amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Chapbook As An Ephemeral Publication

I made the decision recently to end chapbook publication for AngelHousePress/DevilHouse. I did this because the time, and energy required to produce chapbooks is taking its toll. I am finding that I have less and less time for my own writing and something had to go. So I chose chapbook publication.

In the meantime, I’m seeing people talk about the chapbook on social media. Some feel that limited editions are not reasonable. They talk about scarcity economics and seeing the chapbook as a commodity. I am normally on the side of abundance, certainly in love and desire, I believe that both are infinite, but like everyone else I understand that time, energy and money are not infinite.

I see the chapbook as a fling rather than a marriage. It’s a medium for experimentation.
For AngelHousePress/DevilHouse, we make 50 copies and don’t do reprints. We could either reprint a sold out chapbook or work on something new, introducing a new writer to our readers. I chose to do the latter. I didn’t ever want to be just a printer, folder, stapler, mailer. I wanted to publish writers who were either working in new ways from their usual or those who were just starting to experiment with words, form, content.

I don’t believe that my aesthetic should be adopted by other small presses. I have complete admiration and love for above/ground press, Ottawa’s local chapbook publishing engine that could, run by my dear friend and publisher, rob mclennan. He’s published 6 chapbooks of mine and I’m grateful. I love that he makes print runs of 250 and 300 copies and has a healthy list of subscribers, including me, who receive these great chapbooks, and that he hands them out freely to other writers, editors and publishers. This is marvelous, but we’re talking about a pretty much superhuman effort and devotion to the chapbook and to the writers he publishes. We’re talking about 25 years and 12-hour days at a copying machine, we’re talking about a whole room devoted to chapbook storage in a house he and his wife own.

Not everyone has that devotion, superpower or owns their own home. Not everyone can spend that much money, time and energy on such activity. I can’t. And more importantly, I won’t.

I admire publishers such as Apt. 9 Press who create chapbooks by hand-sewing them and even sometimes do letterpress designs. These are gorgeous and limited editions. Sometimes Cameron Anstee, who runs Apt. 9, will also do reprints. I respect that too. I hope these additional print runs sell out so that he has room to make more chapbooks.

New Ottawa presses have started up in the last few years. They run the gamut from folded and stapled to handsewn, from the traditional 5.5 x 8.5 size to variations, to broadsides with little seeds inside for planting. The point is that there are many ways to make and publish chapbooks. I respect and support all the different ways there are.

I respect the work of the writers we have published, but the only time a run sells out is when they buy it out or they promote the hell out of the work and their friends and family buy it. Many writers take only their 10 complementary copies and buy no more (at half price for authors), nor do they promote the work at all. In at least two cases, I haven’t even received an acknowledgment or thank you from the author upon receipt of the work.

AngelHousePress/DevilHouse chapbooks have never been shortlisted for any awards, and very occasionally have they been reviewed. My taste as an editor is not mainstream. I like raw stuff, ragged edges and rebels. I am not a huge fan of minimalism as a chief aesthetic. I like accumulation, hems and haws, flaws, broken fragments. I love the attempt.

Both AngelHousePress and DevilHouse will continue to exist in the form of online activity where we get a lot of unique views and response. I admit that none of these online initiatives have received awards or reviews either, but that’s standard in the literary world.

I have no more room in my apartment cupboards to store chapbooks. If I’d made more than 50 copies, I would probably have had to throw out books at this stage and I never want to do that. Instead AngelHousePress/DevilHouse has published great titles and some of them are sold out. Some of them are still in my cupboards though and I’d like you to read through the descriptions on the site and support the authors by buying their work.

We’re having a 2 for 1 sale right now. Please visit and to see what great chapbooks you can get at the low price of $3-5 per chapbook. Yes, you probably won’t find most of these authors in the pages of CanLit or at galas in snazzy clothes. You’ll find them at work on their next creation. And if you come across a title that is sold out, Google the writer and buy their other creations. The important thing is that readers support writers and writers create work that resonate for readers. Not all readers are going to enjoy the odnik prose of DevilHouse or the quirky pomes of AngelHousePress, but maybe you will. Give it a shot.

Once I’ve accomplished all the tasks on my 2018 to do list, I shall revisit returning to offering the AngelHousePress Close Reading Service for New Women and Gender Queer Poets and I may even expand it. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, support your local and not so local chapbook presses. Buy the chapbooks and review them on GoodReads or other places that review chapbooks, such as Arc Poetry Magazine and Broken Pencil Magazine. The chapbook is an excellent little book that kicks against the mainstream pricks and gives you something you won’t find in Chapters or on Amazon.

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