Note from the Editor: Ellen Foos mentions below that at Ragged Sky Press, “the poets pay for design and printing costs.” I wanted to note this about Ragged Sky Press up front, as the blurry line between self-publishing and publishing with a small press is often set precisely there: on whether the author must pay to publish their book or not. Ragged Sky Press is precisely the kind of press that makes this line blurry. See our interview with Geoffrey Gatza of BlazeVOX for even more discussion of these issues. —DJS
Submission Guidelines: “Ragged Sky is a not-for-profit venture staffed by volunteers who have very little free time. We cannot always read manuscripts that are sent to us. This is not a judgement of your work but simply the only way we can operate.”
Interview with Ellen Foos, Publisher
How did Ragged Sky Press start?
Ellen Foos, MacDowell Colony fellow and member of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative, founded Ragged Sky Press in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1992, when Fred Mertz, a parish priest, asked her to help him publish his novel, The Ore and the Dross. That was followed by Mile End, Alan Grayson’s searing autobiographical novel, and Michael R. Brown’s poetry collection, Susquehanna. Since then, Ragged Sky has moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and produced over 15 books of poetry and inspired prose.
In 2005, Ellen and four other poets began to meet and share their work. A year later, Ellen decided to compile their work as the five-volume Ragged Sky Poetry Series, including works by Elizabeth Danson, Ellen Foos, Carlos Hernández Peña, Elizabeth Anne Socolow, and Arlene Weiner.
In 2009 Ragged Sky produced the lively and provocative poetry anthology Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems, edited by Ellen, Ruth Zamoyta O’Toole, and Vasiliki Katsarou. One hundred contemporary poets—local stars and literary luminaries such as Kim Addonizio, Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins, Elaine Equi, Jorie Graham, Maxine Kumin, Paul Muldoon, and Charles Simic—joined together in this anthology to celebrate clothing in its many forms and functions: as desire, as ghost, as body, as poetry, as talisman, as transformer of the soul.
Tell us a bit about Ragged Sky. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Ragged Sky is a small, highly selective cooperative press. We work with our authors closely. Authors retain copyright and we use our experience and professional resources to support the author’s work through the editing, production, and marketing process. Ragged Sky Press has historically focused on mature voices, overlooked poets, and women’s perspectives.
Having worked for both Graywolf Press and Ecco Press, I have seen that high standards of design and production serve a book very well. A book’s page margins, proper typography and sensitivity to line breaks convey professionalism and seriousness of purpose. In the same way, as an experienced proofreader and copyeditor, I try to avoid the rookie mistakes of inconsistent spelling or punctuation.
Although the poets have a lot to say about the cover art, I make sure it reflects the spirit of the poems. I am lucky to work with designers who pick up on that spirit and convey it using strong graphic sensibility.
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 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.
More funding for the arts would be nice!
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 Ragged Sky Press?
We don’t try to make a profit. All labor is donated. We use print-on-demand to keep costs low.
Although the poets pay for design and printing costs, I keep it within a range where, with a little effort, they will at least break even by selling their books. I use Lightning Source because they keep sales records, post our books on line (B&N, Amazon) and carry them in the Ingram catalog. The quality of POD is not 100% consistent but the ability to print a short initial run (usually 100-200 copies) and then go back quickly for small reprints (25-50 copies) saves quite a bit in costs.