In celebration of the twentieth post in Entropy’s small press interview series, we’re publishing an interview with Michael J Seidlinger, Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms. CCM and Entropy merged this January, creating the independent literature community and portal known as CCM-Entropy.
Interview with Michael J Seidlinger, Publisher-in-Chief
How did Civil Coping Mechanisms start?
Oh this question. The most practical of questions. We all want to know how things find their way to fruition. As an editor, I get asked this a lot—how did the coping start, etc.—and forgive me for leaning towards the shorter version. Basically Gabe Cardona started it off in hopes of it being a sort of artist collective, publishing books, music, pretty much anything that comes in a commercially viable package; however, that almost instantly died after the first couple books were published and by the time Noah Cicero’s Best Behavior saw publication, CCM had become a bonafide small press, in that traditional “small” sense. I was among the first dozen authors published by CCM and, like any small collective, I offered to take part; in this case, that meant design, meaning designing covers and the interiors of books, what would have otherwise been designed on a whim, with little to no aim if there wasn’t someone at least pretending to make the most of it. When Gabe started to back down, mostly due to commitments dealing with employment, it became a matter of letting the press silently die or take over. I guess I took over. Funny how time changes things, huh?
Tell us a bit about CCM. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The traditional pull quote for CCM is something like “advocates the DIY spirit and publishes innovative fiction and poetry.” In reality, there’s far more to it than that. When I took over CCM, I was already well embedded in the acquisitions process, speaking with countless authors about their projects. This, for me, is the most invigorating part of publishing. Getting to speak with the author, brainstorming what is essentially a bunch of ideas and maybe a finished manuscript, mulling over what it might end up in final published form. It’s exciting and pretty much the height of being an editor—seeing what authors are up to, watching the manuscript evolve into a beautiful final product.
I can’t tell you what exactly I look for, in terms of submissions. I guess I look for something that is so undeniably original and singular, it might as well be something that you can’t quite explain. I love it when something gets around but everyone that reads can’t easily explain what it’s about. Typically people use associations—it’s SOME MOVIE crossed with ANOTHER MOVIE, or SOME NOVEL crossed with SOME AUTHOR VOICE/STYLE. These sorts of associations prevail in traditional publishing channels. I look for the voices that are truly their own, pushing against the grain. CCM’s all about letting the author’s voice sing like any good song. Letting it have its say.
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?
Sure thing. The 2015 Catalogue is jam-packed with stuff like “Today I Am a Book” by xTx, “This Boring Apocalypse” by Brandi Wells, “How to Pose for Hustler” by Andrea Kneeland, “WAKE” by AT Grant, and “Asuras” by Jayinee Basu. And that’s only quarter one. CCM is adopting a quarterly launch schedule wherein 4 times a year, the press publishes an array of titles. The idea is, each quarter, the titles-at-play riff on each other, authors working together to make the most of the moment. As a writer myself, I know how difficult it is to promote a new book. I’ve found that it’s easier when there are a number of other books coming out around the same duration from the same press; authors work together and support each other. This is the essential idea of the quarterly schedule. A glimpse from quarter two: “This Must Be the Place” by Sean H Doyle, “The Arson People” by Katie Jean Shinkle. A glimpse from quarter three: “Last Mass” by Jamie Iredell, “You and Other Pieces” by Corey Zeller. Quarter four: “Eternal Freedom from Social and Natural Programming” by Frank Hinton, “Desolation of Avenues Untold” by Brandon Hobson. There’s also the new CCM children’s book imprint, White Rabbit, which will launch in October 2015 with two titles, one by Porochista Khakpour and one by Dorothea Lasky. Publishing is a game with no real ending. The goal, then, is to keep playing. To play, you need to publish your best. We’re coping.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Everyone’s been talking “golden age” of indie and I’m pretty much in agreement with the statement. But one thing that’s important to note is how much progress that still needs to be made in order for indie to be as competitive with the major publishing houses. We’ve seen some truly extraordinary progress from presses like Two Dollar Radio, Tyrant Books, and Lazy Fascist Press, but we’re all, in the indies, working tirelessly to get media venues to get past the fact that our books are not under one of the Big Five. Why is it so difficult to get media venues to get past the fact that we aren’t Penguin, FSG, or Harper?
We are living in a world of abundance. The world of scarcity is dead. And yet, we are still, in terms of the publishing industry, limited by the old pre-2000s, pre-social media model. Scarcity. The gist is as follows—in a world of scarcity, the quality floats to the top. The various venues in place advocate what floats best and get people to react via coverage, reviews, etc. In a world of abundance, you have a wider platform, multiple platforms actually, and it is no longer one channel of new content. Take into account how the internet has essentially created endless possibilities.
No longer are we limited to the mainstream to create a dialogue. That was the world of scarcity—the only dialogue in the pre-internet world was what floated to the top. But thankfully we are beyond that. So what is exciting to me is how our community is growing, working on being heard. The indie community is expanding and evolving and continually looking to enforce itself. It proves that there are readers, writers, and critics invested in what we’re talking about. We aren’t just a message board or group of voices. We are a community looking to make the most of our skillset.
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 Civil Coping Mechanisms?
Oh you know I’m coping, one day at a time. Every line written, every glass sipped, I’m coping. CCM has one contest, Mainline, which advocates immediacy and spontaneity. For one week, Mainline is open to any and all submissions, free of charge. Give us your best and we will read. I announce frontrunners on a daily basis. At the end of the week, I announce a winner. Mainline has already yielded a number of extraordinary voices including Andrea Kneeland, M Kitchell, Carolyn Zaikowski, Katie Jean Shinkle, and Darby Larson.
Opinions. Yeah, like most, I’m full of opinions; but in terms of reading fees, I both understand and hate them. I get why they are necessary: publishing is a thankless and generally unsustainable business. However, given who ends up paying for the fees, I’d rather have them buy a CCM book and pay it forward rather than be forced to pay a fee just to be considered. That’s my view anyway. Every press functions to the best of its abilities. It’s a miracle any indie press manages to stay financially afloat. We should all be appreciative. Seriously.
What will CCM be doing in five years, on February 20, 2015?
Publishing damn good books. I hope. 2020, well, I just hope that the press will still be around and that people will be as interested as they are at present. We’re all coping and I do believe that the sentence is the surest form of coping mechanism. Beyond any device, the sentence not only explains but also inspires. There’s magic in the words we choose to accept as our own.