Interview with Mark Givens, Publisher
How did Pelekinesis start?
I produced a few zines in the ’80s and ’90s, culminating in the meticulously hand-drawn Salmon Bosch, a literary magazine featuring a wide variety of artists and writers. Moving to the web was a natural progression that resulted in an online literary magazine called MungBeing, which ran for ten years and of which I had the pleasure of being the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher. I wanted to take the ideas from the beautiful online material in MungBeing and create a permanent home offline.
The first books to come out of Pelekinesis were from MungBeing contributors—fabulist Tala Bar from Israel, minimalist author Peter Cherches from New York, and modern primitivist Ian Pyper from Brighton.
I have always loved the printed word. There’s a certain joy that comes from being able to pick up a physical object and spend some time with it. Or to stumble across a long abandoned filing cabinet and discover writings that had been hidden for years, or a box of old photographs that illustrate a forgotten history. So physical books appeal to me.
Additionally, I wanted to help bring some regional stories stories from local authors to the forefront and make them part of our collective history. With the global input from MungBeing and the local influences of artists and writers around here, I started up a publishing company.
Tell us a bit about Pelekinesis. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Pelekinesis has deep roots in the Southern California DIY art and music scene, with connections to music labels like Shrimper and the underground zine culture. Literary influences stretch back to experimental productions like Aspen Magazine and on up through Mondo 2000, with an eye on independent presses and small publishing houses. The Design of Books by Adrian Wilson and The Book by Douglas C. McMurtrie have been a constant source of inspiration, as have local bookstores and libraries. The presence of mass media imagery has been a great influence in many ways and the rise of technological developments that allow for high quality manufacturing on a small scale has provided the impetus for further exploration.
With Pelekinesis, I am striving to bring some of the underground spirit to the manufacture of independent books. We are interested in pursuing a mass market format with a satisfying tactile appeal and an attractive shelf presence—producing interesting stories in an understandable and conventional package. Part of our mission is to help give a voice to independent thinkers, add to the fabric of our local history, document some of the great regional talent, and spread the independent voice worldwide.
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?
Our current titles include Heart Like A Starfish, Allen Callaci’s memoir about his heart transplant; a book about emotions by Greg McGoon called Traveling the Twisting Troubling Tanglelows’ Trail; Codex Ocularis, a hand-drawn explorer’s log book by artist Ian Pyper; a short story collection called Heiberg’s Twitch by Robert Wexelblatt; debut fiction by Sean Pravica called Stumbling Out the Stable; and a collection called The Underwater Typewriter by poet Marc Zegans.
By the end of the year we will also see the genre-skewering The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective by J. Bradley and the first in a five book science fiction cycle called Right of Capture by Isadora Deese.
2017 will feature the release of several second books—David Allen will release a collection of early columns from the first part of his career; Peter Cherches will be issuing his Autobiography Without Words; Peter Wortsman’s Footprints in Wet Cement is coming in the middle of the year; Don Skiles has Rain After Midnight; David Scott Ewers presents his Ultimate Resort in August; and Tim Kirk will be editing a collection of short stories revolving directly or indirectly around Griffith Park in Los Angeles. We will also see, among a few other things, collections from two newcomers, poet R.S. Deese with Surf Music and Roberta Allen with The Princess of Herself.
We hope to continue exploring the rich local landscape as well as the connections we have made worldwide.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I love the idea that I am helping to expand our literary landscape. I take great pride in being able to bring such a wide range of talent to the public eye and am excited to think that these authors will have an influence of the next generation of writers. We are living in a great time for independently produced materials, and the new tools and services that are available make it easier than ever to produce high quality books.
Publishing is by no means dead or nearing the end. And there is still plenty of need for a wide range of voices and viewpoints, a need for opinions that are not part of the mainstream, a need for authors to take chances even if only slightly outside the mainstream. What Pelekinesis does is not so far outside, but the authors’ and artists’ voices are important and the means of production are within our reach. Knowing that Pelekinesis is contributing to this landscape, in any sort of way, gives us strength. Knowing that these voices are being documented gives us motivation. Knowing that these words are being added to the historical record keeps us going.
The fallacy, and the greatest point of exploitation, is thinking that authors and artists would do this anyway so they don’t need to get compensation. This has happened with the arts across all disciplines, demonstrated quite famously with the music industry. And a small portion of that is true; artist will continue to create art whether they are compensated in some form or not. But this does not mean that the art does not have value. Artists and authors should be compensated for the wonderful and societally-expansive work they create. Their work is valuable, and whether or not they are compensated monetarily for it or not, it has value and that should be recognized.
This is where the modern publishing house can have the greatest impact, but the relationship between author and publisher needs to evolve. There is plenty of room in the economy for authors who want to write books for mass consumption. There are plenty of publishing houses that can supply books to the general population for mass consumption. All of that is well and good and will continue to exist, unchanged, for years to come—it’s a model that works. And it’s a fool’s errand to think that every small press author can enter into a relationship with a large publishing house, especially right out of the gate.
Small press publishers are the gatekeepers to the fringe of the literary world, to the artists and authors who will be embraced by the mainstream as the innovators and boundary-pushers in the future. They are the vanguard of tomorrow’s best and brightest artists.
Knowing that gives us strength.
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 Pelekinesis?
Every small press has a financial model that works for their needs. Non-profit presses open themselves up to a wide variety of funding sources and grant opportunities along with greater oversight and shared responsibility. As a private for-profit business, Pelekinesis is afforded greater flexibility and less operational oversight.
Pelekinesis authors will never pay for their work to be published. The “pay-to-play” model is harmful, exploitative, insulting, and undermines the work that the artists and authors are doing. The pay-to-play model was detrimental to independent music in the 1980s and 1990s and the reverberations of that model are still being felt (and employed) today. Today’s pay-to-play publishing examples should rightly be called “services” and not “publishers” to differentiate between the roles and functions of each business. The greatest difference being the lack of curation in a pay-to-play model. There’s no one helping the author to develop and refine their talent, no editors, no one to help navigate the readings, appearances, and signings, no one to assist with distribution and outreach.
We have developed a royalty sharing model that pays the author a percentage of each book sale. The percentage increases as the sales increase. Pelekinesis authors will never be asked to pay for their book to be published, promoted, reviewed, or distributed. Promotional copies and promotional materials are supplied by Pelekinesis. Discounts are available to help with the process, as are marketing materials.
Naturally, there are things that a small press publishing house cannot supply that a larger house can—like financing book tours, influencing bookstores to carry titles, or staging mass market media pushes. Those are the advantages of large publishing houses and wealthy small press publishers. Pelekinesis is neither, and it is unrealistic to compare the two, for the authors and for the publishing house. I think that’s a mistake that a lot of small presses make; to think that they are on equal footing with large houses. They are not, and they do a disservice to themselves and to their authors by believing that they are. Some of the greatest, boundary-stretching works were not produced by larger publishers but by small houses, following their passions and dreams.
There are other revenue models that deserve to be explored. Inkshares, for example, uses a modified pre-sale model before it produces a book. The way that Inkshares is approaching this model, however, doesn’t seem to exploit the author rather it seems like a viable way to fund a project. I think that it’s healthy to reexamine procedures and take stock every now and again to make sure you’re pursuing the kind of model you want to support. Currently, we’re reexamining the efficacy of cooperative advertising and awards programs that charge an entrance fee. We will never pay for a review or charge a reading fee. Some of these decisions might have an adverse impact on our bottom line—we’ll see—but I am satisfied with the direction Pelekinesis is going and excited to see where this journey leads.
What exactly does the name of the press mean?
“Pelekinesis” is designed to evoke a thoughtful second glance with a slightly humorous slant. It is meant to suggest birds and movement, minds and magic. It comes from a survey I conducted of publishing houses where I found quite a range of topics and allusions—the larger publishing houses seem to favor people’s names (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, etc.) but there are also some pretty absurd names like Random House (now the even more absurd Penguin Random House).
Smaller presses usually address particular topics (North American Poetry Review, African American Review) and/or regions, but there is a greater diversity of experimentation in the small press names (Bear Parade, Copper Nickel, River Teeth) and this is the model I chose to follow.
I have seen Pelekinesis referred to as “Pelekinesis Press,” a slight modification that I am comfortable with.