Monday, August 2, 2010

Six Questions for Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, co-Founders, Rose Metal Press

Rose Metal Press publishes hybrid genres specializing in short short fiction, flash and micro-fiction, prose poetry and other fiction forms and essays. Learn more here.

SQF: According to a report by Foner Books (, “[g]rowth stagnated for booksellers in 2008, and overall book sales barely moved according to the government.” In addition, I’ve read a number of articles concerning the difficulty authors are having securing book deals. In your opinion, what is the current state of the print book market?

RMP: The book market is tough right now, just like the job market, and just like many markets. But a lot of things that are worth doing are tough. Rose Metal Press believes that the irrational, uneven, high stakes gambling model by which most of the trade publishers still insist on operating does not make sense. We deliberately stay in the black by not giving outrageous advances and by sticking to three carefully selected titles a year in small print runs. We see a lot of other small independent presses making similar choices that make financial sense for them and allow them to keep publishing worthy new titles. So, the state of the trade publishing market is pretty crappy: outmoded and anxious. The state of small press publishing is healthy: enthusiastic and strong.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

RMP: First, that it operate on more than one emotional level simultaneously, achieving an atmosphere that is, for instance, funny-sad. We can’t bear books that take themselves too seriously. Conversely, we find books that appear to consider themselves exclusively “humorous” are unsatisfying in a different direction. Next, that it exhibit some kind of formal inventiveness; our mission is to publish and promote works in hybrid genres. Finally, that (and this is secondary to the quality of the work itself, of course, but it’s important) its author seems willing to work hard and help us promote the book to the best of our collective abilities. Since we’re a small press, we value writers who understand that we need their full support in getting a book “out there.”

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

RMP: Sending or emailing us unsolicited manuscripts when our website clearly states: “Please do not send or email unsolicited manuscripts to the Press outside of the specified reading periods.”

SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

RMP: Many of our authors have had extensive publishing credits, if not in terms of previously published books, then in terms of pieces that have appeared widely in literary journals, both in print and online. As we mention above, the quality of the work itself is our foremost consideration in accepting a work for publication, but we do value publishing credits insofar as they indicate that a writer is doing his or her best to find the work a home in the world and to build a relationship with the literary community. For a number of our short short chapbook contest winners, the chapbook was their first book. In a couple of cases, it’s been great to see our authors’ Rose Metal chapbooks get great press and help them secure second books.

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

RMP: We have yet to deal with any authors’ agents; our stakes (aka monetary payoffs) are way too low for any agent to be interested, which is fine with us. So we haven’t really got any agent advice except that if you want to try to get published by Rose Metal Press, you don’t need one. As for looking for a publisher: do research, read what the press has published, and then use that research to write a specific, targeted, and intelligent cover letter. Especially because our mission is so specifically focused and so explicitly stated on all our publicity materials, there are few things more frustrating than getting a poorly done letter from somebody who is clearly NOT writing in a hybrid form, and who has clearly sent the same exact letter to dozens of other presses, none of which really resemble Rose Metal Press. That said, we have to thank the vast majority of our query-ers for sending thoughtful letters and for understanding our mission and for presenting themselves in line with how they might fit it.

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

RMP: One last piece of advice to the writers out there: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing. Don’t let bookstore categories fool you into thinking that your only options are novels or short stories or poetry or essays. Maybe the best way to communicate what you want to write is some mix of those or other forms, some hybrid of word and page or line and image.

Thank you, Abby and Kathleen. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 8/4--Six Questions for Six Questions for Clifford Garstang, Editor, Prime Number Magazine

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