Interview with Eve Connell, Managing Editor
How did University of Hell Press start?
Launched by Greg Gerding, the press had its beginnings in Hell. In 1994, a weekly series—Poetry in Hell—began in a Washington, D.C. bar, Hell. (And yes, Heaven could be found upstairs.) For several years, the series showcased writing, music, and performance art. The spirit of Hell then moved to San Diego, California (1996) and quickly became a major fixture in the poetry scene. A weekly prose column written by Gerding called University of Hell was published by The Weekly San Diego from 1999 to 2000.
In 2005, Gerding conceived University of Hell Press as a self-publishing brand and launched his first title The Burning Album of Lame. Four more self-published titles followed. University of Hell Press moved operations from San Diego to Portland, Oregon in 2008, and continues to have a strong presence in both cities, and in Denver, Colorado, while ferreting out unique artists across the land.
In 2012, University of Hell Press was officially, truly, really launched when we published Eirean Bradley’s the I in team—and quickly followed with books by Lindsey Kugler, Johnny No Bueno (Sean Aaron Bowers), and Stephen M. Park. In 2013, we published books by Calvero, Brian S. Ellis, Leah Noble Davidson, and Bradley’s second book. In 2014, we published books by John W. Barrios, Tyler Atwood, and Michael N. Thompson. In 2015, we published second books by Calvero and Ellis, and debut books by Sarah Xerta, Lauren Gilmore, Rory Douglas, and Joseph Edwin Haeger. In 2016, we published a second book by Davidson, and debut books by Michael McLaughlin, A.M. O’Malley, Rory Douglas, and our first novel by Christine Rice. 2017 has been super exciting, too, with our first anthology edited by Cam Awkward-Rich and Sam Sax, and a flipbook twofer by Rob Gray.
Tell us a bit about University of Hell Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Our authors offer a raw view of their varied world experiences. They expose themselves intimately, completely, often with humor and always with irreverence and edge. These talented individuals provide snapshots of the horrific, the sensory, the mundane, with beautifully constructed linguistic imagery.
Our indie punk / rock record label sensibility attracts creative, unique, wild and wooly individuals, each with something important to say about life and how we’re all muddling our way through it. While on different tracks, there’s certainly a common spirit. People notice this about the content we’re putting out there, and how we’re choosing to present it. We couldn’t do it without the writers. Obviously.
Our exceptional artists and graphic designers have helped honed the look and feel of the press, which we’re also known and loved for. People always comment on logo and name, our beautiful covers, interior artwork, and interesting layouts and organizational conceits. Our current catalog enjoys definite supermodel status!
Mission: We’re denting the world with words, one incendiary book at a time.
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?
We have about a dozen new titles in various stages of current production with two new releases expected this summer and fall (Wryly McCutchen; Suzanne Burns). Later in 2018, we’ll see a memoir from Jason Arment and another gem from Stephen M Park. There’s more. A lot more. We’re booked and busy!
We’re thrilled about so many recent and coming releases, successes, and collaborations. And, we’re always eager to participate in local, regional, and national events, conferences, publishing fairs, small press forums, and more. We love to merge great writing with great art, so our events usually offer a great combo of compelling content with music or performance. You’re going to see more mash-ups with these elements in our future.
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.
Like all small presses who are eager to produce, we face serious limitations—of resources, of bandwidth, of reach. We’re focused on diversifying our readership and our roster, and in order to attract new voices in both those camps, we’ve got to do some things differently. That’s one of the biggest challenges we notice in smallpresslandia—creating diverse rosters to give platform to voices that haven’t been heard before, and doing so successfully. While we realize this isn’t every small press’s mission, the wider landscape feels ready to shift, and many players are already doing so. We want to shift and solidify our foundation, gain a wider reach, diversify all around, and still remain focused, creative, honest. This is our most pressing concern, and we think it’s one of the most pressing challenges facing the small/indie press publishing world.
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 University of Hell Press?
We’re ALL strapped for resources (time, $). Our small but mighty editorial group (which we seek to diversify, too!) volunteers hundreds of hours screening, vetting, reading, editing, editing, editing to get an author’s book into print. We pay all costs, which is something many small presses don’t do. We’re not making any money (our authors are!), but we’re not losing money, either. We plan to expand our distribution channels this summer which will help support our mission greatly and allow us to make some money to pay our editors, to put into future projects, and to reach different audiences.
We have considered implementing a nominal reading fee (once we open submissions, far, far off into the future) to ensure we’re attracting more serious creatives to our press. However, we don’t want to miss out on new voices, so this decision is one we’ve been going back and forth on for a long time. We haven’t landed on it yet.