Building Literary Ground

By Sara Ritchie

Let’s face it, in the age of ebooks and blogs, publishers of handmade short run chapbooks are an increasingly rare breed. And yet, tiny micro-presses continue to publish, and even thrive, across the country. So we thought we’d take a quick look at two such presses, Victoria, B.C.’s Frog Hollow Press, which has been publishing for almost a decade, and Apt 9 in Ottawa, Ontario, an operation barely a year-old.

“I started in the press business innocently enough,” says Caryl Peters, founder of Frog Hollow. “I took a workshop learning how to make blank books but in 2001 eventually decided that books are better when filled with material. So, I started publishing hand-set, hand-sewn poetry chapbooks by local authors.”

After publishing poet Shane Neilson, Peters convinced him to join the editorial board. Wanting to be able to print longer pieces, they decided to transition from hand printing. With this transition, however, they wanted to maintain their goal of publishing an interesting blend of established and emerging writers of both poetry and short fiction.

“Things get tight from time to time, but we still use the best materials we can and we pride ourselves on paying strict attention to typography,” says Peters.

Cameron Anstee, founder of Apt 9, became interested in chapbook publishing as an English major undergraduate. “I had worked on student-run magazines and chapbooks and was hooked on small press publishing. Even as I finished my graduate studies, I was ramping up to get Apt 9 Press ready to launch.”

Launched last year, they’ve done three books so far, focusing on local authors. Because the work to create each book is very labour intensive — Anstee personally tears covers down to size, threads needles, punches holes and stitches the books by hand — the runs are very limited. Only 50 copies of each book are made, with occasional reprints.

The Frog Hollow Press also focuses on local talent, and prefers quality over quantity. They do limited edition books in two bindings — 30 deluxe hard covers and 70 Smyth-sewn paperbacks per title. Having just published their 35th title, Frog Hollow has several projects firmly in hand and more in the works.

So when the work is this labour intensive, how does a publisher decide what to put into print? In the end, it comes down to love: As Cameron Anstee explained, he looks for work he’ll be as enthralled by before the project as he was after. The passion is there, and a focus on often neglected local talents ensures that the market, however niche, exists as well. As long as micro-presses like Frog Hollow and Apt 9 can keep finding that sweet spot between obscurity and exclusivity, they’ll be able to buck the ebook trend.

For information on these publishers visit froghollowpress.com and apt9press.wordpress.com respectively.

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