Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Behind the Scenes at Terrapin Books


I was recently invited to do a Q&A with someone who planned to do an article about small press publishers who specialize in poetry books. I don't know why but the article never came to fruition. Rather than waste my work, I've decided to post it here. I hope it might prove informative and useful.
1. How do you determine who to publish?
I run two open readings per year. From the submissions, I select 2-4 manuscripts for publication. I select the ones I like best. I like to get a range of styles and voices and a diversity of poets. But my main guide is the quality of the work. I also consider if the work fits the press. I don’t take experimental poetry or single form collections (i.e., it’s unlikely that I’d take a collection of all sonnets or all haiku or all ekphrastic poems). I ask that a good number of the poems have been previously published and I limit the number of poems previously published in chapbooks to six.

2. How many manuscripts do you receive yearly?
This is a question I like to avoid answering. If it’s a high number, some poets will feel discouraged from submitting. If it’s a low number, some poets will feel that the press is not sufficiently competitive. So I’ll just say that we get a good number of submissions and that number increases each reading period and the quality of the submissions gets better and better. I do not run any contests at Terrapin. I like to think that each of my poets is a winner.
3. Can you share details of a normal agreement? 
Terrapin offers publication within a year of acceptance, an annual royalty,  6” x 9” books with printed spine. I provide each poet with 15 complimentary review copies. Authors also get a 50% discount off list price if they choose to order additional copies to sell on their own. I require that my authors have a dedicated website and belong to Facebook. I expect the poets to actively seek readings and other opportunities to promote their work. I also stipulate that they not publish a new book with a different press within a year of publication of the Terrapin book.
When I was starting Terrapin Books, I contacted several other publishers of small presses. Several of them were kind enough to share their contracts with me. I then created my own contract which I describe as “standard and fair.”
4. What sort of royalties do authors normally get? 
I pay an annual royalty of 15% of net sales. To qualify for a royalty payment, a poet must sell a minimum of 15 books in a given year.
5. Why might an author choose to work with a press like yours versus a similar press?
I typically respond within a month of submission. If accepted, the book gets published within a year. My poets don’t grow old waiting for publication. I carefully edit each accepted manuscript and work closely with each poet. I try to accommodate requests and to keep the poets happy. I respond quickly to emails. Poets are invited to participate in the design of the cover, though final decisions are left to me. I like to think of the entire process as a collaborative one.
6. Can you talk a bit about how you market the work for your authors?
I promote on Twitter and Facebook. I provide each poet with a list of suggested promotion tips. I also provide them with a list of after-publication contests they can submit to. If I know about readings in their part of the country, I pass on that information. I keep a list of reviewers and reach out to them to try to get some reviews for each book. I keep a Terrapin website where each poet gets a book page and an entry in the bookstore.
7. What do they normally have to do in terms of marketing?
I ask poets to send out an email announcement when their book is available for pre-orders and again when the book is published. I ask the poets to include purchase links in that note. And I ask them to send the announcement to an extensive list of friends, relatives, and neighbors—in short, everyone they know. You never know who might buy a book. I also ask my poets to post links on their website to reviews and to include excerpts from those reviews. I ask them to do the same on Facebook and Twitter. I ask them to send out review copies to journals they’ve published in. I ask them to line up readings. I suggest that they throw themselves a launch party. Every new book deserves a party.
8. Are you open to working with new authors, or are you mostly looking for established authors?
I love working with new poets and am happy to have several debut collections. Of the four poets I selected from the last open reading period, three of them have debut collections with Terrapin. But I’m also happy to work with older poets who sometimes feel that they are overlooked by other presses. In fact, I’m happy to work with new and established poets. Again, the quality of the work is the primary consideration.
9. How many copies do you usually expect to sell per book?

I aim for 500 but am happy with 300. Now that I can make the books available for pre-orders, I’m finding that the number of sales has gone up.
10. Is there anything else we should know about how you support your authors?
I give personalized service throughout the process. And I do not forget about my poets once their book has been published. Also I’ve recently started a new series, the Redux series. This series is limited to poets with a previous title with Terrapin, one that has done well. My original intention was to do one book only per poet, but a number of my poets asked for this new opportunity. I hope that means that they enjoyed working with me and are happy to be part of the Terrapin family of poets.

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