Ugly Duckling Presse

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Click the questions below to see answers. Or, to ask us a question directly, please contact us at info@uglyducklingpresse.org.

+ How does UDP work?

We are organized differently from other small presses with similar-sized lists and reach. We are an editorial collective and also a nonprofit organization, and these two aspects necessarily function somewhat differently from each other. As editors, we are volunteers who select or solicit projects and make those projects (from edit through design and production) as a labor of love. All of the work we did up until the mid-2000s was unpaid, but at some point we had built enough of a backlist that we found ourselves running a business. It became clear that some of the labor that running that business required should be paid labor. We continue to do the editing and designing work for free, but some of us are now paid for administrative work. Currently two people, our presse manager and our managing editor, work part time and get a salary with benefits, and several other “administrative editors” have taken on specific administrative tasks (like development, web, contracts) and get paid for about 7 hours of work per week at $15/hour. We also have apprentices who receive small stipends, and interns who are volunteers. All of our editors except the original collective members were first interns or volunteers (and, since the apprenticeship program began, apprentices.) On the nonprofit side, the Executive Director role is currently volunteer (though our two EDs are administrative editors and are paid the same stipend for their admin work). Our board is composed of people in our social and artistic orbits who understand what we do; it’s not what is called a “fundraising board”, though they do help as much as they can with our fundraising efforts. We have finally hired an outside bookkeeper because Quickbooks was draining our collective soul.

We have made editorial decisions in various ways over the years, from organized anarchy (each editor got to pick a certain amount of titles per year or season) to more consensus-based methods. We now use a combination of these approaches; everyone weighs in on the manuscripts that are brought to the table at editorial meetings, but one editor can’t veto another’s proposed project. We don’t all share a single aesthetic, and the books we’ve put out reflect that.

We have struggled with ways to remain open to unsolicited submissions without overwhelming ourselves as volunteer editors. We have never run a contest and we never will (this affects our budget, but we just can’t get our heads around the idea of joining the contest racket). We have had open submissions, and then open reading periods. Over time we realized that most of the books that worked best were books that came out of relationships we’d established with the authors or translators through publication in 6×6 (submissions to 6×6 are always open) or through making a chapbook for them first. Lately we have realized that, partly because of the time lag that is built into publishing and doing a good job with advance publicity, and partly because what we really love to do is to work editorially with authors, we are especially excited by books that come to us in an unfinished state, where the book’s creation is more collaborative with the author. For that reason we are starting to move toward soliciting proposals rather than completed manuscripts. (See our submissions page).

Our budget has changed over the years but we have always operated with zero margin – we break even, barely, each year, and we can do that only because so much of the work we do is done for free. We have no endowment or benefactor at this time (though we are very grateful for the support we do receive from generous individuals and foundations, and to the people who buy our books and the distributors and bookstores that sell them). We pay our authors and translators what amounts to the going rate for non-commercial literature (see “Do you pay your authors, below), which in this country is, unfortunately, not as much as we would like it to be. We produce our books for as little as possible, reusing material when we can, printing in-house when we can. We have been committed to having a studio for many years, since the aspect of UDP that is working together in space and time (often using analog equipment) is dear to us, and it allows our internship and apprentice programs to happen. We also have a lot of stuff – letterpress equipment, many shelves of books, stacks of scavenged and remaindered paper stock, etc.

We didn’t go into this with a business plan. Our structure and practice are constantly evolving. Along the way, we attempt to be as transparent as possible with our authors, collaborators, funders and readers. If you have any questions about how we do things (or ideas for how we can become more sustainable, or if you want to support us) please let us know.

+ Do you pay your authors?

Currently our authors and translators are paid modestly, as follows:

6×6 authors
$50, 6 to 10 copies, and a subscription to 6×6

Chapbook authors/translators
$100 plus 25 copies

Book authors/translators
Book authors and translators are paid with an upfront advance based on 7% royalty of optimistic sales, split between cash and books.

For example, let’s take an average poetry book of between 88 – 136 pages, with a print run of approximately 1000 copies, which we can sell for $16 retail price. The rights belong to the author and the book requires no color image or any unusual production. We estimate that about 600 of those copies will be sold through the normal channels. (The rest will be used to promote the book, go to subscribers, get donated for various causes, given as complimentary copies to grantors, etc., and a small part may be damaged in shipping.)

The author would receive a total of $672, a 7% royalty, split between cash and books: $300 cash, plus 40 copies of the book (at approximately 30% discount). This fee is given upfront, so that the author doesn’t have to wait for the royalties to trickle in. The author is of course free to sell the books at their events when, as often is the case, a bookstore isn’t dealing with the sales, or editors from the Presse cannot be present.

In the case that the book is reprinted, authors get a better percentage: For every 100 books printed over the initial run, authors receive $50 and 3 copies; translators receive the same if no author or estate needs also to be paid.

With more complicated book projects there may be variations to this payment scheme.

* We have been discussing moving to a royalty-based annual payment and will likely be updating this information for 2016.

+ Where do you get your rubber bands for binding 6×6?

We order our rubber bands from Keener Rubber. We just call them up on their main number (listed on the website).

The thing is they make rubber-bands to-order in ridiculously large amounts, so we order the leftovers of other people’s orders, which works fine (though it limits your color choices somewhat).

To bind 1,200 copies of 6×6 we order 10lbs worth, to give you an idea.

They send samples so you might want to call and ask for a few sizes just above and below the spine-length that you want to bind. See what works best.

They are super nice to deal with, so don’t hesitate to just call and speak with someone.
We usually work with a woman named Barbara, but everyone I’ve ever dealt with is nice!

+ Have you used newsprint? Where do you get newsprint these days?

I don’t know why, but a lot of people ask about newsprint…
If you want individual sheets look at French Paper Company, a great producer in Milwaukee, a family-owned business. We buy a lot of stock from these very good people. And they have a variety of newsprint style paper (and butcher paper). Great quality. They sell lettersize and other sizes, in text weight and cover weight. It’s easy to order online.

You can also talk to Borden & Riley Paper Co. , Phone: 718.454.9494; www.bordenandriley.com. I once went to this production plant to buy newsprint, they were at 184-10 Jamaica Ave. Hollis, NY 11423, not far from JFK, sort-of in Queens, I guess. They make newsprint but they sell it mostly in huge rolls, or in pads. I believed we used it for Stan App’s Soft Hands — for the fly-leaf. We chopped off the part where the pages were glued to the spine, and fed it to our laserprinter, adding an image of the moon-landing.

That’s just to say, it’s hard to buy newsprint these days. However…

We’ve printed many things on newsprint, using local printers who do circulars and newspapers. Consider Linco in Long Island City (www.lincoprinting.com). They printed all of New York Nights for us. They printed a chapbook for us, Micah Ballard’s Evangeline Downs. It’s a stapled chapbook, in the style of South American poetry pamphlets. They printed full-color on a thin glossy sheet for the cover, and b&w newsprint interiors. Very old-school.

Our 2011 catalog was printed two-color on newsprint by Expedi Printing (www.expedi.com) in Williamsburg/Bushwick. Go local! If you like you can contact Corky Lee, their Sales Rep, at 718 417-0900. They do a lot of newsprint projects for local artists. 3,000 is the minimum run, 11″ x 12.5″ tabloid is the minimum size and the turnaround is 5 business days! Expedi, no kidding!

There’s also this very useful list of Printer Resources for Independent Art Publishers (http://printers.oogaboogastore.com/) compiled by Ooga Booga, a great art, books, music, and clothing store and publisher in LA. The list includes a variety of printers from the US and abroad, along with helpful comments by publishers who have worked with them.

+ What is a Knock-Off Book?

Sometimes one of UDP’s editors will do what we call a “knock-off book” — something of their own perhaps, or a friend’s book — usually in a relatively small edition, 25, 50, maybe 200… The edition is too small to deal with it like a UDP chapbook so it’s not necessarily part of the subscription, or the official catalog of titles. These books don’t get promoted on the website or in our catalog. They aren’t sent to the distributors or anything like that. They may just be passed out at a reading, or sent to a random number of subscribers as a little extra gift, etc. “Knock-offs” don’t have to be planned into the schedule, so they can come about quite spontaneously. It’s possible James Hoff came up with the name “knock-off” for such personal projects around 2002. They aren’t meant to be limited-edition collector’s items, more often they’re cheap & dirty chapbooks produced with off-cut and extra paper at the Presse. One time Darin Klein in LA made a knock-off of a “knock-off” and called it a knock-off, so it is one. It was a book of spam messages, the shape and size were modeled on a “knock-off” called Add Nothing, written and printed by Anna Moschovakis and Matvei Yankelevich, using physical cut-ups from New Yorker arranged into New-Yorker-style quatrains. A more recent example of a knock-off title (2010) is The Nature Poetry of Matvei Yankelevich by Matvei Yankelevich.

+ How do UDP books get out into the world?

A combination of the following, in no particular order:
1) the Full Presse Subscription
2) our Partner Bookstores — check out the list!
3) distribution for the full-length or non-chapbook titles, mostly through SPD, America’s only non-profit distribution company
4) some of our art-related books are distributed through DAP, and directly to art book stores like Printed Matter, Art Book @ PS1, the New Museum Bookstore, etc.
5) direct sales through our Web site (the best way to support our efforts)
6) book fairs, festivals, conferences, and readings
7) direct orders from independent bookstores
8) the usual internet suspects carry most of our books — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc… But PLEASE don’t shop there!