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.