Submission Guidelines: “I don’t really have guidelines! People are welcome to pitch me but should take a look at what I’ve published first. I’m most interested right now in work by women of color; doesn’t have to be personal, just political. Or really weird and/or fantastical short stories, preferably involving some sort of magic.”
Interview with Sarah McCarry, Series Editor and Publisher
How did Guillotine start?
I’d been thinking about it for quite a long time—I’ve made zines since the late 90s and worked off and on for a variety of bookmakers and independent bookstores and letterpress printers and small presses, so I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into but wasn’t sure how I wanted to start. I met Vanessa Veselka in 2012 and told her how much I’d loved her conversation earlier that year with Lidia Yuknavitch on the Believer blog, and she told me the full conversation was much longer, and I said “Great, I’ll publish it.” So then I had to start a press. Guillotine’s been going ever since.
Tell us a bit about Guillotine. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Guillotine is basically just me! I work with a designer, who sets up the interiors and designs the covers, and I do everything else from editing pieces to printing covers to hand-sewing 350 chapbooks at a time to stuffing envelopes. My influences are all over the place; I’m obviously influenced by a long time spent in punk and DIY and zine-making communities in terms of how I run the press and put together the chapbooks—the covers are letterpressed, the chapbooks are handbound, I don’t do (or have plans to do) ebooks. I love online forums for essay-writing and I’ve met most of the writers I’ve published online, but in terms of the press itself I’m most interested in making beautiful work into a beautiful physical object. Guillotine doesn’t really have an explicit mission. It’s just writing I like, which is most likely to be political essays written through the lens of personal experience by women, especially women of color. I’m also publishing fiction for the first time this year.
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?
Guillotine is publishing a chapbook of two short stories by Sofia Samatar and Kat Howard this winter, which I’m incredibly excited about. I’m talking to several writers right now about pieces for next year; it’s lining up to be an excellent roster. The nice thing about running Guillotine as an autocracy is that I can be flexible when need be to work around what writers need (or what I need, given that I’m balancing the press with a lot of other jobs!).
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I think commercial publishers have gotten increasingly conservative in terms of the kinds of stories they’re willing to invest in and support, and small/independent press publishing is doing a fantastic job of putting out weird and risky and interesting work, things that are formally inventive and more likely to center narratives by people who are most often excluded by commercial publishing—trans writers, writers of color, queer writers, women. I don’t see independent publishing as being hampered as much by ideas of genre or how to market books successfully and for the most part independent publishers have been very nimble about getting attention to their books, building relationships with independent bookstores, thinking up new and interesting ways to pitch their books. And there are just so many wonderful people putting out fantastic books right now. Small Beer Press, The Dorothy Project, Future Tense, Topside Press, Two Dollar Radio… I could go on for a long time, I’m forgetting like sixteen presses that I love, I know it.
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 Guillotine?
Ha, I have no idea how I cope! It’s a lot of work. I grew up in a very Catholic family, that’s all I got in terms of how I get it done. Each issue costs a little under a thousand dollars to produce and so far the sales of each chapbook have paid for the production costs (which, frankly, is better than I expected; there’s that great old joke Gavin Grant loves: Q. How do you make a small fortune in publishing? A. Start with a large one). Guillotine doesn’t make enough money to expand, so I’m looking at different ways to do that—I would love to have the option to publish full-length books at some point, which will likely involve grantwriting. I would love to pay my writers more—this year it was $50, I’m hoping to up that to $100 next year. I’ve been thinking about doing tiered subscriptions but implementing and tracking that is a lot of work for one person, and honestly one of the things that’s allowed me to keep publishing is the fact that I put chapbooks out only when I have the capacity to do so. I’d like to price the chapbooks more cheaply so more people have access to them. So there are a lot of different moving parts to figure out still. I wish I had a more useful answer! The only rule I have is that the only person who will ever work for free for Guillotine is me.