By Lori Barrett
Rebecca King is the Founding Editor and Designer at Origami Zoo Press. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University in 2011. Her fiction has appeared in decomP Magazine, >kill author, Dogzplot, and others.
The Fourth River: You took a publishing course when you were at Chatham, and this is what sparked your interest in launching Origami Zoo Press. Is that right?
Rebecca King: Yeah. I actually told myself, “I’m a writer; I’m not really interested in publishing.” But a bunch of my friends were taking [the class] and I thought, well, I should see the other side of things. And then I ended up falling in love with the process of making books. The first book I made for that class was Phantoms by Chad Simpson. He was a former professor of mine, and I had such a fun time interacting with him, really collaborating.
FR: Was that in 2011?
RK: It was in the winter term of 2010. It was still my first year at Chatham. We only did 150 copies of [Phantoms] and it was gone by the summer. I didn’t expect that kind of response. Also what I really like about it is that writing is a lonely process. Being in publishing, doing reviews and reading other people’s work and being part of the process, I feel like I’m giving something back. It helps publish other writers people might not have heard of. It gave me a bigger picture of what it means to be a writer and how the literary community works.
FR: For someone completely unfamiliar with what it means to run a press, can you tell us how it works? How do you get the money to print the books? Did you have to put the money in?
RK: [Laughs] Yes. It comes out of my pocket. I’ve looked at applying for grants. Now that I’m in St. Louis, I need to find out what kind of opportunities are here. But I can proudly say that we’ve always broken even, if not made a little bit of money. So that all gets funneled back into the press. We just got ISBN numbers.
FR: Did you ever read Roxane Gay’s piece about running a small press? She says definitely invest in ISBNs.
RK: Yeah. I said ‘Yes!’ a million times while reading that!
FR: Now that you’ve been running the press for a few years, what are some things that you’ve learned that you didn’t learn in the class?
RK: Well, I’m still learning. I think in doing it for this long, I’ve learned more about the business side. I didn’t anticipate all of the costs. As Roxane says in her essay, you just don’t think about shipping and those little trips to the post office.
I’m also continuously learning about marketing and how to market myself and the books. I’m always learning new ways to reach new audiences. I’ve also learned how much I love the writing community and how nice writers are. All of the authors I’ve worked with are the nicest people. It makes you feel a part of a bigger network. Authors get so excited to see their books. Making something meaningful is another side of creation that I had missed being just a writer.
FR: How many copies of each book do you print?
RK: We do three hundred. Right now we’re running out of BJ Hollars’ book [In Defense of Monsters]. Next we did Brian Oliu’s Level End. That was the first book that had a Gold Edition. It’s a chapbook that contains video-game lyric essays. For the Gold Edition we put it in a DVD case and made it look like a video game—like an Xbox game—and we included extra artwork for the sleeve. We also had a DVD full of extras, like video game music, the ebook and audio book. That was fun. We sold out of that really quickly. We’re doing that again with our newest book, An Elegy for Mathematics by Ann Valente.
I feel like I’ve tapped into something from my childhood. Getting a book is really fun. But then getting something that’s like a piece of that world that you create in your head … I find that really exciting.
FR: Do you have a background in design? Your covers are all so elegant.
RK: I don’t. I did the Phantoms cover and Michael Simms, the founder and editor-in chief of Autumn House press, who taught the publishing course, liked it so much he hired me on as a freelance designer at Autumn House. I did four books for them, learning more about design in the process. Now we actually have a cover artist, because I’m not good enough to generate original artwork. He did Level End,There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights and the newest book.
FR: Whose idea was the packaging for the Gold Edition of Level End?
RK: That was Sam Martone, who is the associate editor, and me. He and I—and Brian—are all big video game nerds. It started slowly. First we all decided that in the front page where the copyright is, we would have video game warning text. Then we all had a big email exchange. Once we decided to go with the conceit, everyone was building off of each other. Again, that’s a part of the process that I love.
FR: Have you published any titles as ebooks?
RK: We only have one available as an ebook—Chad’s. That’s something we’re really seriously considering. Part of why we haven’t done it is that we don’t know the formatting, though I’m sure we could learn. I think the other part is that we made these books to be enjoyed. There’s something about holding a book, especially with the Level End Gold Edition and the special edition of An Elegy for Mathematics. There are physical aspects of that book beyond just the text. I think we’re tending toward that. In the future, you’ll probably see more of the special editions and that’s something you just can’t capture with ebooks.
FR: So you don’t see publishing as dying, as some reports would have us believe?
RK: No. I think that publishing is changing and it’s scary for people who are used to the big houses. The industry in general is tending toward monopoly. It cuts down on options. But in response to that, there are people like us, who have seen that publishing is actually incredibly accessible these days. If you feel like you don’t see the work that you’d like to see out there, it’s easier than ever to start your own press and make books. We’re seeing a rise in small presses. There’s a debate about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. It gets more diverse voices out there.
FR: Do you still find time to write?
RK: That’s the hardest part. I just relocated at the end of January for a job. In the middle of that was Origami Zoo Press’s first contest. Things are busy right now, but that’s a good thing. I’m getting my feet under me in my new city and at my new job. But I have been trying to make time for writing. I actually started four stories in four days last week.
Lori Barrett is an MFA candidate in Chatham University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. She lives in Chicago.