This is the twenty-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 Liz McGehee, Managing Editor
How did Subito Press start?
Subito Press was birthed out of a need for publication at the University of Colorado Boulder. Tim Roberts originally created the publishing workshop here at CU, which was then taken over by Elisabeth Sheffield and eventually headed by Noah Eli Gordon. The press mainly functions as a workshop for CU’s MFA program, presenting the students with the inner and outer workings of a small press, and providing job options beyond academia post-graduation.
Tell us a bit about Subito. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
In terms of aesthetic, nothing is set in stone. Because of the yearly workshop setting, the staff and readers are always different resulting in an ephemeral vision, which is great when you think about it. We have poets and fiction writers from all over the country with wildly different aesthetics defending their favorite pieces to one another. It’s beautiful.
As for our mission, we want to publish what moves us, whether that means innovative language, never before seen hybridity, collaborations or an unfounded creativity that we can throw a spotlight on. We are very proud of the work we have chosen to produce, and we wish we could illuminate even more of the talented manuscripts we’ve had pour into our submission box.
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?
After the workshop readers whittled down the manuscripts to a few in each category, we had some of the creative writing professors choose their favorites. Those winners can be found on our website, and publication is set for 2015:
Jeffrey DeShell selected Nick Francis Potter’s New Animals as the winner of our prose contest.
Ruth Ellen Kocher selected Sarah Bartlett’s Sometimes We Walk With Our Nails Out as the winner of our poetry contest.
John D’Agata selected Linda Russo’s To Think of Her Writing Awash in Light as the winner of our inaugural lyric essay / creative non-fiction prize.
As part of the class, next year’s workshop students will be editing these books, contacting authors, and promoting them, so we don’t have any available previews unfortunately.
In addition to this, we will be producing a book by Douglas Kearney (!), but we’re not ready to share all of those details just yet.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Well, if we weren’t a small press, we wouldn’t have the freedom that we do. We get to teach, learn, build connections with other small presses, and publish the work we value over what makes us the most money (money, ha!). Small press is for the passionate. It is a chance to build up the aesthetics you value, to elevate innovative language, to be at the center of the continuing evolution of form, and to have a say in what those things are. The most exciting thing about small press is still having a voice that is heard and that counts when it comes to publication, whereas a larger press runs primarily on numbers and sales.
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 Subito Press?
Subito’s numbers are a little tricky since we are technically a university class. We get a little funding through the University of Colorado at Boulder. As a class, the readers actually pay to do their jobs at the expense of learning, and this money goes to the university, not to Subito.
All of the money we make from reading fees funnels right back into the production costs of our books. That, unfortunately, is the brunt of costs. The more funding we receive from the university, the more books we can produce. We can only afford to put out a couple of books annually at this point, although we would love to do more. Even with small increments of university funding, it is barely enough to keep a small press working.
In the workshop, Noah Eli Gordon breaks down the numbers for us from printing to shipping to hiring a designer for the book covers, showing the staggering amount of money and time it actually takes to run a small press, and boy, is it enlightening.
The workshop also interviews other small presses to find out how much their costs run them and how much money one can expect to bring in even at the top echelon within the press. Overwhelmingly, the majority of editors and publishers have a second job that is their main source of income. Often, they were funneling their own personal money into their presses, essentially not only making zero profit but also losing money. This is why we see so many small press deaths. In a way, small press is like the restaurant business—a huge financial gamble that often leaves the owner in debt.
A purely web based press can cut down on some of these costs and therefore cut down on some of their reading fees, but obviously none of the staff gets paid much either way, if they get paid at all. You truly have to love this field to be in it.
Most presses, in my opinion, do not charge a reading fee for any other purpose than paying out the contest winners or for the cost of producing the winning books, and they hate requiring a fee in the first place. It’s not exactly a secret that writers are broke. Money is precious, and most of us in small press know this.
Subito = “right away” in Italian. What does this mean for Subito Press?
We like to think meaning of Subito as “suddenly,” which to us means a writing of the present. Not against tradition but always of the new.