The Creative World of Small Press Publishing
All photos courtesy of Cameron Anstee
Small press publishing is alive in Ottawa, providing local wordsmiths the opportunity to share their works in a tangible, creative and satisfying way.
A result of the Arts and Crafts movement lasting from 1880 to 1910, small presses publish less than 10 titles, known as chapbooks, per year.
A chapbook is a small booklet containing poems or fiction. Small presses take on the role of gathering and editing writers’ works, as well as physically constructing and selling the product.
The appeal behind small press publishing is mostly due to the accessibility for writers to become published, as small presses are independent and not part of large corporations. Small presses give their creators control over who and what they share with the world.
One popular small press that operates in the capital is Apt. 9 Press. Publishing handmade books in limited editions of poetry from new and established writers since 2009, Apt. 9 has made a name for itself in Canada’s literary community.
The creator behind Apt. 9 is acclaimed poet and doctorial candidate Cameron Anstee. Anstee is currently studying post-World War II bookselling and the small press in Canada at the University of Ottawa.
Apt. 9 launched in 2009 after a 12-month planning period, during which Anstee was working towards an M.A. in English at Carleton University and acting as editor at Carleton’s celebrated poetry magazine and chapbook press, In/Words.
“I knew that I wanted to continue making chapbooks in some way, so I began approaching poets that I wanted to publish while simultaneously playing with different possibilities for printing and binding,” explains Anstee.
The history of the chapbook dates back to the 16th century. A chapbook then was known as a slim and cheaply produced volume. Today, however, things have changed.
Contemporary chapbooks encompass a wide variety of work and many are less than 48 pages. Some are made quickly and with minimal cost, while others are labored over and photocopied, letterpressed, laser printed, hand stamped or published online.
Small press publishing can be incredibly labour intensive and expensive. Anstee funds his chapbooks independently, but has complete control over everything that is produced by Apt. 9.
“I can pursue writers I want, I can publish my schedule, I can publish weird things that might not otherwise see print,” says Anstee. “I can support writers that haven’t published very much yet, or I can chase down people that haven’t published in years. I’ve worked with heroes of mine; I’ve helped see first chapbooks into print. I couldn’t ask for a more rewarding experience.”
Anstee has even published a chapbook from noted Canadian author Rhonda Douglas. Douglas has recently released her own short story collection, Welcome to the Circus, which has received high praise.
Most challenges Anstee faces have to do with limited resources and time. Because of this, Anstee has to reject some chapbook pitches. However, throughout Apt. 9’s six-year life, Anstee has managed to sustain four to five projects each year.
Another important aspect of small press publishing is the readings that often accompany a new chapbook’s release. Anstee was recently part of a five-day, four-city reading tour in 2014 with local poets jesslyn delia smith, Jeff Blackman, Rachael Simpson and Justin Million.
Reading series tours have become increasingly popular with the regained popularity of small press.
“I love hearing people read,” says Anstee. “Great readings are unforgettable, and thankfully, the less-than-great ones tend to be forgotten quickly. I love hearing work-in-progress, or hearing work that I know well on the page be read by a poet I admire. I think it would be a shame if poetry only lived on the page.”
While modern poetry reading series have been happening in Canada since the late 1950’s, Anstee argues that reading series, especially those taking place in Ottawa, are currently in their prime.
Apt.9 is currently taking a brief hiatus until Anstee finishes school in 2016. In the interim, you can check out Apt.9’s wide variety of titles and support small press publishing by visiting its website at apt9press.wordpress.com.