For us, the major appeal of the small press chapbook is its ephemerality, temporariness, and rarity. It’s also the late nights spent hand-stitching book spines in front of smutty reality TV. It’s far exceeding our welcome and cackling about god-knows-what in the printing section of Staples putting together something that delights and amuses our future reader. It’s also the hard days, when your responsibilities outside the press weigh on you, and you do your very best to honour the work and make something beautiful with the limited time and resources you have. And, beyond that, it’s wanting to invite as many people into the work as possible. So, we like to keep it small ‘round here.
These days it seems easier than ever to publish chapbooks, and that’s amazing. We as writers and publishers increasingly have access to the skills and the materials to produce and share small press poetry. And that has radically opened up who gets to publish these little books and who gets to read them. But we’re here today to talk about the virtues and the possibilities of the limited run, and how making fewer of our books lets us make more books for more people. While some might claim that limited runs are ungenerous and elitist in their limitation, for us it allows the opposite: it lets us to open more spaces for folks to get published, more conversations between our works, and more use of our limited resources. It’s also a way of making things freakin’ special, of preserving the wonder of works, which is a big part of what we love about small press production.
After four years of making small batch chaps, and getting repeated inquiries from bookstores about the possibility of “volume discounts,” we have to take a good, long look at ourselves, and ask: What are we doing here? What do we want to accomplish? How big do we want to grow, or how small do we want to stay? So, here’s to choosing small, and to creating more.
1. Small runs allow us to use our resources toward making more books for more people, and invite more people into our collective.
We’re gonna give it to ya straight: we are two busy ladies who work full-time jobs, are ambitious AF in our own creative and professional rights. OH yeah, and we have, ya know, relationships of flesh and fur to maintain. So, we’ve constructed a production model that is manageable for us, keeps us sane, and allows more space to open up for more people to publish. By publishing limited runs of 50, we can cycle people through—not in a utilitarian way, but in a “how can we bring more people into this collective?” kinda way.
Smaller runs also empower more people to make more things so that the space we create proliferates and expands. Our semi-handmade poetry book objects are inexpensive as far as chaps go. Our chapbooks sell for $10 flat, and we try really hard to work within those margins (all the while working with a small printer, sometimes working with artists and editors, buying all the materials on our own, and paying author royalties).
2. The internet makes this work obsolescent, so let’s use that to our advantage!
Technology (and piracy) has made it increasingly possible to move the means of literary production more quickly and readily into the hands of writers and readers. So in this world where you can get tons of poems for free, why pay except for the artefact?
We love the moments at small press book fairs and such when people stumble upon small press ephemera and experience the wonder and craft of it in their hands. And one of the really great things about increased access to tech is that we can pretty easily do both: we can create cute little limited runs of something with handmade elements, we can also just design and print those bad babes straight up, and we can also experiment with accessibility by making digital chapbooks like Jesse Rice Evans’ Honor/Shame, which sells for $3 (and also we encourage you to pirate it and share it!).
3. Gap Riot is not fully on one side or the other (we contain multitudes and don’t like to choose sides, OK?!).
Full disclosure: we’re not perfect limited runners—we have done multiple runs when there is demand, because we want to support authors and celebrate their work by getting it in more hands. We love seeing our authors shine and we want to support them as much as we can.
Too mass produced, and you might lose some of the fun of the artefact, but it also radically increases access. Too hand-made becomes too taxing on our time, which we have to be honest with ourselves about. Handmade almost necessitates limitedness, and we like that. Take Kyle Flemmer’s work with the The Blasted Tree, for instance. Every single copy of that run of 50 or whatever is made very fucking painstakingly by hand and when they sell out, part of you is like, awwwww, and part is like, wow, that was fun, momentary, and special.
For us, we share the craftload: we work with a printer for the guts of our books, and then we bedazzle some of those babes up with smaller elements of handmade work—hand binding, silk screening, seed paper, wax sealing, working with local artists on design, etc. That shit takes time. And we only have so much of it. We want to continue to enjoy doing the work in a way that works for us, so we don’t get burnt out by it. And sometimes we still get burnt out by it. But then we breathe, and we w(h)ine, and we have little chats like these, so we can get back to the work.
4. This is also a question of accountability to the work, and to the author.
In our opinion, small press must manage the tension between creating the limited run artefact and supporting authors through exposure & royalties, through creating a supportive/supporting and collaborative process of book production. This involves understanding small press publishing as a meeting of the art of writing with the art of publishing and design. We want to respect that process, and ENJOY IT, while remaining accountable to the authors/artists involved and giving our utmost care to their work.
There you have it, dear reader: some rough notes on why we like the smaller side of small press. All in all, we want to walk the line between increased accessibility and moments of preciousness—because we’re here to expand the space of creation, and we’re here to do it with fucking style.
Gap Riot Press is a neat little womxn-run feminist press that publishes experimental, visual, innovative, and genre-blurring work by primarily Canadian poets that push the limits of poetry. Gap Riot is run in conversation and collaboration. Gap Riot believes in big ideas and small runs, in inexpensive chapbooks with hand-made touches, in royalty payments and spreading the wealth, in the meaningful merger of generosity and accountability. Gap Riot loves the weird and the wonderful and takes quite a bit of pleasure in poetry. #mindthegap #jointheriot
Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Dish With One Spoon Territory / Toronto. She is the curator of the Small Press Map of Canada and has published five chapbooks of poetry. Her critical and creative work has been featured in various magazines, journals, and small press publications across North America, Europe, and the UK.
Dani Spinosa is a poet of digital and print media, an on-again-off-again precarious professor, and the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory. She has published several chapbooks of poetry, several more peer-reviewed journal articles on poetry, one long scholarly book, and one pink poetry book.