Interview with Mila Jaroniec, Editor
How did drDOCTOR start?
drDOCTOR originated in 2013 as a reading series at the Mellow Pages Library in Brooklyn, when we were all students at The New School. The whole thing centered on the reinvention of the reading series—featuring only three readers instead of the usual forty, one representing fiction, one nonfiction, and one poetry, with well-proportioned drink breaks in between. Then it evolved into a podcast. Then the written word showed up with the birth of the DOCTOR to DOCTOR essay series, and then we moved to real print last year with our first lit mag, Vol. 1. All that is still happening but we’ve gotten into publishing books now, too. We like to call it a literary party but I don’t know how much I’m joking anymore when I say it’s a lifestyle brand.
Tell us a bit about drDOCTOR. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I think each one of us would have a slightly different answer to this question, but I’m going to try to encompass and say we want to publish writing that is alive. More than well crafted or insightful, I mean work that has to exist. #5 in Kerouac’s beliefs on writing and life is “Something that you feel will find its own form.” For the longest time we had this in the submission guidelines. Should have also added, “No time for poetry but exactly what is.” I don’t even like using words like essay or story or poem. Form should not be limited. But it should be luminescent. Expansive. We want it living and breathing. Crawling off the plate.
As for a mission, we seek to create space in a landscape where so much of what’s out there is based on who you are instead of what you make. I’ve put the word experimental in our About pages so much because I believe all writing should be experimental. If it’s formulaic, it’s dead already. We don’t care about credentials. Some of the best work we’ve featured on the site and in Vol. 1 was done by writers published for the very first time.
Also, one thing that I think is pretty unique to us is how carefully we edit. We don’t just take out a comma here or there, slap a check mark on its ass and say okay, good enough. We really get our hands into every single thing. That care, I think it’s a rare thing. Understanding what someone’s trying to do, seeing what they’re seeing—the love that demands expression, to quote Jeanette Winterson—and just helping them do it better, truer, that’s what we really aim to do.
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 February we’re debuting the drDOCTOR 2 chapbook series, our first published books. These are books by two authors—picture the fused BFF heart—whose work is in conversation with one other. A Phantasmagoria in Two. We call them chapbooks but they might be more than that. Books to melt an afternoon with. Two come out at once.
The first installment, 2-1, is Gertrude by Bianca Stone. It’s an experimental poetry/comic hybrid created out of a found recording of one of her grandmother Ruth Stone’s unpublished poems and paired with Bianca’s couplets. It’s breathtakingly done and unlike anything else. I’ve been a superfan of Bianca since I first read her and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to put this out. And on the other side, 2-2 is Coney Islands by Sam Farahmand and myself.
I get that it probably feels weird to have the editors putting their work out first, but honestly, that’s what we are doing—putting ourselves out there. It’s vulnerable. For the DOCTOR to DOCTOR essays, we all—Sam, Luke, Howard, and me—contributed one. Not so much as a how-to but as a leveling. We’re not exempt just because we’re editors: if we’re going to ask for this type of work, we better be able to do this type of work. We have to know what it feels like to make it. It’s beyond us, but we’re not beyond it.
As for the future, we hope to make the 2 books a whole series—get up to 2-50, package it up with Bud Smith’s F250 as a holiday special, keep going. I want to line a bookshelf. We’d like to release another pair this year and we’re currently accepting submissions for that. I think it would be great to publish a novel someday. I would love to put out a first book that kept getting rejected for being too strange.
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.
Indie publishing has always been exciting, and even though it’s becoming more accessible with social media, there seems to be an even bigger underground. I read an article by Eileen Myles published in 1999 that could’ve been written now; about how the mainstream machine is taking over, how the resistance is stirring underneath. Everyone knows the underground is where all the genius is, the superpassion. Once you give up the delusion that you’re going to pay your bills off of this, publishing with a small press is the best thing you can do for your career. You get to be hands-on with your work at all levels and retain more creative control than you can anywhere else, save for straight up self-publishing. It’s all in your hands.
What needs to change? How cliquey it can be, how it can feel like everyone’s parroting each other, how people want support for their work but don’t support the work of others. There needs to be more honesty, transparency. As for what I’d personally want to change, I want to make bigger strides, become more accessible to a mainstream audience without going mainstream, if that’s even possible. Well, it is possible. Two Dollar Radio did it—they’re my how-to example. I also love that they’re based in Ohio.
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 drDOCTOR?
We don’t do reading fees. The most we’ve ever done was offer a tip jar submission option alongside the free one when we used Submittable and even that I felt guilty about. It’s so hard out there for writers already, and sometimes a fee is unavoidable, but if there’s another way that’s how we try to go.
So because of that, we rely on preorders to fund our print runs. Usually we get enough to cover the printing costs, pay writers and designers, and if there’s anything left over it’s saved for future stuff—author payments, AWP, second printings. I do some math and come up with a goal and then try to meet it, and of course, the more books we order off the bat the cheaper it is per book, so I try to get it right when estimating a print run. We’ve also dumped a lot of our own money in. I Poshmarked most of my closet to be able to pay writers in the beginning. I’m proud to say we’ve finally gotten to the point where we can pay everyone while staying clothed, and not too badly either.
This year we’re applying for grants and hopefully, with the sale of these chapbooks, we’ll be able to float a bit. Maybe in ten years we’ll be able to make money. Maybe less than that. But right now the goal is to not go negative, and just keep putting out good work. We want people to buy our books, love them, and love them so much they buy more and give them as gifts. That’s the best support I can imagine.
Recent releases from drDOCTOR: