Hypertext Interview With University of Hell Press Managing Editor Eve Connell

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Interviewed by Christine Rice

Christine Rice: Hi, Eve. How’s it going?

Eve Connell: Oh, hey, Chris. I’m on a train to Alaska right now, so everything’s just flying by in a fun way. How’s tricks with you in Chicago?

CR: Tricks are excellent, thanks.

So you are the Managing Editor of Portland’s indie and fabulous University of Hell Press. Thankfully, we worked together – in conjunction with University of Hell’s founder Greg Gerding – on my novel Swarm Theory and you guided me through some crucial edits. Can you tell me your approach to your role as Managing Editor? How do you work with writers? Your philosophy, if you will?

EC: I loved working with you, as your primary editor. We had a great sense of openness, and the back-and-forth approach to revisions seemed to flow really well. I’m so glad it worked for you, too!

As Managing Editor at University of Hell Press, my approach is to scream – loudly and often. But seriously, it’s a different role requiring different skills for a totally different array of tasks than primary or copy editor for a manuscript, of course. But it’s the same philosophy. Ask targeted questions. Listen. Try new approaches. Push people (positively) to get their best work out of them. Help them shine. Work hard and diligently. Do good work.

CR: Yeah. Listening is becoming a lost art. And you guys work your asses off.

What previous experience has been crucial to your role as Managing Editor? In other words, what skills did you develop before taking on this position?

EC: The range of skills I’ve honed teaching college and grad school writing classes, consulting with a diverse client roster, managing a freelance career, and serving on arts boards all conspire to assist me in the Managing Editor role for UHell. Paying attention to detail, looking beyond the obvious, being flexible and nimble, managing multiple projects at one time, delivering honest feedback, enjoying people and their work – that’s all part of it. It really feels like everything I’ve done up until this point adds to my bag of tricks.

CR: University of Hell Press began, as founder Greg Gerding wrote, “…quite literally, in Hell. In 1994, a weekly series – Poetry in Hell – began in a Washington, D.C. bar called Hell. For several years, the series showcased writing, music, and performance art. T The spirit of Hell then moved to San Diego, California in 1996 and quickly became a major fixture in the poetry scene.” For those people who have gotten through life without any knowledge of University of Hell Press, how would describe its mission? How has the press evolved? What the hell has happened?

EC: SO. MUCH. HAS. HAPPENED. And, in such a short period of time! When Greg and I met 7+ years ago, he asked me if I would like to edit manuscripts from time to time. There were only a few titles on the press, and a few gems in the queue, and no real strategic plan for a publishing cycle, marketing books, supporting authors in the ways that we do now. But the energy and vision for getting terrific work out into the public sphere was always there. Greg was gracious to invite me in, and in doing so, along with a few other tremendously talented and committed editors (Amy Chadwick, Tyler Atwood, John Barrios), we were able to divide and conquer and move quickly to over 20 titles on our label.

Like all small presses who are eager to produce, we face serious limitations – of resources, of bandwidth, of reach. We’re focused on diversifying our readership and our roster, and in order to attract new voices in both those camps, we’ve got to do some things differently. We want to shift our foundation and still remain focused, creative, honest.

CR: What does a small press do for a writer that a big press can’t?

EC: Small presses can and do offer the personal attention, coaching, and resources that big presses just won’t. Even though we’re strapped for time and money, our process shows a commitment to our people. For example, we’ve rolled out a toolkit for our team jam packed with all sorts of tips and resources for booking and handling reading engagements, planning book release parties, managing their online personas, and more. We do everything we can to help our authors and their works succeed. And we could do so much more. This is just a start!

CR: Can you give us a sneak peak of a project you’re working on?

EC: Our current queue has a few terrific memoirs in it, a genre we find ourselves more attracted to as we carry on. There are just so many fascinating personal stories out there! We’re not solely doing poetry or spoken word, which is how we started, which feels exciting. We’re open to everything if it’s damn good. And, and we made some amazing contacts at the AWP conference in DC earlier this year that will hopefully result in unique stories told by more diverse voices. THAT’S exciting.

CR: Your job is super glamorous, right? What is the biggest misconception about what you do?

EC: That I actually make money. That this is all I do. That everything being asked of me – and our dedicated editorial staff – takes a minute and can happen now.

The reality is NONE of us make any money, except our authors. ALL our editors VOLUNTEER hundreds upon hundreds of hours working with manuscripts and authors to refine and shine up the work so it’s ready for publication. I wish everyone could realize how much effort this actually takes. We do this because we believe in the work and the people behind it. It matters to us.

CR: Where do you see University of Hell Press in a year? In 5 years?

EC: We’d like to widen our reach with small press distribution channels and solid marketing efforts. I’m working hard to get these processes in place, along with a more regular publication calendar, more engaging social media management, and more diverse voices. In a year, we’d like to have these all working. In five years, we’d like to have a strong, national reach, super duper brand name recognition, and a bit of cash in our pockets.

CR: What book fairs do you guys like and what is involved in the process of getting a pop-up shop up and running?

EC: We’ve attended AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) each year for the last four. It’s the biggest literary event in the States and we’ve really enjoyed being a part of it. We’ve made lovely connections and sold more titles every year. In 2019, it’ll be in Portland, so that’s going to be OUR TIME. You can count on a huge presence at the conference and at the offsite events like readings and parties at small booksellers and venues with whom we already collaborate. We also regularly participate in local small press events, host and co-host readings and lit parties, speak on panels related to publishing and editing.

No matter the event, there’s a ton of work involved. Prep. Planning. Coordinating. Clean up/follow up. For the national conference, Greg and I end up schlepping 9 or 10 bags and boxes of books and tees across country with the goal of not bringing anything home. We’ve done okay with this!

CR: What is your biggest challenge as Managing Editor?

EC: Creating enough space and time to do all I want to do for the Press. It’s a huge list of tasks, all marked urgent, and I want to get us to the next level!




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