Interview with Diane Lockward, Founding Editor and Publisher
How did Terrapin Books start?
I needed a publisher for my second craft book, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop. The press that had done the first book was no longer functioning. However, I didn’t want to spend years searching and waiting, so I considered self-publishing it. When I realized how much work was involved and how much I would have to learn, I thought it would make sense for me to bring to life a small dream I’d had for years, i.e., starting a small press. So that’s what I did. I began with an anthology, The Doll Collection, which I edited. Then I issued a call for submissions of full-length poetry collections. From those first submissions, I ended up publishing our first four poetry books. Somewhere in there I published the craft book that started it all.
Tell us a bit about Terrapin Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
My mission is to publish wonderful collections. I will never become a mill, cranking out one book after another. I take a limited number of books each year and don’t take more submissions until I’ve published or almost published the titles selected in the most recent reading period. One of my goals is to publish titles within six months of acceptance. I don’t want my poets to grow old waiting for their books. I admire small presses like Tupelo, Copper Canyon, and BOA and aspire to give Terrapin books the same care that those presses obviously give their books. All our books are carefully edited and we take pride in creating beautiful books.
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’ve been holding two open reading periods each year for full-length poetry books. From the submissions, I select 2-4 manuscripts. At this point, we’ve published nine collections and just selected four new manuscripts. We have also published two anthologies: The Doll Collection, which I edited, and The Book of Donuts, edited by Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham. We also have two craft books, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop and The Crafty Poet II. I plan to soon begin working on The Crafty Poet III which I hope to have ready sometime in 2018. The main focus of the press is and will remain poetry collections by single authors.
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.
We all know that only a very limited number of poetry books will be accepted by the big house publishers, and we all know that that’s because poetry books don’t sell well. So I think it’s exciting that a number of small presses have emerged to publish the many worthy collections that might otherwise never see the light of day. Many of these presses are doing beautiful work, putting out terrific poetry in nicely designed books. I’d like to see more support among poets for other poets. We poets are pretty much the market for poetry books, so we need to buy each other’s books, review, and recommend them.
I remain concerned about the number of presses which run costly contests with fees running as high as $35. I understand the business model, but these contests attract hundreds of poets and I wonder if the presses really need to raise that much budget. The contests create a real financial burden for many poets. Perhaps more importantly, joining in on the contest circuit can just be soul-crushing. Yet many poets have come to believe that if they don’t win a contest they’re nothing. I’d like to see that change. Terrapin Books does not run contests and I hope we never will. All of our poets are winners.
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 Terrapin Books?
I know that some people find fees utterly anathema, but the alternative is that I personally fund the press. I don’t hope to get rich with the press but I do hope not to get poor. The minimal fee covers my essential services, e.g., printer and distributor fees; the Submittable fee, a service that is a great convenience for me and for the poets submitting; the website and the bookstore at the website; complimentary author’s copies; review copies that I send out; a variety of supplies; and royalties. I know that some small presses have stopped making royalty payments, but I take pride in paying the poets at least something.