Interview with Ami Kaye, Publisher & Editor
How did Glass Lyre Press start?
We actually launched our poetry journal before the press. The first issue of Pirene’s Fountain went online in January 2008. The following year I met and interviewed Lisel Mueller. We spoke about her book Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press), for which she received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize. I had always admired her work and was surprised when she graciously invited me to her home in Chicago. What was meant to be a brief interview turned into a long, animated conversation and the hours flew by. When the issue with her interview went online I invited her over so I could put it up on the big screen, and she was amazed to see her work in this new format. She checked out my bookshelf, remarking especially on the Rilke books, and promised me another interview for our music issue. Soon after, Pirene’s began to carry reviews, interviews, and spotlights featuring poets such as Linda Pastan, Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, Rebecca Seiferle, Kim Addonizio, Jane Yolen, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and many more. In 2011 we published “Sunrise from Blue Thunder” in response to the Japan disasters to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross. During that process we discovered how much we enjoyed the creation of a physical book, and took the plunge into the publishing arena. We chose “Print on Demand” with Lightning Source Ingram and founded Glass Lyre Press, LLC in late 2012. Over the next year the press flourished and grew, as did our circle of authors. Glass Lyre’s very first books were Floodwater by Connie Post, Idyll for a Vanishing River by Jeffrey C. Alfier, and Speak, Shade by Raymond Gibson, as wonderful and relevant today as the day they were published! We began to receive a number of interesting manuscripts, and were fortunate that our design, editing, and production team were fully committed to, and enthusiastic about making beautifully crafted books.
Tell us a bit about Glass Lyre Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Originally we envisioned Glass Lyre as a boutique press, putting out one or two books a year. However, with the unique submissions that came our way, we abandoned that idea and just went with the flow. I think every small press sets out to publish new and exciting work, possibly even to discover a few unknown gems. In addition, we also wanted to develop a sense of community for our authors, readers, editors, and other literary professionals. In order to serve a larger community and contribute to social issues we continue to participate in 100 Thousand Poets for Change and various benefit projects. Aside from single author books, Glass Lyre also provides a variety of different platforms for publishing work. We publish Pirene’s Fountain, our poetry journal, and the Aeolian Harp Anthology, consisting of folios (similar to mini chapbooks) which showcase ten poets along with an artistic statement, photo and bio. Besides these serial publications, we also publish anthologies, such as our First Water: Best of Pirene’s Fountain and Sunrise from Blue Thunder, and two recent benefit projects, Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace, and Collateral Damage, for children traumatized by school shootings and gun violence, children who are abused and exploited, and those caught in the crossfire of wars and political strife.
Our catalog reflects an eclectic taste and a wide variety of styles and genres. As stated on our website, our vision is to connect the world through language and art. Diversity is key for us and we are glad to represent writers from the international community. Two of our poets, Yoko Danno (Aquamarine) and Naoko Fujimoto (Silver Seasons of Heartache) provide a distinctly Japanese aesthetic to our catalog, and we continue to search for unique and underrepresented voices in literature.
I feel our relationship with authors is imperative. We take the time to address questions and concerns and try to do everything possible to provide support and promote their work. During production we are in close contact with our authors so they receive our personalized attention every step of the way. We believe in helping each author achieve his or her vision of their book and actively involving them in decisions such as the text/header font choices, artwork, etc. We want our authors to love their finished book. In order to make our books freely available for readers not only do we offer an expanded distribution through Ingram, we also have our own online bookstore.
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 year we are working on the tenth anniversary issue of Pirene’s Fountain. The cover is the brainchild of artist Tracy McQueen who depicts a stunning African American woman as “Gaia.” We are also working on the fourth volume of the Aeolian Harp Series, guest-edited by Melissa Studdard, and a host of single author books, such as My Life on Film, a posthumously published poetry collection by Helen Degen Cohen, who was one of the founding editors of RHINO Poetry, Megan Merchant’s Grief Flowers, and American Lotus by Kevin Casey, which won the 2017 Kithara contest. We are completing selections for our benefit anthology, Collateral Damage, slated for release later this year.
We recently released The Floating Door by Matthew Silverman and God of the Kitchen by Jon Tribble. Also early this year we released our 2018 Editor’s Choice Fall Risk by Cameron Morse. We are amazed by the quality of submissions we receive and wish we could publish more of them but have limited production slots, time, and funds. Two fascinating manuscripts we just accepted through our 2018 Kithara contest are: Mary Peelen’s Quantum Heresies and Stewart Shaw’s The House of Men.
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.
I think this is an exciting time for small/indie publishing in general. We have enormous respect for small/indie presses because most of them make great books on a miniscule budget. There are many talented writers deserving of publication: writers who dissolve boundaries, take risks, and produce groundbreaking work. There is no dearth of good work so publishers have the luxury of selecting manuscripts which reflect their own tastes and aesthetics. Since the advent of “Print on Demand” delivery, publishers do not have to worry about inventory storage, and the books, at least in theory, do not go out of stock. The only problem with too much of a good thing is that more work is being written than can be absorbed.
Also the past decade has seen a huge shift toward social media. An immense online community has arisen as like-minded people have flocked to network and promote their work, keep tabs on events and projects, make announcements and quickly disseminate news. It has been exciting for us to be part of all this energy and make wonderful literary friends and contacts. At the same time because these virtual interactions occur in split seconds everyone is vying with everyone else for attention, not all interactions are conducted with kindness and maturity. I think courtesy is still golden, as is respect for each other and the arts, and most of all, a keen interest beyond the self—witness the incredible young students working together so passionately against gun violence. We could all take a page from their book!
In an ideal publishing world distribution channels would provide support for publishers and authors, and make books available without any problems along the way, but sadly that is not always the case. As they fight to keep their bottom lines intact, distributors and retailers are also taking a hit with plummeting book sales. Books are no longer only competing with other books, they also have to contend with the massive volume of information/media and entertainment on the internet and portable devices. People build ebook libraries for their iPads and smartphones to carry when traveling or commuting so publishers need to consider ebooks as well as print. Smaller bookstores, ones that mange to keep afloat, do not make it easy for small/indie publishers to stock books with them. It is a difficult quandary on both sides. From what I have heard, Amazon is slowly squeezing out any competitors, putting pressure on distributors to pay more or join them. To avoid dealing with price wars, stock availability issues, and other chronic troubles that beset the giant retailers and their distribution partners, it is always best when customers can buy directly from small presses, but understandably many customers find Amazon convenient, especially with Prime membership (2-day free S&H), and many authors place a lot of stock on customer reviews. Will any of this change? Possibly, but I cannot predict what kind of outcome a potential change might result in, and there are certainly no easy solutions. Regardless of these issues, as publishers we have do whatever it takes to get our books in the hands of readers, and help create a competitive marketplace.
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 Glass Lyre Press?
We all know poetry does not sell much beyond the confines of literary circles so very few poetry books are acquired by the big name houses, and most of those books are generally from high profile poets. Small/indie presses are important because they discover and publish some of the best work regardless of the author’s name and standing. The reality is that there are far more writers who want to be published than people who want to buy poetry, creating an insular target market for publishers.
Book production is expensive. Unless you do your own layout and editing (most of the time on a volunteer basis), in order to make beautiful, professional grade books you need the services of good layout editors, designers and artists, copyeditors. You need editors who can write copy for promotion, and keep tabs on social media. Then there is printing and distribution. Add to that events, book signings, conferences, and bookfairs, and it quickly adds up.
I cannot speak for other presses because each has their own issues. Nor can I comment on who should or should not pay for various services. It all depends where the funding is coming from, how much a press is able to set aside for operations, and what the expenses are. One thing I can say without hesitation is that poetry publishing is not the field to embrace if your goal is to make money. Most presses do not break even. Not every author can order enough copies of their book to defray production costs, and customer sales are soft in spite of aggressive promotion. Obviously no one likes fees, but in some cases there is no choice. We do not charge reading fees for any of our projects except the two book contests, The Kithara and Lyrebird, for which we charge a $15 reading/contest fee for chapbooks and $25 for full length manuscripts. Often we publish finalists in addition to the winning manuscript. So far authors have responded favorably to our high production values and author support.
We try to alternate between AWP and Chicago’s Printer’s Row. We also run an annual reading, “Live Lyre,” at The Book Market at the Glen in Glenview, Illinois. The venue is a gorgeous space for poetry readings. We use social media for promotion of our authors and books, press, and events. Sometimes it is about making hard choices. In the last couple contests, we had just enough funds to publish the winner so we decided to forego AWP this year in order to publish the finalists. In the end, it is about our authors and readers; our mission, our hope, is to deliver books worthy of their attention.
We are coping as well we can for now, but no one can predict the future. Every so often I hear of a small press folding and a new one springing up, and I think about my authors. What would happen if I had to shut down because of health or financial issues? I do know that regardless of cost or time constraints, we would publish our contracted manuscripts and keep distribution channels open so Glass Lyre authors and readers could continue to order and enjoy our books. We hope it does not come to that because in spite of the crazy hours, printing/distribution issues and financial headaches, ultimately witnessing the joy of our authors and putting their books in the hands of readers is a constant source of satisfaction for us!