Piscataqua_River_Bridge_01Piscataqua Press is a unique publishing project operating out of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. RiverRun Bookstore, managed by Tom Holbrook, is a hub of the literary community north of Boston, hosting at least a hundred readings and events each year; Piscataqua Press, also managed by Holbrook, utilizes the latest print-on-demand technology to publish a variety of titles.

Along with a small selection of titles that were published via the traditional editorial process, such as Denis Lipman’s Striking Terror, a YA thriller set in the Middle East, and The Unquiet Daughter, a fascinating memoir by Danielle Flood, “a New York journalist, born of the true wartime love triangle that inspired the one in Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American,” Piscataqua also publishes a handful of classics, plus “pay to publish” titles that run the gamut from children’s books to poetry to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. In addition, Piscataqua operates a book prize that changes genre yearly—in 2016 the press accepted entries for novels—with a reading fee of $50.

For Ploughshares, Tom Holbrook shares his motivation for beginning the press, how selections are made, and what he thinks are the editorial responsibilities of working with “pay to publish” titles.

Kate Flaherty: Running an independent bookstore alone is tricky enough financially. What made you decide to begin a press as well? And how do you think print-on-demand technology has changed the financial picture for publishers as well as bookstores?

Tom Holbrook: I think most indie bookstores that are surviving are doing something in addition to selling books. Either they have cafes, or sell a lot of card and gift products, etc. For me, the publishing fit my skill set better (I’m NOT a good gift/card buyer!!). We had a good friend of the store who was familiar with this kind of publishing, turned us onto it, and it has worked out well. It’s particularly nice in the off-season here to have something constructive to work on when you’re not shoveling snow. New technologies make it possible to get into this business with a very low capital investment.

KF: Although there are plenty of success stories regarding self-published authors, there remains a stubborn stigma about the literary quality of “pay to publish” books. What are your thoughts on Piscataqua’s role in this type of publishing?

TH: This stigma exists mostly with literary fiction, and I don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. We are snobs, and we want it to say Knopf on the spine or to be reviewed in the NYT Book Review. But there are a lot of independent authors doing very well in genre fiction and other niche markets. Folks who read heavily in this area have always felt marginalized, and they don’t mind taking a chance on a book that has good Amazon or Goodreads reviews, even if it’s from an unknown publisher. Plus, a lot of what we do is truly what has been called “vanity” publishing—a family memoir or regional cookbook that is never going to be marketable, but is important to the person creating it. We make them a great-looking book without ripping them off. They are grateful, and we make money that we can use to support the bookstore and to publish other things we are excited about.

KF: You have no masthead for the press. What’s the editorial process for selecting manuscripts at Piscataqua? Who screens prize entries? How do you make your final decisions?

TH: Right now it’s all me. As we grow, that will likely change. I have some in-house help with design, and occasionally will hire an outside editor, but all the final decisions are mine. I say “We” a lot because it makes us seem bigger than we are, and it makes me feel not so alone. . .

KF: Along with publishing classics like James Joyce’s Dubliners and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Piscataqua also publishes the local classic Among the Isles of Shoals by Celia Thaxter. Do you see the press publishing more local titles like this? What else should readers expect from Piscataqua in the near future?

TH: We started that originally to keep our hand in the publishing between paid contracts, and recently we’ve been way too busy to get back to it. That said, I’d like to do Sarah Orne Jewett and a few other local greats. I’m also interested in doing more local history and photography if the opportunity is right. This entire endeavor has been unscripted, unplanned, and surprising. Add to that the fact that the technology keeps evolving, and who knows what we will be up to next. That’s part of the fun.

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Islandport Press of Yarmouth, Maine was founded by Dean Lunt in 1999 with the goal of publishing books that “capture and explore the grit, heart, beauty, and infectious spirit of the region by telling tales, real and imagined, rooted in the sense and sensibilities of New England.”

In the past fifteen years, Islandport has produced an impressive range of titles, from memoir to mystery, humor to travel, cooking, children’s books, and young adult novels. In addition to breadth, Islandport books have depth. Their authors include John Ford, Sr., whose books Suddenly the Cider Didn’t Taste So Good andThis Cider Still Tastes Funny are collections of funny, heart-warming, and sometimes heart-breaking tales of his experiences as a Maine game warden and sheriff; Kate Christensen, whose How to Cook a Moose, winner of the Maine Literary Award for Memoir, is a mouth-watering and thought-provoking story of the culinary challenges and discoveries she faced when moving to Maine from Brooklyn; and photojournalist David Hill, who gathered stories and photos of the beautiful old beaten-up cars and trucks scattered through the northern woods of New England for his Full Service: Notes from the Rearview Mirror.

After sixteen years, Islandport has more than a hundred titles in print, all of which are carefully designed and handsomely produced. For Ploughshares, publisher Dean Lunt shares the inspiration behind Islandport Press, the qualities specific to an Islandport author, and what readers and writers can look for in the near future.

Kate Flaherty: There are other presses in New England publishing regional literature, memoir, humor and the like, so I have to ask what your motivation was for starting Islandport? What was the marketplace missing that you wanted Islandport to provide?

Dean Lunt: At the time, I didn’t necessarily think anything was missing, but I did feel there was room for more quality regional books. I felt given my heritage as a Maine island native and a journalist, as well as someone with a keen interest in the heritage and history of Maine, that I could help bring an authentic literary voice to marketplace and find people with real and compelling stories that weren’t being told. Even though we were a small press, we also focused on excellent design from the beginning to help establish a quality look and feel to our books.

Click here to read the rest.

My latest up at Ploughshares:

BkMk

In 1971, BkMk Press was founded by Dan Jaffe, English professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Roy Fox, head librarian of the Johnson County Library system in Kansas. Jaffe headed the press for 25 years, overseeing its transition from publishing only chapbooks to building a list with full-length collections of poetry, short fiction, creative essays, and a smattering of anthologies. Upon Jaffe’s retirement, James McKinley became executive editor, and now BkMk Press is helmed by executive editor Robert Stewart and managing editor Ben Furnish.

BkMk runs two annual contests, the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, both of which award $1,000 and publication of a book-length manuscript, and they also considerunsolicited submissions from Feb 1 through June 30 via snail mail only.

Housed at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, BkMk is affiliated with New Letters, a literary magazine with a long history of publishing a remarkable range of notable writers that is also edited by Robert Stewart, as well as the radio program “New Letters on the Air,” which features writers reading and discussing their work and is the longest continuously running national literary radio series.

BkMk has a commitment to regional writers, in part through its Target Series for Midwestern writers, but their list includes writers from all over the United States and abroad. Just a few of their award-winning titles are Lauren Cobb’s Boulevard Women, an engaging book of linked stories set in Athens, Georgia about female friends who span generations yet come together over their all-too-similar challenges, Tongue of War by Tony Barnstone, an ambitious and affecting collection of poems “inspired by historical situations and accounts, letters, oral histories, and news reports of individuals from both sides of the Pacific theater of World War II,” and, most recently, Gary Gildner’s delightful and sweet short fiction collection The Capital of Kansas City, stories of love in its messy and myriad incarnations.

For readers and writers, Robert Stewart and Ben Furnish share what drives their editorial decisions and what’s in store at BkMk and New Letters in the foreseeable future.

KF: In an interview with South Carolina Review, you discuss how you prefer writing that “offers hope,” which seems like both a wonderful and difficult mission for an editor. How would you describe the process of discovering “hope” in a manuscript you’ve published?

Click here to read the rest.

My latest up at Ploughshares:

Indie Spotlight: Sarabande Books

sarabande 

Founded in 1994 in Louisville, Kentucky by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner, Sarabande Books began with a mission to publish and distribute with “diligence and integrity” books of poetry, short fiction and essays. Their first two titles appeared 20 years ago as winners of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and theKathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry (this year’s reading period for both prizes opens March 15). Now Sarabande publishes 10 to 12 titles per year and has added two regional prizes—The Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature and The Flo Gault Poetry Prize for Kentucky Undergraduates.

Even the shortest selection of Sarabande’s most recent titles shows the press’s impact on contemporary American literature. Kerry Howley’s collection of essays on the lives of two cage fighters, Thrown, made at least a half-dozen “best of” lists in 2014, Caitlin Horrocks‘ collection of stories This Is Not Your City earned a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers distinction in 2011, and Amy Gustine’s collected stories You Should Pity Us Instead with a hot-off-the-press February 2016 publication date is already piling up a year’s worth of accolades.

Adding to their award-winning offerings in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, Sarabande has published a varied and valuable collection of anthologies as well as their Quarternote Chapbooks, a remarkable series of titles from contemporary American poets including Stephen Dunn, Louise Glück, C.K. Williams, and James Tate.

Sarabande’s careful expansion over the years extends beyond book publication. The press produces the online resource Sarabande in Education, which provides reading guides and interactive material for educators, runs a writers’ residency program at Bernheim Arboretum and Research forest near Louisville, and operatesSarabande Writing Labs, which delivers arts education to underserved communities in Kentucky.

For Ploughshares, Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gorham shares her insights on Sarabande’s place in independent publishing today, and gives readers and writers a preview of where the press is headed in the immediate future.

Click here to read the rest.

short flight_long drive

Short Flight/Long Drive Books is an independent press that emerged from the online literary magazineHobart, founded by writer Aaron Burch in 2001. Hobart, which currently posts a wide variety of new literary and contemporary culture content on a daily basis, launched Short Flight/Long Drive Books in 2006 with fiction writer Elizabeth Ellen at the helm.

Ellen has worn many hats at Hobart since 2002, serving by turns as Hobart’s co-editor, fiction editor, and poetry editor, and she has collected a number of distinguished and daring titles for SF/LD that are smart rather than merely clever, well-crafted without being overwrought.

SF/LD books range from the near-classic NowTrends by Karl Taro Greenfeld, stories mixing absurdity with the dark underbelly of international adventure, to Jess Stoner’s I Have Blinded Myself Writing This, an unsettling meditation on philosophy, memory and pain, to Selected Tweets by Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez, whose Twitter conversation serves as an apt medium for disjointed narratives to form a story of personal connection in this fractured 21st century.

For Ploughshares, Elizabeth Ellen explains what makes Short Flight/Long Drive tick, as well as what’s on the travel itinerary in their near future.

Kate Flaherty: Like Short Flight/Long Drive, several new independent presses have evolved as an offshoot of a literary website. What motivated Hobart to expand to book publishing?

Elizabeth Ellen: Aaron and I had been working together to edit Hobart (both the print journal and the online journal) for about four years at that point, and while I enjoyed co-editing, it was clear that Hobart was Aaron’s baby, so to speak—that he had the last say-so when it came to anything Hobart-related—and I wanted my own baby to have say-so over. Books seemed a natural offshoot. Click here to read the rest.