by Bonnie ZoBell

Nicole Louise Reid Photo 2-3-11--BrighterNicole Louise Reid is the author of the short story collection, So There! (SFA University Press) and a novel, In the Breeze of Passing Things (MacAdam/Cage).  Her award-winning short stories have appeared in the Southern Review, Other Voices, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, and Meridian.  Winner of the 2010 Dana Award in Short Fiction and 2011 Burnside Review Fiction Chapbook Competition, she teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Indiana, where she directs the RopeWalk Reading Series and is editor of RopeWalk Press and fiction editor of Southern Indiana Review.

BZ:  Hey, Noley, I appreciate your taking the time to explain what RopeWalk Press is all about and to tell the readers more about getting a fiction chapbook published.

Nicole Louise Reid:  Absolutely, Bonnie. I’m thrilled to have the chance. RopeWalk Press is a tiny little beast of a publisher, publishing just one fiction chapbook a year. That chapbook is discovered through an annual contest that gives $1,000 and 25 copies to the winner. I am the press’s only staff, so I log in every submission, process its entry fee, read the submission, select finalists and a winner, and then put on my editor’s suit for working with the author, manuscript, and the university’s best designer before we go to press.

The press began about five years ago as a vehicle for publishing slim poetry collections through the annual contest. When I became editor, I chose to turn to fiction. Most chapbooks in the literary marketplace are poetry. Take a look at any sampling of calls for submissions, and you’ll find that many of them don’t even specify that what they want is poetry; the assumption is that a chapbook is for poems. I set about to change that. I’m by no means the first contemporary publisher to put fiction in short published form. Black Lawrence Press, RockSaw Press (now defunct), Caketrain, and Rose Metal Press definitely beat me to it. And daily, it seems more and more publishers advertise calls for fiction for their chapbook series.

We pretty well all agreed that a chapbook is a win for reader/buyer, publisher, and author.

So what’s so great about the chapbook for fiction? Four fellow fiction chapbook publishers joined me at AWP in Chicago in 2012 to discuss this very question. We pretty well all agreed that a chapbook is a win for reader/buyer, publisher, and author. The reader wins because she or he can buy a chapbook for less than a full-length collection, which can often mean taking a chance on someone unknown. A publisher can invest much less in a chapbook than a standard collection or novel, which means there are many more small publishers, such as RopeWalk Press, able to enter the literary marketplace with authors and material that big publishers may feel are too risky to invest in. More small publishers benefit the authors because there are more opportunities for writers to publish; those writers who are young in their careers or whose length of manuscript naturally falls on the slim side, are more able to find enthusiastic publishers willing to help launch their careers.

The specifics of getting a fiction chapbook published by RopeWalk Press are that writers submit (online or via USPS mail) manuscripts up to 45 pages and entry fees during the contest reading time, roughly March 1st through June 15th each year. 

BZ:  Does RopeWalk Press have a philosophy?

NLR:  No, no philosophy. Just an attempt to put out beautiful editions of the best fiction.

BZ:  What would you say the press is looking for in the way of submissions?

NLR:   I look for work that sticks with me, that haunts me. Nothing earth-shatteringly unique here: I want to be moved. Sometimes that will be by a single short story. Other times, that will come in the form of several stories linked. Other times, it will be stories wholly unrelated except for their superb quality.

BZ:  What mistakes do you see writers making who submit to RopeWalk Press?

NLR:  Most mistakes boil down to not reading the contest guidelines. The silliest one is to send poetry. The next is to omit the entry fee. Another is to step on your manuscript and leave tread marks all over it—truly, I got one of these last June. To single-space the manuscript. Or to spend money on fancy portfolio bindings or folders with color bio pages. These are guideline mistakes and are easily avoided.

BZ:  What’s your idea of a perfect submission?

NLR:  One that is a professionally-formatted, clean and tidy, and uses Times New Roman 12 font. That’s the presentation part of it, the dressing up for a job interview sort of thing. The actual work holds my attention from the very first line. It is greater than a sum of its pieces, yet all its pieces (whether individual stories or individual words within a single story) resonate as perfectly true in that moment. The characters intrigue me and the entire work becomes a part of me for having read it.

It is greater than a sum of its pieces, yet all its pieces (whether individual stories or individual words within a single story) resonate as perfectly true in that moment.

BZ:  Name a few writers whose fiction chapbooks RopeWalk has published and tell us a little about their chapbooks.

NLR:  David James Poissant won the 2011 Editor’s Fiction Chapbook Prize for his manuscript Lizard Man. The story lives in swampy Florida. There are tattoos galore, gators in kiddie pools, and just plain old hard living. But even as the coarseness of the story scrapes itself across your skin, there’s the tenderest love and yearning in its broken men.

Delaney Nolan is the winner of the 2012 prize, and it kills me that it took until May to get out her chapbook. They’ve always come out during the fall after the contest so by all rights, hers—Shotgun Style: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans—should have been out for much earlier. We had trouble with the artwork for her cover, though. We were working with an amazing photographer down in New Orleans with a very specific scene in mind. It just never translated from our minds to her camera, though, so Delaney and I ultimately went with an image she herself took:  a run-down house covered in graffiti of love. It’s a beautiful and sad thing that captures the spirit of Shotgun Style perfectly.

 BZ:  If you could put a fold-out in one of your chapbooks, who or what would it be of?

NLR:  Temporary tattoos of favorite images or lines from the books. I know as a reader, I would love to get to wear my favorites all over my body—sort of the grown-up equivalent of a little kid wearing head-to-toe Lightning McQueen jammies and slippers bearing his catch phrases. Well, no not quite the equivalent, thankfully, but you get what I mean.

BZ: Talk a little about the production of RopeWalk’s 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?

NLR:  Before I took over RopeWalk Press, the chapbooks were printed on a laser printer and saddle-stapled in-house. I wanted the chapbooks to look like books, so when I became editor, I made some changes. Now they’re all perfect bound, roughly 8.5” x 5.5,” with full-color covers, some of which the artwork has been created specifically for. Inside Shotgun Style is a colored map of New Orleans’s territory, done by Daniel Wallace, author of the novel Big Fish.

Shotgun Style isn’t actually the first chapbook I’ve done with interior color. Last fall I came across a short story whose writer was collaborating with a painter to illustrate a few scenes. I was so struck by the convergence of these visual and literary arts and how they could work together to make such a uniquely pleasurable experience, that I asked the artist to illustrate every single page. That chapbook, A Man Worthy of Your Attention, written by Janet Freeman and illustrated by Dana Ellyn, was full color throughout, which meant a cover price of $20—more than double the usual cost of $9), but it’s well worth it to see Ellyn and Freeman talking to each other on the page, each through her own medium. I doubt I’ll publish another full color manuscript in the near future, but that was such a rare and rewarding opportunity. I certainly won’t rule it out.

BZ:  Do you accept manuscripts all year round, or only during certain times of the year?

NLR:  Officially the press only accepts manuscripts during the contest reading period, but I’m always on the lookout for killer projects like A Man Worthy of Your Attention.

BZ: Is RopeWalk Press interested in fiction chapbooks from new writers who haven’t had books or chapbooks published before?

NLR:  Absolutely!  In fact, the last four chapbooks we’ve published were first books/chapbooks for all of their authors. It’s a form I think particularly useful to new writers—something to sell at readings before they have a full-length book published—but I would love to work with more established writers, too.

BZ:  How many stories in the chapbooks submitted to you do you like to see already published? 

NLR:  Some editors care about this, surely, and while I’m picky about a lot of things, this isn’t one of them.  I really don’t care if every single piece of the manuscript has been journal-published already. The manuscript as a whole, however, cannot have been book- or chapbook-published prior.

BZ:  Thanks very much for taking the time for the interview. Our readers will be pleased to learn all the information you’ve offered.

NLR:  Thanks so much for asking, Bonnie.  I love the fiction chapbook and take every opportunity to sing its praises.  I also love the work I do at RopeWalk Press and think the chapbooks I’ve been lucky enough to publish scream out for the readers they so deserve.

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Bonnie ZoBell

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.