1. Tell us about the mission of your publishing house and why you started it.
I started Upper Rubber Boot Books because I was very annoyed at how badly formatted ebooks of poetry were. This was in 2011, and formatting has typically improved since then, but at the time it was atrocious, and it continues to be less than ideal. I have a background in web design and in poetry, and decided to marry the two to publish poetry ebooks.
I very quickly discovered that poetry sells terribly, and so do ebooks, so poetry ebooks are a total non-starter! However, I had gained enough experience to be able to figure out a more workable business model. URB has become a press that publishes poetry and science fiction (my other love), mostly in anthology form, which both pays for the poetry and is fun for me.
2. What do you offer writers that they cannot find at another press?
I don't actually think about publishing in this way. I'm not in the business of offering writers anything. I'm in the business of partnering with writers to offer readers amazing books.
3. Tell us about the books you have released and/or upcoming releases.
Most recently, we published Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, which contains short fiction, poetry, and black and white artwork of hopeful environmental speculation. Solarpunk is a relatively new genre, and Sunvault is the first general-interest English-language solarpunk anthology! Contributors include Elgin Award nominee Kristine Ong Muslim, New York Times bestselling author Daniel José Older, James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner Nisi Shawl, World Fantasy Award and Campbell Award winner Lavie Tidhar, and Lambda Literary Awards finalist A.C. Wise. I was very excited to be on the ground floor of a really wonderful literary movement.
Our next release will be Floodgate Poetry Series Vol. 4, edited by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum. Each volume in the Floodgate series contains three chapbooks (short books under 48 pages) by three different poets, a new poet, a mid-career poet, and an established poet. The writing of the different poets always ends up playing off each other in a really interesting way, even though the chapbooks are written in isolation. Vol. 4 will contain Regina DiPerna’s A Map of Veins, Ryan Teitman’s Jesuits, and Paisley Rekdal’s Philomela, and it comes out at the end of February.
This spring, we'll be kickstarting the next two anthologies in the Women Up To No Good series, which feature stories of edgy female protagonists by women and writers from marginalized sex and gender identities.
4. What do you feel writers need to do to be successful?
Be persistent, and be good, and be lucky.
5. What challenges do you see in the industry that your press addresses?
I don't think we're revolutionizing publishing, but we do work very hard to publish writing and authors at the margins--work that would otherwise have trouble finding a home, that's hard to define, or that's hard to monetize. Small press publishing is an exhausting slog most of the time, so there's really no point doing it if you're just publishing writing that could just as easily have been put out by the Big Five.
One of the big problems in publishing, especially science fiction publishing, is how very white it is. As a community, we're missing out on a lot of wonderful stories and ideas because we often crowd out or erase the voices of writers of color. URB makes an effort to help to combat that by including writers of color, writers working outside the English-language world, and writers from all around the globe.
The main challenge that I see in the industry (and I'm afraid I don't think my press addresses it at all, nor do I think we could) is that it's getting more and more difficult to get attention for small press books because of the concentration of power in the hands of a few juggernauts, mainly Amazon and Facebook.
Amazon has a near monopsony (that is, a monopoly over access to the market) and consequently has a wildly out-sized influence on sales, while also having policies which are harmful to publishers, like unilaterally deciding on maximum prices for ebooks (I wouldn't charge more than $10 for an ebook, but don't appreciate Amazon telling me that I can't), changing the "buy now" button so that third-party sellers with secondhand books can snag sales without the reader even being aware, making it unnecessarily complicated for small presses to have pre-orders for their books, and treating small presses as though they are identical to self-publishers. Just the issue with pre-orders alone gives Big Five publishers a massive advantage in getting onto the bestsellers lists, since pre-orders are all counted on the day of first sale. To the minuscule extent that we can combat this, we try to drive readers to Indiebound, which allows them to order through their online site, or to put in their zip and be directed to their closest independent bookstore's website.
Meanwhile, Facebook requires that pages pay to "boost" posts, and without paying, posts are shown to almost nobody. It's about $50/post for me to ensure that just the people who have already "liked" Upper Rubber Boot see any given one of our posts, let alone to attempt to grow our audience. We continue to post promotional material to Facebook, but don't give it much effort unless it's the day we release a book, because they've throttled our access so tightly.
6. What is your attitude toward conferences and how do you gain exposure for authors outside of the usual festival and conference circuit?
Conferences are a lot of fun. I'm not convinced that they actually result in sales, but they're very helpful for networking. For example, the last conference I attended was the 2017 AWP in Washington, where I met Laura Stanfill, who runs Forest Ave Press and the Main Street Writers Movement, which is a wonderful networking group for writers which I probably wouldn't have known about otherwise.
We do far, far more promotion online than anywhere else, mostly on Twitter and Tumblr. It's mostly free, except in the time it takes to set up (and the monthly licenses I pay to services like Hootsuite). We post a lot of links to where readers can purchase our books, as well as to places to read our writers' work elsewhere, and we participate in regular discussions online about publishing and books.
I also started Small Press Week. It's the week of American Thanksgiving, leading up to Small Business Saturday. About 50 small presses participated in 2016, our first year, and about double that participated this past month. I hope to grow it in future years so we start being a trending topic and create a bigger conversation beyond the writing community.
7. What are your five year goals for your company?
I realize this is something people who run companies are supposed to do, but I don't have a five-year plan or anything of the kind. I run URB in my spare time (I have a day job), for the love of it. Most years, I just barely break even, if that. I'm working on growing Floodgate and the Women Up To No Good series so when a new title comes out, there's a flurry of interest in the old titles in those series. Aside from that, I'm just publishing books that are fun and that I think need to exist, and are unlikely to exist without me.
For more on upper Rubber Boot, visit the following links: http://www.upperrubberboot.com/
Forest Avenue Press: http://www.forestavenuepress.com/
Small Press Week: http://www.upperrubberboot.com/small-press-week-round-up-2017/
Main Street Writers Movement: http://www.forestavenuepress.com/main-street-writers-movement/