Born in Michigan, he now lives in a fishing village in Virginia. He is also the creator of the online submission management tool, Green Submissions, which is used by a number of literary magazines.
1. Why did you decide to start Prolific Press, Inc?
I think anyone who founds a press does so because they want to decide what is printed. It's not for the money, because there isn't any when you first start. I wanted to create opportunities for writers, without regard to pedigree or past achievements. It seemed to me, at the time and even today, that most notable journals seem to care far more about the name of the writer than the quality of the work. That's not how it should be. I have strong convictions about that.
I also knew that any vision for the kind of press I founded would be a diverse mix of journals and other projects. I have many interests. It made sense to house the various journal brands and publishing branches under an umbrella corporation. Most large publishers have that type of structure. If you look at any of the "big 5," you will recognize a loosely-similar framework. I wanted to have that in place and build into it, instead of figuring out how to combine multiple projects later. That can be confusing. Besides, "Prolific Press" is a catchy name, don't you think?
In point of fact, all our brands are good names. Poetry Quarterly, Haiku Journal, Jitter Press, Inwood Indiana, Tanka Journal, Dual Coast Magazine, Three Line Poetry, and 50 Haikus... these are all great names, popular and recognizable. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably have chosen a different name for 50 Haikus, as "Haiku" is the plural spelling, but it's a legacy. It felt right at the time, and the writers seem to like the quirky name.
Prolific Press is a family of journals and publishing programs--most importantly, we have a great group of passionate writers that submit regularly. We keep growing year after year. It's been a great ride, and it only seems to expand. I hoped it would be like this. It's been a dream-come-true in some important ways, and I thank the writers and staff for it. I know this interview is about me, but I take only a meager portion of the credit for Prolific Press's success. Without great people and talented writers, Prolific Press would have died in the first year like the majority of companies in this business do.
2. How do you find the time and motivation to balance the demands and publishing schedules of so many journals, chapbooks, and longer books?
I have probably been asked this question more than any other. I think people fail to realize how much time they waste. Facebook, Twitter, TV, Radio, yada yada yada... we live in a culture of time-wasting mechanisms. We have invented so many ways to waste time that we are amazed when we encounter someone who seems to get things done. I get a lot done because I work hard. I also have good assistants and technologies that reflect positively upon me. What that boils down to is.... Well, let's stay on point. The question is how I find the time and motivation.
I get some of my work ethic from my father. He worked long hours and always provided financially. Growing up, I remember him playing motivational cassette tapes in the car. I recall the speaker saying, "Everyone, rich or poor, has the same number of hours in a day." You never know when life will deliver up a nugget of gold like that. I can't tell you who said it, but I can tell you that it stripped away the mystery between those who get things done and those who don't.
The motivation comes from having a passion for poems, stories, and the heroes that write them. That passion never seems to fade. I get plenty of praise and reinforcement from the writers I work with. They recognize how hard I work, and how much I care about them--and I do. I really do.
3. When reading manuscripts, what catches your eye--and your mind as a reader?
A manuscript should grab my attention right away. I don't care about who wrote it. I care about the impact it has on me. I look at the mechanics--how the writer reveals the characters, backstory, and whether they make me care about the story. I can be a little callused about manuscripts because I read so many. The same is true of the short stories and poems. It comes down to impact.
The writer should care. If they don't, I can spot that almost instantly. Not to be cliché, because it's probably used too often to make this point, but Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." I think that's very true, and if the writer doesn't have strong feelings about the offering, I can pick up on that fairly quickly.
4. Do you also pursue your own writing in addition to all the time you devote to publishing the work of other writers?
I do. I am writing a book of poems now. I don't write as often as I'd like--I don't have the extra time. But I do write, and I have some of the same concerns the writers who approach me have. I don't know where I'm going to publish when I do. I've been approached, but I don't know what the best choice is, or when. I feel these things; have these problems--I hope that makes me a better editor, too, because I know what other writers are going through.
I can't decide when my book is finished. I keep going back to fuss over the work. I have a passion and a vision for the work. I hope that when I'm ready, I can show that to others--give them something valuable. In the meantime, I help others realize their goals.
5. I admire your dedication to publishing poetry, in particular shorter poems. For those of us who share your interest in poetry, what do you think we can do to encourage others to read our own poetry, or get a press to notice our work?
That's hard. First, the poets need to deliver a worthy product, and that begins by having an audience in mind. Imagine whom you are writing for--and be specific. It's probably not enough (as an emerging poet today) to seek broad appeal like Collins, Bishop, Alexie, and Hayden. I'd suggest new poets look at icons like Olds and Neruda--they definitely have an audience in mind, and managed to climb to the top by building on political angles.
The first thing a poet needs to do is carve out some kind of readership. Not to be crass, but some poets seem to approach the whole thing like self-gratification. That's completely wrong. If you want a readership, then you must write for others--give them something of value. Poetry should make people feel something. It should make our lives better. When it is written to do that, then and only then, people will seek out your poems.
For the poet, this often means submitting to presses that have more relaxed acceptance rates, and then slowly adjusting until you find some presses that will publish you regularly. It is far more important to develop good relationships with a few stable presses than to have a thousand acknowledgements.
Readers rarely read one poem and choose to buy a poet's work. It's much better to find a platform to expose your work to readers regularly, so they come to know and trust your voice. Then they will buy, and probably buy everything you ever do.
I have built some good relationships with many writers. It's an honor to publish some of those voices. I get to watch them grow and evolve as artists. The readers seem to agree with my choices. The feedback from our publications is almost unanimously positive. Good relationships benefit everyone, the poets, our press, and most importantly, the readers.