Interview with c.vance & Rae Wood, Editors
How did Throwback Books start?
Throwback Books started as a vanity press, actually. Editor c.vance published his collection of poetry / flash fiction to sell at poetry slams while touring. Then he published a friend… then a Canadian author’s musings he found on LiveJournal… then, when open submissions started in 2010, it became a viable small press that has published amazing authors throughout the country. With the addition of Rae Wood in 2016, we are now a staff of two people who review, edit, promote and hand-craft each book.
Tell us a bit about Throwback Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Throwback strives to make books that embody the words within them. For example, Jonathan Treadway’s poetry compilation, Blue Life Sketches, reflected on his abandonment of “the family business” of being a Baptist preacher for more carnal desires. To highlight it, we designed a book of vellum pages with a stitched binding, purple bookmark and gold lettering for the cover—topped off with a drink-ring stamped stain on each.
Our mission is to keep finding authors who will let us make their words into an object.
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?
Our latest release is Widowing by Janet McCann. She wrote a collection of poems commemorating the endearingly antagonistic and love-filled life shared for 50+ years with her husband until his death in ’16. We wanted to make a book that was an embodiment of separation, so we constructed one bound on both sides that you have to break down the middle and tear apart the pages to read.
This summer, we will be releasing two books in tandem. One is something farther across the ocean by Eric Cline. He submitted his manuscript with a description equating growing up gay in the 90’s to an isolation on par with “…a message in a bottle at sea.” It stuck with us as we were designing his book. It will be published as unbound weathered pages rolled into a bottle engraved with title / author name / Throwback logo. The other is Burnt Sienna: Cocktails & Stories by Joshua Bohnsack. Each story in this collection is prefaced by a corresponding drink, so it only seemed fitting that this book should be bound as a series of recipe cards. They will be sold together at a slight discount and will look amazing on a bar or a bookshelf!
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.
Our approach to other small presses is, “You do you!” A statement of both encouragement and critique. As encouragement, some presses embody the quality of writing we love to read. Spot their logo on the binding and you know it’s going to be a new favorite author. It’s just—BAM. That feeling of, “They know what I love.”
As a critique, a lot of small presses don’t seem to stay true to an aesthetic or an ethos. Whether it is chasing some independent literary darling of the moment to publish because it might sell well… or selecting a swath of genres to throw between covers in the hope something will eventually grip their audience… or even varying paper stock and design between books. As expansive as the small press world is, it isn’t big enough to have everything hodgepodged into an unremarkable competition over the same few names decorating the same few people’s shelf space. If you have a niche in this literary world, don’t break out of it—improve within the confines. Dig deeper into that niche with new authors and new ways of reaching people. You do you and do it damned well.
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 Throwback Books?
Coping comes by having day jobs and drinking. Sometimes the books will pay for a drink here and there but, on the whole, this is an indentured labor of love.
Our authors do an amazing job promoting their own work and are the only reason a micro-press like ours still exists. Releasing two books at a time has allowed us to get more return on less advertising but it also allows the authors to pool their resources of mailing lists, friends, family, readings and interviews.
Throwback Books doesn’t charge reading fees nor do we do contests. The only income we get is through book sales. Our Author Contract states that the profits are split after expenses are recouped. Each book is handmade which lowers the cost of materials and we don’t pay ourselves for the time making them which lowers the cost further. So far, we have made a profit on every book we have released—a prideful fact for us. However, from those earnings we pay our Submittable dues, web page hosting, social media advertising, etc. Leaving enough left over for a drink… here and there.
We realize this isn’t a sustainable model for all presses.