NA: Tell me a little about the press. Who started it, how long has it been in existence?
JP: I founded Brooklyn Arts Press (BAP) in 2007, partly in response to watching modern dancer friends, artists, and filmmakers successfully establish their own companies, and partly out of frustration of having my own book get short-listed for a few prizes while continuing to shell out contest entry fees unsustainable on a copyeditor’s budget. So I started BAP with my own book, with hopes of publishing 4 or 5 new poetry books a year. I’d published some of the poems in my collection in lit journals and had the rest generously picked apart by peers and professors at Iowa, so I felt like I’d paid my dues in terms of editorial scrutiny; plus, starting with my own book, I was free to make the mistakes I couldn’t afford to make with the works of other writers. I picked up book design pretty quickly, having worked for ad agencies, and blindly inched my way through the troubling, shifting terrain of printing, distribution, and marketing. It was great to have total control over my words and the final product, and the responses I received from writers I admired, to whom I sent copies, were well-worth the time, effort, and money. That winter, after recouping the initial investment with sales, BAP opened its doors to poetry submissions. About that time I took a gig as a Co-Director of an art gallery, and while making studio visits around New York, stumbled upon some amazing artists, which is how BAP began publishing art monographs. In 2009 we halted publishing because the stuttering economy killed sales. Since then we’ve bounced back. In 2010 the sheer number and quality of submissions jumped dramatically. In 2011 we started a poetry chapbook series and began generating revenue, gaining recognition in the community for the quality of the books we publish, both in terms of writing and overall aesthetic. Several of our books eventually found their way to “Best of the Year” lists. And 2012 is looking to expand upon that awesomeness. We attended AWP for the first time, and will be at conferences and book festivals here in New York.
NA: What makes your press unique?
JP: In terms of small presses, not much. We’ve had years with income and years without, like most independents, though Small Press Distribution, whom we signed with last year, has done spectacular work in getting our books noticed. Our first chapbook, Joe Fletcher’s Already It Is Dusk, hit their bestseller list, as did Carol Guess’ Darling Endangered (our first foray into lyrical fiction). Sales overall have spiked. As a distributor SPD connections are as varied as they are valuable. They have access to libraries and universities and secondary buyer channels.
A few things that differentiate us from other presses might be that we don’t hold contests or charge for submissions. If you charge a contest fee, you’re beholden to choose a winner. We never want to put ourselves in that position. BAP is less a business venture than a love affair. If I’m going to spend 6-8 months reading, editing, designing, publishing, and marketing a book, it’s because I believe in the author and the work. By the end, I feel as if the book is partly my book, too, and can’t imagine engaging in a process, in a relationship, that from the outset I suspect will lead to a hapless marriage.
Our motto is Pay It Forward. The profits from each book, minus shipping costs, royalties, and promotion, get put into producing the next new author’s book or a subsequent print run of the original book. I don’t pay myself anything. Our editors do it for the same reason I do, and many of our readers and designers are former BAP authors and artists giving back. We compensate them with copies of the books they work on. Most of our authors and artists get an honorarium plus copies, and we split the eBook proceeds with them 50-50. For future print runs, we work on a sliding scale, so if a book sells out and we enter a subsequent run, the author receives another batch of author copies and an equal or larger paycheck than the first. If we’re lucky, one big seller pays for the publication of two or more new books. It’s usually the costlier art monographs that contribute the bulk of this service.
NA: How many books do you publish each year?
JP: Last year we published 4 books. We have 3 lined up for summer 2012 but our submission period just ended a few weeks ago and the batch of full-length manuscripts we’re reading now is promising. We receive between 100 to 250 manuscripts per reading period, January and June, and choose 0 to 4 for publication.
NA: How do you promote your books?
JP: The best form of promotion is self-promotion. One of the tragic ironies of MFA programs is the lack of classes devoted to the business aspects of managing your art. When I’m writing, I’m not thinking sales. When I’m sitting across a café table with my agent, I’m thinking sales, I’m thinking marketing. If I’m not, I run the risk of publishers taking advantage of me. Remember, not so long ago big house publishers were offering writers 5% royalties on eBooks being sold for $9.99 per unit. I’ve recently read a blog post that suggests 35-45% should be the rate, if the publisher and writer are meant to split costs and profit equally. We settled on a 50-50 split because the math is easier, and because writers deserve more for their efforts.
So we encourage self-promotion, be it on a blog or with Twitter account or Facebook or by a shouting maniac on a street corner. We bring to the table print availability via our website, SPD, and Amazon, and eBook availability through our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Sony, the iBookstore, and anywhere else we can place them. We email-blast a newsletter and update our Facebook profile. We send out review copies, asking our authors to provide 10 to 20 places that might be amenable to reviewing their work, so that authors can sort through the aesthetic camps themselves. We distribute to ocal bookstores and to any bookstore where the author is doing a reading. Readings sell books. As do book parties and book launches. When we launched Jonathan Allen’s art book Superstructure at the Lu Magnus gallery in Manhattan, the lovely owners let us hang his work for a night. I brought a keg of beer and we invited everyone we knew and we sold books. But the biggest asset we have is the writer. Even an agoraphobic germaphobe has access to the internet, and some days I’m not too far off that description myself. In the end, word-of-mouth is our best resource.
When my book, Autobiomythography & Gallery, won coldfront’s Best First Book of the Year Award and garnered good reviews, I turned it into an eBook, which I hoped to follow with a line of BAP eBooks. Within the first month, I sold a few. But when I priced it for free, I gave away around 5000 copies, which immediately shot it to the top of Amazon’s best-seller chart. I was amazed. I couldn’t have walked out into the street and thrown that many copies at people. Readers were reading my work, and that’s really all I was after. I began selling print books again, based on the publicity of the free book. This is an option we’re extending to more of our writers following months of declining sales.
The poetry eBook, at least at this point, is a marketing device used to sell print books. Unless, perhaps, you’re already a big name. If a poet really wants his work read, he might try giving away the eBook after a few months of selling it at a reduced price. That is, if he can talk his publisher into doing it. This changes for fiction books, where the audience is larger and the conversion process simpler. A secondary note on poetry eBooks: because poetry is a written art and a spatial one, most poetry books must undergo extensive cosmetic surgery in order to be viewed on e-readers. This means fewer tabs, new line breaks, deleted empty paragraph lines and longer stanzas—changes that are anathema to most poets. Unless you write in plummeting necklines like Phillip Levine, or are willing to alter your art to accommodate the, you’re much better converting the book to a PDF and selling it that way, though of course you’re losing potential e-reader.
Here’s a promotion: Anyone reading this sentence can go to here and get 15% off any BAP fiction or poetry book through the end of April.
NA: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a small, independent press?
JP: There is no advantage to having no money, except perhaps the freedom to fail spectacularly in one’s own deeply personal and ambitious pursuit of introducing into the world something beautifully rendered and complete. Once something appears on the published page, an alchemical bit of magic occurs. There it is, for better or worse, the thing itself. And people have been reading for thousands of years, so there must be something to it.
NA: Could you describe some of the happiest or proudest moments for the press?
JP: The fleeting sense of pleasure I get every time I open a new box of a books I’ve spent countless hours producing. Whenever one of our authors makes their book covers their Facebook profile pics. When I meet someone for the first time and tell them about BAP and they’ve already heard of it. When any of our authors score a big review, like The Gay & Lesbian Review’s recent praise of Carol Guess’ collection, for which I had to eliminate ten or so exclamation points from my emails to maintain professional decorum. When a reader sends a note praising a work. When a class of college students in San Francisco chose Chris O. Cook’s To Lose & to Pretend as the poetry book they felt most closely connected to of any modern poetry book they’d read. When I saw James Tate reading at KGB Bar and then received a few months later his blurb for Joe Fletcher’s book. When I received notes from Heather McHugh and Don DeLillo in the span of a week saying disturbingly nice things about my own book. When artist Aaron Sing Fox agreed to do the cover designs for each of our chapbooks. Whenever one of my editors gets excited by a manuscript. Whenever my wife get excited by a cover design. When I’m being interviewed for the Best American Poetry blog, rival of the acronym BAP (although, to be fair, we pronounce BAP as *mouth noise resembling pop*).
A truly memorable experience came about when I was shopping for a cover artist for Christopher Hennessy’s Love-In-Idleness. On a lark, I googled “Best Cover Design Awards” and found the artist David Drummond’s name on several websites as one of the best in the business. (He’d just designed many of the new Richard Stark reprints). I knew I couldn’t afford him but I was curious about his rates. We’d never paid for a cover before, but all our artists were busy, and I was having trouble thinking up a design. So I emailed him, praising his work, which is truly amazing, and told him about BAP. I included a copy of Christopher’s manuscript so he could read it. When he emailed back, saying he’d love to do the cover and could work within our budget, I couldn’t believe it. We discussed budget. What was my budget? I sent him an email with a number, and an explanation of why it might seem low, as we were a small press with limited funds, and that I understood his time and skills were very valuable and passing on us would be, of course, understandable. He emailed me back with a mind-blower, agreeing to do the cover for the price of a single copy of the printed book. It was a considerably gracious gesture.
NA: I’d love to see a poem or an excerpt of a poem that you think exemplifies the kind of work BAP admires.
JP: We admire all kinds of work. Check out our mission statement:
“We hope to serve our community by placing books of varying aesthetics side by side, subverting the notion that artistic camps exist in vacuums, apart from the culture in which they reside and apart from other camps. Experimentation leads to innovation, which may arrive by way of given forms or new ones, just as language and imagery will be used to whatever ends by the voices that manipulate them, which are by nature numerous and diverse.”
Instead of listing a single poem here's a link where they can download a free PDF sampler of the work of BAP writers.
Thanks for having us.
Joe Pan grew up along the Space Coast of Florida and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut poetry book, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named “Best First Book of the Year” by coldfront magazine. His work has appeared in such places as Art World, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Greensboro Review, Glimmer Train, Hyperallergic, and The New York Times. He lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here.