Interview with Andrew J. Wilt, Publisher
How did 11:11 Press start?
About five years ago, I was working in the tech sector in Seattle. My boss had published about a dozen books on IT education, and because of this business/education publishing sounded much more straightforward than the issues my published fiction friends have run into.
My boss was starting his own publishing company and, since I had been keeping a blog about the skill gap between higher education and entry level jobs, he asked if I was interested in writing a book about career development. This was a total 180 from the fiction I was writing at the time, but I jumped on the opportunity to be published. The publishing was hands-on, something I’m grateful for, because it taught me about the publishing process. My book, Age of Agility: The New Tools for Career Success was published in late 2017. After the book was finished, and the emails about revision deadlines stopped, I felt a kind of emptiness I’m sure most authors feel after their book is finished. I missed the high energy and excitement.
I was still writing fiction and talking with writing friends I knew from Michigan and had met in Washington, and we all were writing and publishing work in journals that were obscure and loved by few. Age of Agility sold a lot better than I expected, but it wasn’t a book that could be loved. It was a career toolkit: it took someone from where they were to where they wanted to go. The fiction that I loved writing was only published online and didn’t fit in with any small presses I knew of at the time. So, starting 11:11 just made sense. I knew it wasn’t for everyone, but I knew there would be a small group of people who would really appreciate it. My goal was (and still is) to publish books that are loved, read, and re-read by a few hundred people, not just purchased and forgotten on a bookshelf.
Tell us a bit about 11:11 Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Our influences are primarily outside of the traditional publishing ecosystem. I grew up playing loud music at small venues, and that has had the biggest influence on how I run 11:11
Everything to do with traditional publishing sounds terrible to me. The publishing industry cranks out books to be bought, sold, and forgotten. Most readers of those books eagerly hand over their money so they can drift off for a few hours each day to escape their lives. I believe books should do the opposite.
I see writing as an untangling process wherein the author pulls out the mess inside of themselves and sorts that mess out on the page. It is a meditative reflection on how the author sees themselves in their body, their family/childhood, their community, country, and world. They are the only ones who can piece all that together and write it in the way that it needs to be told. It might be with paper dolls and short scripts (like in Jinnwoo’s Little Hollywood which we put out earlier this year) or transcribed video clips, myth, and translation (like Elisa Taber’s An Archipelago in a Landlocked Country which comes out in a couple of months).
Approaching a text written by an author who chooses to write without regard for conventional structure, and explore difficult places within themselves, forces the reader to critically (and dangerously) interact with the constructs they’ve built, including their morals, beliefs, identity—basically, their sense of self. It’s only difficult if you resist going to deep places, and if I had to guess, most readers don’t want to go to those deep and difficult places. Most readers don’t want to spend as much time reading a book as the author spent writing it.
Every book we publish is an artifact of someone sorting out their thoughts and impressions, and every book can be a mentor to the reader. But in order for the reader to gain something from the book, they must have a physical interaction with the invisible ideas in the text. A book can lead us to water, but it cannot draw a cup, put the cup to our lips, and forcefully make us drink. The book is the medium, but the messages were created, and want to live, outside of the medium.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
This September, we’re reissuing Louis Armand’s first book, The Garden, which was first published twenty years ago. It was written in an unconventional style, so the first publisher cut/rearranged/redacted the text, and this is the first time it will be in print as it was intended to be published.
In early October, we have Big Bruiser Dope Boy’s After Denver, which is a collection of poetry and prose. After Denver has gotten positive reviews from Gari Lutz, Tao Lin, Elle Nash, Bud Smith, and others.
In late October, we’ll be publishing Jake Reber’s ZER000 EXCESS, an ambient body horror book with positive words from Tan Lin, Amy Ireland, M. Kitchell, and others.
The final book of 2020 is Elisa Taber’s An Archipelago in a Landlocked Country, a book that shifts in genre from ekphrastic descriptions of 30-second films shot in the Paraguayan villages of Asunción, Filadelfia, and Neuland; to a collection of short stories inspired by metonymically translated Nivaklé myths; and finally, a novella that mythologizes the life of a third-generation Mennonite woman. More info about all of these books is available on our website.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
We can’t change others, we can only change ourselves, so I’m hesitant to call anyone out, because whatever other presses are doing is working for them and their readers. 11:11 is like a startup in the sense that we’re exploring theories we’ve developed to confront the issues and frustrations we see in publishing. We’re not sure what the solutions are, but we’re actively searching for answers.
I’m excited for releases from Inside the Castle, Sublunary Editions, Equus Press, Plays Inverse, SELFFUCK, Apocalypse Party, Expat Press, Amphetamine Sulfate, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, Action Books, and Schism Press, to name a few. Expressions like “leading the pack” or “leaders in their field” don’t really apply to this publishing space, so I’ll just say that they exist and they’re all doing a pretty good job existing.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at 11:11 Press?
We haven’t experienced any noticeable changes in pricing over the last two and a half years. We do small print runs with Bookmobile, a printer located in Minneapolis and we also use IngramSpark, which is a print on demand service which fulfills our international orders. Most presses don’t want to admit to it, but POD is likely the future business model in all publishing.
We don’t charge submission fees and our submissions are open year-round. I’m friends with people who charge submissions fees, and I understand their arguments, but for me personally, I could never charge for submissions. There was a time in my early 20s when I had to choose between eating and submitting my work, and looking back, I wish I would have eaten more. I don’t want to put people in a spot where they have to decide between dinner and submitting their work. Most editors have never had to choose between eating and paying submission fees, and if they have, I’m sure they share my position. It sucks. Especially when you see a post on social media from an editor you submitted to who is on a bender, and you can’t help but think: I didn’t eat so you could fund your drug habit?
Anything worthwhile can be done without monetary compensation. Our book sales nearly always cover the cost of production and the author’s cut. The five of us who own 11:11 Press have chosen to invest profits into publishing future books, because that’s what matters most. When I see editors complaining about submissions or presses complaining about making poor financial decisions, I question why they’re in this space to begin with. Who wants to be published by people who care about things like money or status? Imagine your book, the thing you poured so much time and energy into, only being published so the publisher/editors can look cool and make money. Doesn’t that disgust you?
Circling back to your initial question: how do you cope? I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about in that way before. There is something inside of me that has hijacked my doubt, fear, and other negative thoughts and replaced it with a warmth and positivity. It’s as if 11:11 Press wanted to exist, and I happened to pick up on its wavelength and brought it into physical being. It’s like gravity or magnetism, and I can’t help but do it, and do it in a way that is fair for the authors, readers, and editors.