I recently had the opportunity to interview Nichole Goff on what it’s like, behind the scenes, to edit pieces for both a literary magazine and a small press. The following is a compilation of our email correspondence. Read on to learn how editors work through submissions, bring politics into publishing, and connect with their community.
GIDEON SIMONS: How did you get involved with Action Books?
NICHOLE GOFF: Back in 2013 I found myself itching to go back to school. I applied to the University of Notre Dame (thinking it was a long-shot), and ended up being one of the 5 poets accepted into the MFA program for the Fall 2014 semester. Action Books is based out of Notre Dame, Indiana, and run by head editors/professors Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Goransson. Joyelle and Johannes selected me to be one of the assistant editors based on my previous small press experience with Spork Press in Tucson, where I was an intern during my undergrad at the University of Arizona.
How does Action Books put its manifesto into practice? What advantages and disadvantages do you see in the focus on translated work at Action Books?
Transgression is a consistent component of the work Action Books publishes. This applies whether it be a translation of Raul Zurita’s poetry about the national and personal traumas of the Pinochet Dictatorship (El Pais de Tablas/The Country of Planks), or a dead-mermaid verse-play written in “English” (ahem, Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse). One of the keys to having a successful small press is knowing aesthetically what you’re looking for, and enmeshing those standards of aesthetics with your value systems. Joyelle and Johannes have done well with honing this in the past decade or so. I hope to see them continue to publish transgressive translations, while also considering translations from more parts of the world—some of which the United States hasn’t seen yet.
An advantage of focusing on publishing translated work is that works of translation come few and far between in the United States. Works of contemporary, politically and artistically relevant translation are even more rare. This makes Action Books unique in their mission. One of my favorite advantages is simply that Action Books publishes writing that would not typically be available to read in the United States and English-speaking world. Translation can act as many things: a diplomat, an anti-American aggressor, a peacekeeper, a militant. Without translation on all levels (not just in the small press world) we are left in our own tiny intellectual circuits, separated from the macrocosmic stories and experiences of the world. Action Books is one of the few presses that publishes works of translation of this kind.
Thus, they cater to niches of readers who are interested in broadening their notions of writing. I would say the biggest disadvantage to publishing translation is that it’s difficult to gain mainstream readership in a western society with deeply ingrained ideas of intellectual and cultural supremacy. Unfortunately, as with many small presses, the niche of translation is limited and the venture is not lucrative. The world is not full of people who read poetry avidly, though don’t we all wish! This translates into monetary terms as well. We would all love to be able to compensate our writers and translators exorbitantly for their important and hard work, but oftentimes this is a struggle in the small press world.
How has your experience at Action Books shaped your approach at Spork Press? Have you made any major changes to the way you work?
I have recently transitioned away from editorial work with Spork Press. I learned a lot about publishing via Spork, but it’s for the best! I am starting a new literary journal called SPF under the wing of Casa Libre en la Solana—a literary nonprofit based out of Tucson, AZ. To answer your original question, however, my experiences at Action Books shaped my approach at Spork Press in that my co-editor Sally and I looked for work that was both politically and artistically exciting. This is not to say that Spork has not published political work before—but I was very interested in centering the experiences and work of writers that took a novel approach to language, and was aesthetically/ideologically different from work that Spork had published in the past. I want to use my position as an editor to center voices who might not otherwise be centered. My goal with Spork was to publish more international work in translation, and more work from WOC, QPOC, etc. I plan to carry some of these aesthetic and sociopolitical ideologies with me to SPF.
At Spork Press, how do you balance book publication and running the Sporklet online magazine?
Spork balances book publication and running Sporklet by publishing only a few books per year, which they typically solicit. Spork took a hiatus from publishing books this year and last because Richard and Drew opened up a storefront. They have recently relocated, and are now beginning to publish manuscripts again with full-lengths in mind. The short answer to this is delegation. Sally and I primarily worked on Sporklet while we were editors with Spork. Drew and Richard worked with chapbooks and full-lengths.
How do you approach the “first round” of reading when it comes to the slush pile? Do you rely solely on the slush pile or do you solicit work?
The Sporklet that Sally and I put together was solely solicitation. Typically Sporklet is put together with only slush pile selections, and the occasional solicitation. Oftentimes Spork ends up publishing chapbooks or full-lengths of authors who they first encountered via slush pile selections. They end up “falling in love” with some of their authors, as Richard has put it.
How much editing can a piece need that you accept? Do you accept pieces with contingency edits and, if so, how do you handle them?
This varies. Typically Spork publishes pieces that need no editing or very minor editing. On occasion, one of the editors will send a “we would like to work with you on this” acceptance email—which can lead to more extensive editorial involvement. For the most part we like to accept work that’s polished and ready to publish.
I understand that last year you published a chapbook of your own, Aluminum Necropolis. How has your career in publishing shaped your approach on the other side, as an author trying to be published, and vice-versa?
My career in publishing has informed my approach as an author in that I’m more patient with the submission process, more aware of the etiquette involved in publishing, and more aware of observing aesthetics. Small presses and lit journals are run by people who love what they do, and are most often doing this in their spare time. Thus, publishing is rarely an instant gratification kind of process. Patience and understanding of the fact that people are devoting their spare time to your work via my own publishing experiences has helped me respect the publishing process. Also, community is one of the most important aspects of publishing to me. Being both an author and a publisher has allowed me to know and value the writing community in more intimate ways.
Nichole Goff has worked as an editor at Action Books and Spork Press. She is currently working to launch a new literary journal, SPF, in association with the Casa Libre en la Solanapublishing nonprofit. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2016 with an MFA in Poetry and is the author of Aluminum Necropolis, a chapbook published by Horse Less Press.
Gideon Simons is a first year fiction writer at Virginia Tech. He reads fiction for the minnesota review.