Yesterday I wrote about editorial curation and publication. Today I want to talk more about what it’s like to start a press, as well mention our current call for submissions.
I started Augury Books five years ago because a friend and I had been kicking the idea around and eventually we hit that strange tipping point where we’d talked about it so much that the idea gained its own momentum and became real almost without our quite noticing. We also had friends who had just started an experimental translation journal, Telephone, and watching them launch their project made starting our own seem less daunting. When the events director at the Rubin Museum, a former poetry student of mine, asked if I’d curate a poetry reading there, it pushed us from talk into action.
Our first year felt like walking around blindfolded in the dark. Christine Kanownik, my then co-editor, made a Wordpress site for us, we posted a call for submissions, and then suddenly we were reading manuscripts. We didn't have enough money to go to print, but we selected our favorite from the submissions pile—Patrick Moran’s The Book of Lost Things—and ran a fund-raising campaign to finance publishing it, as well as two chapbooks. Paige Lipari, one of our chapbook authors, also designed our logo: a fox standing next to a top hat. Christine taught herself layout programs and got the books ready. I called local bars and sweet-talked their owners until Botanica on Houston Street promised us their back room and drink specials for our launch party. There was a delay with one of our printers (both their fault and ours) and one title, which should have been ready weeks earlier, had to be shipped to us overnight the day before the launch. I look back now and I see how much we were winging it every day, but still we made three beautiful books.
During our reading period the following summer, Christine got a new job with heavier time commitments and resigned from our board. I didn't want Augury to die—I wanted to publish more books and I felt a sense of obligation to our current authors to keep their work in print—so I brought on a new editorial board (Kimberly Steele and then Nick Amara, a former intern, rejoined us as our assistant editor) and we went legit. We began using outside book designers and photographers. We joined CLMP. We hired a lawyer and incorporated, and then gained fiscal sponsorship under Fractured Atlas. We expanded from publishing only poetry into also being a home for short story collections and nonfiction. We’re still based in New York, but we partnered up with SPD for national distribution so we don't have to race to the post office every time we get a book order.
It’s been hard at times. In the first two years, before we had experience and when the board changed, I was terrified we might run out of money or screw up the design or somehow let our authors down. I didn’t know how to balance running a business and still meet all my teaching commitments, let alone find time for my own writing and maintain some semblance of a personal life. But somehow we made it work. And it’s still working—better and more seamlessly than ever. In the past few years, our authors have won the O. Henry prize for short fiction, the San Diego Book Award, and the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award, and have been featured on the Poetry Society of America’s website and in PEN America World Voices Anthology. The press itself has been profiled for VIDA’s Editor’s Corner feature and Poets and Writers’ Small Press Points. Through it all, we’ve remained dedicated to publishing innovative work from emerging and established writers and showcasing voices that we believe in.
It’s hard to start a press. If I’d known how much work really goes into it, I don’t know if I would actually have done it. But I’m so glad I did, and I can’t imagine quitting. Now when people ask me for advice about starting a press, I have a short go-to list:
1) Have a small cushion of money set aside before you start. It’s dangerous to rely only on submissions fees and fund-raising at first. We would have been much calmer at the beginning if we’d been less hand to mouth back then.
2) Go legit as soon as you can. It’s safer for you and your authors if you’re legally covered, and it’s a solid affirmation of your commitment to stay in publishing for the long term.
3) The amount work you think it will take? Triple that. Then add more.
4) Add at a few months onto any deadline. There will be roadblocks. Sometimes content edits with your authors take longer than you expected, sometimes design does, sometimes there will be issues with the printer or the post office might lose your shipment or unforeseeable events like Hurricane Sandy will throw off your production cycle.
5) Remember that you have an obligation to your authors to do the best job that you can with their books. That doesn’t always mean you have to agree with them about edits or launch dates or cover design, but it does mean you must stay a responsible business that will keep their books in print and accessible to readers, and that you will behave with integrity in your dealings with them and the rest of the literary community. And remember also to treat all the manuscripts in your submissions pile with the same amount of respect. It is an act of trust for a prospective author to submit their work to you: be worthy of that trust by being a thoughtful reader. Try to understand what each author is trying to accomplish. Take breaks from reading when you start feeling burned out. Don’t look at submissions if you’re hungry or tired or cranky or have a headache or the neighbors downstairs are blasting music so loudly that their sound system obscures whatever music lurks in the manuscript you are trying to read.
I want to end this post by being self-serving: Augury Books is in the middle of our yearly open reading period right now and I’d like to share our call for submissions. Right now we are looking for high-quality full-length poetry, short story, and nonfiction collections. If you have a manuscript that’s looking for a home, you can find further guidelines and a link to submit your work at our Submittable page.
If you have any questions that our Submittable page does not answer, please feel free to ask us for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s an honor and a privilege to be an editor. No press can exist without authors who entrust us with their work. Thank you for writing your books.