How was Well & Often Press born?
Well&Often was officially born in 2011. I had been thinking about starting a press for some time, but the opportunity arose when Caits and I finished the manuscript for our book. I knew I'd wanted to self-publish but I didn't want to do one book and leave it at that. There's a stigma that comes with self-publishing and I guess part of it was a desire to do more than just put out my own book. I began looking into authors who also published. Virginia Wolf's Hogwarth Press was a huge inspiration. Around the same time, I'd been reading a lot about the life of Frederick Douglas. Small publishers, particularly of newspapers, were an integral part of the abolitionist movement. While I’m not necessarily driven by any particular agenda, being able to send a message to your own village is powerful, even if it's done on a small scale.
That's the sort of heady conceptual impetus that went into birthing Well&Often. The nuts of bolts of it are far less interesting. It involves setting up an LLC, spending money I was saving for a motorcycle, and convincing my friends to get involved. Actually, I’ll take this opportunity to thank the friends I managed to convince: Caits Meissner, a founding editor and the Education Editor of The Well&Often Reader; Nora Salem, Fiction Editor; and Anna Meister, Poetry Editor of The Well&Often Reader. They all care deeply about what we’re doing and it’s an honor to work with them.
How do you choose which manuscripts you accept?
So far we've published two books, my book with Caits and Safia Elhillo's new chapbook. I'd been introduced to Safia via Caits and I instantly fell in love with her work. She mentioned she was working on a chapbook and I asked to see it. The poems were quite strong so I asked if she'd be down with Well&Often publishing it. Right now, our primary focus is on The Well&Often Reader, our online magazine. As a small shop, we’re content with putting out one book a year. Hopefully, in the future we can do more, but for now the plan is to reach out to writers whose work we love.
What is your background like? Where did you study?
I graduated from Pratt Institute's Communication Design program with a focus in graphic design. As far as writing goes, I studied on the streets. Kidding, I was fortunate to have gone to primary and secondary schools that focused heavily on writing. Though I decided to go into design, I made a point of reading and writing constantly. While at Pratt, I ended up having to take all my required studio courses last because I was too busy taking liberal arts courses. Mark Twain, DFW, and William Carlos Williams are among my literary crushes and their work has definitely seeped into my own writing.
Can you run us through how a manuscript gets from manuscript to published book?
Well, once the manuscript is done (which usually ends up not being the case until the very last email with the printers before they push the button), I spend a lot of time with the work and start to think about possible ways to package it. What typeface should we use? What kind of cover should it have? What kind of paper should it be printed on? Binding? Once a concept has been chosen, I begin reaching out to printers for estimates. So far, we've only worked with local printers (shout out to RollingPress in Brooklyn), which tends to be more expensive, but keeps things simple as far as proofs go. Around this time is when the book is assigned an ISBN number and we start thinking about how we're going to sell it. So far, we've gotten into some local shops but our primary point of sale is the Well&Often website. After the book is designed and at the printers, we try to set up a book launch event and other readings. We also try to get the book reviewed. When the boxes of books come in, we promote heavily on various social media sites and wait for the cash to start rolling in. Just kidding, cash sort of absentmindedly saunters in, but books do sell, which is a good feeling.
Do you get paid for running Well&Often? If not, what's your day job?
Nope. This whole enterprise is a labour of love. We all have day jobs or are working on getting our MFAs (Hi Anna!). I’m an Exhibition and Interactive Designer at a leading exhibition planning and design firm.
If you could be a character in a movie, what character would you be?
I'd be the celebrity cameo that plays God. Think Alanis Morissette in Dogma or Tom Waits in that other movie nobody ever saw. Honestly though, I'd be happy to play Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump.
What was it like publishing your book "The Letter all Your friends Have Written You"? What kind of responses have you received for your book?
Publishing "The Letter..." was a great experience. It was our first book so I learned a whole lot about the publishing process. Also, the book was funded via Kickstarter which was a huge boost of confidence. The response has been at once gratifying and humbling. We got a number of excellent reviews (Used Furniture Review, Pank Magazine, BooksMatter). The most common response we've gotten is how beautiful the book is as an object. A young woman recently shared with me how a particular poem in the book helped her through a difficult time. That kind of response always feels good. That's really what you hope for when you put out a book – that something inside that book reaches someone.
If something could happen to you in the next five minutes, what would that be?
I'm currently drinking white wine and standing next to a fireplace. In five minutes, I suppose I could take a seat. I could also get the urge to pee. I've been sipping on this wine for some time.
Can we see a picture of your work/writing desk? If you do not have one... please supply us with either a picture of your sock drawer, a drawing of a cat, or a sound file of you singing.
Well, this is embarrassing but here goes a little ditty I recorded during a summer romance a few years back. I dont know, maybe it was the song that did it but the relationship didn’t go very far.
What do you do if a friend asks you to look at their work and it's terrible. What do you say to them?
Having gone to art school and having a job in which my work is constantly being critiqued, I’ve grown used to giving and receiving constructive criticism (I mean, you’ve now heard my music). If someone’s work isn’t ready, especially the work of a friend, the best thing I can do is advise them on how to improve it. I’d probably also take the opportunity to point out the work’s merits.
If I wanted to be featured on your radio station in a talk show (bboxradio.com) what would I have to do?
You'd have to get in touch with Donna Meredith of BBOX or a specific show host via the website. I was heavily involved in the process of getting BBOX started but I'm not a part of the day-to-day operations.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a small press?
Research. The internet is your best friend as far as advice goes. Also, research as many printers as you can. Get more than one estimate.
What place do you think small presses hold in the poetry world? Are they becoming more necessary? Along the same lines, do you think that technology has changed the face of poetry?
Small presses are absolutely necessary. Because of the democratization of publishing, due to the internet and the availability of tools, there are thousands of small publishers. While this might seem like over-saturation, a good small publisher is cultivating a distinct voice and speaking to its community.
What is in your refrigerator? Pictures please?
Old shit. Absolutely not.
Could you write us a poem using the following words: suitcase, moldy bones, unbuttoned skin?
The weatherworn suitcase sat unused.
Its ashen leather seemed to say, "I have only space
for moldy bones and unbuttoned skin."
Where do you see Well&Often in 5 years?
In 5 years I see Well&Often with a small but respectable catalog. The Well&Often Reader will be considered one of the best lit mags on the web and a resource for teachers and educators (See our lesson plans!) Readers will come to us expecting to find writing that represents what is to come – writing from new and perhaps unheard of voices. Writers will come to us knowing that, despite being a small press, Well&Often is known and respected for the quality of its publications. I also see us with way more likes on Facebook (Like us!).