Interview with Ian Anderson, Founder/Editor-in-Chief
How did Mason Jar Press start?
Mike and I met while earning our MFAs in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at University of Baltimore. I introduced myself because I had actually published something Mike wrote in a lit journal I was working with. Then, a few years ago, Mike asked me to design the cover to a chapbook he was self-publishing. I liked the poems in the chapbook so much, I asked him if I could publish it under a small-press label I always had plans of starting—Mason Jar Press. Mike agreed, so we rolled up our sleeves to get the chapbook published. We realized we worked really well together, because we bring complementary skills to the table, and disagree just enough to keep us from getting stale. With that, Mason Jar Press was up and publishing.
Tell us a bit about Mason Jar Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Mason Jar Press is me, Ian Anderson, and Michael Tager (we also recently took on Natalie Ko as our Assistant Editor). MJP is an independent press based out of Baltimore, MD, and it has been publishing handmade, limited-run chapbooks and full-length publications since 2014. As our website (masonjarpress.xyz) alludes to, we’re interested in the accessible avant-garde. In other words, we don’t want art that can only be appreciated by Ivory Tower bullshit artists. At the same time, we’re not interested in run of the mill literature. We’re dedicated to cultivating innovative and unconventional work by both established and emerging writers that pushes the bounds of literary norms. Everything we publish is an extension of our own interests: we want writing that’s a little off, views the world a little askew. We really like self-aware work that operates within a genre, but at the same time pokes at the molding a little. The hard-to-classify.
We are well-read and well-versed in pop culture. Mike skews more toward genre and I skew a bit toward literary, but we both know what good writing is and, importantly, what interesting writing is. We don’t always like the same stuff, but we know real skill and talent when we see it. Mason Jar Press believes in work that is, again, self-aware, stark and unruffled, and always a bit avant-garde.
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?
We’ve just published Notes From My Phone from Michelle Junot, which we term “an accidental memoir for the information age.” It’s pretty amazing, especially because Michelle wasn’t in any way writing a book. She was just making notes on her phone. But writers write in so many different ways; when we heard her reading from her notes at events, we knew that we had to publish it.
We’re currently in the process of publishing Not Without Our Laughter by the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, an African American poetry writing group. We got connected with celeste doaks, who is both in the book and is also editing in conjunction with us. Not Without Our Laughter is comprised of joyful and hilarious poems riffing off of the Langston Hughes novel Not Without Laughter. That book is due out in May and we’re deep in the final stages, sending out ARCs, setting up releases and scheduling interviews and junkets.
Lastly, we’re in early stages of The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado by Dave K. It might sound like a bizarre and comical premise, but the book itself is a pretty serious, surrealist take on the steampunk genre. It’s deeply strange and narratively experimental. That will be our first foray into a collaboration with illustrations as well, so we’re really excited. It will come out sometime in the latter half of 2017, probably closer to Christmas than the Summer.
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.
There are a lot of indie presses out there, which is awesome, but it would be even more awesome if there was more communication and cross-pollination between all the cities and states and scenes. We’re guilty of not reaching out as well. In Baltimore there’s a healthy independent press scene, and of course we’re friendly with most of them and others in surrounding areas. It just seems like we’d benefit so much from expos and collaborating and talking to each other. At the end of the day, we’re all in the book business, not the money-making business, and there’s so much to gain from working with fellow indie presses.
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 Mason Jar Press?
That’s a really good question. We do charge reading fees for our open submission period, of which we’re in the middle of the first one, but it’s a nominal $4 fee that we funnel straight into our authors. We make it a point to give as fair a deal to our authors as possible. They aren’t obligated to buy anything from us and we split profits with them 50/50. We’re not in this to make a fortune: we’re in this because it’s a passion to us. Of course, we don’t want to lose money, and we’ve avoided that so far.
As writers (because of course we’re also writers), so far we’ve avoided submitting places that have unreasonable reading fees. We certainly don’t mind paying a couple bucks here and there—we understand how it all works—but some places charge quite a bit of money just to submit a short story. I’ve seen $50 before for a submission, which seems crazy to me. We can’t reconcile that and have no intention of following suit with Mason Jar Press.