This is the twenty-second in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our Small Press Database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Erica Mena, Founding Editor
How did Anomalous Press start?
Probably like a lot of small presses and online journals: a group of friends and I were collectively interested in providing a platform for more of the work we really loved in the world. Each of the initial group of editors, in our own way, had a different aesthetic interest that they saw as being somewhat underrepresented in larger publishing venues. So one fall we decided to build a website (which we did by hand—it’s all hand-coded, still) and solicit some writers and put out an issue. The goal was always for me to move off from the journal and start putting out books, which I did the next year.
We did six titles in our first season, which for literally a two-person book operation was a bit insane, but they are amazing titles. But there’s one in particular I have to talk about, because this book is the reason I wanted to start putting books out: An Introduction to Venantius Fortunatus or Understanding the Medieval Concept World Through Metonymy by Mike Schorsch. It’s an experimental collage translation of a 6th century Latin poet-saint. It’s both reverent and strange, a difficult balance to maintain. I’d seen the manuscript, and knew it was having trouble finding a home because it was too reverent for most small experimental presses, and too experimental for most places that might have published a traditional translation of the work. We published part of it in our first issue, and this is still perhaps my favorite poem in the book.
Tell us a bit about Anomalous. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Well, something I love about Anomalous: it’s not just out for experimental writing (which is more and more my aesthetics), or essays about the Icelandic penis museum, or e-lit. It’s a home for writing that may not, for whatever reason, find a good home elsewhere. My influences are varied and wide, but I read primarily translated poetry, and so I tend to have a really international sensibility. I find a lot of American poets really insular, and so I’m always looking for things that broaden the possibilities of poetry in English.
My mission is to create beautiful, strange little books that a grad student studying the small press movement of the early 21st century will find in a special collections somewhere and they will make her head explode.
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?
Well, last season we only put out three titles, and they were all poetry. Outer Pradesh by Nathaniel Mackey, which we’re now nearly sold out of since he won the Bollingen Prize for it; His Days Go By The Way Her Years by the Taiwanese poet Ye Mimi, translated by Steve Bradbury and which we’re now nearly sold out of since it got reviewed so nicely in a bunch of places; and Mimi and Xavier Start in a Museum That Fits Entirely In One’s Pocket by Becka Barniskis which has turned into an album and a video collaboration.
This season, which will be out for AWP in Minneapolis, we’re doing four titles. Third Person Singular by Rosmarie Waldrop with collages by Keith Waldrop is a gorgeous little sequence of poems that is one of the most beautiful books I’ll have made. The Anatomy of a Museum by A. Kendra Greene is our first non-fiction title, and it’s a book-length essay on the Icelandic Phallological Museum that is quirky and lyrical and should not be missed. The All-New by Ian Hatcher is a text-based poem from a digital literary artist, which is really interesting in and of itself, and the poem is brilliant and political. The fourth is Drown Your Babies, a collection of experimental translations and re-tellings of Columbian myths by the non-fiction writer and translator Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas.
I wasn’t sure we’d have another season after this one in us, but with the sales of Outer Pradesh we can afford to do another one! I don’t have anything lined up yet, but will soon.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Well, it’s really the only place risky experimental work can get put into the world. I mean experimental broadly in this case, as a practice rather than an aesthetic. For example Kendra’s essay is relatively lyrical, perhaps not experimental in language, but her approach to the subject matter is risky and playful and daring. And I love that there are so many amazing presses putting out really interesting, challenging work from many different languages: Argos Books, Action Books, my own publisher Ricochet Editions, Les Figues, just to name a few. And I love also the sense of community in small press publishing. There’s a lot of mutual support, and in what can be a kind of soul-sucking scene, that’s really valuable.
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 Anomalous Press?
Yes, I have opinions, and I’m happy to share the numbers. Each book we put out costs around $500 to print. I’m a professional freelance book designer so I do most of the book design myself (donated time, obviously), and we have two publicity editors who work with me to try to publicize the books. If we had more money, we’d do better at that part, but we still do an impressive amount for our scale. I also make the book covers myself, letterpress, and donate the time and materials cost for that. If we were to take all that into account, each book would cost in the thousands to print.
We print 100 copies of each book. Our first season we did 200, but I realized that it would be easier to go into second printings than store (and move) all those books! We don’t pay our authors, which I regret. Perhaps the first thing I’d change if we started making money is that. But as it is, our authors generally believe in our mission, small press publishing, and what we give them is a beautiful book, some dedicated publicity and access to an audience we’ve cultivated. And the sales from one season go to fund the next, so in a sense the authors are supporting one another across seasons.
Our first two seasons were funded by a Kickstarter which we used essentially as a pre-order platform. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, and really successful. We couldn’t have started printing books without that (since I’m not independently wealthy), and it’s possible we’ll do another one at some point.
My opinions are that there are many different models of how to get books into the world, and that’s a good thing. For example, I think you’re alluding to BlazeVOX which a few years ago started asking authors to help pay for the cost of printing the books, and there was a big kerfuffle about that. I think if that’s the model they want to use, that’s fine. As an author, I might not want to (or be able to) publish with a press on that model, but that’s the wonderful thing about small presses: there are so many of them! People also get upset about contests, but I ran one for our first season, and I think it had a lot of benefits, especially in terms of building an audience. We don’t charge reading fees, but I’m not ethically opposed to it. None of our editors are getting paid, we’re all donating our time and labor because this is something we believe in. But we can’t afford the thousands of dollars a year it costs to run the journal and put out the books, and so we have to find a way to pay for that, even if we are willing to donate our time. So I think it comes down to finding a model that allows the press to continue putting out the work they want to. No one is making money here in small press experimental poetry.