Interview with Josh Gaines, Founder and Captain
How did Thoughtcrime Press start?
Myself and two other poets were considering going on tour. We all had individual books, but wanted to do something special and hand crafted for the tour. The Thoughtcrime Press name was one I’d had in mind for quite some time. I decided making three small books might be a great first project for the press. So I designed a book for each of us and put them in a set and ran a kickstarter campaign. It ended up paying for the books and funding our tour.
Tell us a bit about Thoughtcrime Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
I wanted Thoughtcrime Press to be similar to Derrick Brown’s Write Bloody in many ways. I have a ton of respect for Derrick’s work with his press, and I happen to like him a lot as a person as well. The way they combine performance poets and artists for their books is outstanding. Like everything though, I would do it differently. Stealing the idea of matching performing poets work with exceptional artists, I wanted to take it a step further and offer the level of page design offered by art book presses (a vastly underappreciated art), and do it all with a completely different cost structure. If we have any main mission, it’s to make sure the author gets paid as much as possible per book and make sure anyone can afford the book. We don’t have the type of distribution that Write Bloody does, but that means we also don’t have the same expensive overhead. Also, I am not trying to be profitable as a press. The only work I want to make any money off of is my own. So we run at a break even, or slightly in the red, point as a press which means our authors make nearly three times what most authors do off the sale of a single book. We recognize too that as writers we write because we have something to say, and if people can’t afford our books our voice goes unheard. We price our books lower than other small presses, and leave the author plenty of leeway to accept far less for their books and still profit from their work. Lastly we believe in freedom of ownership of your own work. After the initial print run all of our contracts are non-exclusive. We want our authors to succeed. If they get a better offer somewhere else, we want them to take it! But they better give us a shout out for our part in their success 😉 Our profitless structure allows us to do this where others who need to make a profit cannot.
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?
Right now we have a book in the works for Chicago poet Emilio Maldonado, and are running our very first chapbook competition. The chapbook will be two chapbooks in a single volume arranged back to back so that each side has a front cover. Most books exist in a small world of themselves. Our mirrored format allows two worlds in conversation. The possibilities in there are super exciting to us, especially in a time where we feel the increased interaction of ideas is desperately needed.
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.
I guess I’m doing what I would have done differently. Making works as accessible as zines, but taking the technology we have available now to make them as professional as the best books out there, and using the internet to make them available outside the local community. I’m bothered by the profit structures of many things. Medicine, energy sources, art and on and on. Some things are for the good of the world. World scientists just got together to make a profitless Ebola vaccine. That excites me. If you own a Prius in West Virginia and your home is run by a coal burning plant, you may as well be fueling your car with coal. That bothers me. Art is held back by the gatekeepers, and they decide what is good sure, but often more importantly what they can sell regardless of how much they like the work. So we hear things like, “It’s great but there’s no market for this right now.” I get why this is. However, I disagree with the concept of profit over creation all the time. I would like to see more small presses create an occasional space for writers whose work they think is good, but not necessarily marketable, to have the support of their staff and artists to create the equivalent of locally produced zines that just happen to look like modern poetry books. The collections that could come out of that “unpopular” literature movement would likely create the conversations we’ll be having ten or twenty years from now.
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 Thoughtcrime Press?
Until this month we haven’t allowed submissions. We simply approach authors we hear and like their work, and ask them if they have a book or have interest in making one. With our chapbook competition we are charging $10 to enter OR if two people enter two chapbooks together that they think speak to each other, we accept them together for the same $10, so $5 a book. It’s not a reading fee. We are hoping to raise enough money through the submissions to make the initial print run.
Normally, however, we cope initially by running Kickstarter campaigns, which so far have allowed us to include hand crafted artistic perks (like letter-pressed broadsides etc.), pay for the initial print runs of our books, and pay our authors and designers for their work. Our last Kickstarter made nearly $1,000 over what we needed to make the books. That money went to the artists and author.
After that we charge our authors whatever our print cost is plus $1 for their books. That $1 I keep and use to pay our future cover artists. As the price of printing increases, so do author costs, but in bulk it’s still a pretty small cost per book. Most perfect bound books only cost small presses 2-8 bucks to make. The low end, which is the most common, is printing through the large printers like Ingram, and the pricier end is the cost to print through local or specialty printers. Since we don’t have to pay much for distribution or a store front, that is pretty much the extent of our operating costs. Ultimately, I don’t believe authors should have to pay anything for their books. With what they make from the sale of the 100+ books I give them up front, they can easily afford another two or three print runs from me and still have plenty left over. In that way, I fund their future book purchases with free books to start.