Monday, March 4, 2019

An Interview with publisher, Ann Starr

For a course in publishing at Columbia College in Chicago, Margaret Smith chose Upper Hand Press for her final project, and interviewed publisher Ann Starr. This is a selection from her final paper. We thank her for sharing it with us!

"Ann Starr is the founder and editor of Upper Hand Press in Columbus, Ohio. She is also the author of Sounding Our Depths: The Music of Morgan Powell. She is an artist of many mediums, giving recognition to motherhood and her travels as major influences in her life and work.

How did you get started in the publishing world?

Ann Starr:
I got started on a mission. A dear friend whose work I'd been reading in manuscript, who had and published in journals for years, had an "orphan"novel. The work had twice been taken up by Big Five publishers but then released because of negotiations over a second book. I'd known the novel since she'd begun work on it, and I'd always loved it and thought it wise and beautiful. I decide that I'd get the book into print myself, I felt so committed to it. I opened my press to publish One Hundred Years of Marriage. 

Not wishing to experiment on One Hundred Years of Marriage, now it its second edition, I published my own book of essays, Sounding Our Depths: The Music of Morgan Powell first. I'm glad I did that, because I learned the basics. There are errors of presentation that I learned not to make again, and I got to know my printer well. So, you see, I am a naif who plunged in and have been learning by making mistakes and taking big leaps ever since. I have little information beyond what I've needed to make the next book. I founded in late 2015, and I'm getting better with every book. I wish I could afford a staff, and I'm still some ways from profit. I fund the Press entirely from my own pocket—a part-time job, Social Security, and a small alimony. I live frugally.

What is the biggest error a writer can make when it comes to submitting their work?

I read manuscripts thinking not that it will be rejected, but that with the mindset that this is potential for my press. What I'm reading may be golden. It's like the teacher who tells the class that everyone starts with an 'A.' But I do see some big mistakes that are easily avoidable and tell me a lot. Ill-written cover letters can be a deal breaker. Errors of grammar, syntax, and spelling; unsuitable tone, especially pomposity. Evident lack of research into my press's character, or the assumption that the audience for the book will be "anyone who likes books and reading"—that is, writers who haven't thought specifically or realistically about the future of the book.

Is there a book or collection, recent or from the past, that has come out that you wish Upper Hand could have gotten their hands on?

No. Every press is defined by the editorial choices it makes. To wish I had another press's title would be to wish for something that's probably not really definitely of Upper Hand Press. There are lots of books I admire, but if I really had them, they might refocus my list. I think not only of my books, but of the family of my authors with whom I keep in touch and share news about one another's successes. They are all in relation to one another. When I choose books, I think about the ways the book and author will fit. 

As a writer yourself, do you have a motto or words to live or write by?

Don't try to be an author. Just write as well as you can.

As an editor, do you have any wise words to writers?

I can't overemphasize the importance of the first page. If it doesn't sparkle, it's heavy lifting to bring the reader along afterwards. 

Books are made of sentences. Sentences are composed of well-chosen words ordered grammatically, correctly spelled, and thoughtfully punctuated. When sentences depart from norms, the writer's reasons must be emphatically clear. Good sentences take time to write, and every one matters. Books are made of sentences and they are made of time. When any of these critical elements—good words, technical astuteness, strong sentences, or time—is missing, it's easily detected."

1 comment :

  1. Hello. This interview is so much food for thought that it could be intimidating. I'll do my homework in order to meet all requirements. In the meantime, I wish Ms. Starr continued success and hope that one day I will be a part of that.
    Katherine MK