This is the fourth 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 M Kitchell, Editor
How did Solar Luxuriance start?
In 2010 I was working in the photocopy department of a university and I realized the resources available. I was heavy into book design and had made a number of zines & chapbooks, so I decided to call myself a press and started publishing. It took a while for me to gain focus—the first few years were vague, and I was mostly publishing work by myself and people I knew who I solicited. I never held an open reading period until THE OBELISK SERIES in 2013.
Tell us a bit about Solar Luxuriance. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
There are a number of publishing ventures that I have found specifically influential—Orange Export Ltd books, edited by Emmauel Hocqard and Raquel in France from 1969-1986 are a very desirable model both for what they were publishing and the form(s) in which they published books. Paul Buck, as well as Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop (Curtains/Spectacular Diseases and Burning Deck respectively) are publishing mavericks, putting wonderful work into the world without having tons of money, using modes & materials at hand. Perhaps most influential are the beautiful books that artists and writers believe in enough to self-publish.
In terms of aesthetics, there are other points in this interview where I more fully expand on “content aesthetics” (for want of a better express), so I’ll speak instead of “visual aesthetics.” I spend a lot of time thinking about how design can interact with a text, improve it, make it stand out. I spend a lot of time looking at & studying design, but I know it’s important to find design inspiration in places other than design blogs. I find pleasure and influence in the following: 70s & 80s conceptual art, small architecture publications/magazines, Arte Povera, post-minimalism and land art, typographer Wolfgang Weingart, artist R.H. Quaytman. I like lines & textures, unique color combinations, shocking typography. I like when the eye moves across the page.
My mission is best expressed in the answer that follows this one, where you ask “what [I’m] hoping to publish in the future.”
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?
Solar Luxuriance released a total of 16 titles this year—every single book is amazing, but for the sake of not wanting to take up too much space, I’ll just talk a little about the releases that just came out!
Sacramento by Meghan Lamb is a short novel that deals with the experiences of two separate women in different time periods—the 19th century around the time of the Gold Rush and the present. The contrasting narratives speak obliquely and honestly on the nature of relationships. Apart From by M Kitchell (me) is a queering of Mallarmé’s Igitur and an exploration of a radical “outsideness.” It includes full-color photo spreads as points of affect interrupting the poetic narrative. This Mutilated Woman’s Head by Aurora Linnea is a spectacle of form that interrogates what it means to experience Girlhood through the fantastique. It has a wild layout and is a totally dynamic experience.
Next year my plan is to focus on releasing work in translation—and I’ve got some amazing stuff lined up. I’m thrilled! I’ve been working with Adam Siegel on a small book from Hans Henny Jahnn, a criminally underrated German. Jahnn’s work—what little exists in English—is mostly out of print (the exception being Atlas Press’s wonderful The Living Are Few, The Dead Many which collects the “novella” “Night of Lead” and some additional stories). What I’m putting out with Adam is an exceptionally queer fragment. Jahnn was very interesting, and his queerness seems to either be ignored or viewed as a deterrent (his conception of his own homosexuality is certainly not of the “loud and proud” variety, but his entire world view would be inconsistent with this).
I’ve been in talks with a few French translators and, being a literary Francophile, I’m excited about the possibilities that have opened up. I’ll be publishing work both contemporary and from throughout the 20th century.
Other than work in translation, I’m most interested in poetic/narrative texts that challenge form and exist as books. I’m not interested in collections of poetry or excerpts of larger work; I’m not interested in “short stories.” I’m interested in self-contained texts that require the form of the book to function. This comes out of a long engagement with the culture of artists’ books (as obsessively documented and praised by people like Johanna Drucker and Keith Smith) and the Post-Mallarméan, post-Bataillean poetics that emerged from France between the 60s and the 90s—writers whose poetics refused the idea of “poetry,” instead taking on “writing (écriture),” and resulting in the Book (with shades of Mallarmé’s LE LIVRE all over the place). Claude Royet-Journoud, Bernard Noël, Anne Marie-Albiach, Danielle Collobert & of course Edmund Jabès have excited me the most. Really thinking about a book—what makes a book, how texts work as a book—tends to radically change the way said books are both written and read.
In a similar capacity, I’m interested in very short, self-contained “novels.” For example, I’m thinking specifically of Bataille’s Madame Edwarda (perhaps the best novel ever written), works from Marguerite Duras like The Malady of Death and The Man Standing in the Corridor and Blanchot’s récits, such as Death Sentence and The Madness of the Day. All exploit and challenge the form of the book. They are self-contained. I would argue that they are not “short stories,” because I feel like the “short story” is an academic construction that refuses a—let’s say—philosophical weight.
Thematically, my interest is in publishing work that engages with exploration, horror, narrative, queerness, the fantastique, eroticism, desire, abstraction, the development of theory via fiction, and most importantly: the impossible. I’m interested in work that privileges questions over answers.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
The answer to this question should always be the freedom offered by independence.
Unfortunately, unless a publisher can afford a full-scale publicity campaign, or if the author is already “hot,” the constraints of capital and a lack of interest makes this freedom a resource in short supply. The “publishing industry” is an abattoir where good intentions are murdered by well-meaning dullards, confused artisans who soothe the beef before they slice its throat, deluded by the conviction that whispering goodnight to a dying beast is an absolution and loving kindness.
Independent publishing offers, in theory, a place for work that lies outside of the dominant hegemony (whether in form, content, politik, tone, etc.) to find publication—not just a place for second-tier work that could find placement on a major/larger press if it were better written. Whether or not anybody buys or reads this work after it’s published is, of course, a different story.
I’m excited when an independent press is publishing something other than literary fiction. Literary fiction was, in all seriousness, established by the CIA during the Cold War—it belongs to the state. As such, an independent press with no ties to the state should inherently not be interested in “literary fiction.” Semantically!
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 Solar Luxuriance?
Solar Luxuriance has never charged reading fees, and will never charge reading fees. I am violently opposed to them.
Regarding printing costs, there seems to be some illusion that for a press to be “real” you have to print, I don’t know, at least 500 copies of a book (an arbitrary number). Because most small presses do not have successful advertising strategies, they rarely sell this many books sell. There’s an inherent tension—why are you printing 500 if you can’t sell 500? Print 50 books & see how they sell. If they all sell, and they all sell quickly, then do a second printing. Repeat. I think the biggest problem presses run into is that their return doesn’t cover their printing costs, and this leads to things like Kickstarter, reading fees, etc.
The author of the book shouldn’t pay for any publication costs. If you can’t afford to publish a book, you shouldn’t publish it. That strikes me as logical.
The cost of printing hasn’t gone up—if anything it’s fallen since the dominance of digital technology. I’d guess that rising book costs reflect the fact that people aren’t buying many books (and I don’t think the culture at large is responsible for this). If you’re not turning a profit with what you’re publishing, then you can’t publish anything else. Conversely,if you’re selling enough books then you don’t have to price them much above the printing cost in order to profit, and you’ll have no problem financing your next publication. This feels relevant to the Amazon question. I don’t sell books on Amazon (I also don’t purchase ISBN numbers for most of the SL titles), but I’m aware, as is everyone else, of the egregious cut of your sales that Amazon takes. To profit off a book on Amazon, the book has to retail for a higher cover price.
I’m more than happy to be totally transparent about the “numbers” at SL. What “numbers” would you like to know about?
Assuming that you make money, how much? Where does that money go/come from? How much do you make per book you sell? And then, how much initial investment is required for a typical print run of yours?
Solar Luxuriance does not make that much money. While the books that I print & assemble etc. have little overhead, I’m also printing such small editions (of which the author gets 1/5th the number of copies) that the money goes back into further costs. To break this down, I’ll do two different examples, which illustrate two different approaches; first, what’s involved with printing a regular chapbook, then what was involved when I printed Apart From, which was perfect bound and printed professionally.
The initial costs involved for this are the things I buy regularly throughout the year:
– toner for the laser printer (occasionally ink for the inkjet printer if colors have cover)
– paper for the interiors of the book
– coverstock, cardstock, or arches paper for the covers
– staples for binding (and occasionally embroidery thread if books are bound with thread instead of staples)
(+ the costs for shipping materials: shipping tape & envelopes)
These are things I generally buy in bulk throughout the year. I would estimate I’ve spent somewhere between $500 & $750 on these materials throughout this year (though it’s worth noting I put out far more books in 2014 than I have any other year). I try to have all of these materials before I start printing, but that means throughout the year I buy all the items in bulk. I keep a variety of paperstock around, which normally I’ll work with what I have for a project, but sometimes a project requires me to head out to purchase more. There are also initial costs not included in this, which cover the equipment I use to print with itself: I use a Dell 1135N Laser Printer, a Canon Inkjet Printer, a heavy duty Long-Armed Pamphlet Stapler, a cheap paper cutter (which I’m upgrading to an industrial paper cutter soon), plus small things like a cutting board, bone folder, steel awl, Japanese paper punch, sewing needles, etc.
I design all the books I publish myself, so I don’t pay a designer. I don’t make enough money (more on this following) to pay authors, so as I mentioned, an author gets 1/5th of whatever the print run of a book is (for example, if I print 30 copies of a chapbook, the author gets 6, and so on).
I price the books, generally, at around $5 for a quarter-sheet sized chapbook (5.5 x 4.25 inches), and around $10 for a half-sheet sized chapbook (5.5 x 8.5 inches). Ink heavy printing, or any complicated binding (generally reserved for books that end up slightly too thick for pamphlet stapling) end up costing a bit more. Also if I use special paperstock the cost goes up, because buying specialty papers is a significantly heavier extent.
So, for example, let’s consider a quarter-sheet sized chap book in a edition of 30. 6 of those 30 copies go to the author, which leaves me with 24 to sell. 1 of those copies goes to my archive, which leaves 23. There were six available “2014 subscriptions,” so six copies goes to subscriptions, which means we’re down to 17. If I manage to sell all 17 at $5 each, that nets $85. That would seem alright, theoretically profitable on a minor scale, but I never actually end up selling an entire print run, rather I end up giving a handful away to people—sometimes if someone places a “big” order (let’s say, of at least three books), I like to throw in something extra. I’ll also end up giving away copies to people that I think would appreciate the books—as really I’m more concerned with the work I’m publishing getting read than turning a profit. So let’s say I sell an actual 10 copies out of a print run of 30, which nets $50. I also generally end up undercharging for shipping & handling & never account for Paypal fees, so that $50 drops to $40. $40 is less than 1/10th of the lower end of my estimated overhead costs, but I put out more than 10 books this year so that isn’t inherently problematic. However, of what I’ve published this year (18 titles), only 3 titles have sold out (one of which sold out because I gave away far more copies than I sold, but that was my own doing). As such, I have tons of copies of most of the books sitting in my room. So, I don’t think I’m necessarily making any money, but I also don’t feel like I’m losing money. If I felt like I were losing money I’m not sure I’d still be publishing.
PERFECT BOUND BOOKS
This is a more quantifiable example, as it’s just been completed and since I was working with a professional printer it’s much each to figure out specific costs.
I spent $1280 to print 100 copies of Apart From, which is $12.80 per book. The initial investment is money I made working a freelance design gig with the specific intention of printing the book. In this case, the money to print did not come out of book sale at all.
It’s $24 for 24 mailing envelopes, so the envelopes are a buck a pop.
It costs $2-3 dollars to ship the books media mail within the US.
So, cost per book = $12.80 + $1 + $2.80 = $16.60
On the website I’m selling the books for $22 shipped, which means I’m ostensibly netting $5.40 per book. That seems not awful, but I have to sell 71 copies of the book before I even earn back my initial investment of $1280. Also, netting $5.40 per book is an incredibly low profit margin for a publication, but once again I’m more interested in people reading the book than making money, so I’m working with numbers which I would hope are not too off-putting.