Michael Wiegers is looking for a reader's sensibility. That was his message to his audience of aspiring writers at Arizona State University on Monday. He spoke about choosing books for publication and his role as Executive Editor at Copper Canyon Press. Wiegers appeared casual at first, dressed in faded jeans and an old oxford shirt. But when he began to talk about publishing, he became animated, rummaging in stacks of books, papers, galleys and cover mock-ups.
Copper Canyon Press was founded 37 years ago as a letterpress operation. Later, says Wiegers, they moved to offset printing because more collectors than readers were buying books, but kept the approach of of care, economy, and respect for the written word the same. It has become one of the press's priorities to find new ways to get their books out into the world, into the hands of excited readers and lovers of poetry.
Writers looking to be published should consider small presses, he said. Small presses give more care and attention to writers. They can also do things that large commercial presses cannot. Wiegers talked about how the poet W.S. Merwin had come to Copper Canyon because his publisher was letting his back catalog go out of print. Non-profit publishers can keep inventory without being taxed on it, so they were able to handle the poet's catalog more to his satisfaction. Publishing (and selling) the work of renowned poets like Merwin, Ted Kooser and Pablo Neruda enables Copper Canyon to publish the work of lesser known and emerging writers.
As a writer looking to submit your manuscript, research can be key. Working with a small press means that only one or two people will be reading your work, so it's important to read the work of small presses to know what they publish and what kind of tone and voice are present in their catalog. You can check out Copper Canyon's online catalog here.
Publishers get connected to writers in many ways, through word-of-mouth, contests, submissions, research. It is how the editor connects with the work that really matters, says Wiegers. He described the excitement of finding a great book in the piles of manuscripts scattered around his office, the joy in making the phone call to a debut author.
Look for Copper Canyon to pop up again in the next month or so as we begin to highlight some of our favorite small presses.