Thu 12 Dec 2013
Dan Waber is the founder, publisher, and editor for Naissance Chapbooks, a one-person operation. In addition, he’s a poet, playwright, publisher, and multimedia artist whose work is almost always language-based. A web search of his name (in quotes) will produce a veritable cornucopia of literary oddments, amusements and geegaws. Things he’s made have landed themselves in The Art of English, A Poet’s Craft, Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 1, Drunken Boat, Iowa Review (web), in books, broadsides, anthologies, and ephemeral publications, in mailboxes, on stage, in a puppet theater, online, on buses, on gallery walls, and the Library Congress. He has also written more sestinas than there are particles in the known universe.
Bonnie ZoBell: Hello, Dan. I appreciate your talking to our readers today about publishing fiction chapbooks, specifically at Naissance Chapbooks. One of the most interesting things I read on your site is that you guarantee a response to chapbook submissions within one business day. How can you possibly keep up with that?
Dan Waber: Today it is one business day, but I might change that if it becomes impossible. So far it hasn’t been impossible to keep up with. A chapbook manuscript is shorter than a full-length manuscript, so the time investment in reading submissions is smaller. But, I’m sure that the main reason is because of the $10.
One thing different about Naissance is that we offer two methods of submission. The first is traditional: mail a copy of the manuscript and a SASE; there’s no charge for this. The second is $10, you submit electronically, we respond in one business day, and if the work isn’t right for us we provide you with the properly formatted PDF files to produce the chapbook yourself. Instead of saying “no,” we empower authors to self-publish. Some people aren’t in a hurry, and don’t have any use for the PDF. Those people should submit by snail mail for free. Some people find value in knowing within one day, instead of many months, if their work is a good fit for us or not and/or find value in the file conversion service (which we also offer as a standalone option).
BZ: I also see on your site that you offer a 12-page chapbook “Suggestions for Writers Just Starting Out,” that you yourself wrote, for free to anyone in the U.S. just for the asking, and for just the cost of postage outside the U.S. I suppose that would also allow people to see what your chapbooks look like, true? Very generous of you.
DW: I produce a lot of ephemera. My pockets are usually stuffed with all sorts of printed bits that I give away or leave in appropriate places. That particular chapbook came about as a result of trying to write rejection letters that were more encouraging than discouraging. I’ve been writing and publishing for a long time, and I just put together a collection of the things that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out, the things that aren’t in any manual, really, but that you pick up along the way. And I thought it would be a good way to show people what the chapbooks I publish look like. Occasionally I have people ask for details about them that can really only be answered by holding one in their hand. It just didn’t seem appropriate to charge for them, so I offer them for free.
BZ: Does Naissance Chapbooks have a philosophy?
DW: No official philosophy, other than my own, which can’t really be reduced to a sound bite or bumper sticker. Informally I sometimes joke that our tagline is: Because Everyone Else Is Doing It Wrong. I started Naissance because I found it absurd that anyone should have to wait 6, 8, 10, or even more months in order to get a rejection. I knew there had to be a better way. I also knew from other publishing projects (my wife and I are Paper Kite Press, a publisher of full-length poetry books) how much time and effort get spent on preserving the formatting that modern composition tools make so easy for writers. The main problem is that writers compose on an 8.5” x 11” page in their word processor, and that work needs to be recomposed to fit a page with a different size and a different aspect ratio. I thought if I could find a way to take a properly formatted submitted manuscript and shrink, rotate, and properly shuffle the pages for double-sided printing, I could save a huge amount of time and effort. I was right.
BZ: I notice on your site that you have the tiny series, which are small booklets. Could you tell us about that?
DW: The tiny series was created after I spent some time on another project making the book form—it’s a single sheet of paper, with one cut, that folds into an 8-page mini-booklet, perfect for dropping in with your bill payments, or leaving along with your restaurant tip, or to just keep in a pocket for easy sharing with other people. I had a friend make me a jig to make the cutting portion more efficient, and I found I really liked making them. So I went looking for ideas on what could go inside. With front and back matter pieces of about 500 words or less fit just right. So I started inviting people I knew to submit flash fictions they might have, and then I later opened it up for submissions from anyone.
BZ: What would you say your press is looking for in the way of fiction chapbook submissions?
DW: I don’t know, until I read it. Interestingness is an extremely difficult thing to predict. Past examples are only marginally useful because one aspect of interestingness is newness, so looking at what was interesting before doesn’t really say what will be interesting now. Interestingness is a kind of sameness, too, though. If I can’t connect something to anything I already know, it is unlikely to be interesting. It’s this slippery blend of the known and the new that is inherently unpredictable.
BZ: What mistakes do you see fiction chapbook writers making who submit to Naissance Chapbooks?
DW: I see a lot of typos, in everything I read. I’m happy to work with authors to make line edits like that, so it’s never a deal-breaker for me (though I know it is for others), but it is an unfortunate fact of the spell-checker age that things don’t get as closely proofread as they should.
BZ: What’s your idea of a perfect submission?
DW: One that follows the submission guidelines precisely. Other than that I don’t have any preconceived notions of what the content should be.
BZ: Name a few writers whose fiction chapbooks Naissance has published and tell us a few words about their chapbooks.
DW: Tantra Bensko’s Watching the Windows Sleep would probably be described by most as experimental fiction. It’s a blend of poetry, fiction, and photography that moves smoothly between the real and the surreal in a way that felt very dreamlike to me. It has a flow that tugs you along.
Body Art, by Wendel Scutti (a pen name of Susan Scutti’s) is a short story that begins with a positive pregnancy test and then embarks on an exploration of the dichotomy of singularity and connection. It’s a story that worries out the complications of a single thread.
BZ: If you could put a fold-out in one of your chapbooks, who or what would it be of?
DW: A Naissance chapbook would never have a fold-out. If I were to do some other publishing project that allowed for fold-outs, I would want to see lines like Whitman’s that required and deserved the structure.
BZ: Talk a little about the production of Naissance‘s fiction chapbooks. What size are they? How are they made? Perfect bound, stapled, or? How much color do you use? What is the page range of most of them?
DW: Naissance chapbooks are entirely black and white. The are produced from standard letter-sized paper, printed on both sides, folded in half (so finished size is 5.5” x 8.5”), saddle-stitched, with the leading edge trimmed. Early on there was some variety to the paper colors, but we’ve now settled in to our favorite configuration, which is creme cover, creme inside pages, red flyleaf. They range from 12 pages to 48 pages long, typically.
BZ: Do you accept manuscripts all year round, or only during certain times of the year?
DW: All year round.
BZ: Is Naissance Chapbooks interested in chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before?
DW: While we are very open to submissions from previously unpublished writers, our intention is not to prey on the naïve who may not be aware that there are chapbook publishers out there who will read manuscripts for free without requiring a hoop jump or two. We exist to serve, rather, the experienced writer who is tired of spending money on printing and postage only to wait months for something they’re beginning to wonder if they couldn’t do better themselves, anyway. If your work isn’t right for us, we’ll tell you in one business day so you can get on with your attempts to get it published elsewhere, and we’ll empower you to do it yourself should you so choose. If we say “yes” you could have your payment copies in a matter of days. We believe that’s worth $10.
BZ: How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published?
DW: We wish to publish the best chapbooks possible, regardless of whether material contained in them has been previously published or not. As long as you own the rights to print or reprint the material, it’s suitable for submission to us. Whether some or all of the work has been previously published is not a factor in our decision process.
BZ: I so appreciate your time explaining how things work at Naissance Chapbooks, as do our readers. Thank you.
Bonnie ZoBell’s fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls with Monkey Puzzle Press was released in March 2013 and her short story collection WHAT HAPPENED HERE is forthcoming with Press 53 in spring 2014. She’s received an NEA fellowship for her fiction, teaches at San Diego Mesa College, and is Associate Editor of The Northville Review. For more information, visit www.bonniezobell.com.