In their first meeting this past winter, a dozen writers, photographers, and editors sat around a sticky food-court table at Marketplace Mall. Speaking above the din was a challenge, but the group was still able to talk about the stories, poems, art, and interviews in their most recent publications. Black, glossy copies of HazMat Review commingled with napkins.
Representatives from four member-groups of the Upstate Publishers Association met that day to discuss their mission. The small press representatives and magazine publishers have since met once every few weeks, and are working on the construction of a website and web ring.
If you're a local writer, the UPA wants you to submit your work to more small presses than you knew existed. It wants you to join writing workshops, read literary magazines published upstate, and know about the accomplished authors who come to town. It also wants you to know about and read its member-groups' publications.
Why? So you can give your time and talent to the Rochester literary scene in which they're so invested.
"It's about awareness," says Bridgett Frey. Frey is a student at SUNY Geneseo and president of Geneseo's magazine, Opus. "I had no idea that there were literary magazines in Rochester."
Small press publishing is a big industry, with 1,200 publishers listed in national publications like Writer's Market and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. It has a unique function in the literary landscape. According to CLMP's website, "Literary magazines and presses accomplish the backstage work of American literature: discovering new writers; supporting mid-career writers; publishing the creative voices of communities underrepresented in the mainstream commercial culture; and preserving literature for future readers by keeping books in print."
UPA founder William Owen is modeling the UPA after CLMP, a national organization of independent publishers that helps publishers market their magazines and stay in touch with one another. Based in New York City, CLMP has not had a great deal of local influence.
Owen wants to battle what he says is "an overall lack of communication and exposure among the creative communities in Rochester."
"It's a risky venture to try to publish a small magazine in Upstate New York for Upstate New York," he says. "The resources, the interest, and the distribution systems are hard to generate. You can generate them, but it takes a lot of effort."
Ideally, Owen wants the UPA to work with most of Western New York's 20 or so small publications, small presses, literary associations, and literary centers.
Kimberly Wehneris looking for a broader audience of readers, writers, and artists for her magazine, Imprint Journal. She and her husband, Steve Wehner, began Imprint last summer after Kimberly Wehner decided that her classmates at Writers & Books deserved a viable outlet for their writing. "I belong to a couple of writers' groups," she says. "Some people never try submitting."
A fulltime writer herself, Wehner wasn't only drawing on her peers' frustration. "I got a whole slew of rejections --- that's how I know how difficult it us," she says. "I'm not a bad writer. It's a bad market."
Despite good sales at Writers & Books, Lift Bridge Book Shop, Daily Perks Coffeehouse, Mood Makers Books, Barnes & Noble Greece, Borders Henrietta, and Sundance Books in Geneseo, the Wehners haven't made money yet. Imprint's press run is small --- 100 copies at this point --- and the Wehners pay all costs out of pocket.
"We're not trying to be the most avant-garde or elegant publication out there," Steve Wehner, art director for the journal, says. "We want to sustain it."
Milking submissions from Rochester's writers has been the biggest challenge so far in publishing Imprint. Flyers at Writers & Books and word-of-mouth advertising within writing groups have helped the Wehners spread the word.
Past issues' writers have been college students, prison inmates, housewives, and husbands, Wehner says. They write about love, childhood, murder, music, and their craft.
One standout feature of Imprint, which comes out twice a year, is the interview of a well-known local writer. S. James Brennan, who grew up in Rochester and finished his first novel last year, is Imprint's most recent interviewee. "Doing this shows that you don't have to be in New York City to become a great, popular writer," Kimberly Wehner says.
To submit your work, e-mail email@example.com type "submission" in the subject line.
Some editors never experience the submission drought familiar to the Wehners. "We got inundated with stuff right from the beginning," says HazMat Review editor Norm Davis.
HazMat has perhaps been Rochester's most dynamic success story. Davis, tired of reading what he felt was fluff, started HazMat in 1996. His wallet funds every issue of the magazine, which currently sees a press run of 500. Davis has never asked for a grant or run a single advertisement. "It's my labor of love for the city of Rochester," Davis says.
"We spend his money," jokes David Greer Smith, photography editor. Neither he nor the authors are paid for their work.
The magazine's reputation is salary enough for some bigger-name writers. HazMat became a national publication three years ago, and is now listed in CLMP and Poet's Market. Recently, the magazine was added to the catalogue of City Lights Books, a prestigious store and publisher in San Francisco started by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
To Davis, Smith, and the rest of the magazine's staff, some of the author's names are worth their weight in gold. "Every niche has its stars; we have ours," says Smith. Among those stars are bigger-name poets like Ferlinghetti and Lyn Lifshin.
Even before the magazine gained national and international renown, HazMat was publishing intense, lyrical, exceptionally imaginative work.
"There's a feeling that Rochester stuff isn't good enough," says Davis.
"It sure is," says Smith.
From bitter poems about politics, to sentences about rum so clear you can taste them, to vivid descriptions of dreams, HazMat has earned its reputation. Getting work published in the magazine is tough --- 90 percent of what's submitted is rejected for space reasons, and the journal is currently full well into next year.
"Every page is priceless," says Smith.
"Fought over," says Davis. "It's a high-class magazine, there's no question about it."
Haz Mat sells at Greenwood Books, Barnes and Noble Pittsford, Mood Makers Books, and Borders Victor for $12. To request your own HazMat subscription, or to submit your work, visit www.hazmatlitreview.org.
Owen, a Geneseo graduate, says Geneseo's Opus might have gotten off the ground sooner if an organization like the UPA had been around in past years to help with troubleshooting and publicity.
Past editor-hopefuls at Geneseo have had trouble translating their ideas into actual pages, president Bridgett Frey and vice president Katie Steinnagel say. Money is tight. The fact that 40 double-sided pages were collated and presented as Opus last spring is an achievement.
The women want to build a bigger audience for their magazine, both on-campus and off, and hope that the UPA will help them achieve that. "Ideally, we'd love to have everyone on campus pick up Opus like they do the school newspaper," Steinnagel says. To read the current issue of Opus, visit www.geneseo.edu/~englclub.
To learn more about the UPA, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.