Interview with Carey Salerno, Executive Editor
How did Alice James Books start?
AJB is the brainchild of a remarkable group of seven Boston poets who used to gather together for workshop in the city’s Beacon Hill area. They lamented the current state of poetry, since it really only supported the work of men, or those who wrote like men. They wanted to change the landscape, and thus in 1973, AJB began as an act of literary activism, to change the landscape of poetry and to offer a place for women writers.
Tell us a bit about Alice James Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Our mission is to publish the best contemporary poetry in the field and also to support the work of women writers, who are still underserved and underrecognized in the literary arena. I’d say that the writing we’re looking for has a great element of urgency to it. We respond favorably to what feels necessary, pushes boundaries (either of the self or language), challenges perspective, and continues to build and inform the foundations of our literary landscape. To that, I would venture to say we most often find influence in the rich and enduring work from our list. There we find extraordinary poets, whose bodies of accomplished and powerful work continue to grow tremendously; poets like Adrian Matejka, Mary Szybist, Jean Valentine, Brian Turner, Matthea Harvey, and many other Alices (AJB authors) continue to shape and challenge our field.
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?
The press has just released new collections by francine j. harris (play dead) and Jamaal May (The Big Book of Exit Strategies). Forthcoming in the fall are new collections by AJB authors Jane Mead, Matthew Olzmann, and Shara McCallum. We also have a debut book, House of Water, by Matthew Nienow, forthcoming in October. Farther into the future in 2017, we’re highly anticipating the publication of We’re On: A June Jordan Reader.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
The landscape is really flourishing, and it is spectacular to see all of the distinguished poetry collections being published right now. Presses that are making conscientious efforts to partner with writers—acting less as gatekeepers, actively working to empower authors, and becoming more transparent about the publishing process—especially excite me. I’m also inspired by the support and mentorship I see in the literary community. Resources are more scarce and scattered these days, and it’s reassuring when, in spite of hardships, we’re still lifting each other up and singing each other’s praises.
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 Alice James Books?
As do most nonprofits, the press thrives on contributed income and the generosity of friends, readers, and donors who share in its vision. We’re continuously working to build relationships and locate more sources of revenue via grants and donations; it’s our bread and butter. Only approximately 35% of our income comes from book sales, which of course doesn’t cover the cost of publishing six books a year. However, the press’s mission isn’t focused on recouping expended funds via its publications. AJB’s mission is to publish extraordinary works of poetry. Some authors ask whether we have a target sales figure for books, or they worry that they may not be what some might consider the “model” author, but these standards don’t translate at the press. Each author brings their own proclivities, experience, readership, and artistic aims with them, and it’s our job to celebrate these and accomplish the best version of success we can create together. To me, the simple act of publishing instrumental, influential, and inspiring works of poetry is the definition of success.
In terms of compensation, AJB authors usually receive either an honorarium or royalty advance. Our royalty rates are between 8-12% on both print and ebook editions, paid on an annual basis. Typical advances begin at $1,000. We pay the materials costs of publishing books, distributing them, advertising, sending books for reviewer mailings and post-publication awards, etc. Of course, just like everything else in the world, the cost of resources for doing this work is always rising. I suppose we cope with it by accepting the circumstances and doing the best we can within them.