Hi I’m Sara Lefsyk and I run Ethel Zine & Micro Press (). Ethel publishes about 24 chapbooks and 2 issues of Ethel, a journal of writing and art, each year. Oh, and I run the whole press by myself. Actually, sitting down to write this, after telling rob for the past 6 months (at least) that I would, I almost feel like—can I spare the time? Shouldn’t I be working on Ethel? What do I even say? You see, I am an introvert and I hide behind the Ethel persona. I don’t even really have my own personal social media pages anymore.
First, a little about Ethel’s beginnings. Ethel started in May of 2018 when my Poet friend—and Ethel Oracle and Ethel Moral Support Executive and Ethel Reading Host—Joanna Penn Cooper () suggested that I start a press and call it Ethel—a nickname she made up for me when we were in grad school together and I would go visit her in NYC. She knew how I liked to make little handmade books full of my friend’s writing and art, and she knew I was fed-up with working 3 jobs that had nothing to do with my interests. I was like—ok!—and then I made the first issue of Ethel (). After that, I just kept going, and soon I also started making chapbooks. The first chapbook I made was one of Joanna’s () as a test run, and then when I posted on social media asking if anyone else would want a chapbook from Ethel, I got great response and that aspect of the press also took off.
Now, three years later, I find myself publishing about 24 chapbooks and 2 issues of Ethel each year. It just sort-of happened. I usually will start off the year saying, I’m only going to do 12 chaps this year, and then I start reading submissions and end up with double that. I’m also the type of person that, in order not to sink into an incomprehensible depression, needs to be busy constantly. I’m always tinkering and making things. I found that getting to design and hand-make covers using a sewing machine and a variety of paper, fabric, photos, sequins, buttons and whatever else I can attach, was both something fairly original in the world of publishing, and completely enjoyable and fulfilling on my part. And people really responded to the hand-made feel of Ethel. I literally make every cover for every book and then bind every book by hand (or with my sewing machine). Every chapbook I publish I make at least 40 copies of (some I’ve made up to 150 copies of) and every issue of Ethel I publish, I make at least 125-200 copies. As if this weren’t enough work, as the press slowly grew, the tasks I had to balance grew. I now find myself not only making books, but maintaining a website and social media, fulfilling orders, reading/responding to submissions, formatting and designing books, planning Ethel Zoom readings and whatever other small tasks come about on a daily basis. The only thing I don’t personally do is print the innards, though I do use a local worker-owned print shop called Collective Copies. All that being said, Ethel is a little bit of a selfish enterprise because it is one of the few things—besides animals and reading/writing—that helps me continue to stay in this world. I’m like—so-and-so is expecting their chapbook to come out, get out of bed and make those covers, Ethel!
Oh, and I don’t personally make any money or profit off of Ethel, all the money I make goes back into the press. This is probably the hardest part about having the press, because Ethel is expensive to run with all of the supplies and printing, contributor copies and mailing, there’s always a chance I won’t have enough money to keep Ethel running. When I first started Ethel and was working 70 hours a week at various jobs in restaurants, I could easily use my own money to help support the running of Ethel, but now I don’t have the option to personally support Ethel. This is why supporting small presses is so important. We don’t get that big pharma money like Poetry Magazine does, or that Koch bothers money like Soft Skull. The most money I have ever had in Ethel’s bank account is $1500. The least probably $25, which is when I start to go…oh no! How will get this next chapbook printed?! But so far it has work out. Something sells really well and then I am able to keep going. Capitalism is a mo-fo. Speaking-of, I do make each issue of Ethel available to read for free online, I am hoping to also get all of the chapbooks available to read for free on Ethel’s website. A poet that I will be publishing soon asked if their book could be offered for free in a digital format and I was like—yes, they all should! Wouldn’t it also be cool if audio of the chapbook could be made available?
Anyway, I decided early-on, after the first issue, that I wanted Ethel’s focus to be on publishing marginalized voices. I mean, we’ve heard enough from cis white men, really. I still publish work from everyone, but my hope and my goal is to publish as wide a range of marginalized voices as possible. Even with that as my goal, I need to do better at upholding this value. I, as a white person, can always do better and do more. Would you believe that that majority of submissions that I get are probably from cis white men, even though the website says I want to publish marginalized voices?! Yah, you would believe it. I also want to publish people who may have never been published before, because the larger poetry world can feel so exclusionary for people who maybe aren’t MFAers or for who maybe writing isn’t their sole focus. I want Ethel to have more of a community/supportive feel. I also want to publish more translation and experimental work. Another goal that has been rising in my mind is to have a member of the BIPOC community put together an issue of Ethel (anyone reading this that is interested, please contact me! ). That would mean putting out a call for submissions, reading and accepting pieces for the issue and possibly formatting/arranging the issue (if that is of interest). I would pay a fair wage/stipend and offer a year subscription of Ethel in return.
I’d also like to publish 1 or 2 full length books/year. I would still want them to be in Ethel’s home-made style, and would hope for them to be a bit more experimental in nature. In general, I hope to get some submissions from people who want to collaborate on a book-as-art project where the text/art submitted melds into the bookmaking and we come up with an art piece—artist book—in itself. (See Alexandre Ferrer’s chapbook mono / stitches, which I released in 2020: ). This, again, is a little selfish, because I don’t yet have time to work on my own projects, so this would allow me to be more creative and playful in the book design, and fulfill my need to experiment with bookmaking.
Finally, once I get caught up from falling behind last year during a huge pit of a depression, I am hoping to be able to take one day off a week from Ethel so that I can begin to work on my own writing and book-making projects.
Oh! Also, if you can, support a small/micro press today by purchasing a book or books or a subscription. Doesn’t have to be Ethel. Also, if you can’t afford a copy of Ethel, but would like to have one, reach out to me () and I would be happy to send you one. Poetry should be accessible to everyone.
Sara Lefsyk is Head Ethel over at Ethel Zine & Micro Press. She has a book—We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds (2018, Black Lawrence Press) and some publications here and there. Besides hand-making books and books in general, she likes hanging out with dogs, following pig sanctuaries on Instagram and sleeping.