by Susan Visakowitz
Founded in 2013 as Split Lip Press, and ever-so-slightly rebranded in 2020 as Split/Lip Press, SLP has had three directors in its eight years and is now run by Kristine Langley Mahler out of her home office near Omaha, Neb. Langley Mahler, who took the reigns in January 2020 and was responsible for adding that subtle “forward slash” to the press’ name, is herself a “memoirist experimenting with the truth,” so it is no surprise to hear her describe Split/Lip as a home for “work that questions the concept of truth, and … that reinterprets what we think we know.” She goes on to say that SLP prizes “experimentation (physical, emotional, metaphysical, meta-emotional)” and welcomes “the unanswerable.”
Mahler Langley recently agreed to answer some questions about SLP’s history, philosophy, and current obsessions for Boog City by email. What follows is the result of that exchange, condensed and edited lightly for clarity.
Boog City: Tell me a little bit about the beginnings of Split/Lip. Where did the idea to start a small press come from, when did it get off the ground, and what was it like getting started?
Kristine Langley Mahler: I’m actually the third director to take the reins behind the press—Split/Lip Press began in 2013 as the brainchild of J Scott Bugher, who also started the similarly-named literary journal, Split Lip Magazine—but, unfortunately, I can’t provide more intel on the early days beyond this interview with Entropy Mag back in 2017 with the second press director, Amanda Miska, who ran the press from 2015-2020. I began working with SLP in 2018 as an editorial assistant to Amanda, and migrated into the role of nonfiction editor and, eventually, took over as director in January 2020. I renovated the press name to include the / (it was Split Lip Press up until then) to help draw a distinction, minor as it is, between the magazine and the press as we are no longer officially affiliated. Still friends, but no longer together.
How many releases do you typically put out in a year, and how many copies do you typically print of each? How do you generally find the writers you publish—by submission or through other means?
This year was a big year for us—we are releasing six titles, four full-length books and two chapbooks. For 2022, we will be scaling back to three titles (one chapbook and two full-lengths) to recalibrate! We print on-demand, which is a financial decision allowing us to keep all of our titles in print as we don’t have to worry about deciding whether a book “deserves” another print run, etc. We believe in the books we put out, and we will support them until the end of time. All books published at Split/Lip Press have been discovered during our open reading periods—we do not solicit manuscripts and do not accept manuscripts sent outside of our reading periods. Every author has the same opportunity to join us!
What’s the toughest aspect of running a small press? And what’s the most rewarding?
The toughest part has got to be the coordination of all the constantly moving parts of putting a book through production, and making sure all the team members involved have what they need when they need it. And, I mean, sending rejections sucks. It will never not suck. As writers ourselves, everyone on the SLP team knows the pain of receiving a decline on work we’ve put a lot of time, effort, and heart into. Which is also why the most rewarding part is ABSOLUTELY getting to welcome new authors and their books into the SLP family! Every single time, I get nervous-excited fingers when clicking the ACCEPT button, thinking about how someone is about to get the email we all pray for.
Can you tell me more about Split/Lip’s “aesthetic”? What do you look for in the writing/writers you publish? Do you have a particular stated “mission” for the press?
Split/Lip Press is dedicated to publishing boundary-breaking fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid books, lifting the transition boards that prevent fluidity and smashing those we cannot pry up. We love work that questions the concept of truth, and work that reinterprets what we think we know. We prize experimentation (physical, emotional, metaphysical, meta-emotional); we welcome the unanswerable. We want to see the dark and the light side of the moon—or we want to see it obliterated. If your book is a wedge in a crack, Split/Lip Press is the hammer helping you split the wall apart.
Tell me about a couple of recent releases and what excites you about them. And give me a preview of anything coming up on the horizon that our readers should be on the lookout for.
Emily Thomas Mani’s debut novella, The Church of Wrestling, will be released on June 15—it’s such a fascinating, charming story of a young girl wrestler and her father that goes to a very surprising place. Calvin Walds’ 2020 Nonfiction/Hybrid Chapbook Contest winner, Flee, mixes poetics and images into a masterful, unexpected essayistic juxtaposition. Kelly Ann Jacobson’s 2020 Fiction Chapbook Contest winner, An Inventory of Abandoned Things, takes the reader into the damp, wet heart of the Florida panhandle to consider the swampy uncertainty of what it takes to be human.
Coming up later this year, in September we will be publishing Esteban Rodriguez’s debut essay collection, Before the Earth Devours Us—a gorgeous set of essays about boyhood in Texas, and wrapping up our 2021 releases is Devon Capizzi’s debut story collection, My Share of the Body. As you can tell, we love debut authors!
How do you typically promote your releases/stay in touch with your audience? How has the pandemic impacted things?
Thanks to the pandemic, actually, we began doing Zoom launch events for our authors on publication day. It’s been an unexpected and wonderful opportunity to connect with readers all around the country in a way that a press like ours, without a physical presence (save my home office, lol), hasn’t been able to offer in the past. We’ve got robust Twitter and Instagram accounts, but there’s nothing quite like watching real faces, in real time, respond to our authors’ books.
KRISTINE LANGLEY MAHLER is the director of Split/Lip Press and the author of Curing Season, out next year from West Virginia University Press. Find out more about Split/Lip Press at splitlippress.com and on Twitter/Instagram at @splitlippress.
SUSAN VISAKOWITZ is a poet and painter who loves to tell the stories of fellow creative types. She got her start reporting on music for various small blogs and eventually publications like Billboard magazine. Currently she is focused on a new series of art projects under the name Exiting In. Instagram: @exiting_in