Lessons from a Publisher: Ian Anderson of Mason Jar Press

Ian Anderson at LPR’s annual reading.

At Little Patuxent Review’s annual reading this past March, we were lucky enough to hear fiction by Ian Anderson, the founder and editor-in-chief of Mason Jar Press. In this guest post he shares some “lessons from a publisher.” 

Mason Jar Press is an independent press based in Baltimore that specializes in handmade, limited-edition chapbooks and full-length publications by established and emerging writers. Recent publications include The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado, by Dave K, and Not Without Our Laughter, by the Black Ladies Brunch Collective and edited by celeste doaks (celeste and others from the BLBC also contributed to our recent winter issue).

There are two important questions that you should ask yourself when looking for a publisher. The first is, “Am I the right author for this publisher?” The second: “Is this publisher the right one for me?” It’s this second question that is most often overlooked by writers, especially those taking their first steps into the world of publishers, and it can make the difference between having a good experience or a bad one. Most writers aspire to have a book one day, so it can be tempting to go with just anyone who will make that happen. But if it’s a bad experience, that can be worse than no book at all—for both you and the press, and no one wants that. To avoid this, before you even start looking for a publisher, you need to know what kind of book you want in the world.

Is being in Barnes & Nobles (these still exist as I’m writing this) important to you? Is having a say in the design of your book important to you? Are you trying to reach a specific audience? Does the quality and form of the finished product matter? The answer to these questions (and a hundred others you need to consider) can eliminate some publishers and help you focus on ones that fit for you. Here’s the rub, though. There are tradeoffs to some of these questions. For example, if you’re trying to get on the New York Times Bestsellers list, you’re better off trying to get in with a bigger publisher, but they probably won’t ask your opinion on the cover design beyond, “Is your name spelled right?”

Tough decisions might have to be made.

This is because, when we talk about publishers, we’re actually talking about types of publishers. What we do at Mason Jar Press is a whole lot different than what Penguin Random House is doing. What Mason Jar does is closer to what someone like Dzanc Books is doing, but we’re still worlds apart. Between MJP and The Big Five (or Four), there is a hot mess of publishers, each with their own benefits and drawbacks, so take your time thinking about what you want to get out of the experience

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Seth Tucker

Seth Brady Tucker’s fiction has recently appeared in December, Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere, and his poetry and fiction have won awards over the years. He runs the Longleaf Writers Conference in Florida and teaches creative writing to engineers at the top-ranked Colorado School of Mines.

Tucker’s short story, “The Court of Tar and Oil,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I notice you’re from Wyoming. Have you ever been to Worland? My mother’s maiden name is Worland and apparently, we have some sort of family connection to the place.

What I know about Worland: there was a fight nearly every time we played them in basketball. Tough team from a tough town—all elbows and inner-city play way out there in the flat expanse of the desert plains. Their basketball court ended at a wall with a thin pad on it, and you knew you were going to get driven into it at some point in the game.

Q: The image in my mind that I have of Wyoming I got from Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces. Have you read that book? How does it correspond to your own experience?

The beauty of Wyoming is wild and terrific in the literal meaning of the word terrific; it is wide open, wind-swept, frightful, but also remarkable for some of the most rugged and lovely terrain on the planet. I was lucky to grow up in the little hamlet town of Lander, next to the Wind River Range, and most of my youth was spent working our ranch or working the mountains with my father, who was a hunting guide in the Winds for many years (and who knows about as much about those mountains as anyone alive). It made being a child tough, but I also have some rare and cherished memories of winding our way up those mountains on horseback. I haven’t read Ehrlich’s work, but Annie Prouix is a transplant to Wyoming and does a fairly good job of writing about life up there, but I have to assume that Ehrlich likely writes about how big and bright the sky is, how far one can see into the distance, the shadows of mountains always just on the horizon, the slow progression of the highways as you make your way to them; it is what I love about Wyoming–this hint of the unknown and wild and dangerous.

Q: I realize the Longleaf Writers Conference is just a week away. What’s the origin story of this conference?

This is our fifth year, and for three of those years Matt Bondurant and I have funded scholarships and fellowships for emerging poets and writers. We started with just Matt and I as faculty, then slowly started to build, bringing in writers like Andre Dubus III, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Antonya Nelson, Rebecca Makkai, David James Poissant, Chris Offutt, Jen Percy, Anton DiSclafani, and many other authors who were awarded financial aid. We are proud of the support we give our attendees, and have helped a number of them go on to publish books. We partner with Ole Miss for a couple scholarships as well, and this year we are bringing Beth Anne Fennelly and Tom Franklin and Jill McCorkle, with the help of our other partner, the Cultural Arts Alliance of South Walton. We built this conference to be small and intimate in a way that the big conferences can be overwhelming and isolating; we want beginners to feel as comfortable there as those with long histories in the workshop or academia; we bring the best writers we can who also happen to be generous and enthusiastic teachers and writers; to sum up: we write hard and beach hard. You should come next year!

Q: Are writers’ conferences something that should be on my radar as a young writer? Should I be going to things like this?

Absolutely—this is the networking of the job of being a writer—the sooner you start, the sooner you get that big break everyone wants and needs. My only regret is not going to these conferences while in grad school.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker’s work has appeared in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature. She is the author of eight books of poetry; Les Fauves is the most recent. She has received a number of awards, including the W.B. Yeats Society of New York Award and the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, as well as three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts writing fellowships.

Crooker’s poem, “Road Trip,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: Pardon my poetry ignorance, but I was surprised when I first saw “Road Trip” that it appears as two big paragraphs of text. You don’t seem to utilize line breaks the way other poets in the winter issue did. Am I right in this observation, or missing something? And is there a name for this sort of style of presentation?

The short answer is, this is a two-stanza poem. And it’s not in paragraphs or sentences, but rather, pretty carefully delineated lines. Let’s take a look at the first couple of lines.

Spring ahead, the weatherman said, which is what we did,
driving down I-95, watching its scroll unroll before us:
purple and yellow crocus in Maryland, a smudge
of green on the trees. In Reston, VA, the buds start popping,

See how differently it would read if I broke it like this:

Spring ahead, the weatherman said, which is
what we did, driving down I-95, watching its
scroll unroll before us: purple and yellow crocus in
Maryland, a smudge of green on the trees.

I typically create my lines based on breath units, where I would naturally pause to take a breath.

Then I think about where the line ends, as that’s where the emphasis should fall. I have an aversion to lines that end in “a” or “the,” or prepositions like “in.” Then I pay attention (usually by reading the poem out loud) about how the punctuation works with the pauses (noun + line break is a shorter pause than noun + comma, for example). Finally, I look at the poem as a whole, looking for shapeliness. . . .

Also, if this were prose, it would look like this:

Spring ahead, the weatherman said, which is what we did, driving down I-95, watching its scroll unroll before us: purple and yellow crocus in Maryland, a smudge of green on the trees. In Reston, VA, the buds start popping, and a cardinal sets his road flare on a bare bush.

Great question!

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“Columbia at 50”: Film and book talk Monday, May 7

On Monday at 7 p.m., the Columbia Art Center will host a showing of Columbia at 50, a film produced by Dick Krantz. Brian England, an LPR board member, was the executive director. Following the video, Len Lazarick will give a book talk on Columbia at 50: A Memoir of a City. This free event is sponsored by Columbia Art Center and Little Patuxent Review.

Meet Our Readers: Q&A with Dan Crawley

At Little Patuxent Review, we value all our submissions and do not take it for granted that poets and writers are willing to entrust their work and themselves to us. The process of going from a batch of submissions to a final journal is naturally then a very difficult one, both for the time involved and for the gut-wrenching decisions choosing one piece over another. Our readers are the unsung heroes of this process. In this next Q&A, we ask Dan Crawley, an LPR fiction reader, about his experiences as a reader. And thank you, Dan, for all your work and service to LPR and the Maryland literary community.

Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, New Flash Fiction Review, and North American Review. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts creative writing fellowship and teaches fiction workshops and literature courses at various colleges and universities throughout Arizona.

Q: Why did you decide to become a reader for Little Patuxent Review?

A: Lisa Lynn Biggar, Little Patuxent Review’s Fiction Editor, was kind enough to invite me to come aboard as a reader for the Winter 2017 issue. She knows my work, and I’m glad she thought I could assist in selecting stories. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of reading such diverse and remarkable stories.

Q: Based on your experience with LPR, do you have any advice for fiction writers who are submitting to journals?

A: Many journals (print and online) accept simultaneous submissions, so it is tempting to “carpet-bomb” a story out to multiple journals that you’ve never heard of before. I think if you want to raise your percentage of acceptances, know the kind of writing a journal is looking for before submitting. Once you have studied the stories in a current issue (and back issues) of a journal, you’ll have a good idea if your story may be a good fit. Also, glaring grammar issues can thwart any chance of publication. First readers and editors do appreciate serious and professional writers.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with J. A. Bernstein

J. A. Bernstein’s forthcoming novel, Rachel’s Tomb (New Issues 2019), won the AWP Award Series, Hackney, and Knut House Prizes, and his forthcoming story collection, Stick-Light (Eyewear 2019), was a finalist for the Robert C. Jones and Beverly Prizes. His work has appeared in Shenandoah, Boston Review, Kenyon Review Online, Tampa Review, Tin House (web), Chicago Quarterly Review, and other journals, and won Crab Orchard Review’s John Gunyon Prize in Nonfiction. A Chicago-native, he is the fiction editor of Tikkun and, starting this August, an assistant professor in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Bernstein’s nonfiction piece, “The Works,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: You told me that, “like a lot of writers,” you’d prefer not to discuss your own writing. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?

My sense is that a piece of creative writing should be able to stand on its own. That doesn’t mean context or intention are unimportant, or that criticism shouldn’t exist (well, it depends on who’s writing it). I’m also not averse to discussing craft. But my instinct is that if an author needs to start explaining her work, or clarifying it for readers, then the work itself probably needs revisiting.

Q: What happens when somebody “doesn’t get” something you’ve written?

In an ideal world, I’d have them shipped to Siberia.

Q: What do you see as the relationship between literature and advocacy?

This is a great question—and please excuse my pert response to the last one. This is also a question that I’m sure I, and virtually any writer who’s alive today, ponder continually. Let me simply say this: when I was in graduate school, I remember a literature professor I admired, Terrence Whalen, telling a group of students that Melville’s politics were inscrutable. “Let that be a lesson to all you creative writers,” he joked. And I think there was truth in that. The best works of art, regardless of their commitment, seem to evade scrutiny or any quick encapsulation.

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Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Rachel Morgan

Rachel Morgan is the author of the chapbook Honey & Blood, Blood & Honey (Final Thursday Press, 2017), and her work is included in the anthology Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America (Ice Cube Press, 2016). Her work recently appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, Bellevue Literary Review, Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the poetry editor for the North American Review.

Morgan’s poem, “The Plural of Grief,” was published in LPR’s Winter Issue 2018 (available for purchase at this link).

Q: I just finished a writing program, so I’ll start off with a self-interested question. How did you navigate transitioning from being a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop into your next life? And do you have any advice for me?

How did I navigate the transition? Not well—cautiously and slowly. I don’t recommend it. I had a complex, at best, relationship with my MFA experience, and I think many writers experience something similar. Transitioning from MFA to WORLD is hard. The employment opportunities are often contingent or in the nonprofit sector, so the financial struggles are real. Additionally, finding and guarding writing time is complicated. Staying connected to writer friends in the same struggle helped; we could process the difficulties together and read each other’s new work. Meet, even virtually, with a group of writers for workshop on a regular basis. Also read, write, submit, and repeat. No matter how many “no’s” you hear, keep submitting. The right poem will eventually find the right editor and publication.

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