The Writer as Publisher: Kathleen Rooney/Rose Metal Press

Interview with Kathleen Rooney of Rose Metal Press

by Joe Ponepinto

Founded in 2006 by Kathleen Rooney and Abigail Beckel, Rose Metal Press, Inc. is an independent, KR&ABatPrintingMuseum-1not-for-profit publisher of hybrid genres specializing in the publication of short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse or book-length linked narrative poems; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression.

Abigail Beckel has worked professionally in publishing for more than 11 years at publishing houses such as Pearson Education, Beacon Press, and Blackwell Publishing, and for the magazine Physicians Practice. She is a published poet and received her MA in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College.

Kathleen Rooney is the author of the novel-in-poems Robinson Alone and a founding member of Poems While You Wait.  She is also the author of the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010) and the memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (U of Arkansas P, 2009), as well as Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (U of Arkansas P, 2008). Her poetry collection, Oneiromance (an epithalamion), won the 2007 Gatewood Prize from the feminist publisher Switchback Books, and her collaborative collection with Elisa Gabbert, That Tiny Insane Voluptuousnesswas published by Otoliths in 2008.  Her debut novel, O Democracy!, is forthcoming in Spring 2014.

Joe Ponepinto: How long have you been a publisher?

Kathleen Rooney: Abby Beckel and I co-founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit publishing company Rose Metal Press in Boston, MA in January of 2006, shortly after completing our master’s degrees at Emerson College, through their Writing, Literature, & Publishing program.

JP: Approximately how many books has your company published in that time?

KR: We decided at the outset—in the interest of not overextending ourselves, and being able to seriously promote each and every title—to publish three books each year, two of which would always be book-length and one of which would always be the winner of our annual Short Short Chapbook Contest. To date, we have published a total of 17 books.

JP: What percentage of your published books are Fiction? Poetry? Nonfiction?

KR: Because we are a publisher of work in hybrid and hard-to-define genres, this question does not really apply.

JP: What is your mission statement and/or philosophy?

KR: Rose Metal is a fusible alloy with a low melting point consisting of 50% bismuth, 25-28% lead, and 22-25% tin. Also known as “Rose’s metal” and “Rose’s alloy,” Rose Metal is typically used as a solder. Our Rose Metal Press is an independent, not-for-profit publisher of work in hybrid genres, specializing in the publication of short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry, novels-in-verse or book-length linked narrative poems; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression. Just as the alloy Rose Metal joins one unlike thing to another so strongly that they cannot be separated, Rose Metal Press publishes three beautifully produced titles per year by authors who fuse unlike elements together in their writing in ways that are both surprising and seamless.

JP: What’s your business model: is everything done in house or do you contract work such as copyediting, proofreading, cover design, etc?

KR: Abby and I divide most of the work between the two of us, including putting out ads and calls for submissions, reading submissions, editing manuscripts, finding cover art, copy editing, proofreading, marketing, publicizing, and so forth. But we also have—and are extremely grateful for—a web editor, Aaron Sweet; a team of designers led by Rebecca Saraceno, including Heather Butterfield and Melissa Gruntkosky; a group of film makers who help us make book trailers, including Mitchell Rathberger who made our trailer for our recent release Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel: http://rosemetalpress.com/Catalog/Teel.html—and a fleet of interns including Evan Fleischer, Meghan Ford, and Josh Sullivan. We could not do everything we do without them.

JP: Do you have previous editing/publishing experience?

KR: Abby and I met while working as editors—she was the Managing Editor and I was the Editor in Chief—on the Emerson graduate-student-run literary journal Redivider, which is how we discovered we worked quite well together. Additionally, Abby has worked professionally in publishing for more than 10 years at publishing houses such as Pearson Education, Beacon Press, and Blackwell Publishing, and for the magazine Physicians Practice. And I work as a professor of English and Creative Writing now, but prior to that, I worked on the press team for a senator, which involved a great deal of writing and editing.

JP: What made you decide to get into publishing in the first place?

KR: As we were finishing grad school, Abby and I knew that we wanted to start a press, both because we worked so well together and because we wanted to participate more actively in the field of literary production. In observing the literary community and deciding what kind of focus we wanted our press to take, we noticed that many writers were doing exciting, culturally important work in hybrid genres, but that they had limited opportunities to publish that work since few commercial publishers accept such submissions due to concerns over profitability and marketing.  We wanted to provide a place where risky and engaging work that would be dismissed by bigger, more blockbuster-driven outlets would have a chance to flourish and find an audience.

JP: How has publishing interfaced with your writing? Do you write more? Less? How do you balance the demands of each discipline?

KR: The disciplines of writing, editing and publishing strike me as highly compatible, and balancing working on other people’s writing with working on my own has—so far—proven very doable. Partly, this is because writing/editing/publishing, though they are often defined and taught as separate activities, are actually pretty coextensive—when you are “writing” you are always already “revising” and always already thinking of (or you should be) “audience” and therefore “publishing.” Thinking about how best to revise/edit and then publish/market Rose Metal Press authors has also helped me have a broader understanding of how to undertake those tasks for my own work. And because I write and publish in all genres, as does Rose Metal Press, the diversity of projects I work on for the press ends up being complementary to the diversity I try to create in my own work. My book Robinson Alone, for example, which came out last October from Gold Wake Press, is a novel in poems based on the life and work of the poet and mysterious disappearee Weldon Kees, and the work I’ve done with such RMP authors as Carol Guess on her novel in prose poems Tinderbox Lawn and Peter Jay Shippy on his novella in verse, How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic informed my own approach to a book of that scope.

Admittedly, certain other, less clearly “creative” or “literary,” demands that come with being a publisher are a bit more tricky to balance with my own literary pursuits. Here, I’m thinking of fundraising, marketing, setting up events, and doing publicity campaigns for RMP authors. But I love doing that work for our authors, too, and consider it just as important as the editorial side of things—because if you publish a book and nobody knows it exists, then what’s the point? So even these less obviously literary elements of the publishing process have proven useful to me as I try to figure out how to help my own work find readers.

JP: Have you been strongly influenced by the writers you decide to publish? For example, do you find you’ve opened your own writing to new styles and techniques you’ve encountered through publishing others?

KR: Working with all the hybrid and cross-genre authors that RMP has published to date has helped me think more deeply about “experimental” writing. Abby and I love work that is formally innovative and intellectually ambitious, but we also want that work to be accessible to an intelligent and playful general reader, and to stand to move a reader emotionally. We like work that does not just sound good when its “project” or “concept” or back story is explained in a museum-placard way, but that really delivers in its content and execution. Working on RMP has helped me better understand what a work needs to do to be simultaneously challenging or difficult as well as engaging and emotionally unforgettable. Our 2012 title I Take Back the Sponge Cake: A Lyrical Choose Your Own Adventure by Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson is a great example of what I mean—the book is a collaboration between a visual artist and a poet, so it contains collaboratively composed poems by Erdrich and Nelson, as well as watercolors by Erdrich, and the reader makes her way through the various adventures based on a set of sound-alike word pairs at the end of each piece. This concept is winsome, but what made Abby and I fall in love with the book was the way Erdrich and Nelson carried this concept out in a way that felt essential, funny, magical and sad.

JP: How has your artistic vision been affected by your publishing experience? Are you more attuned to the commercial aspects of writing?

KR: Having looked at writing and publishing, as Joni Mitchell might say, from “both sides, now,” I feel I have a much more holistic grasp on the publishing industry all the way from the germ of an idea in the mind of a writer to that writer being out on a book tour behind the resulting book. Being both a writer and a publisher gives one a very golden rule outlook—you are ever more cognizant of the necessity of treating others as you yourself would prefer to be treated.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

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