For the past sixteen years, Sundress Publications has been publishing chapbooks and full-length collections (including WWS co-founder Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s forthcoming debut collection Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge), as well as hosting online journals and the Best of the Net Anthology. Managing Editor Erin Elizabeth Smith answered a few WWS questions about being an editor, and what makes Sundress unique.
How did you get started with Sundress?
I founded Sundress in 2000 to serve as an umbrella site for a number of online journals, including Stirring, Samsara, and several others. We still maintain this sisterhood of lit journals by hosting or promoting journals including Stirring (under new management) Rogue Agent, Pretty Owl Poetry, Wicked Alice, and cahoodaloodaling. In 2006, we began the Best of the Net anthology in order to promote the work publishing in online venues.
We began publishing chapbooks in 2003, but after our first three, we realized that we weren’t ready to give the time and finances needed to properly publish and promote books. It wasn’t until 2011 that we really decided to jump into print publishing. We started slowly, understanding that it was going to be a learning process and also understanding that we needed to build our reputation as a consistent and engaged publisher. We now publish seven print books a year along with our e-chapbook series. We also have three imprints, our journals, the Best of the Net, the Gone Dark Archives, and much more!
What do you love most about being an editor?
I think the thing that I love most is getting to actually work with the manuscripts. We go through multiple rounds of edits with each of our authors with an eye towards ordering, line edits, formatting, and more. I love watching manuscripts become books, become a story told through verse. Or, using our metaphor that we often employ, become a concept album rather than a collection of singles.
What sets Sundress apart from other presses?
In some ways, our scope and our ambition. We aren’t just a press. We’re also a residency. An anthology. A collection of presses and journals. We have an on-ground reading series in Knoxville, TN and a new online reading series that is debuting this fall. If someone on our editorial board has an idea for a new project, we are always gung-ho to add new things. And we are still run entirely—from president to intern—by volunteers. And there are a lot of us. Over 60 in fact.
What are you looking for in the submissions you receive? What sets the really great ones apart?
When reading manuscript submissions, we are looking for books that hook us. Ones that are page-turners, that move us forward in an intentional way. We also look for a tightness to the language, work that clearly polished and worked over. Poems that surprise us awake, that tell stories that we haven’t heard before. We look for voices that are underrepresented in the publishing world and authors who clearly show a reverence for their craft.
Do you have advice for writers submitting manuscripts for the first time?
Don’t let rejection ruin you. We are reading right now for our open reading period, and I’ve already had to reject at least ten manuscripts that I would LOVE to publish. And we’re just in the second round! There is so much good writing out there. Keep sending yours out. Be part of the choir that editors get to listen in on during their readings. Just because a manuscript isn’t a winner or a finalist one place doesn’t mean that it won’t be somewhere else. Maybe the person who’s reading your work has had a bad day. Maybe you write about cats, and the reader likes dogs or had a bad cat experience or just read another manuscript about cats. Who knows? It’s all subjective. Keep on keeping on as much as you can.
What’s in store for Sundress in the future? How do you see the press growing?
Right now we are winnowing manuscripts from our open reading period into the two to four that we will publish in 2018. We are also working on launching our new Poets in Pajamas online reading series, which will be run by Sam Slaughter. Next year, we have a full line-up of books including poetry collections by Natalie Giarratano, Sarah Marcus, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, Sarah Chavez, Stephanie Dugger, and Jim Warner. In the meanwhile, we’re also keeping busy with reading Best of the Net submissions and getting contracts out to our spring residents for the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Never a slow moment!
Erin Elizabeth Smith is the founder and managing editor of Sundress Publications and the Creative Director of the Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms. She is the author of The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake Press, 2011) and The Fear of Being Found, which will be re-released this year from Zoetic Press. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in numerous literary magazines including Mid-American, 32 Poems, New Delta Review, The Yalobusha Review, The Florida Review, Cimarron Review, Third Coast, and Crab Orchard. Smith earned her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2009 and is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Tennessee.