Jennifer Woods Welcomes Us Into the Unique World of Typecast Publishing

Jennifer Woods founded Louisville, KY based Typecast Publishing in 2009. She previously worked for the non-profit Louisville, KY publisher Sarabande Books as their Assistant Editor and also as Editor-in-Chief for Gannet’s Custom Publishing Division. The Lumberyard Magazine, which started the creative fire that is Typecast Publishing, has bolstered Louisville’s reputation as an artistic, hip, weird, and literary place to be through its aggressive yet playful graphic format and unique poetic content. Typecast has since become a corner stone in the foundation of our growing local literary industry and community. Keep Louisville Literary interrupted Jen Wood’s manic schedule to get some behind-the-scenes info:

Keep Louisville Literary: The Lumberyard magazine came first, if I’m not mistaken, but that project seemed to lunge head-first into Typecast Publishing. Could you relate to us your “origin story”?

Jennifer Woods: Yes, you are correct. The Lumberyard began conceptually in 2006, with our first issue appearing on the stands in 2007. Initially, the project was an excuse for me to join with my brother, a designer and letterpress artist (http://www.firecrackerpress.com), to combine our professional endeavors and see if we could make something new and fun. Back in 2006, you didn’t see the emphasis on aesthetics in literary publishing like you do today, and I just felt like poetry deserved that kind of venue. We made that issue mainly for ourselves, not really anticipating anything, but the project took off like a small wildfire, and after several years of continued growth and a positive review from Dwight Garner at The New York Times, I decided to make the leap and expand our efforts even further by forming Typecast Publishing. The magazine continues to evolve and, I’m happy to say, still delights us to make, but we also now produce books of various stripes both for our own publishing house as well as some works-for-hire for other presses who want to have the deluxe print experience but need a practiced hand to guide them through gorgeous and affordable book-making. We also house the Typecast Inspiration Institute, which hosts readings, workshops, and our online magazine, Sawmill, along with just about any idea we come up with that we think will actually inspire others as well as ourselves to continue investing in reading and writing.

Our grandfather owned a lumber supply store when we were growing up, and my father worked there with him, so every day after school the bus would drop us off at the store, and our afternoons were often spent exploring the lumber sheds, playing hide and seek in giant rolls of carpet, finding snakes in sawdust piles. All of these things influenced us in profound ways. And while neither of us picked up trades as practical and quantifiable, over the years we both found paths that morphed our fine arts careers into something less ethereal and into something more hands-on and grounded. The result has been a delicious ride reinventing the concept of what the arts can be, and so much of the creative side of what we produce now, ironically, requires the tools of our youth. We’re both very frugal, and upcycle most of what we make as a point of pride. At Typecast, unlike many indie presses, we don’t farm out any of our production to a large printing house unless we absolutely have to. We like to make things by hand that look as good, if not better, than anything you can mass produce and they still hold up in a contemporary market, not necessarily taking on that DIY feel that many crafted book projects do. I think our customers can feel the number of artisan hands that have shaped and molded The Lumberyard by the time it reaches the bookshelf. My favorite thing is when people pick one up and giant smiles spread across their faces as hands begin noticing the texture of the letterpress. They sniff them for the smell of the ink, they flip back and forth through its pages, and honestly, it’s divine to watch.

KLL: Speaking of the Lumberyard, which Typecast Publishing’s website describes as “the hottest place for swinging poetry and totally wasted design”, can you tell us about the evolution of the magazine (printed by The Firecracker Press letterpress shop in St. Louis, MO) and where it’s headed?

JW: Well, as I said, when we started out, I wasn’t sure that anyone would take to the project, so we just stuck close to what my brother and I felt like would make for a fun magazine that pushed the envelope of what poetry and design could do when forced into a relationship together. After the first five issues, we were winning design awards on the national and local levels, and so, in order to keep the magazine fresh and our readers intrigued, we felt it was important to continue challenging ourselves in terms of how the magazine is produced. We changed the format to a landscape format, which massively increased the amount of white space we had to contend with. The thinking was that this might give us new ideas of how to combine poetry and design, and allow us to chart new territory. Our final issue of 2012 will mark the end of that experiment, and in 2013 you can expect to find that The Lumberyard will change again.

We also introduced new editors and head designers this past year. Lindsey Alexander, the poetry editor at Typecast, now curates the issues, and Matty Kleinberg, who has been with Firecracker for many years now, heads up the design. At first it was terrifying to let go of control, but we knew fresh perspectives are key to growth, and these two young artists had already proven their talents in other projects, so it was a natural evolution. They have brought their own personalities into the magazine, and now I’m more excited than ever to see a new issue hit the stands. I couldn’t be more proud of what they do with the magazine.

KLL: We can tell you wear many hats for Typecast, but could you educate us about some of your major roles?

JW: Oh gosh, this is something I can’t stress enough: owning your own small business is not what you think it’s going to be. No matter what your initial projection is, the reality will be different. I’ve had to push myself and become four times the person I was before I started. In any given week, I’m an accountant, a mentor, an editor, a project manager, an events promoter, a shipping guru, a web programmer, the list goes on and on. When you have your own business, you learn to be self-reliant and creative. If you don’t know how to do something, often your only option is to learn. So I learn A LOT and all the time. It can be more exhausting than any job I’ve ever had, I won’t lie, but it’s also more rewarding than I could ever imagine. I joke that my biggest fantasy is to go back to work for someone else, but in reality, I can’t imagine how I would ever do that now that I’ve had three years of pushing through fears and hesitations, only to, for the most part, come out on top at the end of the work week.

My major role now is directing and being the honest-to-goodness president of a company. Finance is imperative, and we are a for-profit publisher, so someone has to be on top of how much capital we have and how we’re going to spend it as well as where more capital is going to come from. I’m a bona fide business lady, which is not a role I ever saw myself in when I was young. I’ve got a great poetry editor and a great fiction editor to work with, so while we collaborate on everything initially, as a collective, I’m no longer single-handedly working the business side and the editorial side. I love the editorial work, and participate as much as I can for my own fulfillment, but I also recognize that the best thing I can do now for the books is to literally take good care of the business. That old saying, “the buck stops here,” takes on new meaning when “here” is you. And ultimately, the health and success of Typecast depends on me to make good decisions not just about the book projects, but all the other mechanics that keep the lights on.

KLL: Typecast designs and assembles very unique books. Could you tell us how these unique designs happen? Does it take many sleepless nights to produce and ship your books? There’s an obvious quality vs. cost factor (Typecast does not create simple paper-back books) with your priority obviously being quality; how does an independent publisher compete in a massive, bare bones publishing industry?

JW: Well, this is our biggest trade secret, so I can’t give away all the goods. But I will tell you that, going back to the previous question, good business sense and the creativity to find new ways to make a beautiful thing is the key. Sometimes it takes us two years to finish a project, and if that’s what is required to make the best book, that’s what we do. My brother and I still collaborate on all the design and aesthetics for every project. In the beginning, these conversations were very, very hard. And intense. And not always pretty. But the books always come out better than I expected. We never throw in the towel. After several years, we’ve literally invented processes to make books, and with several trial runs under our belt, I think we’re much more efficient at the whole thing.

I can tell you that every book we produce gets intense consideration as to how it should be produced. We don’t just pick a standard size or method and execute everything one way. That doesn’t make much sense to me when every book is so unique and special. I spend a lot of time “marinating” on the manuscript, trying to figure out what kind of book it wants to be. And then my brother and I start trying to match that to actual production methods. Often it’s a twisty road lined with many failed experiments, but when the newest book arrives it always feels like, “yep, this is right.” It’s insanely gratifying, to feel that the writing and the printing are in healthy conversation with one another. It inspires me to find the energy for the next project, because who knows where we will go next!

KLL: Speaking of unique, the collection “Oil + Water” was a short anthology of poems related to petroleum consumption and the BP/Gulf Coast disaster of 2010. Packed with the book in a letter-pressed brown sleeve, post cards were included which were screen printed with facts related to oil consumption and related ecological damage. How do Typecast books become artistic endeavors? Does the importance of something like petroleum-impact awareness effect your motivation, format, or process?

JW: Oil+Water was an idea that came about during an early phase of Typecast when I was feeling very overwhelmed and, quite frankly, very scared to be on my own in business for the first time. When I’m working on something intensely, I often need white noise to stay focused, and so many of my days were filled with news of the oil spill playing in the background (I started out in newspaper, so I’m a news junkie through and through to this day). At the time, the Gulf situation felt pretty hopeless; it was clear that nobody knew how to stop the oil from spilling, and as a rabid outdoors enthusiast, it broke my heart what was happening to the Gulf. That made all my Typecast anxieties seem very petty and ridiculous. And I wanted to turn them into something positive, to use what I was building to create positive energy towards something much bigger than this new business or myself. So the idea to create a book whose profits would benefit the Gulf seemed like a logical step. I knew time was of the essence, thus I solicited several potential partners in the publishing world to help, and Holland Brown Books of Louisville, Tuesday: An Art Project (lit mag out of MA), and the Contemporary Arts Center of NOLA all stepped up to help me make it happen. I love that book and what it represents because I think the essence of it is what a great book should be. The work inside is not preachy or dogmatic in any way; its primary purpose is just to get you to think about water and oil and how they exist on planet Earth, both in nature and in modern-day life. What you do with those thoughts is up to you, and we’ve even given you postcards to express whatever that is, however you’d like, and to whomever you’d like to tell them to.

KLL: What Typecast project has you most excited at the moment?

JW: All of them! I mean that sincerely. We don’t take on projects that we don’t love from the outset. It’s that love that gets you through the tough parts that inevitably arise during production. But we have two books out next spring that I never stop thinking about. Scuffletown by Chris Mattingly, a poet from Louisville who now resides in Georgia, and Imperial Bender by Amanda Smeltz, a poet from NYC. It’s the first full-length book for both writers, but when you read the books, you’ll not believe it. I joke they are the yin and yang of 2013. One, a true southern poet, the other all NYC all the way. But both very exciting, so look for more on them in the coming months. We also got involved with the Slant Culture Theatre Festival that’s coming in November to Walden Theatre. We’re producing two shows I’m tickled to death about. One is a showcase of the young poets (13-19 years old) of Generation iSpeak, a local spoken word troupe based out of the west end of Louisville. They’ve been nationally recognized, and they are some of the most inventive and brave poets living in our hometown, but almost nobody I talk to locally has heard of them. That’s terrible if not embarrassing! So we’re giving them a stage, and you should definitely check them out. The other show is a one-hour performance from Chris Mattingly based on his upcoming book Scuffletown, which I mentioned above. If you like good southern stories, great poetry, and a big dash of charisma, you won’t want to miss his show. Finally, I’m also really excited about our Best New Stories of the South short story competition. There’s been so many great fiction voices coming from the south recently, and we’re dying to publish a great book of southern fiction. Wesley Fairman, our fantastic fiction editor for Sawmill Magazine (our free, online publication designed by Shawn Coots for great, mobile reading), is heading up the charge and submissions will open just after the new year. You can find out more about all of the above by joining us on Facebook or by visiting our website.

KLL: This summer Typecast hosted the Natural Habitat reading series at Quills Coffee on the UofL campus. Aside from former Guggenheim fellow and KY native Maurice Manning, the series also featured established and up-and-coming locals. Do you plan for this series to continue? Have any readers been selected for next year that we should be excited about?

JW: Last summer was actually our second year collaborating with Quills on a summer reading series. The first year we held them at the Bardstown Rd. location and invited writers from all over the US. This year, we really wanted to celebrate what’s great about Kentucky, as well as a new location for Quills. I adore the series, and we were lucky to have such amazing talent agree to visit our stage. Two years ago, there was maybe half the number of readings in Louisville, and almost none in the summer, which is why we decided to do something to keep the local community engaged during that time. But today, it’s clear that the number of readings are on the rise (a very wonderful development). If there’s a need for us to keep doing it, I’m sure we will, but if others are doing covering that terrain adequately, I can’t say that we will continue. We have so many events in any given year that even without a set reading series you’ll see us around town. We’re building up our partnerships with other local businesses to produce events unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and I think that’s primarily where our energies are focused for the next year. But yes, people have been asking what will happen to Natural Habitat, so if the community wants it back, we’ll be happy to give the people what they want!

KLL: Continuing with Typecast’s community involvement, you and your staff were also an integral part of the first Writer’s Block festival (along with Louisville Literary Arts, proprietors of the InKY reading series). Please tell us, if you can, a bit about that experience and other ways Typecast Publishing is involved in the literary community.

JW: Up until this year, I was on the board of LLA, and for some time we had been going round and round about this idea of producing some kind of larger, festival-like event. At the same time, there were many exciting publishing enterprises, both new and old, in and around the Louisville area and I knew if there was some kind of local print fair like you have in many other cities, it would be exciting for all of us who like to make books, magazines, zines, etc. I can be pushy as hell when I want something, so I proposed to LLA that we produce The Writer’s Block Festival as both a print fair and literary festival. LLA gave it the green light, and working with Lynnell Edwards and the rest of the board, we were able to pull off last year’s fest. It was gratifying to see it come to light, but I’ll be honest, the amount of work meant I had to sacrifice a lot of my own energy that needed to go into Typecast. I made a difficult decision to resign from the board this year, as well as the festival committee, but I’m happy to say that Typecast still donates design work and technical support for this year’s festival, and we will be among the vendors at the print fair. We’re also teaming up with Garage Bar for an after after party, to kick back with everyone at the end of a long day, as well as host the local launch of our current poetry title, This is What They Say, by M. Bartley Seigel. Seigel’s poems are songs of the rust belt through and through, and he’s coming all the way from Michigan, where he edits [PANK] magazine, in order to participate in the festival and the party at Garage. Anis Mojgani, the keynote for the year’s festival, appeared in our last issue of The Lumberyard, so I’m excited to be introducing this true powerhouse. He’ll also be on hand at the after party for folks to meet and talk with.

We’re deeply involved and committed to this region, and we never shy away from our southern roots. Despite lots of advice early on to behave to the contrary, I have found this to be one of the keys to our success. Even when I’m in NYC, folks seem excited about the level of creativity coming from this region (perhaps because their own misinformed bias about the south makes evidence of the strong arts community here a happy “discovery”). Many of the ways we’re involved I’ve already outlined, but we’ve got lots of tricks up our sleeves in the coming year, so I hope people will feel welcome to connect with us. My goal with Typecast was always to produce books not just for academia, but books that invited my people, the people I knew growing up in that lumber supply store, to engage with poetry and great books again. You can’t do that without maintaining an intimate relationship with the actual community you hope to reach. We hope any time you interact with Typecast, you leave feeling like you were served a proper dose of southern hospitality and inspiration.

Jen Woods is indeed hospitable, she even added her own hyperlinks, which saves me a ton of time. Small gestures like that and volunteering her time and expertise even when she’s already stretched thin on time and energy shows the southern stuff she’s made of. Head down to the Writer’s Block Festival Saturday Oct. 13 (@the Green Building, 732 E. Market) and check out Typecast Publishing’s table at the print fair. Jen Woods will be happy to extend you her best Kentucky welcome and sell you some completely unique, beautiful books.

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