Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Interview with a Micro-Press: Tiny TOE Press

Today I’m interviewing Michael Davidson about his very small press, Tiny TOE Press. Davidson is a writer, a blogger, and a publisher. He is the author (under the nom de plume, herocious) of the novel Austin Nights (2011), the debut title on Tiny TOE. This micro press has a short but intriguing (and growing) list of titles, which you can find here: http://theopenend.com/

I have a special affection for Tiny TOE, as they handpress their books in a similar way to how I self-published/self-produced my first novel which started my own micro press, Words Like Kudzu. When I finished writing my novel, I wanted to put it out in the world immediately, so I took my bookmaking skills and my love of the Xerox machine and made my own books. Tiny TOE does this, only better. They use rulers, box cutters, and a homemade book-pressing machine they call a jig. Me, I just used my hands and my back and a stapler, and frankly, my back is still paying for it 12 years later.

Karen: How did Tiny TOE get started as a press? 

Michael: Tiny TOE Press got started because of TheOpenEnd.com [TOE]. After ~2 years of building content for TOE, commenting on blogs, and emailing with like-minded people, I managed to meet some publishers/writers who were putting together some good books, but none of them, at least none that I knew, even considered the idea of handpressing their own paperbacks. Tiny TOE Press realized the modest potential of this niche market and made it an option.

Once I made the first copy of my book I felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing: making and writing books. But for this adventure in self-publishing to turn into an adventure in publishing it took the jig. That's really what started Tiny TOE, the jig that was built in a shed.

The jig is made out of wood and bolts. It functions as both a square and a clamp. The jig is crucial for making the spines of our books. We started out with a jig that presses one book at a time. Now we've progressed to a jig that presses four at a time. 

Karen: What place do you think the micro press holds in the publishing world? In the literature world? 

Michael: To use metaphor, the publishing world is a vast bucket with micro presses being occasional droplets into this bucket. Micro presses can and do ripple and splash with some of their titles, but it's rarely anything tidal.

Now in the literature world micro presses are vital because they democratize the written word. So many people can't escape the draw of writing literature, but it is a meteoric event indeed for this breed of writing to break out into the publishing world. I think it's because most of the publishing world can only take so many risks each year, and this number is less than the number of manuscripts in the literature world worth taking a risk on. Micro presses noticed this imbalance and made it their mission to discover these manuscripts that deserved a readership and turn them into consumable books.

Karen: How are you finding authors--do you seek them or do they find you? 

Michael: From the start our jig has been responsible for getting submissions from some talented writers. Our jig put us on the map. It made us discoverable, and writers love discovering new independent presses.

ML Kennedy, the author of The Mosquito Song, is one of the first contributors to TheOpenEnd. After he bought and read our first book, and after he read the post roughly going over how this book was made, he emailed me about the possibility of Tiny TOE Press representing his novella, which TheOpenEnd had published in serial format the year before. We were very proud to collaborate on this sardonic vampire narrative. It's New Pulp.

Mitchell Hagerstrom, the author of Miss Gone-overseas, is a similar kind of story. She contributed some of her prose to TheOpenEnd before the existence of Tiny TOE Press. Once she learned of my book she emailed me a manuscript she had worked on over the span of several years. Her novella read then as it reads now, like a timeless piece of prose from the viewpoint of a nearly unrepresented voice in WWII history.

Joseph Avski and Mark McGraw, author and translator (respectively) of Heart of Scorpio, had no affiliation with TheOpenEnd. They got in touch with me after they watched the time-lapse video of me handpressing a book. I read their multi-voiced novella about a famous Colombian boxer and immediately saw how the story of this boxer mirrors the history of his country. Being Colombian, I knew this would be our next book. It was written in the stars.

Writers have been finding us, and new ones are finding us always, but now that we've been around a little longer and have a better idea of the small press world, we have our eyes on a few writers that we'd love to work with.

Karen: I love the particular variety of formats you are offering--you sell each title as both handmade book and e-book. How did you arrive at that model and how is it working for you? 

Michael: While writers care a lot about distribution and reach when it comes to their work, and this requires a more industrial approach to bookmaking, they also value the way their book is produced.

Handpressing their book gives each copy an energy that the industrial approach--with its offset or POD printers--cannot imitate. When handpressed, their book is not only a work of literature, but also a piece of craftsmanship.

The ebook does what the handpressed book cannot, namely, reach thousands of people wanting to read good books on their ereader in an instant.

I like the model. It has gotten our books some interesting press and their share of readerly activity.

Karen: What other micro presses do you admire and why? 

Michael: Several come to mind immediately. In no specific order, Publishing Genius and Mudluscious Press. They put together clever bundle packages and experiment with marketing strategies to move their stock. Lazy Fascist Press has released some notable titles and seems to leave a lot of control in the writer's hands re: overall design. Calamari Press and Dzanc Books for their painstaking care in designing book objects. O/R Books for their incredible website and progressive ebook business model. Featherproof for their Free Mini-Books. Tyrant Books for their hype. Civil Coping Mechanism for their roster. Melville House and Spuyten Duyvil for their novella series.


You can find interviews with Michael Davidson on further topics here and here.

Don't miss recent interviews with Spencer Dew, on book reviewing, and Mike DeCapite, on writing. And stay tuned for more interviews about The Art of the Book Review.

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