Press Focus is a new interview series at Atticus Review where we highlight emerging and independent literary presses in an attempt to identify the voices who work tirelessly in making the literary landscape accessible. If you are associated or run an independent press and would like to be featured, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Independent presses bring vitality to the publishing industry by taking on experimental manuscripts, risky projects that the elite publishing world would find it difficult to support. Radix Media, a union print shop and press based in Brooklyn, is also striving to reimagine the business of publishing by running an entirely worker-owned enterprise, where the publishers are stakeholders in both the curation of work and the production of books. Owned and run by Sarah Lopez, Lantz Arroyo, and Nicholas Hurd, Radix Media is dedicated to the tactile in literature, to the amorphous process that takes the story from a manuscript to an intentionally, collaboratively designed and bound book.
Atticus Review spoke to Sarah Lopez about the press, and the kind of work they want to get behind.
What does a worker-owned publishing enterprise entail?
Working in a cooperative always means wearing multiple hats, and being a worker-owned publisher with just three people is no different! Two of us handle most of the editing, but all three of us have a hand in the larger editorial process of picking stories for publication. Being this small is a benefit because we can have more frequent, more informal conversations about these things. This allows us to be really agile and problem-solve pretty quickly if and when issues arise.
What makes us different from other small publishers is that we’re also doing all of the printing in-house. The interiors are offset printed, and the covers are typically letterpress printed. So that adds a few extra layers of work for us. Where most publishers can switch gears after they send a book off to the printers, we see it all the way through. That’s also a real benefit, because having control of the production process means that we can do things on a bit of a quicker timeline. It also provides an aesthetic that you don’t often find in mainstream publishing.
Radix Media was founded in Portland, Oregon, and is now based out of Brooklyn. How did those two places provide an aesthetic or community support to your press?
We began as a commercial print shop, primarily serving social justice organizations, nonprofits, and independent publishers. In both places, we built up a strong community of clients that really loved what we were doing and the fact that we were a small business that was approachable and friendly. This has carried over into our publishing operations, as more of our commercial clients get to know this side of us. We’ve had clients come to our book launches, or purchase copies through our website, and it makes us really happy to see them supporting that aspect of Radix Media.
With Radix Media, how do you hope to reimagine the publishing industry, which when speaking of the big publishing houses, caters to an elite group of editors making the most significant decisions about future publications?
Radix has always been for the people. So we’re interested in telling those stories, and providing a platform for authors and artists who may not get that sort of exposure for a number of reasons. The elite already have their platforms and their exposure, they don’t need us to provide that!
We also believe that our business structure, as a non-hierarchical worker-owned enterprise, can really address a lot of the issues you find in publishing, such as the wage gap between executives and their staff, racial and gender makeup, and others.
Independent publishing in America has been having a breakthrough. Within that landscape, what specific identity do you hope for Radix Media?
We hope that our commitment to amplifying voices from marginalized communities and paying authors and artists well is something that people notice—and take inspiration from. We want all publishers to make this commitment, especially the large ones with the budget to do so. Our craftsmanship and roots as printers are also integral to our identity.
What does publishing radical literature mean to you?
The word “radical” simply means, “to get to the root.” In the context of book publishing, “radical” could mean a particular political ideology. For us, radical literature is just something that gets to the root of human experience. The stories we publish often have serious political undertones, but wouldn’t necessarily be considered “radical” by the casual reader. So for us, it’s just taking that term and applying it a bit more broadly so that we can publish as many compelling stories as we can.
As an independent press, how do you go about securing projects and sustaining those titles in the literary community?
So far we’ve relied on putting out calls for submissions, though we’re hoping that as our catalog grows, more people will pitch projects to us directly. Our commercial printing business pays our overhead and salaries, so the slow returns of book publishing don’t hit us as hard.
We don’t have a distributor at the moment. We mostly do direct sales through our website and by tabling at book fairs and festivals. Many of our titles are also available at a number of indie bookstores throughout the country.
As a worker-owned company working within an inherently profit-loss literary market, what sort of a system do you have in place when working with writers. What does a responsible compensation for writing look like at Radix?
For Aftermath, the anthology we published in 2018, we paid the professional rate of $.06 per word for fiction and nonfiction. Illustrations, photography, and poetry were paid a flat fee. And the comic artists were paid a per-page or flat fee, depending on how long the piece was. We haven’t yet published a novel, so we’ve not had to approach royalties, but that is looming on the horizon. We try to pay as much as we can whenever possible. Because we’re a small, relatively new press, it’s unlikely that we could pay a large advance for a novel or piece of creative nonfiction. But the trade-off is that the author or artist has more input into how the book is made, and we’re much more accessible than larger publishers. We respond to e-mails quickly, and always pay on time. As our publishing operations grow, we hope to pay contributors even more.
The books listed on your website are absolutely stunning to look at, and command a high aesthetic value. What does the presentation process behind a new project look like?
Since we’re printing in-house we intentionally design for the capabilities we have at our disposal. For covers, whoever is working on that particular design will present a number of options at a meeting and we’ll workshop it there. They then take that feedback and incorporate it into another round of designs until we find the perfect one. We also try to involve authors as much as we can—if they’re local, we like to have them come down and look at not just the cover design, but the actual paper stock the book will be printed. In this way, the process overall is very collaborative.
In terms of the printing process, we’re almost always doing offset for the interiors and letterpress for the covers. Some elements have been printed digitally, such as the full color images in Aftermath: Explorations of Loss & Grief, and the centerpiece in Guava Summer, but other than that we tend to avoid digital printing for reasons relating to both aesthetic and economic.
What genres and cross genres interest you? What kind of work is a most-exciting fit at Radix Media?
We all love fiction—especially speculative, but we also enjoy a good memoir. We also tend to gravitate towards illustrated works. A most-exciting fit would be literature that pushes the envelope—prose that incorporates visual elements in a nontraditional way, or writing that challenges the reader’s worldview or plays with language. We’re a bit flexible with genre at the moment, as we develop our editorial style.
Can you share some of your upcoming and current titles with us?
We just released A Point of Honor in the subscription based project Futures: A Science Fiction Series. The next and final story in that series will be out at the end of October. All seven chapbooks will then be released as a box set in November, which we’ll launch at McNally Jackson in Soho. We’ll have more details on that soon, so folks should follow us on social media to stay up to date!
As for 2020, we haven’t announced it, but we have something very fun in the works.
Where can our readers purchase Radix titles apart from the website? Do you house your books at any bookstores around the country?
We’re currently stocked at a select number of independent bookstores. We’d love to have our titles at more locations, so if any bookstore buyers are reading this, feel free to reach out! Readers can find Radix Media at Wolfman Books, Housing Works, Last Word Books & Press, Small Friend Records & Books, Burning Books, Poetic Justice Books & Arts, Farley’s Bookshop, Boneshaker Books, Quimby’s NYC, Quimby’s Chicago, Greenlight Bookstore, A Room of One’s Own, Big Idea Cooperative Bookstore & Cafe, Word Up Books, Malaprops, and Stories.
You can read more about Radix Media here.