Category Archives: Blog Posts

These will be 500-1000 words and will be lightly edited for style consistency rather than for content. Once the site is up, blog posts will likely appear within a week of submission. Note: we do not currently pay for blog posts.


Just Where it Should Be: Persephone Books and the Dream of the Competent Woman

When I walked into Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, I had the disconcerting sensation that I was walking into my own ideal life, but someone else was living it.


Have you ever fantasized about opening up your own bookstore? It’s a dream I return to on a pretty regular basis. In my head, Amazon is not an issue and my brick-and-mortar store is quietly flourishing. I usually see it on the first floor of a discrete brownstone, with books stacked neatly on tables and in shelves and vases of fresh flowers scattered around—red tulips, maybe, in pitchers. Sometimes in my head I sell all kinds of books, but more often what I’m selling is books by women who have been unfairly ignored and overlooked and pushed out of print. Noel Strietfield’s adult novel, the one they made her rework into Ballet Shoes and sell to kids, or maybe poor, much-maligned Dorothy Whipple, who after all never deserved to be used so often as a symbol of the worst of British bourgeois popular writing. (“We had a limit known as the Whipple line, below which we would not sink,” Carmen Callil of Virago once wrote. “Dorothy Whipple was a popular novelist of the 1930s and 1940s whose prose and content absolutely defeated us.” Poor Dorothy!)

In my daydream, I’ve found a way to get those books to the readers who would undoubtedly be clamoring for them if only they knew they existed, and even turn a profit, why not. (In fantasies, publishing obscure feminist literature can make you successful.) And the books are always beautiful—just as beautiful to look at as they are to read.

Persephone Books is doing all of that, and they are doing it better than any of us could.

The London shop is their only storefront, and it’s half-office, half-bookstore. In the back half of the room are intelligent, efficient women talking briskly into phones, filling orders and taking inventories. And in the front half are the books.

The books are all uniformly sized paperbacks, bound in elegant dove-gray and covered in dove-gray jackets. The paper is rich and creamy; the margins are generous; the endpapers are brightly and beautifully patterned. (Artfully, Persephone also makes glossy prints of the endpapers and sells them in their shop.) And they are wonderful, clever, funny, tragic books. Dorothy Whipple is there, and Noel Strietfield, too; also the forgotten adult novels of Frances Hodge Burnett, which have drifted out into obscurity despite the undying popularity of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. There are the weird old cookery books of Agnes Jekyll, where she teaches you how to set lobster mousse in aspic and offers such fascinatingly unhelpful instructions as “Prepare a farce from veal or the best parts of the rabbit in the usual way.” There is a collection of short stories that are astonishing in their cool, ironic brilliance; the author, Frances Towers, was hailed as the Jane Austen of her generation when her anthology was published in 1949, but she died in 1948 and was rapidly forgotten. And more, and more, and more: 110 books in all and counting.

I walked out of the shop with only High Wages, Tea with Mr. Rochester, and The Making of a Marchioness and considered myself to have been a paragon of restraint and self-control. And as I luxuriated in High Wages, shaking my head at the sheer mud that has been thrown on Dorothy Whipple’s name, I realized that I was reading the Ur-text for my bookstore dream, for that longing that Persephone satisfies.

High Wages is one of those books about a sensible woman who starts a business—a dress shop, in her case—and is wildly successful. Most of the pleasure of the book comes from watching this exceedingly competent, capable woman organize her own life with such aplomb. When you read the description of our heroine Jane’s front window display, you are certain that every single detail of the business is handled with good taste and care.

Against the background of gray was an elegant white embroidered frock with a yellow necklace laid on it. Three equally elegant white embroidered blouses were disposed on the other side of the window; and just where it should be was a bowl of yellow globe flowers to point the colour of the necklace. Jane thought it discreet, fresh, and delicious, and feeling it impossible to behave like a sober shopkeeper if she looked at it any longer, she went inside.

Of course the flower bowl is just where it should be. This shop is run by a Competent Woman; where else would it be?

The business run by a Competent Woman is a favorite trope of mine (I will defend The Little Lady Agency with my dying breath), and it’s part of the joy of my bookstore dream. In the dream, I can put myself in the place of that smart, tasteful Competent Woman and imagine creating a smart, tasteful shop where everything is just as it should be. And that is the dream that Persephone Books realizes: it is a marvelous venture run by Competent Women with fastidious eyes for detail, and it is—to the surprise of everyone except the women who run the place—a smashing success. Looking at Persephone Books, you are absolutely positive that everything is just where it should be. In itself, Persephone Books embodies the spirit of the books it sells. It is its own story.

unnamedConstance Grady is a staff writer for You Know You Love Fashion and has been published on The Toast. Her YA novel reimagines the fairy tales of the Grimms and Perrault.

Literary Magazines’ Self-Retrospectives

Though I must own well over twenty thousands books, I’ve not until a decade ago collected anything to the extent of trying to possess everything within a certain category. Most of the books owned by me were obtained for a particular project–sometimes a work currently in progress, other times a project that I did in the past but about which I nonetheless maintain an active interest, and more often for one that I am planning to do in the future.

51PdbJMUTpL._AC_UL320_SR248,320_As my first national publication was in a literary quarterly that did not pay its authors, I’ve continue to contribute to such eleemosynary journals, thinking that the abundance, the independence, and possible quality of them is a true index of cultural opportunity in America and thus that my continuing contributions are necessary. (Not all their alumni are so nostalgic, needless to say.) While my library includes shelf upon shelf of such cultural journals, what I think is more significant is the collection I’ve made of the books in which such magazines select the best work to appear in their pages–what I call self-retrospectives. Though such books customarily appear in modest editions designed initially for the magazines’ loyal subscribers or as special issues celebrating decade(s)-long anniversaries, they ideally give its editors an opportunity to show, better than a single issue, how they want to be regarded by posterity.

Two things I like about cultural journals’ self-retrospectives as a subject for collecting are that no one else known to me is concentrating on them and that the number of them can’t be too enormous. I own perhaps two hundred fifty. One problem is that the category is so unfamiliar I customarily must explain it at least twice, even to a bookseller eager to unload his inventory. Incidentally, many literate people aren’t aware of these books, some either doubting their existence. The category of cultural magazines necessarily excludes commercial magazines.

Some of these retrospectives appear as a magazine is dying and perhaps dies once the retrospective appears, such as Between C and D (1988) and Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan’s Explorations in Communication (1960). My collection includes retrospective volumes from art magazines, such as Flash Art and Artforum, and music magazines such as Perspectives of New Music and High Fidelity. I have selections from political magazines, such as the socialist Voices of Dissent (1958), the pacifist Seeds of Liberation (1964), and the conservative Modern Age: The First Thirty-Five Years, a Selection (1988). Some magazines publish so little in their lifetimes that publishers are able to produce retrospective books containing everything appearing in their pages, such as New Individualist Review (1981) or Monk’s Pond: Thomas Merton’s Little Magazine (1989).

Since certain magazines have survived long enough to issue more than one retrospective, it is not surprising that I have several from Partisan Review, four from Saturday Review, two from Harper’s, two from the Nation, two from Antioch Review, three from The New Republic. I suppose that a sensitive scholar of cultural journals could do interesting critical analyses of how a single magazine’s self-retrospective in the 1990s differs from that done in the 1950s, say, and how such differences reflect the changing ambitions of its editors. Continue reading Literary Magazines’ Self-Retrospectives


The Perils and Pains of Short-Run Digital Printing: Contest Entries

I’m glad CLMP is making this forum available. I’d like to take this opportunity to gripe or grouse about organizations that run prize competitions for already-published books but have not quite moved all the way into the 21st century.

imagesTo wit: They usually (but not always) exclude self-published books. OK, we can argue that one either way. But how about the ones that say POD books are excluded unless they have a print run of 500 books? What are they smoking? The whole point of POD (when it means “publish on demand”) is to print only when you have a sale. But POD can also mean “print on demand,” otherwise known as short-run digital printing.

Mayapple Press does what most publishers do – we stock books, we fill bookstore orders with a decent discount and return privileges, we keep things in print, we don’t require authors to buy books, we provide royalty copies and sometimes money royalties, we help with publicity, etc., etc. What we DON’T do is print 500 books at a time unless the author wants to buy that many (we discourage that, because it’s not necessary) or unless some other contingency, such as the cost of color printing, makes it necessary/cost-effective. Our typical first run is 151 or higher. Our typical sales for a single-author poet would leave a lot of a 500-book run on the shelves and racking up tax bills. Only one of our poetry authors has exceeded 500 copies in print (most of which are sold).

Haven’t contest organizers ever heard of “just in time inventory”? It’s been good enough for most of American commerce for several decades. And doing things this way means I can keep books in print indefinitely – I can always print another 25 if the author needs books, even 10 years later.

I understand that some presses solve this problem by ignoring the requirement and entering the competitions anyway. While I understand this decision, I don’t like to do things that way.

I’ve had this conversation with someone at a prize competition more than once, and the person always said, “Sure, no problem.” But calling every time the issue comes up is tedious. It would be nice to have common sense begin to take hold. What does it take to get prize competition managers to be sensible about the economics of printing in the Computer Age?

Comments welcome.

maylogoJudith Kerman is the publisher and editor of Mayapple Press.


Welcome to Front Porch Commons! A Note from the Editor

On behalf of CLMP, I am thrilled to announce the launch of Front Porch Commons, independent publishing’s new front porch!

Front Porch Commons is a virtual space for conversation within and about the independent literary publishing community. Indie publishing has long been a house of many rooms; I hope Front Porch Commons can be the place where our diverse community comes together to talk. Through weekly blog posts and short essays, we’re creating an ongoing discussion of the ideas and issues that matter most to our industry.

Who’s writing these posts? You! All who are a part of our community–from publishers, booksellers, agents, and librarians, to educators, historians, readers, and writers–are invited contribute. In the true spirit of a commons, we’ll be publishing all submissions we receive (so long as they are previously unpublished, on-topic, and not attack pieces).

The conversation is already starting. Check out an interview with the ever-hilarious Sue Shapiro on the pros of publishing small, a discussion with poetry icon Deborah Landau, a literary podcast roundup with new recommendations even for the veterate podcast listener, one author’s take on Chipotle’s package publishing model, and firsthand advice about starting and running literary magazines, among other great features.

This terrific mix of pieces reflects the spectrum of work that Front Porch Commons will continue to run: everything from logistical and advice-oriented essays for fellow members of the community, to thought pieces about the industry, to profiles and interviews with some of its stars, and all manner of work in between.

So, please, read! Stay a while! Add your voice! We’ll look forward to seeing you on the Porch!

All my best,

Emma Komlos-Hrobsky, Front Porch Commons Editor


Can You Run a Literary Magazine Long Distance? Bridging the Gaps at Two Cities Review

Two_Cities_Issue_6_09-2The idea sprouted when I was about to leave New York. I’d been living with my high school friend and fellow writer Olivia in Brooklyn, finishing my MFA and pretty much living a writer’s dream. We both loved the most writerly city on earth. We loved the plays and poetry readings, the artisanal doughnuts and dark bars crammed with storytellers. Over the few years of our roommate-ship, we’d played with the idea of founding a literary magazine. We had always wanted to shape the vision of a journal of our own. But then I was due to move back to my hometown of Boston. How could we possibly maintain and fund a new journal when spread across the East Coast? Was it possible, in today’s wired world, to make a journal with a cohesive vision, when its co-editors would only meet in person a handful of times a year?

We decided that not only was it possible; it would be what made us unique.

Two Cities’ title and entire governing vision sprang from the familiarity both of us had with multiple cities. So many of us out there were leading multi-city experiences, we realized. Here on the East Coast, all our writer friends were in the same boat, shuttling back and forth up that Northeast corridor in Bolt Buses or terrifying Chinatown buses or throwing out an occasional arm and a leg for the train. We knew the commute; so much of our lives had been defined by that long journey. We’d had long-distance relationships stretched across that coast; we’d gone to college in one city and then hurried back home for holidays. This was what modern life felt like for us: being stretched, walking tightropes between different regions of our lives.

Once we figured out that our biggest liability would make us who we were, we ran with the idea. We used the idea of “bridging gaps” as a guideline for the kinds of work we published. We looked for stories and poems that gave us the experience of urban life, but that also crossed genres, boundaries, or realities in new and exciting ways. In our first issue, we published a collaboration between an artist and a poet, a team who integrated their work together much like William Blake’s etchings. We published stories with surprise endings and poems that blended nature and the city, or high and low concerns. The unfamiliar juxtaposition was all.

Using the convenient tools of technology helped us bridge the gaps behind the scenes. Olivia and I schedule weekly Skype meetings; we collaborate and make notes to each other using Submittable; we email back and forth with thoughts. We used a Kickstarter campaign to launch our magazine, and then held parallel (but not simultaneous) launch parties in both New York and Boston. Having a two-pronged headquarters has opened up the accessibility of our magazine as well; with our double reach, we’ve received submissions from the old Brooklyn enclaves, but also have dug up Boston writers too. And we’re open to writing that comes from anywhere and is about pretty much anything. Having more than one center of operations gives submitters a little more openness and accessibility. The magazine is not just for that elite huddled group in New York; it’s open to city-dwellers (or rural writers, for that matter) everywhere.

As the publication continues to grow, the center of its focus continues to change as well. A job change had me moving to Chicago, another great literary city, but because of the way we’ve set up the magazine, we’re not rooted to one spot; it’s easy just to pack up the bandwagon and roll on. Our magazine reflects the strange rootlessness that today’s generation of writers feel; either that, or we experience a double- and triple-rootedness, a connection to a dozen new homes. Our magazine can address the double-identities that immigrants or bi-racial people feel, or it can speak to the weary life of the commuter. Life in our stories always seems to be happening when people are struggling to bridge the gap between their dreams and their realities, or between their present and their past, or their home and their journey outward and away.

Running a long-distance magazine can feel like a long-distance relationship. It’s important to establish rituals and routines, with our regular meetings, our established items on the agenda, and so on. But it’s also important to leave time for brainstorming and wool-gathering. That work is often done when we are out of touch with another, but when we re-connect, we pull out the notes and excitedly share what we’ve come up with. Like a relationship, we need time alone and time together. But it’s always with excitement that we re-connect across the miles and see what’s showed up in the inbox for the next issue.



Two Cities Review is an online review featuring quality fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Blair Hurley (Chicago Editor) is a writer and instructor of Creative Writing. She has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from NYU. She currently teaches creative writing at Loyola University.
Blair’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Blustem, Descant, Quality Women’s Fiction, The Best Young Writers and Artists in America, The Armchair Aesthete, The Red Rock Review, The Allegheny Review, and elsewhere. Blair is also the writer of the award-winning weblog Writerly Life.
Blair lives in Chicago.

9 Literary Podcasts Worth Your Listen

There are a lot of great literary podcasts out there and we’re certainly not the first to make a list of our favorites but, whether we’re on a long bus trip across town or doing the dishes, we listen to podcasts. We wanted to throw our hat in the ring and point out a few that we haven’t seen mentioned and add our reasons for loving the ones we have. Like something we didn’t mention? Add your favorites to the comments below.


11092154_811896498901523_1411364205988036725_nI came across the Lit Up Show through a former MFA workshop-mate, Angela Ledgerwood, who cohosts with Emily Gould. She’s an incredibly charming and sweet person with this cotton-soft voice, and she’s genuinely curious about what makes writers tick. Her latest podcast with Emma Straub and Jess Walter is quite good. I listened until the very end while eating an entire tin of gummy candies. Very conversational, insightful and big-hearted (since Jess Walter is like the kindest writer ever). Plus, they do fun activities like drink Bloody Marys, crack jokes and talk craft. Other podcasts include Heidi Julavitz and Catherine Lacey. I like this place.


LND_April_9_NebelThis podcast is put on by Late Night Library. It features debut writers who are interviewed, usually, by their writerly friends. It’s a great way to get a taste of up-and-coming authors before committing to their book because, well, we’re all a little choosey. My fellow writing group member, Amber Keller, is one smart cookie and does a wonderful job of hosting the authors. My favorite episode so far is the one between Jay Nebel and Carl Adamshick because I like Jay’s poems and have enjoyed his readings in Portland. At times the podcasts can be a smidge stuffy, but what I like most about this series is the little pang of excitement you have for these debuters, that they have this opportunity to talk about their first books, maybe for the first time. It’s sort of magical and dream-fulfilling and I appreciate that.


goggles018-3I’m totally new to this one. It caught my attention because a publisher in Portland posted a link to an article about Brad Listi in LA Weekly. If you’re interested in the inner lives of writers, this is the podcast for you. It has a lightly edited feel, which works to give the podcast a refreshing frankness. In the style of Marc Maron, Listi starts off the podcast by talking a little about his personal life. Glimpses into his world grow on you the more you listen. At this point, I’m already addicted. As an interviewer, he’s generally interested in the paths writers’ lives have taken; he’ll ask about spirituality and childhood in a causal way that seems unexceptional but sparks interesting answers. He comes off as an empathetic listener and a generally nice person. It’s well worth a listen if you want to know more about your favorite contemporary literary writer but don’t be surprised if you get hooked on Listi’s unassuming, yet engrossing, personal narrative.


It’s simply one poem per day. There’s usually no intro and no discussion. Just a poem. It’s a nice one.  I also like that you can access their archive.  I recommend the poem from Dorothea Lasky, a great lady and a great poet.


sherman-alexie-jess-walter-1024x755This was a fun one to stumble into. It’s Jess Water and Sherman Alexie talking about writing and it’s delightful. These are two guys who take the craft seriously but not themselves. Their deep insight into the writing process is continually engaging. When I was an editor at Tin House, I hung a sign on the wall that read: Beware of Sherman Alexie. I did this because he continually submitted through the slush and I didn’t want the interns to overlook him. I’m not sure why he did that instead of submitting though an editor, but in my mind it speaks to a humbleness that I admired. I eventually took the sign down because visiting writers kept asking about it and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. Anyway, you should listen to this. I hope these guys keep doing it for a long time.


I’m putting these together because they are both about language and etymology.  I like them both for different reasons. The Allusionist is part of the wonderful podcast collective, Radiotopia. (I highly recommend any of their programs). It’s short and sweet, while Lexicon Valley tends to be more in-depth but also a little more self indulgent (in a good way, I think). Both have an episode about the entymology of the word orange. Did you know the fruit was called orange before the color? You would if you listened to either of these podcasts.


1432567143101This is not a literary podcast but I wanted to throw it in because I think Scott Carrier, the host, has a literary sensibility. At his best, his essays and reports are emotionally raw, lyrically constructed, and closely observed. Carrier is a veteran radio producer but his podcasts are usually more loosely produced than his work for outlets like This American Life. In some of the newest episodes, he and his daughter went to Nepal to report on the recent devastation. He was there and gone before the final earthquake hit. The resulting episodes felt immediate, personal, and distinct.


This one used to be hit or miss for me but since One Story editor, Hannah Tinti, got involved, it’s been great. I ran into an actor in real life one day. He was the kind of guy who’s been in everything, including like five seasons of True Blood, but I couldn’t place his face. When I heard his voice I knew him instantly. He’d read several stories for the podcast. So Selected Shorts looms pretty large in my mind–at least larger than True Blood, of which I have seen an embarrassing amount.

The last episode featured Stacey Richter’s “The Minimalist,” read by Parker Posey. I wasn’t a huge fan of her readings of some Dorothy Parker stories in an earlier podcast but her intentional rhythm in this one fit the tone perfectly. It pulled me in. The story manages to be emotionally rich and complex even as it’s building this sparse inner world of a minimalist artist who finds even a white canvas “too representative.”


icon-PodcastsThis is, by far, my favorite podcast but, weirdly, might be the one I listen to least. Why? Because it’s so good and so thoughtful that I want to devote all of my attention to it. There’s no doing dishes or mowing the lawn. I don’t even like to knit complicated patterns while I listen to it. But I will save them up and listen on long cross-country drives (which maybe says something not super great about my driving).

Here’s a brief story about that: I was driving from California to Portland and as I was entering the onramp for I-5, I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker in a cowboy hat. Somehow, the cowboy hat lured me in, As soon as he got into the car, I realized that, even if he wasn’t a serial killer, he might not be that interesting and I’d be stuck talking to him for the next three hours on our way up to Humboldt county. Lucky for me, he turned out to be a drug dealer (a profession I know little about) who had a thick southern accent, which, he said, he’d acquired after spending three months in New Orleans. He spent the next few hours telling me drug-dealing stories—mostly pot (his brief foray into heroin did not turn out well, apparently).

I let him off at a gas station and everything was fine until started the podcast featuring Jennifer Egan reading “The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill. Have you read it? No? Well might I recommend that you don’t read or listen to it right after you’ve been alone with a hitchhiker for any period of time. If that’s not the case, there’s no reason not to listen to it now:

TL;DR: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is flawless.

1430679677198Hannah Pass and Desiree Andrews are editors at Vera Collective. They’re from Portland and Austin, respectively and spend their time reading good stuff, listening to podcast, and doing all the Portland/Austin things you care to imagine.1430679625653