This is the seventh 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 Editor Ken Baumann
How did Sator Press start?
Blake Butler and I had published a few issues of No Colony, a once-living print literary journal. Blake knew I’d been talking shit about starting a press to publish full-length books, and so he sent me the manuscript of The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney by Christopher Higgs. I read it in six or seven hours, read it again the next morning, made up a business plan in ten minutes, and then emailed Chris an offer. Within the next two days, paperwork and money were rolling and Sator was born.
Tell us a bit about Sator Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I admire the hell out of how Barney Rosset ran Grove back in the day. He took risks for literature—much bigger risks than I’m taking now. It is that blood-in dedication to brave books that I want Sator to embody, regardless of scale. Since the press is basically a one-man operation, Sator’s aesthetic is my aesthetic, and so is as mutative and day-to-day as my tastes. That said, I generally know what I don’t like: I don’t like books that lean too heavily on entertainment. I don’t respect books that don’t say something dangerous. I don’t like books with boring structures, boring language. I want to publish literature that is musical and sculptural and also explosive. I also want to publish the books that I want to publish without being fettered by financial considerations; Sator is a 501c3 nonprofit. I also try to keep the ecological weight of each Sator Press title down, meaning the books are printed on recycled paper stock and mailed in simple and sustainable packaging.
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?
I have one book contracted now. I can’t mention much about the book or its author, save for the fact of his pseudonymous renown. I have no idea about what kind of book he will deliver: I paid him to write whatever the hell he wants Sator to publish.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Small presses are by and large independent, meaning they are truly run by their editors. This means that books are being published via small presses because smart and well-read people want those books to exist in the world. This desire is often tamped down by the corporate strata present in big publishing companies. I understand that books are products, but fuck what a sales team thinks about the ontological worth of a book. Small presses often publish more interesting literature because they can take risks that publicly-held corporations can’t. I also love the fact that anyone who can scrape together a few thousand bucks can publish a book that is as well-made as a book published by a multimillion dollar corporation. Via small presses, people with odd aims and un-buffeted tastes rise to this opportunity. I am a firm believer in the goodness of the small, the local, and the face-to-face, so how could I not believe in the goodness of the diffusion of small presses?
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 Sator Press?
Frankly, I made and saved good money via an old job, so I’ve been able to spend between $3000 and $5000 on each title published via Sator and not worry that much about my financial solvency. People buy Sator books, but not enough people buy Sator books to fund the next Sator book. I believe that authors deserve to be paid, and so I pay authors a $1000 advance. If a Sator author’s book earns out his or her advance on top of the printing costs, then I pay royalties of 60-75% of gross profit from each paperback copy sold, and 80% of gross profit from each ebook copy sold. But all of Sator’s financial info can be read here. I believe that business are obligated to be honest about their ethics, which means they should be honest about their finances. Look: the profit motive—and the desire for prestige, and for little awards and crowns and badges and such—has been the main force by which much of life on Earth has been irreparably fucked up. So if you’re running a press and your press isn’t a nonprofit, and if you’re not transparent about your finances, and if you’re charging $20 or, Christ, $50 dollar reading fees or contest entry fees or whatever, and if you’re making a significant amount of money over and above the cash paid out to the author whom you’re paying an advance or to the winner of the competition, then you are shit. Period. I think Nassim Taleb is right in trusting people hungry for money more than people hungry for honors/titles/etc., but I still think that financially crying wolf in order to charge unnecessary fees to publish books that will be read by probably no more than a few thousand people is goddamned wretched. In other words: if you can’t afford to publish the books that you want to publish, and can’t raise money—in a transparent and honest manner—to do so, then stop publishing books. The job of a publisher is simple: Publish a pretty object that contains important and daring ideas. Pay your authors. Thank your readers. That’s it.