A few months ago we posted an article from LitHub about the origin stories of several independent presses. In the spirit of new beginnings, we have decided to reflect back on how our humble indie press first got its start. Not surprisingly to most of you who know us, it all began over a small batch whiskey and a serious love of books.
In Jan. 2014, George Mason University MFA alum Dallas Hudgens visited Creative Writing Professor Stephen Goodwin’s graduate-level class to talk about his own launch into small press publishing. Hudgens, who founded Relegation Books in 2012 after becoming disenchanted with his own experience publishing with a larger house, said he he was inspired by what he saw during his visit. “After I spoke, I had the opportunity to watch as the students gave publishing presentations for the class. They were so well prepared and had done so much good research... Afterward, I thought it would be a good thing if the students had the opportunity to apply their knowledge and creativity to an actual press,” said Hudgens. He sat down with Goodwin and GMU’s MFA Program Director Bill Miller shortly thereafter to begin scheming on how they might offer students the opportunity to begin a small press of their own.
From there things progressed quite quickly. The first meetings with students took place in late Jan. 2014 and by March of that year, Stillhouse Press had begun to take form, centering on the idea of “craft publishing,” which Hudgens and Relegation Books’ publicist, Lauren Cerand came up with one evening over a few glasses of whiskey. “Lauren and I were talking about whiskey and craft distillers,” Hudgens said, “and she said that we were trying to do the same sort of thing with publishing. It’s not about the number of books that you publish, but taking on projects that are important to you and doing the best possible job every step along the way and also being open to new ways of doing things.”
The idea of working hand-in-hand with authors to deliver a more personal publishing experience was one which attracted the attention of Stillhouse’s founding editors, Marcos L. Martinez and Meghan McNamara. “We really latched onto this idea that being small was actually a very good thing, because it meant we could create a more intimate publishing experience with our authors. It’s their art, and they should have a say in how it is presented to the world,” McNamara said.
It was only a matter of months before Stillhouse had selected its first book, the short story collection Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories (Oct. 2014) by the late Wendi Kaufman. Kaufman was terminally ill with late stage cancer when the book was contracted, therefore time was of the essence. GMU Professor Scott W. Berg, who had been a close friend of Kaufman’s and now serves as the editorial advisor for Stillhouse, worked as the managing editor, helping to move the book through publication in just under three months. “It was a very fast process, and the students involved, especially Marcos and Meghan, worked very hard and did a great job,” said Hudgens.
The staff would go on to spend much of 2015 fielding submissions, putting together the annual Mary Roberts Rinehart Contest, and contracting nearly a dozen new books. In just less than two years, Stillhouse is on the heels of publishing its second book, POP! (forthcoming March 2016 from debut author Mark Polanzak), with four titles close behind it, including Stillhouse’s first foray into poetry. Hudgens said he’s pleased with the direction Stillhouse Press is heading and sees the press as both an asset to students, as well an inspiration for his own work with Relegation. “I hoped it would give students practical experience in the world of publishing, whether that eventually led to a job with a publisher or simply knowledge that would help them when their own books were published… As time goes on, I'm sure that I will learn more from their approach and experiences than they have learned from Relegation.”
Of course, as with all things fluid, running a student press is not without its challenges. “Continuity is important as new students come aboard and others leave,” said Hudgens. “Also, maintaining a clear vision and quality in production and publicity. But I know that everyone involved recognizes those and other challenges and will be prepared for them.”
So pour out a few fingers of moonshine and raise your glasses, folks! It’s time to usher in the new year and all of the exciting things that Stillhouse Press has planned.