Interview with Aileen Cassinetto, Publisher
How did Paloma Press start?
In 2015, I fell in love with the art of crafting. My father-in-law taught me the basic techniques of sketching and acrylic and gold leaf painting, and from there, the natural progression for me seemed to point towards the art of bookmaking. My sister, who is an artist, and I initially worked on handmade books. The idea was to create well-crafted, unique and personalized books for kids. The first one we did was for our nephew Alistair. I decided to formalize the business and established Paloma Press in 2016 (after a poem I wrote, “La Paloma,” back in 2009, when my husband and I were still in our old house on a street called Paloma Avenue). It wasn’t until 2017 that the focus shifted to publishing literary works, beginning with an illustrated and collaborative poetry book titled, Blue, which was officially launched at the Library of Congress in September. Our second book, Manhattan: An Archaeology, debuted the following month at the San Francisco Public Library during the 4th Annual Filipino American International Book Festival. The same month, Paloma Press curated a literary reading for the San Francisco Litquake Festival.
Tell us a bit about Paloma Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Paloma Press, established in 2016, is an independent literary press based in the San Francisco Bay Area. We publish both poetry and prose, particularly the engagingly quirky and/or skillfully elegant. (Mi-Go Zine, an imprint of Paloma Press, is a not-for-profit DIY periodical devoted to exploring the connections between popular culture and politics.) Making beautiful books/art objects would be Paloma’s raison d’etre. This is what we’re constantly striving for.For instance, I’m captivated by Emily Dickinson’s The Gorgeous Nothings, Eileen Tabios’ Excavating the Filipino in Me, Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook, Joseph Conrad and Matt Kish’s Illustrated Heart of Darkness, Joanna Tilsley’s 30 Days, and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Except for a couple, these titles were released by big publishing companies. Someday, I would like to be able to allocate more of our budget to design and marketing, and put out books as gorgeous as these. Having said that, I’m also slowly navigating Paloma Press towards publishing more fundraising books. (Last year, we released Marawi in support of relief efforts in the Southern Philippines; and After Irma After Harvey in support of hurricane-displaced animals in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.)
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?
Anne with an E & Me, an illustrated poetry book for tweens by Wesley St. Jo, came out in January 2018. We just released Humors, a poetry book by Joel Chace, and My Beauty Is an Occupiable Space, a full-color collection of prosed sonnets by Anne Gorrick & John Bloomberg-Rissman. Mid-spring, we’re coming out with Peminology, a first poetry collection by educator and Filipina/American feminisms theorist Melinda Luisa de Jesús. Also forthcoming in the spring is Paloma’s first anthology, Humanity, edited by the poet Eileen R. Tabios—this is an ambitious fundraising project in that we’re bringing together practitioners/students in the fields of environmental science, economics, public policy, decolonization and multicultural studies, poetry, anthropology, medicine, music, theater arts, fine arts, theology, and history, and asking them to share their observations (philosophical, scientific and/or artistic) and vision of the human condition.
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.
2017 was a whirlwind of a year for Paloma Press! And none of what we were able to undertake would have been possible without the help of the Filipino American community and the wider network of writers, artists, reviewers and booksellers, from the Bay Area, DC, Philly, Southern Cali, Luxembourg, New Zealand and the Philippines. In our case, it really took a village to launch our books.
So many exciting things are happening in the publishing industry now. Running a small press gives me free rein to explore different things and publish what I love. I’m a reader, first and foremost, and reading is a subjective activity, which means, I like the books I like. As a business model, this is not always sustainable, but I’m an optimist. Someday, I’d like to see more small press releases in libraries and brick and mortar stores; I’d like more library patrons requesting indie titles on OverDrive, and more diversity when I browse the catalog; I’d also like to see more vendors/distributors working with small presses; I’d like to see authors, especially poets, get paid for the work they do, and I’d like to see the indie presses who publish them get the profit margin they need to be able to do so.
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 Paloma Press?
Paloma Press is barely 2 years old, so expenses far exceed our income, but that’s okay. The biggest challenge for me is finding the time to work on more Paloma Press projects. Between my day job and other responsibilities, I’m only able to scrape about 12-15 hours a week for bookmaking. I’m fortunate, though, to have an “in-house” designer who happens to be my sister; this helps to reduce my workload and keep costs significantly lower. I love publishing. I especially love publishing emerging authors. If Paloma Press opens doors for any writer, then I’ve done my job. It never crossed my mind to charge reading fees.