Interview with Dianne Borsenik, Founding Editor
How did NightBallet Press start?
I founded NightBallet Press six years ago in response to a few chapbooks that were being published and circulated locally around that time. The chapbooks, created by a long-defunct small press, were riddled with typos, missing lines, formatting markups, and botched margins. The publication of those books, with such shoddy formatting and editing, totally disrespected the authors and their work. I believe poets deserve books they’re proud to read from, edited by someone who cares about their work and wants to present it professionally.
I decided to found NightBallet Press without really knowing anything about publishing a book, but with a determination to learn and to do a good job. I had my laptop and my HP printer, and I worked with Word to format the first manuscript I obtained. It was hard to convince people to trust a neophyte with their manuscripts; Jack McGuane, then 84 years old, former Lakewood, Ohio, Poet Laureate, gave me my first chance, and I’ll always be grateful to him.
I originally planned to publish a few books for a few local poets, but once I did a couple of titles, I fell in love with the whole process of reading, formatting, editing, designing, and publishing. Now, NBP has published over one hundred titles for poets across the United States, and we’re still going strong.
Tell us a bit about NightBallet. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Our mission statement is
NightBallet is an independent small press, interested in the musicality of language and the originality of expression in poetry, with a commitment to excellence.
I, as both editor and publisher, don’t have stated preferences when it comes to types of poetry; all I ask is that the language be fresh and well-written. I’m excited by the diverse and eclectic. NBP’s youngest poet was 18 at the time we published him; our oldest was 86 when we did a second book for him. We’ve featured African-American storytellers, playwrights, academics, LGBTQ poets, street poets, and Beat poets. We strive to maintain a healthy balance of male and female writers.
NBP is proud to present books that are handmade—I do everything except print the cardstock covers; those are professionally printed at a local print shop. My goal is to present the poet with a total art package—colors, textures, artwork, fonts, chosen and worked into book form—carefully formatted and closely edited—just for him/her. NBP books have been featured at Poets House in NYC, and at the Ohioana Library.
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 season—or NightBallet Press year—we’ve published a number of diverse and powerful poets:
Paul Koniecki (Texas), After Working Hours (a Salute to Poets I Admire)
Chuck Salmons (Columbus, Ohio, President of Ohio Poetry Association), Patch Job
Tim Staley (New Mexico), The Most Honest Syllable Is Shhh
Andy Roberts (Columbus, Ohio, with his fourth NBP book), You Know the Type
Bev Zeimer (rural Ohio), The Wildness of Flowers
Nathanael William Stolte, (Buffalo, New York), A Beggar’s Prayer Book
Lyn Lifshin (the legend), Little Dancer—The Degas Poems
Margie Shaheed (the third NBP book for this African-American storyteller), Dream Catcher
Rebecca Wood (Toledo, Ohio), Black-Socket Sky
Christine Howey (Cleveland, Ohio, author of the play/movie, Exact Change), Playing Tennis with the Net Down
Tsaurah Litzky (Brooklyn, New York), Full Lotus
Next season will begin in September of 2017, and I have manuscripts in hand and scheduled for publication from Alan Catlin, Rikki Santer, Jonie McIntire, Kerry Trautman, Lyn Lifshin, Alex Gildzen, M. J. Arcangelini, John Reinhart, Amy Barone, and a collaborative manuscript from Pat and the late Bill Hurley. The subjects of these forthcoming books range from exploring the facets and folks of Hollywood to the conflict in Syria, to coping with cancer and ensuing death, to fire in its many permutations, to the “artifacts” of everyday living.
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 it’s very exciting that so many people have been inspired to start their own small presses. There’s a great proliferation of independent presses, and there seems to be something out there for every genre, taste, and style of writing. Most of them are responsible presses, putting out high-quality work.
However, such proliferation and availability also makes it easier for lazy and not-so-great writers to be more readily published by not-so-diligent publishers. I think a book should be birthed from diligence and teamwork, as well as from art and inspiration. I’d like to see an even greater number of small press publishers to be discriminatory in their choice of manuscripts, editors to be more diligent in their execution of formatting and editing, and more writers to be responsible for knowing their craft and to take charge of self-editing their grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
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 NightBallet Press?
I believe in using quality paper, ink, cardstock, and packaging for NBP books, so I don’t save money there, and I don’t charge reading fees. Most of the money used to run NBP returns to us in the form of subscription orders (both yearly and lifetime), and in reprinting additional copies for the poets themselves (after their first twenty free author copies, additional copies are half the cover price. Many NBP poets order and reorder twenty, thirty, fifty extra copies). The press pretty much breaks even. It matters a lot to me when considering a manuscript whether or not the poet is visible and active in the poetry scene, both online and real time. The more readings a poet does, the more likely he/she is to sell their books. As much as I may love someone’s poetry, if it’s not going to sell, I won’t make enough money to keep the press alive. Conversely, though, NBP won’t publish someone whose work I don’t believe in, no matter how popular he/she may be.
Since NightBallet Press was conceived and founded out of love for the art and craft of poetry, and out of respect for the poet, I feel we have achieved, and continue to achieve, our goal and our mission. I’m happy I’m making poets happy.