This is the thirty-fifth 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 Bruce Covey, Publisher/Editor-At-Large
How did Coconut Books start?
I started publishing books as a spin-off of the magazine around 2004. There were just so many great, unpublished manuscripts from writers I loved! I started with free downloadable chapbooks—I formatted the pages in such a way that, if printed from a regular printer and folded, they’d end up in numerical order. Plus PDFs of full-color covers. We published four of those—Jon Leon, Jenna Cardinale, Reb Livingston, and Sueyeun Juliette Lee—then released our first full-length book, Your Ten Favorite Words by Reb Livingston, in 2007. I kept going with one or two books or chapbooks per year, but began to increase our title count over the past few years.
Tell us a bit about Coconut Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Well, our mission is to publish really awesome books of poetry, with a particular emphasis on books by women writers. I love a wide range of poetry—NY influenced, gurlesque, post langpo, feminist, surrealist—but the one thing I look for in every book I publish is something truly daring and wholly original. I like books that make my jaw drop—that make me ask whether the author really will be able to “get away with” what she’s undertaking.
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! We published 14 books last year and are publishing 14 again this year. Our fall/winter season titles are all out—new books by Arielle Greenberg, Danielle Pafunda, Carina Finn, Alexis Pope, and Tyler Gobble, along with a novel by Reb Livingston that we’re distributing. Our spring/summer books have started to appear too—Ginger Ko’s and Natalie Eilbert’s first full-length books and K. Lorraine Graham’s second book are all now available, and books by Leopoldine Core, Gabby Bess, and James Sanders, plus a chapbook by Caroline Crew are all on the way. Fall 2015 will include new full-length books by Megan Kaminski, Lara Glenum, Molly Brodak, Krystal Languell, Serena Chopra, Min Kang, and Eszter Takacs.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Everything!! There are SO many great presses right now, with, it seems, an amazing new one each week. And without a doubt, the best poetry in the country is coming out from independent presses. More people are writing and more people are buying books than ever before. We have an incredible, close-knit community—not just among editors, but among editors, poets, reading series organizers, reviewers, commentators, and readers.
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 Coconut Books?
I really don’t believe in reading fees—I’ll never charge one for our open reading periods and contests. Poets who are sending out their mss are in a vulnerable position, and it seems to me to be exploitative to charge a fee, unless we’re giving something back to them in return. Most poets don’t have a lot of money—if they enter 50 contests annually, that can be more than $1,000 a year. That said, I do expect people who submit to Coconut to be aware of who we are and what we publish. I ask contest entrants to name their favorite Coconut authors—they really need to feel comfortable that Coconut would be a good home for their work.
We try to keep our book costs as low as possible. There are a lot of factors, however. A distributor can take up to 65%-75% of the list price of the book, and when you factor in postage, well, the list price of the book needs to take all of this into account.
Coconut loses about $3,000 per year. Or I guess I should say I lose it out of my own pocket. But it’s totally, 100% worth it when we can help more than a dozen poetry books find their readers annually!!! It’s wonderful and rewarding to be an editor—definitely worth “paying for”!!! The only thing I ever ask our authors to pay for are additional copies above their 25 free author copies. They get a 50% discount off of additional copies. That said, we don’t fund our authors’ readings, other than AWP—I think that’s true of pretty much every small press.
How does Coconut, your online magazine, interact with the press?
Right now, we’re a little bit separate. Gina Myers pretty much runs the magazine, with the help of a group of amazing editors (Morgan Parker, Carrie Lorig, Nathan Hauke, Khadijah Queen, and Marisa Crawford) and assistant editors (please see our masthead for the complete list). We also have an incredible social media team, who work with both the magazine and the press, and some awesome book designers.
Recent Coconut Books releases:
Entropy reviews of Coconut Books:
Interview with Carina Finn, author of Invisible Reveille and co-author of The Grey Bird: Thirteen Emoji Poems in Translation
Review of Dork Swagger by Steven Karl
Review of Motherlover by Ginger Ko
Review of Swan Feast by Natalie Eilbert