This is the twenty-third in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our Small Press Database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Diana Arterian, Managing Editor
How did Ricochet Editions start?
By 2012 I had been working as a member of the editorial staff for Gold Line Press (a small chapbook press associated with USC’s PhD in Creative Writing & Literature) for two years. We had held two chapbook competitions, both of which had resulted in absolutely beautiful and important poetry chapbooks. Yet in both competitions a particular manuscript of erasure had gotten to the finalist stage but ultimately was not selected as the winner by our judges. I was feeling frustrated about this—it was the kind of collection that made your heart beat quickly it was so good, yet I felt relatively powerless in my ability to give a reading population access to it.
I was voicing my angst about this in the office of the the Graduate Creative Writing Coordinator with fellow student Fox Frazier-Foley. Somehow the conversation turned to the possibility of us actually publishing it, somehow getting the money from USC. The Coordinator is the very best of fairy godmothers, and pitched it to the powers that be. The manuscript was Bradley Harrison’s Diorama of a People, Burning which we published not long after that. We quickly assembled a roundtable of fellow students to lay the groundwork for the press (name, mission, politics, etc.) and we just got down to business.
Tell us a bit about Ricochet Editions. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
One of the beautiful things about Ricochet is the aesthetics (as well as the class, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds) of those who make up our board are all over the map. As someone who helped found the board, this was really important to me. I’m not interested in putting out books by people who look and sound like me. I’m interested in those manuscripts that are thrilling and important, regardless of the details of the author or her aesthetic practices. If my blood pressure goes up (in a good way), I know I’ve found something. I don’t know that getting any more specific is worthwhile, as it will only exclude work I would likely love.
One of the tenets of our press is that we are willing to have a lengthy exchange with our authors about the manuscript if we find that there is great work there, but it needs extensive editing. We have been blessed with authors who are very willing to consider huge and and sometimes difficult edits that ultimately bring the works to the next level.
This seems to have fallen to the wayside with most publishing establishments, particularly those that publish solely from competitions—which I completely understand. The competition manuscript should be clean and tight. That’s the nature of that beast. But as members of Ricochet, we are scouring the Gold Line slush for manuscripts that are compelling but flawed, and/or those that we are uncertain will make the final (or even semi-final) cut for one reason or another.
On our website it states: “Our mission is to publish innovative, non-traditional, trans-genre, and/or genre-less works that have a hard time finding homes in journals, competitions, and with other publishers.” This is largely due to Diorama—here was a chapbook that was totally exciting, but having trouble finding publication. It’s something we have held to, as well. Oftentimes a manuscript comes to our editorial roundtable, and we ultimately pass on it because it’s clear the manuscript will find a home relatively easily at a more mainstream press. This can be really tough to stick to (I know I have felt some real heartbreak about a manuscript here and there), but it is ultimately important to maintain the initial spirit of the press.
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?
In the next two years Ricochet is putting out some really thrilling work. This year, we have poet, translator, and publisher Erica Mena’s first full-length, Featherbone, which gives a re-telling (and feminizing/cyborg-ing) of the Icarus myth. It is, on the micro and macro level, so so beautiful, and plays with language with serious depth and intelligence.
We are in dialogue with a poet and artist team about putting out a collection of their collaborative works this summer—once we nail down the details (and get the contracts signed) we’ll make a formal announcement. If it works out it’s going to be absolutely gorgeous, and I think really open up the possibilities of our catalog in the future.
In 2016, we will be putting out Arielle Greenberg’s hybrid/prosey collection Locally Made Panties, which is a hugely important interrogation of fashion and its consumption on one pole, and feminism and the post-pregnant female body on the other. While reading it you watch Arielle flagellate herself for her obsession with clothing (among other things), and not long into it you realize you, too, suffer from these obsessions. As a woman in America, it’s nearly impossible not to.
We are also publishing an anthology on aesthetics in 2016 entitled Among Margins. The list of people who have provided us with essays on the topic is, particularly because we are such a new press, really remarkable. It’s clear that this is a topic many have needed the space to discuss at length. Just to give a taste, here are some of the people who we are including: Alice Notley, Shane McCrae, Brenda Hillman, Hoa Nguyen, Douglas Kearney, Vanessa Place, CAConrad, Eileen Myles, Kazim Ali… As much as I want to list all our contributors, there are roughly 30 pieces total, so I’ll stop there.
In terms of what I hope we publish in the future, I suppose I’ll say what we’re publishing now—ie. what I would love to have on my bookshelf. Books that I will return to time and again for their intelligence, bravery, and craft. Work that will continue to inform me.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
That publishers are carving out a space for themselves and their writers, and many doing so very well (i.e. good PR, hosting readings, supporting good but weird work). It throws into relief the support system we have in the writing world, as so many editors and press staff are writers themselves.
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 Ricochet Editions?
Ricochet receives a (humble) bundle from USC every year to help us offset costs. We still need to charge reading fees to get close to breaking even (which we often don’t). This may be perhaps because Ricochet doesn’t get all that many submissions, particularly if you consider our parent press Gold Line’s numbers. This is likely due to the fact we do strangely specific calls (hybrid, graphic novella, etc.).
The remainder of this response is a personal one, rather than as a representative of the press—I don’t think I can speak for the other members of the board on the topic. The issue of money really troubles me, generally. I’ve been able to sit and hear some beautifully articulate thoughts on the issue from veterans of the publishing world. I think particularly of Teresa Carmody at the Open Press event that took place in Los Angeles last year. The long and short of what Teresa said (at least what I remember) is that though many of us (publisher, author, and reader alike) are radical in our politics, and generally want to disassociate ourselves from the terrible reality of the marketplace and all that entails, it unfairly places the burden upon the publisher (one of the marketplace’s many victims) rather than the perpetrator (the marketplace) if we suddenly don’t charge fees, or give the books out for free, etc.
This is all to say, we in the publishing community are providing labor, with many of us earning no monetary income from those efforts. Oftentimes we are simultaneously deeply devoted to putting out beautiful objects that bear incredible and thoughtful writing and/or visual work. It means a lot to me to produce a physical object—I feel a deeper intimacy with the physical rather than the digital. (Though I will say that even the production of a quality digital object is not cheap). The reality is that this all costs money, and, if you want to produce a quality product (even if you’re on a budget) it is no small amount of money. Generally book sales, as far as I can tell, don’t do enough for small independent presses to get out of the red.
I have spent hours trying to locate an article I believe Craig Santos Perez penned some years ago where he laid out the production costs of a competition winning book in response to the outcry about reading fees. It is really eye-opening for someone who hasn’t been on the other side of the editorial table and looked at a publisher’s budget for a single title. And, I feel I should emphasize, all of the people I have worked with in the publishing world are on the other side of the editorial table, and often. I drop a staggering amount of money on reading fees every year, and I live on a graduate student’s budget. I get it. But I think it’s also a radical move to keep money within the niche of the small press world—basically circulating all our meager incomes among others with meager incomes (my reading fee will feed into the honorarium of the broke poet who wins the competition, my buying that book will help pay the Managing Editor’s measly salary). It’s not that I don’t want to participate in the revolution, but demanding that presses don’t require reading fees or charge for books is not going to solve (or even address) the much much larger problem.