An Interview with Jason Bates, founder of Punks Write Poems Press
Kim: What sparked your idea to start PunksWritePoems Press? Did you notice a unique need not currently being filled in the literary community?
Jason: The idea, and really the thing that drives it, was to dismiss the traditional publishing attitude and create something that felt inclusive instead of exclusive. There is a certain pretentiousness that exists in the world of traditional publishing that centers around the semantics of the word “legitimate”. If you self-publish, there will be plenty of writers - published and not - who will spit the words “self” and “published” at you like you’d just defiled their beloved Grandma’s grave with a pile of their precious pug’s excrement. As if the choice you made makes your words less viable...or even worse, less valuable. Which is complete pug excrement! For poetry, specifically, there is almost no market in traditional publishing. But in the indie publishing world, poetry-centric presses are easy to find and hard to distinguish. I didn’t notice a unique need. Kind of the opposite, actually. PunksWritePoemsPress is just one little voice in a concert hall echoing with little voices.
Kim: What has been the hardest or most unexpected challenge you've faced as a new entity?
Jason: The hardest thing is building slowly. Being patient and understanding that, while I think everyone should love our poets the way I do, most people will never know their names. The most unexpected challenge, and by far my least favorite part of the deal, is soliciting reviews. It is very much like walking up to a stranger on the street and handing them a delicious gourmet brownie…"It is the tastiest brownie you have ever had, I swear!”...and they look at the brownie in your hand and politely say “thanks, but no thanks.” Now do that over and over again until you’re not sure why brownies even exist.
I dislike it so much that I started an online magazine, Scindie Magazine, that was originally going to be a book review mag, but it evolved into a broader look at independent creativity.
Kim: Have you had any surprising rewards along the way?
Jason: By far the best part is when the author gets to hold their book in their hands for the first time...and they send a picture or post one online. That pride and happiness. That moment that a dream came true, captured and shared. That is special.
Kim: What are your long-term goals for the press?
Jason: We are focused on steady growth. We are building a strong catalog one poet at a time. We have plans to attack sales in some new ways in 2017. And, I personally need to do a better job of engaging in and encouraging the RVA arts scene. But ultimately, we have three long-term goals: to be a publisher that writers want to publish with; to quit my day job and do this full time; to print and distribute our books completely independently.
Kim: What is your "day job"?
Jason: I work in aerospace quality management. It is the opposite of the creativity of writing and publishing. Everything is controlled by specifications and regulations.
Kim: Which genre(s) and author(s) are your favorites to read?
Jason: I’m all over the map when it comes to my tastes. Stephen Crane is one of my all time favorites, more for his poetry than his stories and sketches. William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, ee cummings...they all taught me different things about poetry. I lean toward sci-fi and fantasy a lot in my reading preferences, but I also love “The Accidental Tourist” by Anne Tyler and “Ordinary people” by Judith Guest. I can get lost in the bizarre story-scapes of Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. I can go on the adventure with Neil Gaimen and let Palahniuk disturb my sensibilities. Heck, I even love the Pigeon books and the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems...so much fun to read out loud!
Kim: Do you write? And, if so, how have your own writing techniques and preferences influenced your review, RoguePoetry Review, and the selection of authors you choose to publish?
Jason: I do write. Before starting the Press, I self-published a book of short poems, The Littlest Spoon, and recently I’ve had pieces appear in print and online lit mags. But the day job plus the publishing job plus all the commitments and responsibilities of being a husband and father equals very little time to write. I try to write good poetry, which doesn’t mean anything, really...no one sets out to write bad poetry...and I look for good poetry to publish. Defining it is difficult. Our first go at RoguePoetry Review was a free-for-all cocktail of styles, structures, and voices. You’d be hard-pressed to read through it and say “ah ha, so that’s the kind of poetry they are looking for!” It’s more about finding well-constructed poems with defined tone and voice. For our author collections, we really focus on having a theme that binds the pieces into a cohesive book. There needs to be a reason for each poem to be in the collection.
I will say that there are two personal preferences that greatly influence my selections: first, I won’t publish a poem that isn’t titled, and second, line breaks are important for emphasis and flow; poorly used, they will ruin an otherwise good piece.
Kim: Can you offer any advice to emerging writers looking to submit to PunksWritePoems press?
Jason: My advice is to submit. Submit to us. Submit anywhere that you can. No one wins if you don’t. Read and follow the submission guidelines. If you have questions, ask them! For us specifically, if you have an idea for something - something different, something new - and you think it would be awesome, pitch it to us! Despite our name, we are not exclusively publishing poetry. There is a sci-fi title coming out soon. Some early plans for a children’s book (that came in as a pitch). We are open to different things.
Keep in mind, though, that we are a very small press who expands a little every day, so becoming one of our authors means we will do everything we can to make your book a success but it will take equal efforts from you.