Interview with Dos Gatos Press

          1.  Tell us a little about Dos Gatos Press.

Dos Gatos Press is located in central Austin, within a couple of miles of both downtown and the University of Texas.  David and I began the press in 2004 with the intent of focusing on poetry, specifically poetry of Texas and the Southwest.  From the start, we planned on this being a small press--or in industry terms, a micropress, since we publish only 1-3 titles a year.  Our main publication is the annual Texas Poetry Calendar, but we have also published a collection of poems by Texas Poet Laureate Karla K. Morton (Redefining Beauty), an anthology of Texas poetry (Big Land, Big Sky, Big Hair), and a collection of poetry writing exercises (Wingbeats: Exercises and Practice in Poetry), our first foray outside Texas.  More titles are in the works.

2.      Can you explain your roles at Dos Gatos?

Initially, David and I shared many of the duties at Dos Gatos, but after a couple of years, we found that we could be more efficient by dividing up our roles.  David, as Managing Editor, handles most of the production and distribution of our titles, as well as the bookkeeping (sales, invoices, etc.).  That means that David formats our titles with InDesign and prepares them for printing.  He also serves as the contact for our many retail outlets, and distributors.  He also handles our website.  There are a lot of "behind the scenes" tasks that David takes charge of (and I'm ever so thankful that I do not have to work with numbers).
I serve as the Chief Editor for the press.  Among my duties are editing, proofreading, keeping up correspondence with our contributors (including our newsletter), and seeking out new projects, such as Wingbeats (for many years, I also did our website).  I do a lot of the "outreach" for Dos Gatos, including contacting media outlets about our titles, organizing and hosting our numerous public readings and events, and answering questions like these for blogs.  Of course, I also assist David with layout, mailings, etc.--never a shortage of things to do!
Five years ago, Cindy Huyser came on board as a co-editor of the Texas Poetry Calendar, and next year she will take over as chief editor of the calendar, at which time some of my duties might change a bit.  I've got several new projects that I'll be working on, but I'd rather not discuss them just yet.  Laurie Ann Guerrero, of San Antonio, will join Cindy as a co-editor of the 2014 Texas Poetry Calendar.  We are expanding both in number and in geography!

Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen

3.   How did you get into publishing?

We got into publishing quite by accident.  Lianne Mercer, a poet in Fredericksburg, had been editing and publishing the Texas Poetry Calendar since its inception in 1999; but after after seven years was ready to devote more time to her own writing.  However, she did not want to see the Texas Poetry Calendar end its run.  That's when she contacted me to see if I would be interested in taking over its publication.  I already knew it would be more work than I could handle, so I asked my partner if he would consider joining me in the venture.  He said yes, and we drove out to Fredericksbrug to talk over the transition from Flying Cow Publications to Dos Gatos Press, with a year to plan the transition.  Before we knew what we were doing, we had produced the 2006 Texas Poetry Calendar--and now we've just published our eighth one, so the calendar's been going for fifteen years!
One decision we made when we decided to get into this business was to seek 501(c)3 status to run Dos Gatos Press as a non-profit organization.  While the early years were lean, we've managed to be in the black every one of our years in business.  As authors, we also wanted to run the press the way we would like to be treated, and we continue to run it this way.

  4.   What is the best thing about publishing poetry?

By far the best thing about publishing poetry is the praise and thanks we get from our community of readers for the work we're doing.  People who don't ordinarily read poetry often read the Texas Poetry Calendar.  The poets also appreciate having a quality outlet for their work, and we, in turn, appreciate being able to promote their work--and discover new voices.  Our mission statement is "to make poetry more widely available to the reading public and to support writers of poetry"--and by most all accounts, we have succeeded.

5.   What is the most difficult thing about publishing poetry?

That said, the nature of this business is that there are always going to be poets whose work you turn down, many of whom are friends and acquaintances, which is why we use a blind submission process.  We really don't want to know whose poems we're reading when we're making decisions; and, I'm glad to say, most poets would rather have a poem accepted because of its quality than because of the reputation of its author.  Still, it hurts to have to reject poems, including some excellent poems that don't fit into the limited space we have to print poems.
The other difficult thing about publishing poetry is that it's not a profitable business; the profit margin is extremely small for most books, and places that require discounts of 65% or more make breaking even almost impossible (can we say, Barnes & Noble?).  Of course, many places will not carry poetry at all, even a calendar that contains poetry.  David could probably list a hundred different stores that have said no to carrying our books.  We've learned to stick with the retailers that work with us, and rely on the goodwill of our poets, another good reason for treating them right.

             6.   What inspires the two of you in poetry?

       I'll answer for myself.  What inspires me is language itself--the sound of words, the syntax of lines, the beauty of language.  When I read a book of poetry, I constantly find myself underlining similes that startle, lines that say so much in so few words, words which flow so well off the tongue--things I wish I had written myself!  On days when I think that it's impossible to write anything that hasn't been written before, I read a new poem that takes my breath away with its originality and craft!  And I'm all the more inspired by poets who are able to use language to such effect in form poetry.

              7.   What advice do you have for poets submitting their work to publishers?

       First of all, become familiar with what a publisher publishes, which is easy enough these days since most publishers have a webpage that includes sample poems (ours is http://dosgatospress.org/featured-poems-12) .  And then send poems that are appropriate.  Second, read and follow the guidelines!  If a publisher says "no more than three poems," don't send five or ten.  If a publisher states that poems should be no longer than what will fit on an ordinary page, don't send a 2-3 page poem.  If a publisher asks that you not include any identifying information--like a name--on your work, then don't include it.  I could go on.  Third, proofread what you send (or get someone else to do it); if you want an editor to care about your work, you need to make it appear that you care about it.  Finally, if you're doing all these things, don't give up if at first you don't succeed.  Every poet receives rejections, and if you are convinced that what you are submitting is your best work, then perservere.  I'm not ashamed to say that some of my own poems have gone through two dozen rejections before being accepted for publication.

                8.   I know that you publish several books, but can you tell us a little about Wingbeats?

       Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry was developed as an answer to what I perceived as a need.  One of my favorite books of poetry exercises is The Practice of Poetry, edited by Chase Twichell and Robin Behn, and I had waited for almost twenty years for another book like it to appear on the market.  None did.  At this point, I began to think that perhaps I might be able to create such a book myself--and David gave me the okay to make it a Dos Gatos Press project, our first that would be beyond the scope of Texas and the Southwest.  In other words, it was a big step for us!  I made a list of poets--academic and non-academic--who I wanted to contact about contributing an exercise and got to work.  I was delighted with the responses and the willingness of poets to work with a small press that most had never heard of--and for no money (only one well-known poet brought up payment, and she's not in Wingbeats).  I sent out a loose set of guidelines for how we wanted the exercises to look (but no requirements on content), and as they started to come, it became apparent that the exercises were all over the map.  Despite the wonderful array of voices and writing styles, we wanted the book to have an internal consistency, and that came in the form of editing and formatting, at which time David agreed that he would co-edit Wingbeats; it was clearly too much for one person to handle, and being able to edit back and forth with him made a huge difference in the "step-by-step" format the exercises developed.  We also had a lot of back and forth with the poets themselves, asking for additional information or for sample poems based on the exercises.  Samples are a big thing, something that sets Wingbeats apart from The Practice of Poetry.  We were adamant that each exercise would include at least one sample poem so that readers working their way through an exercise would be able to compare their own output with a sample; if the poet couldn't supply one--and most could--we asked poet friends to try the exercise and used their poems as samples.  In the end, we think our attention to detail paid off, and the poets who contributed exercises seemed very happy with the changes we made to what they sent us and the book as a whole.  When they received proofs--after David worked his technical magic in InDesign--poets could see for themselves that their trust in us was not misguided.  (I might add that much of that technical magic later came back to haunt David as he had to strip out much of the formatting for our ebook version--but he persisted and it's now available: https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000001479/Wingbeats-Exercises-and-Practice-in-Poetry.html .)

       Organizing the exercises into a book was a challenge because until we received them, we had no idea what kind of exercises they would be or where they might fit.  I really appreciate poets like Laurie Kutchins who actually asked me which kind of exercise we could use (revision!) to fill in any gaps.  One of the reasons we include an "Alternate Table of Contents" in addition to a "Table of Contents" is because we had such a hard time categorizing the exercises into just seven sections!  Overall, the poets were amazingly supportive throughout the project, constantly making us feel we were on the right track.

                  9.   How did you come up with the name for the book?

       The book went through many, many titles (most of which I've forgotten, but there's a list somewhere) before we settled on Wingbeats, which I like because of its connotations--the wing which suggests a lifting of writing flying off the page and the beats which suggests the musicality of birds and poems.  This was the first title that we came up with that we both loved, and it also lent itself well to a cover image, which our wonderful graphic designer Kristee Humphrey brought to life.  By the way, there's even a poem in Wingbeats that uses the term "wingbeat"--Jessamyn Smyth's "Cove."  Clearly the title was meant to be!

         10.  You have provided a poetry exercise from Wingbeats, would you like to talk a little about that?

"Line Dancing" is a quick and open-ended little exercise, good for any day of the year. It starts with a line of poetry written by someone else--a line that grabs your attention and won't let go. Who doesn't have dozens (hundreds) of those at hand? It's a perfect exercise for a day when you don't want to feel restricted by rules. All you need is an arresting line of poetry you didn't write yourself. And then you dance with it, turn yourself loose, let yourself go, follow your own little dance of words. Each dance starts with a new and different line. Each dance will take new and surprising turns. No matter how often you do the exercise, no poem will seem like a lifeless repeat of one you've done before.

Writing Exercise From Wingbeats: Exercise and Practice in Poetry

Dos Gatos provided the following exercise from the book.  I hope you will try it and leave your comments below.  We would love to hear about your experience.
Line Dancing

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