Editor’s Corner #4: Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney for Rose Metal Press
Welcome to this week’s installment of Editor’s Corner in which we hear from the editors of Rose Metal Press, Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney. Beckel has worked in publishing for over a decade and her own poems have appeared in So and So #44 and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Kathleen Rooney is the author of multiple collections of poetry. Read about her most recent collection, Robinson Alone, here. And read an interview with Beckel and Rooney here.
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On their press, roles and publishing philosophies:
We founded Rose Metal Press in Boston in January of 2006 as an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit publisher whose mission is to produce books in what we call hybrid genres, by which we mean short short stories, prose poetry, flash nonfiction, novels-in-verse, book-length linked narrative poems, image and text collaborations, and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.
We publish three books a year—two full-length (spring and fall) and the winner of our annual chapbook contest for manuscripts of flash fiction/flash nonfiction (summer). We put a lot of effort into the aesthetics of our print books to make them beautiful and lasting—working with independent designers and artists and using high-quality printing methods and for the chapbooks, letterpress. We also publish e-books of most of our books and organize 20-30 readings and events a year for our authors.
Our main philosophy/mission is to broaden the literary landscape beyond traditional genres and open up more opportunities for both writers and readers to experiment with and experience innovative forms in writing. We chose this focus for Rose Metal because we noticed that many writers were doing exciting, culturally important work in hybrid genres, but that they had limited opportunities to publish that work since the market is not particularly friendly to things that are hard to define. But innovation is how every field, including creative writing, moves forward and evolves, so we’ve tried to champion that in-between space and encourage writers to push boundaries.
We chose the name Rose Metal Press because Rose Metal is a fusible alloy made of three different other metals/elements. It has a low melting point so it’s most often used to solder things together. Just as the alloy Rose Metal joins one unlike thing to another so strongly that they cannot be separated, we seek out and publish authors who fuse unlike elements together in their writing in ways that are both surprising and seamless.
On the current publishing climate:
As mentioned above, we essentially started the press because the publishing climate was so bad for hybrid-genre works. The big box bookstores had the majority of the buying power and they didn’t like to stock things that didn’t fit neatly into sci-fi or romance, let alone books that spanned genres of form. As a result, few commercial publishers accept cross-genre submissions due to concerns over profitability and marketing.
To a large extent, this remains the case—big publishers are, if anything, even more averse to taking risks on literary work whose “marketability” is not obvious. And the big bookstores are facing struggles of their own, but certainly aren’t looking to showcase more unusual work.
But the great thing is that both readers and writers have ever-increasing access to writing and publishing outside of the large corporate scene. And in the seven years since we started Rose Metal Press, we’ve seen more and more small publishers and journals broadening their definitions of genre and seeking out hybrid work, which is wonderful. Flash fiction and flash nonfiction, particularly, have exploded as far as people writing in the genres, talking about them, holding contests, teaching classes in those genres, etc.
We really value our independent, non-profit status, as it allows us to take on books that don’t seem like they would have a big market and spend the time to get the book and author out there to the most potential readers possible. With a genre that is unfamiliar, sometimes readers don’t know they want it/love it until they experience it.
Genre aside, we keep gender, class, sexuality and race in mind every time we select a manuscript for publication. We do our best to strike a good balance in each regard, though our record is far from “perfect” and we remind ourselves regularly that there is always room for improvement.
As a press founded and run by women, Rose Metal Press works particularly hard to be cognizant of our numbers in regard to gender, and if we find ourselves skewing too heavily toward one gender or the other, we take steps to get our figures back in line. We try to alternate male and female judges on our chapbook contest—this year our judge is Deb Olin Unferth, the year before it was Randall Brown—and to notice how our submissions are looking during open reading periods.
When necessary, if we see, for instance, that we are getting way more submissions from men than women, we’ll put out calls for more submissions from women on social media, in our e-newsletter, and in personal emails to colleagues in the literary community. We work hard to put equal numbers of men and women into print. Doing this requires extra work, of course, but it’s worth it, because in the end it leads to a more diverse, high-quality, and compelling list of forthcoming titles.
On VIDA’s Count:
We admire VIDA’s overall mission and especially the Count, which we see as a useful and necessary metric that all writers, editors and publishers should take note of. We value numbers and consider both quantitative and qualitative data important in trying to understand a problem or situation.
Acquiring and publicizing this data raises awareness and puts the literary community on the hook and makes it much less possible to plead ignorance to a systemic issue. The Count quantifies a feeling that a lot of writers and readers have had for a long time—that women’s writing does not get the same representation and coverage that men’s writing does—and this quantification gives a starting point that members of the literary community can and should use to examine their own writing, editing, reading, submitting and publishing practices and to be more mindful as needed.
On A+ Lit People:
There are so many amazing and admirable publications doing great work in the small and independent publishing sphere! But some of our favorite explicitly feminist publishers are Dancing Girl, Switchback Books, Hyacinth Girl, Kore Press, and Birds of Lace. And some of our favorite journals that publish hybrid-genre writing are NANO Fiction, Brevity, Smokelong Quarterly, Sentence, Vestal Review, Double Room, and decomP.
Abigail Beckel is the cofounder and publisher of Rose Metal Press, an independent nonprofit literary press dedicated to the publication of work in hybrid genres. She has worked professionally in publishing for more than 11 years at publishing houses such as Pearson Education, Beacon Press, Blackwell Publishing, and United Business Media. She is also a published poet.
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, composers of typewritten poetry on demand. She is the author of six books of poetry and nonfiction including, most recently, the novel in poems Robinson Alone, the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs and the art modeling memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object. Her debut novel, O Democracy!, is forthcoming in Spring 2014.