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  • Scenes:Press 53: an interview with Kevin Morgan Watson

What is your role in the publishing scene?

Press 53’s role is to bring something new to the market, to find those clear voices with engaging ideas and visions and bring them to a world of readers who appreciate them. Our role is to add to the conversation, not parrot what is being said over and over again. Our role is to also create striking books that reflect the quality and beauty of what is on the page. We work hard to find cover art that works with the content, and we celebrate the artist in the process. We want to create books that readers will not only enjoy, but will take pleasure in holding and displaying in their homes and offices. We think a book is an extension of the reader as much as it is the writer and the publisher.

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Cover, What the Zhang Boys Know (2012)

Could you briefly describe Press 53’s history?

Press 53 was founded in October 2005 and began publishing short story and poetry collections. Later we ventured into novels and memoirs, but in 2011, we returned to our roots and now publish only short story and poetry collections. We do have special mission, too, our Press 53 Classics imprint that focuses on bringing back into print out-of-print books by North Carolina authors, which can include novels and memoirs, but for new titles, our focus is on poetry and short story collections by widely published authors who live in the United States. To date, we have published several debut collections of poems and short stories, but we have also worked with several established writers, including five current and former state poets laureate, and have won numerous awards including the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction, a PEN/Hemingway honorable mention, and several others. We’ve also published collections celebrating writing careers, like Miracle Boy and Other Stories by Pinckney Benedict (2010); Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories by David Jauss (2013); and The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers (2013).

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Cover, Anson County (2013)

Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?

We don’t publish for the market, chasing whatever genre is hot today. When I founded Press 53, my goal was to publish writing I loved and then find readers who agreed with me. I ask the same of my editors today: to find writing they love and then help the writers find their audience. Readers of poetry and short stories are loyal; they pay attention to which publishing houses are producing work they admire and enjoy, and they come back to find more great reading later if they learn to trust you. Readers come to us by way of our authors, who are widely published and bring readers with them, or by word-of-mouth, which is still the best advertising around. Poetry and short stories are two of the most overlooked areas of writing that most major publishers and bookstores ignore. There is a thriving community of writers and readers of both poetry and short fiction, but to tap into those markets requires some work, which many publishers and booksellers aren’t interested in doing. We’ve run into situations where one indie bookstore will sell over 200 copies of a story collection, and thirty miles down the road, another indie bookstore won’t carry the book because they claim there is no market for short stories. And they are right: in their store there is no market for short stories because they haven’t worked to cultivate that market. We’ve found that indie stores with real book people working the floor have strong poetry and short fiction sections that are doing quite well and adding to their bottom lines. Still, overall, the majority of our sales come from our writers getting out, meeting their readers at conferences, workshops, readings, and other events, and hand-selling books.

How would you characterize the work that you publish?

In both...


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p. 31
Launched on MUSE
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