so huge, having an agent say look this is good, is sometimes helpful. But it's a mix and a balance.

Q: How did you go about starting your press or lit mag?

Crissy: We finished our MFAs. We both worked on respective magazines at our different schools. We were confused at why it's complicated to publish. It's been us two and an intern in London, who reads with us through the slush pile. We use social media constantly to expand. We started with no one reading us and a website. For the last issue we had 20,000 page views—through social media, a reading series in NY and upcoming in LA, plus guest editors. For the last year, it's been a second full-time job that we do together on the side. That's the bare bones.

Q: Do you make revenue and how would an online journal make revenue?

Crissy: We can have ads, but have decided we don't want to do that. We're hosting our first contest now—an e-chapbook contest—we can't afford to print the book, but we are letterpressing broadsides and awarding a $100 prize. We did this without knowing if we'd break even with a $5 fee. We don't have any revenue. How do we expand? We are trying to figure out if we have to print something to make money.

Andrew: We do the Chapvelope which pays for itself and the web hosting. The sales pay for our AWP table and maybe lunch. It allows the journal to be a zero cost.


ANNOUNCEMENTS

Lit Crawl L.A. is October 23. We have five venues confirmed, and are hoping to have seven in the NoHo arts district. In the next few weeks, we’ll be reaching out to individual presenters—presses and organizations—to take part. Contact: infolosangeles@litcrawl.org. For presentational content, take a look at what's been done in other cities; think fun, bars, and good times.


END


Cheryl Klein, Director California Office and Readings/Workshops (West), Poets & Writers, Inc.

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