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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ministry of Whimsy Editorial Round Table

Questions posed by Jeff VanderMeer to Todd Fischer of imelod publications, 2000.

What is your particular editorial slant or philosophy? In other words, what makes your press different from other presses?

imelod was founded as a voice for emerging authors of horror, fantasy and/or science-fiction. At the time we knew of no other such zine in Canada and we were warmly received by such authors, and by the small press at large.

At first we had to hunt down submissions (since no one had heard of us yet) but soon we began receiving dozens of submissions a month from across Canada, and then from around the world (the USA, Ireland, Scotland, Brazil, Portugal, England etc.).

Eager to increase our output we began to publish chapbooks alongside our title magazine (imelod, the litzine of horror and the bizarre). We now publish four issues of imelod a year, plus at least four chapbooks.

Our submitters now include such well-known professional authors as DF Lewis, W.H. Pugmire and the novelist C.J. Henderson. (Though we do accept work from established writers, we are still dedicated to accepting work from emerging and little known authors as well.)

Though many of our publications are an homage to the great pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft, we try not to just print pastiche imitations of his work, but rather stories that give his creations a new twist.

We don’t limit ourselves to the Lovecraftian, either. We print quality, intelligent stories, ranging from the absurd to the horrifying, from the humourous to the thoughtful. We won’t turn away erotica, violence, broken taboos, swearing or any other boogey that may scare away the mainstream market. The only constant is the craft inherent in the stories and poems we publish.

What have been your biggest critical and popular successes and what differentiates them from your less successful projects? (Which brings us to another question--How do you define success for your press?)

Our best selling publications have been those in honour of Lovecraft. So much so that we launched a new label in January 1999 called Mythosian, to publish only Lovecraft related material (such as our yearly anthology The Ancient Track and our index of Lovecraftian authors, artists, movie-makers, etc. called Spawn of the Old Ones, Volumes I-III).

We consider a publication a success if we sell out our initial printing (usually 50 copies). Whenever that happens, we happily run off 50 or so more.

In looking at the major professional houses (Harcourt Brace, etc.) what, in recent years, do you perceive as their strengths and weaknesses--what do they do well, and what do they do poorly?

To tell the truth, we don’t care what they do. They ignore us, so we ignore them. The major problem with big publishers is that they don’t respect genre work (especially horror). Neither do most people, for that matter. Everyone seems to forget that many of the greats in the world of literature wrote horror (like Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickins, Jules Verne, etc.)

Major publishing houses don’t give many new writers a chance, instead focusing all of their attention (and resources) on a small stable of big names (like King, Koontz, Rice). If they do give a new writer a chance they don’t push the book, and it doesn’t move. The big wigs then look at each other, shrug, and say, “See, horror doesn’t sell.”

(Not to disparage those that want to make a career out of writing horror. You just need to realize that of all the genres, it is one of the hardest to really break into. And your first step is to get exposure in the small press.)

The proliferation of chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, at the expense of independent bookstores, has been criticized quite a bit in recent years--although B&N, for example, does deal with small presses. What, exactly, are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with the chains. And have you had to change the way you do business?

Chains eating up smaller bookstores hasn’t affected us at all. (Not in a publishing sense, anyway.) We only sell through distributors, in certain shops and via the internet. In the beginning we placed ourselves in several music and comic shops, but found that our publications were buried under others, so no one could even find them, let alone buy them.

We’ve been quite successful (see question #2) operating in this fashion.

Elatedly, perhaps, what are some of the biggest problems you face as an independent? Please share some of your more creative solutions.

Perhaps the biggest problem an indy press faces is production costs. Trying to find a company that can print or photocopy your publications at a reasonable price is a hard, grueling task. Luckily for us, our search ended quickly. We found a photocopier that gives us a really good deal, keeping our overheard down (and allowing us to keep our prices down as well).

The second is spreading the word about your press. The best way to do this is to write to as many other zines and small presses as you can, and ask them to participate in an ad swap. Most will agree readily. Once you begin correspondence with some established publishers, you can pump them for info about the market, distributors, and so on. (Our own thanks in particular to Jeff Thomas of Necropolitan Press.)

You should also try to attend book and zine fairs. Send them some free samples to hand out if you can’t attend. (You can find out about such fairs in your area on the internet, in literary journals, local events listings or from your zinester friends.)

Lastly, send out as many review copies as you can afford. This really helps spread the word, and will hopefully result in some type you can quote on the back of your next book.

Based on your own experience and knowledge, what role do you see independent presses playing in the next 10 years, and how does this role relate to trends among the large publishers?

Independent press will continue to do what it has done since the turn of the century—publish great new literature; discovering new talent before the big boys.

What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect to see from your press in the next year?

Current projects include issue 14 of imelod (featuring C.J. Henderson) in July, our next installment of The Ancient Track in October, our third HPL tribute issue of imelod in October, a chapbook by Octavio Ramas Jr. sometime this summer or fall, and a second collection of poetry by M.E.F. at some point this year.

jeffvan@freenet.tlh.fl.us
http://www.mindspring.com/~toones/roundtable/index2.html
http://wyrmpublishing.com/ministry.html

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