by Susan Visakowitz
For Tricia Yost, “the best works have an existentialist bent—who are you, how do you live in the world, what is the lived experience and what does it mean?” Radial Books, her Seattle-based small press, focuses on contemporary poetry and fiction that inhabits this space, and that defies “easy categorization.” Its most recent release is Before the Grave, a posthumous collection of poetry from D.S. Poorman, who is being honored at this month’s Welcome to Boog City 15 Arts Festival.
Yost recently agreed to answer some questions about Radial’s origins, aesthetic, and approach to publishing 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 Radial. 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?
Tricia Yost: The idea to start a press was two-fold. One, it emerged from a situation of having a few friends and classmates who have stacked up hundreds of rejection notices from presses and contests. Their works, though, are stellar and deserve an audience, and I decided to help make their works and those of others available.
The other reason was creative control. My novel, Factory, had been accepted for publication by another press, but after looking more closely at the press, their interior and exterior design, I opted not to publish with them and do it myself.
There was a sharp, but fun and fascinating, learning curve once I got into it. I’d never paid such close attention to things like ligature and kerning in a text. Now I can’t not see those things.
The creative control extends to Radial’s writers, with whom I work very closely at some of the design aspects, particularly cover art. For example, Ben Kostival got in touch directly with the painter Mel McCuddin for use of The Crossing Guard. Ryan Masters secured his cover art for Above an Abyss as well, as did Charles Springer for Nowhere Now Here, our fall 2021 title. If you look at Radial’s titles, the covers are intimately linked with the content.
I used to think good writing will find a publisher. That was naïve. The market is competitive. I also used to think self-publishing was a desperate, failed act, and that self-published writing categorically wasn’t good because it hadn’t been screened and judged worthy by others. I’ve largely let that thinking go and put my work forward through the press.
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?
The goal is to put out two titles per year. This, of course, depends on the quality of the submissions that come in. Radial accepts submissions via the online platform Submittable, which does include a modest fee, all of which goes toward publication costs.
The first novel, Elm and North, had an initial press run of 500. Being a novice in the publishing world, putting out a first title, I didn’t know what to expect or how to decide. 500 seemed like a nice healthy number, but in retrospect was too high. Current press runs are now 100-250 copies.
What’s the toughest aspect of running a small press? And what’s the most rewarding?
The toughest parts all have to do with financing and promotion. To launch a book well and potentially sell higher quantities, a press needs thousands of dollars for marketing. How do you get writing noticed without going through the cult of personality? I’m still working on that one. You’ll see that Radial’s first several titles don’t include author bios or much information about the writers at all, nor do they include many blurbs. That was an aesthetic choice to keep the focus on the work itself. Though somewhat reluctantly, I’ve since let up on the reigns of that choice and added bios and blurbs in the hopes that those items will help generate more interest in the actual work.
The rewarding aspects for me have to do with the opportunity to read submissions from all locations and all types of writers. I also enjoy line-level editing and working on the cover designs. To have the printed book version of a manuscript in hand after months of effort is quite satisfying.
Can you tell me more about Radial’s “aesthetic”? What do you look for in the writing/writers you publish? Do you have a particular stated “mission” for the press?
Radial Books is an independent publisher of contemporary poetry and fiction, as well as forms that defy easy categorization—narrative poetry, lyrical fiction. The mission, really, is to publish the works that are “good stories, well told.” We have no arbitrary guidelines for length. For me, the best works have an existentialist bent—who are you, how do you live in the world, what is the lived experience, and what does it mean?
Prime examples include Morris Proot, the protagonist of Elm and North; the 12-year-old narrator in Trampoline Games and Alasa Memnov in The Moth Orchid, the two novellas in Above an Abyss; and the many characters in the prose poems of Nowhere Now Here.
As mentioned earlier, I also have an aesthetic in mind to produce books with stunning cover art that is thematically relevant to the content. For example, the cover of Elm and North is called “The Crossing Guard” and the main character is employed briefly as a crossing guard, but also the shape of the face on “The Crossing Guard” and the emotion in that painting speak of Morris Proot on a deeper register. The image by Jen Petry Walters on Before the Grave does the same with the content of D.S. Poorman’s poems—the image and the poems have a stark conversation with each other. So, too, with All That Is Behind Us Now.
Tell me about a couple of recent releases and what excites you about them.
The 2021 titles include Before the Grave, a posthumous selection of poems by D.S. Poorman. The book traverses a lot of ground—alcoholism, sexual abuse, lost love, mental illness—along with friendship, love, and nature. As its editor, Kent Fielding, says, “This book looks at life from the mouth of the grave and celebrates life in all its vulnerable glory.”
Nowhere Now Here by Charles Springer is a collection of prose poems that read and feel whimsical on the surface, with solid and brilliant imagery, but there are strong undercurrents of grit and pathos. Slices of ordinary lives and their seemingly ordinary moments made extraordinary.
Otherwise, I’m working through the submission queue in search of the next work for publication.
How do you typically promote your releases/stay in touch with your audience?
Radialbooks.org, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Amazon, author’s web pages, Submittable.com. In 2019, Ben Kostival and Ryan Masters had a table at the Howard Zinn Book Fair. We’d planned to be at other fairs in 2020 but for the obvious reason that didn’t happen. The press relies heavily on its writers promoting themselves/their works in any way they can.
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. She is focused on a new series of art projects under the name Exiting In. Instagram: @exiting_in
TRICIA YOST is a writer of fiction and poetry. Her chapbook, First Things, was published by March Street Press. Other titles include Votives: Entries from the Daybooks of Gertrude Tate, 1898-1952, Factory, Youth at Risk, All That is Behind Us Now. She lives and works in the Seattle area and runs Radial Books.