University of Hell Press aims to promote “irreverent and thought-provoking works.” The press wants to nurture an intimate experience between reader and writer that explores the human condition. Greg Gerding is the founding father of the press. University of Hell began as a simple weekly poetry series called Poetry in Hell, in a Washington D.C bar. It then moved to San Diego and became a weekly prose column called University of Hell, which gave rise to the press. The now-established press operates in Portland, Oregon and has a strong presence in both cities.
Interview with University of Hell Press Managing Editor Eve Connell
Conducted by Emily Teitsworth (Susquehanna ’17)
What first inspired you to be part of the world of publishing and editing?
As an avid consumer of words, I’ve naturally been attracted to the publishing / editing world. My previous life as a full-time academic led me to create my own consultancy in which I (still) craft, write, edit, train, brand, speak, strategize, and basically manage language and content for a variety of clients. It’s really fun connecting with and taking on the voice of others. Once I began interacting with more authors, I found that it’s the cool creative types I really like working with; the authors with unique, irreverent voices that I’m most attracted to. The roster at University of Hell Press resonates!
Can you tell me about any difficulties you have encountered while an editor of Hell Press?
Challenges abound in all walks of work. When it’s work that you really love doing, get lost in, and thrive upon, those challenges aren’t so daunting. During my 5+ year stint as editor for the press, the biggest challenge was moving through our submissions queue. We pride ourselves on reading all submitted manuscripts in their entirety – and that’s no small feat when there are only a few core readers and dozens upon dozens of manuscripts to move through each open submissions period.
Explain to me the process of how the press chooses work to publish. How does the system work and what can an author expect once chosen for publication?
We’ve been fortunate enough to be clear from the start about our mission, our own language use, and our aesthetic. Because we know what’s what for us, it’s easier to attract people who have similar sensibilities. That alone helps our process, by weeding out those who aren’t a good fit for the press. For many years, our submissions process included a two-week open call twice a year along with personally vetted works from our core community. We also have been very open about taking submissions from authors we genuinely connect with at conferences and other literary events. Now we find ourselves in a really great position; because quality people and work find us, our editing and production queues are packed and prioritized through 2017. We’ve suspended open submissions until at least then.
Once we green light a project, the author is assigned a primary editor. Those two work closely for many, many months, polishing the manuscript to present the best possible product that meets the author’s and the press’s goals. After primary editing is completed, the manuscript goes on for copy editing and artwork creation. Once that final work and all its guts are locked, it moves to design and production, is printed (POD), and then hits the marketplace with a bang!
The process of getting a submitted manuscript ready for print can be lengthy, arduous, and relies on hundreds of volunteer hours – reading, editing, discussing, designing, illustrating, editing, more editing, finalizing, printing, marketing…
What does a typical day for you in the office look like?
As part of the new world order / creative economy, I am one of the many people who works out of a home office, in pjs, equipped with endless fortifications. And, like so many people, no two days are alike. I balance my freelance work with work for the press, which now, as managing editor includes communicating with writers and editors, editing manuscripts, researching and compiling support tools for our editors and authors, coaching authors on their public readings, creating press releases for events, collaborating with events planners…and so much more. It’s important to be timely in all communications to keep this big bus moving forward. And, it’s super fun and rewarding. We’re so damn lucky to have forged multiple, vibrant relationships in the creative and lit communities in Portland and other cities.
There are lots of other people on the University of Hell Press staff. Can you tell us a bit about who they are and what they do?
We boast a fantastic faculty made up of curious people who are each exceptional writers, thinkers, doers. Greg Gerding is the press’s founder, father, music lover, the reason we’re all doing this crazy thing. Tyler Atwood (also UHell author) is creating a strong presence for the press in Denver, and editing the hell out of some great future work. John Barrios (UHell author) is using his social work, community outreach, and generally great guy / dad skills to vet new authors and host events in Portland with a giving back spin. Amy Chadwick is our masterful maven in San Diego. Tina Richardson is our latest addition as fact checker / copy editor extraordinaire. You can read more about everyone on the website: http://universityofhellpress.com/faculty/
Everyone’s cooler, smarter, more on-it than you could possibly imagine.
Our authors make the press what it is. Our indie punk / rock record label sensibility attracts the most creative, unique, wild and wooly individuals, each with something important to say about life and how we’re all muddling our way through it. While on different tracks, there’s certainly a common spirit. People notice this about the content we’re putting out there, and how we’re choosing to present it. We couldn’t do it without the writers. Obviously.
Our exceptional artists and graphic designers have helped honed the look and feel of the press. People always comment on logo and name, our amazing covers, interior artwork, and interesting layouts. Our current catalog enjoys definite supermodel status!
What do you think the future holds for Hell Press? Are there any big plans or changes in the works?
Boy oh boy, do we have BIG PLANS. We’re thrilled about so many recent releases, successes, and collaborations, and excited to participate in various local and national events like AWP, LitHop, small press forums, and more. We love to merge great writing with great art; marry smart, compelling content with music and performance. You’re going to see more mash-ups with these elements heightened in the future.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being an editor?
The best part about being managing editor is building relationships with all sorts. I love listening and coaching and plotting and planning. Taking care of business (TCoB!) and creating exceptional experiences for our readers and writers alike keeps me in this game.
The least favorite part is being stretched too thin. There’s A LOT to do when running an indie label in order to keep it all in good working order. Not all of that is glamorous work. Letting people down is no fun, neither.
What do you like to do when not at work? How do you balance your work life with your personal life?
Balance – now there’s a hilarious concept. There’s no such thing, and yet we all keep striving for that state, don’t we? My personal and professional interests are so varied, which keeps me excited about all the work the press is up to, and what I’m digging into in other areas of my life. Portland has been a great place for me to dive into arts organizations, volunteer work, teaching, training, and performing. I‘m a member of a hot French sex kitten pop trio focused on singing the hits of the 12th to 17th centuries. I’m also an avid runner and swimmer and hiker and stand up paddle boarder. Dancing and dinner parties feature prominently on the social rotation. Also, pong. Worm ranching. Traveling. Reading. You can imagine how much sleep I get.
Is there any advice you would like to give aspiring editors or writers?
Writers: Read. Observe. Create. Make connections with other authors, presses, and people doing the type of work you love, you do, you want to do.
Editors: Read. Listen. Craft. Hone your skills by getting involved in your lit communities. Interview small press people. Gather best practices.
Aspiring everyone: GO FORWARD and do what you are compelled to do. There’s really no alternative.