Continuing our profiles of small publishers across the United States, we turn to the Pacific Northwest’s Airlie Press, where one of the founding members, Carter McKenzie, has very kindly answered our questions. Airlie’s mission is inspiring, and we hope to have some reviews up on their new release titles soon. Check back to find them!
Brief history of Airlie Press
Our press was founded in 2007 by four poets: Jessica (Matridarshana) Lamb, Donna Henderson, Anita Sullivan, and myself. We had been part of a long-standing poetry critique group, and several of us, inspired by the example of Sixteen Rivers Press, located in San Francisco, finally decided it was the right time to sign on for the endeavor of establishing a shared-work, consensus-based press in our Northwest region. In the early spring of 2007, we invited one of the founders of Sixteen Rivers Press, Terry Ehret, to spend the day with us answering our numerous questions about the process of establishing and sustaining the work we had in mind. The meeting was invaluable and informed us significantly regarding the process of the true collective: the sharing of work, the support of all member-authors in the publication of books, and the practice of returning all profits from book sales to the press for the publications of future volumes. Our source of financial support would come from book sales and special preorder offers for forthcoming titles. Later, we also developed a spring fundraising drive. We determined that after the publication of our own four manuscripts, we would have an annual call for submissions, which would not require a reading fee.
We recognized that, while we did not want to characterize ourselves narrowly as a regional press by privileging only regional subjects in our publications, our consensus-based process of making decisions would necessitate commitment by members to attend meetings in person and on a regular basis. We saw an opportunity to offer a singular publishing alternative for our community in the Willamette Valley (and possibly beyond), which would tap into the rich talent of poets in our region for the publication of beautiful and compelling books of poetry.
Since our establishment, we have published nine books of poetry, each of which has received significant advance praise and enthusiastic reception from readers. Donna Henderson’s The Eddy Fence (2009) was one of the finalists for the Oregon Book Award for Poetry in 2011, as well as a finalist for the Eric Hoffer da Vinci Eye Award in 2010. Congress of Strange People (2012) by Stephanie Lenox was a finalist for the 2013 da Vinci Eye Award, as well as being included on the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Short List and a finalist for that contest’s First Horizon Award.
Guiding Principles for Accepting Submissions
Our guiding principles in terms of what we are looking for are twofold: first of all, excellence in poetry; second, the author’s demonstration of an understanding of and willingness to commit to the responsibilities of our collective. We do not ask a reading fee, as stated above, in our annual call for submissions. We require the prospective member to be able to attend monthly meetings. We also require a membership commitment of a minimum of three years, allowing for a year of learning the ropes, a year of publishing her/his own book, and a year of shepherding in new members, which is a guideline we learned from the example of Sixteen Rivers Press.
Each manuscript submitted according to our guidelines is carefully read by all of our editors. Our selection of finalists is thoroughly discussed and decided upon in terms of our consensus process. Authors of manuscripts selected as finalists are invited for interviews with the Airlie Press editors before a decision regarding one or two new members is made.
Best Aspect of Being a Small Press
The best part of being a small, independent publisher includes the process of working closely with other poets dedicated to the creation of excellent books of poetry—not only their own books— that contribute to the vitality of the larger literary community. What we can accomplish through our process as a collective in support of the solitary art of writing poetry is tremendously inspiring.
Most Challenging Aspect of Being a Small Press
The most challenging parts of our work include that which is most rewarding: the discipline of the consensus-based process itself, which requires attentiveness and willingness to take the necessary time to address any concerns. It is this dedication that results in the fine quality of both our process and our books. Another challenging aspect is coming to our final decision about manuscripts to be accepted for publication and about membership. We take each submission seriously and greatly appreciate the quality of many of the submissions received. The selection process necessarily demands a great deal of attention and time, and that’s what we give to it.
Most Distinguishing Features
Airlie Press’s distinguishing features are the excellence of the books we produce, both in content and form, which are the result of the collective’s support of that book and its author through careful editing. Once a manuscript has been accepted for publication by Airlie Press, the author ultimately has the final say on her/his book’s content and design; however, that manuscript receives two thorough editorial critiques that are offered by the other members before it goes to the designer. The author experiences the support of both careful readership and thorough consultation regarding design before the manuscript becomes a book.
Once a book is published, the collective continues to support the author in a singular way by sharing the responsibility of marketing. Editors take on various tasks, including contacting bookstores, setting up readings, researching and fulfilling requirements for ads, and submitting books to contests. We all take part in organizing attendance at conferences, readings, and book fairs, where our new titles are displayed and sold. This sort of support for the author by a press is most unusual.