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Black Static


Eibonvale Press in Focus

1st Jul, 2011

Author: Peter Tennant

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Back in Black Static #22 I reviewed three titles by new publisher Eibonvale Press, and by way of following up on that I put some questions to Eibonvale's head honcho David Rix.

PT: What can you tell us about the origins of Eibonvale Press?

Eibonvale: Almost a whim - almost inevitable.  It first came into being, of all places, high in the Slovene Mountains in a tiny village buried under 3 feet of snow.  But the basic urge to publish had actually been there for as long as I can remember.  Now of course, Slovenia and those early days seems a world away - back then I knew nothing at all about books yet here I was making the lunatic decision to publish them.  It could so easily have ended right there, but I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of Nina Allan and Rhys Hughes.  Maybe they didn't realize how so small and new the press was, but I am indebted to both for taking the chance.

PT: What were the most difficult aspects of setting up a new small press? What would you do differently if you were starting over?

Eibonvale: This is a job that takes you over, the more you get other people reliant on you for services.  Merely making the physical book was the easy part - after that you have to work out what to do with it.  Finding contacts, talking to dealers, negotiating this that and the other.  All this means that there was (and is) a danger that you get so caught up in the admin and marketing that you lose the inspiration for the more creative sides - the design, accepting books and editing them, which is still the most important and fundamental thing.  This is where getting Douglas on board to help out really made a huge difference.  So I would say that the worst danger for a small press is losing control of it and having it end up self-destructive. 

As to what I would do differently, that's an easy question to ask but a hard one to answer.  Over the years, I have gathered a certain amount of experience and know more about how to function in the book world - and yeah, there's things I know now that I had no idea about at first but in all honesty I think that the hesitant and halting steps that I was taking in the early days were rather inevitable. 

One thing I would say is that I wish I had become involved in the BFS and FantasyCon earlier on in the proceedings. 

PT: And what aspects were the most fun/gratifying?

Eibonvale: Oh - that's not hard to answer!  The best part of this job is the people you meet along the way.  This press has lead me to some of the best friends in my life, it's that simple.  Working together on a book is a very special experience and a very special form of bonding and a press can become a very special form of family!  David the sentimentalist! 

Also, of course, the final stages of a book, when the cover is coming together and the author is getting excited, is always an especially rewarding time.

PT: What would you say distinguishes Eibonvale from all the other small presses (Gray Friar, Screaming Dreams, Pendragon etc) in the field? What's your mission statement?

Eibonvale: I believe that one of the fundamental differences between a big press and a small press is that, while a big publisher can have a house style, a genre, an area of interest - a small press can have a personality.  If you do things properly, anyway!  Speaking as a collector now, one of the most charming things about the small press world is how you can form a bond, not only with writers but also with publishers - when you begin to recognize their style, you begin to trust their choice of new writers that you have never heard of and thus explore works that you would never otherwise bother trying.  It is that state of 'cult following' and complete individuality that is my greatest ideal for the press.  My ambition is that people will start to recognize the Eibonvale personality, no matter where it takes things - new writers and familiar ones.  My ambition is to develop a truly eclectic catalogue and possibly one thing that sets the press apart from other specialists is just how far I would be willing to go with that - horror, slipstream etc. through to manga, experimentalism, outsider literature, non-fiction, collage novels, found literature, whatever!  The one vital thing is that it should still hold together as a coherent whole simply due to that personality.  To me that is infinitely more important than simply being a 'horror' or 'slipstream literature' press.  Our catalogue is still small, though already I am excited at how diverse it is becoming.  There is a way to go yet, but in terms of a mission statement, there you have it!

PT: At the moment your books appear as hard and paperbacks. For the future, what are your feelings about such things as ebooks and PoD? Do they have any part in your publishing strategy? Or, at the other end of the scale, have you thought about limited edition, signed books?

Eibonvale: Well, Eibonvale already uses POD.  It is a young but useful technology that I really think will be one of the most significant innovations in the book world in recent times, simply because it has democratized the entire publishing process and essentially placed the power to publish books into the hands of everybody.  For those who worry about the diluting effect that comes with having every person in the country capable of producing and launching a book, I would say that the basic problems confronting a press/publisher remain essentially unchanged: that of getting the book to the readers.  The physical act of making a book pales in comparison with that.  In the end, reputation is still reputation, and that is what swings it in terms of success and readers, I think.

With any luck, over time we shall see the book world adjust more and more to this new technology sitting within it, and we will also see POD expanding its range and quality.  For example, better quality book paper, or even a 'premium' range of book printing, and a wider range of possibilities for dust jackets would all be very welcome and perfectly possible to implement.  Are you listening, Lightning Source??

As to the other things you mention - e-books and limiteds - I guess this is as good a place as any to announce that both of these are very much on the cards.  Our first e-book releases are now in the pipeline.  Just a few titles to begin with, to get a taste of the system, but in the end we hope to make it a standard part of what we provide.  As to limiteds, there are plans afoot for these as well in the not too distant future.  I would not want limiteds to replace the infinite 'trade' editions, as I don't believe that a writer's work should be chained up in a small number of books, followed by a massive 'sold out' sign.  But I personally love high-quality limited edition books and it would be phenomenally exciting to enter the world of the more high-end collectors as well.

PT: Tell us what you have planned with the Eibonvale Classic line?

Eibonvale: The classic line has rather taken second place to working with living and new writers (sadly, dead writers can't hassle me about deadlines!), but in the long term we hope to have a small catalogue of interesting older authors who fit in with that Eibonvale personality I mentioned.  It is also a chance to make hardcover editions of books that are hard to find or only available in paperback.  Aside from the William Morris Collected Romances, James Branch Cabell is very much in the queue for some attention.  His Figures of Earth still remains one of my all-time favorite books. 

In addition, I may allow myself a few more self-indulgent projects - releasing some exceptionally lavishly designed editions of a few works that have really had a powerful effect on me personally - eg 'The Willows' by Blackwood or 'The White People' by Machen.  Not wishing to tread on the toes of Tartarus Press and their lovely Machen editions, it is simply that it would be a true labor of love to design and illustrate those works.

PT: A hot topic for us of late is the representation of women in genre publishing, especially horror. So far you've only published one title by a female author, A Thread of Truth by Nina Allan. What's your experience on the gender divide? Do you receive a lot fewers submissions from women? And if so, is your perception that there are less women writing speculative fiction or that they are less likely to submit?

Eibonvale: The last time I opened for submissions, I only received three from women so there is definitely a disparity in numbers, I can say that much.  But how much of what we see in the book world is down to 'fashions' and gender expectations, how much is down to actual sexual dimorphism and how much is entirely illusory would probably take a cleverer brain than mine to understand - or at least more space and time to research the subject. Dimorphism is an inescapable fact and inevitably plays a part in what we all write.  Fashions also, sometimes unfortunately. 

What the press is mostly interested in is individuality, eccentricity and finding your own voice - it's as simple as that.  So in all honesty, gender is not something I even care about much.  In fact I'd go as far as to say that gender issues are a bit of an annoyance to a certain extent since there seem to be some very strange concepts of equality developing - whether patronizing attempts at inclusion that always sound a little like trying to encourage a backwards pupil at school (Come on girls, don't be shy!!  We have this thing called positive discrimination!  Isn't that nice?) or a gloomy game of one-upmanship and gender-based ego massaging on both sides - and perhaps most depressing, a kind of male apologism as though the only recompense for past or present discrimination is some sort of debasement of your own sexuality and human nature.  As an ideal, I would like to see equality refer to an equal acceptance of one's fundamental humanity (male or female) including both the inevitable sexual dimorphism and a sensible sense of proportion.  I mean, so what if we have a slight difference in anatomy and a few minor instinctual differences?  We are the same species after all, last time I checked - we are from planet Earth, not Mars and Venus.  People from Mars and Venus wouldn't even be able to breathe the same air, let alone have sex, naturally engage in meaningful discussion, write novels . . . !!  And if there is one thing I really believe it is that the basic diversity of human nature trumps sexual dimorphism any day!  Compare for instance my own four favorite woman writers - Nina Allan, Muriel Grey, Leonora Carrington and Charlee Jacob - there seems less about those to define them as 'women' than simply as a phenomenally diverse collection of writers who have all found their own voice and place within a larger scheme of things - just like everyone.  

PT: How hands on are you as editors? What kind of input from you can an author expect once his/her submission has been accepted?

Eibonvale: This can vary from case to case, but I prefer to keep my involvement to the minimum.  I have a highly purist attitude to handling people's text, wanting to preserve their natural voice as far as possible - just as I would not want to maul a person's physical personality too much!  I see writing style as a highly fluid and personal thing and personal tone has an equal weight to any laws of 'good writing'.  It's a delicate balance to strike of course. 

PT: You've published books by both David Rix and Douglas Thompson, the two main movers behind Eibonvale. What would you say to people who believe that a publisher should not present his own work?

Eibonvale: Well, to be fair, Douglas only began helping out with the press after I accepted his first book Ultrameta and, as I am still the primary reader for the press, you can't really describe his books as self-published by any means.  They are submitted in the usual way and processed in the usual way. 

My own books, What the Giants were Saying and the forthcoming collection Feather, on the other hand, I suppose do fit the description.  But that is definitely not something I am going to squirm around or apologize for.  There are many changes taking place in the book world at the moment.  I have already mentioned POD, and a similar one can be found in authors representing their own work.  I think that the crucial thing is not who physically decides whether or not a book should exist - it is the process of verification that the book goes through before that decision is made that is crucial.  Publishing a book without this external verification would be a very bad idea but to think that the only way to achieve that verification is via the proverbial overworked editor's reading pile or to see any authors who represent their own work as somehow against some odd-smelling literary etiquette is very blinkered!  Opinions of people you trust - opinions of those working with you professionally - even opinions of the public in online reading rooms - all those can help you reach the decision.  In the case of Feather (which Eibonvale will be releasing in a month or so), no less than three of the Eibonvale 'team' have read it, as have several other people, and all have come back with feedback, editorial comments, corrections, advice and opinions - all of which is invaluable.  This probably makes it a more verified book than most normal submissions to a publisher, in that it has been 'accepted' three times. 

The question of why I made no real attempt to interest another press in the book is more complex though.  There are several possible answers.  One is that, one way or another, I feel a part of the Eibonvale 'family' and see no reason to break that connection here - I am Eibonvale, therefor Feather is Eibonvale and in all honesty it would feel a little strange to send it anywhere else.  Another though is that being involved with the publication of your own work is simply a remarkable experience.  It's true!  I am designing the art and layout of Feather now, but it is the profound experience of designing Giants that I remember most.  I have said before that I think every writer should get the experience of transforming their work into an actual physical volume - and I still stand by that!  The act of illustrating it, designing it, laying it out - all that feeds back into a writer's overall awareness of the craft and can teach you a lot.  I suppose that, having gone down that road with Giants, I almost became addicted to the joy of seeing a creation all the way from an idea for a story to having the postman hand me a proof copy one morning - of creating the whole object that is a BOOK.

This is a subject that people often want me to debate, but this issue has actually given me very few problems so far.  For a first (self-published) book by a small press, Giants received some very nice reviews and fairly good sales in the specialist shops.  Time will tell whether my efforts with Feather will pay off and what the reaction will be, but I remain hopeful that people will accept the book on its own terms. 

PT: What titles do you have in the pipeline, aside from the Classics? Any idea when you'll be open to submissions again?

Eibonvale: Well, at the moment I am still working through the 'current wave' of books that we have lined up.  This includes Tallest Stories by Rhys Hughes, A Glimpse of the Numinous by Jeff Gardner and Feather by my good self (see above).  Beyond that though, there are a few other things lined up that I haven't officially announced yet.  Fans of Nina Allan and Brendan Connell might want to keep their eyes open later in the year, for instance - but beyond that we have another project lined up that is so strange and unique that frankly I am still trying to work out the best way to approach it.  I will say no more for the moment - but keep your eyes on our news blog! 

As to opening for submissions again, in all honesty, it won't be until after FantasyCon 2011 now - maybe later.  It is essential that I do not let the long design processes of these books get on top of me and I already took on too many titles for comfort the last time I opened.  I need to clear the decks of existing projects before I can launch a new call for works. 

PT: If money was no object, what would be your dream project?

Eibonvale: My pet dream project would be to issue a comprehensive and definitive hardcover collection of the stories and novels of surrealist Leonora Carrington.  There have been various editions of her works - the original editions of her novels + reprints and various paperbacks from Virago etc, but to my knowledge there is no complete edition, especially in hardcover.  If there is any author who deserves a full overview and definitive edition, it is her since they are not quite like anything else out there.  That has less to do with money though (probably!), and more to do with physically getting round to it - tracking it all down and researching it.  


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