I'm the founder of Tough Poets Press. I've published five books of literary fiction and non-fiction and successfully funded them all on Kickstarter. Ask me anything about independent publishing.

Jan 8, 2018

Tough Poets Press is a one-person independent publisher of rediscovered experimental and offbeat literary fiction and non-fiction. To date, I've published two Beat Generation-related titles: The Whole Shot: Collected Interviews with Gregory Corso (2015), Sarpedon: A Play by Gregory Corso (2016); and resurrected three out-of-print books by the experimental postmodern writer Marvin Cohen: Others, Including Morstive Sternbump (2016), The Self-Devoted Friend (2017), and Baseball as Metaphysics (2017).I just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help bring out a collection of newly discovered, previously unpublished stories and novellas by Cohen written in the mid-1960s. Here's the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1860098210/five-unearthed-1960s-stories-and-novellas-by-marvi

I'd be happy to share my experiences with other small publishers or authors interested in self-publishing.


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What is your goal for starting this campaign?

Jan 9, 8:36AM EST0

My goal is to simply cover the upfront production costs of publishing the book: printer setup fees, bar code, ISBN number, etc. Everything else (design, layout, editing, proofreading) is "free" because I do that all myself.

Jan 9, 11:06AM EST0

Can you please tell us more about your background?

Jan 9, 7:38AM EST0

I have a BA in English and about 30 years of graphic design/web design/application design experience.

Jan 9, 11:04AM EST0
Show all 4 replies

Have you ever visited  / exhibited in a major Book Fair? 

Jan 9, 4:45AM EST0

No and no.

Jan 9, 11:03AM EST0

How is it like running your own publishing site?

Jan 9, 4:40AM EST0

It's a lot of work but ultimately very rewarding. Also, it's nice to be in control of all aspects of the publishing process.

Jan 9, 11:03AM EST0

What particular characteristic in Cohen’s writing appealed to you the most?

Jan 9, 4:22AM EST0

His sense of humor and wordplay. As Raymond Sokolov wrote in Newsweek about 40 years ago, "Marvin Cohen goes into the realm of language for language's sake, but he never loses his zany hold on the world or his fresh sense of what words can be made to do."

Jan 9, 11:02AM EST0

Do you have other works you are working on at the moment?

Jan 9, 3:20AM EST0

I'm starting work on a collection of short stories, poems, and essays by the prolific but woefully neglected experimental writer Gil Orlovitz to coincide with the centennial of his birth in mid-2018.

Jan 9, 11:00AM EST0

Can you please tell us how crowdfunding can help self-published or independent writers?

Jan 9, 2:09AM EST0

Crowdfunding = other people's money. Need I say more?

Jan 9, 10:59AM EST0

Can you tell us about your Kickstarter campaign?

Jan 8, 11:35PM EST0
Jan 9, 10:58AM EST0

The name of your site is quite unique. How did you come up with this name?

Jan 8, 6:40PM EST0

"Surely the world's got to have tough poets too." -- Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

Jan 8, 8:01PM EST0

Why did you decide to focus on resurrecting works by other writers?

Jan 8, 1:48PM EST0

It's kind of a long story. As a graphic designer, I always wanted to design book covers but nobody would hire me for that so I ultimately decided to start my own press. However, not being a writer myself, I didn't have anything to publish and, except for the works of a few authors, I wasn't really thrilled with many of the new books that were coming out. I went through my Beat Generation phase when I was in college and particulary enjoyed the poetry of Gregory Corso. When I saw that collections of interviews with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs had already been published, I thought “Why not Corso?” I was pretty sure there would be an audience for it and, since nobody else was likely to do it, I started work on compiling The Whole Shot: Collected Interviews with Gregory Corso. I liked the detective work involved in locating interviews in old, obscure literary magazines, dealing with the rare book and manuscript departments of college libraries, tracking down copyright holders, negotiating permissions, etc. Anyhow, while doing the research for my second release, the previously unpublished first play written by Corso, I came across an amazing excerpt from a novel in progress by Marvin Cohen in the 1964 New Directions annual, which also contained another of Corso's plays. I ordered a copy of Cohen's long-out-of-print novel from an online used book dealer and, when it arrived, I was thrilled to discover that it had been signed by the author who had also included his phone number in the inscription. On a whim, I called. The book was published 40 years earlier so I was surprised that a.) Cohen was still alive and b.) still had the same phone number. I mentioned how I was looking for material to publish and he told me that he was not too thrilled that he was no longer in print. We ended the conversation with a verbal agreement allowing me to release a new edition of his novel with a 50/50 split of any profits. The whole experience made me realize that there was a lot of great literature out there, already written but lost or never published for one reason or another. I figured that it would be a harmless enough hobby to try and rescue some of it from obscurity. It also gives me a legitimate excuse to buy more old books which, incidentally, drives my wife crazy because they take up so much space in our little house.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 3:00PM EST.
Jan 8, 2:37PM EST1

That was worth the read though, thanks for sharing!!

Jan 9, 8:37AM EST0

How do you feel after completing each work?

Jan 8, 9:49AM EST0

I feel relieved at first. Between scanning old typewritten manuscripts, editing, proofreading, designing, and so on, a lot of time and effort goes into producing each book. At times it feels like I'm running a marathon with no end in sight. Of course, when I finally get to hold a physical copy of something that I had a hand in creating, I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. And then I start to feel a little annoyed because I start thinking, "Ugh. I'm going to have to do this all over again with the next one." Overall, however, I find publishing to be a highly rewarding experience.

Jan 8, 12:12PM EST0

Why did you choose to pay more attention to Cohen’s unpublished works?

Jan 8, 8:55AM EST0

There's nothing left to publish except his unpublished works. With the new edition of Cohen's 1974 collection of baseball essys, Baseball as Metaphysics, that I just released a couple months ago, all of Cohen's previously published books have been brought back into print in the last couple of years. I released a 40th-anniversary edition of his novel, Others, Including Morstive Sternbump, and a 50th-anniversary edition of his critically acclaimed debut fiction, The Self-Devoted Friend.  All of his other books, collections of short stories and essays, were compiled in the anthology How to Outthink a Wall by Verbivoracious Press based in Scotland.

Jan 8, 11:52AM EST0

Were there times when you wanted to quit the self-publishing task?

Jan 8, 8:35AM EST0

Not yet. I really enjoy it, but I really wish there was more money to be made from self-publishing so I could do it full-time. Right now, it's still only a marginally profitable hobby.

Jan 8, 11:38AM EST0

I would guess most of the limitation is your own here. I can think of a dozen creative ways to make money with unpublished works. Bottom line it really comes down to creating the work and putting it in front of enough people so a certain percentage buys. No rocket science here.

Jan 9, 9:54AM EST0

From your point of view, what do you think is the impact of technology on helping you complete your tasks?

Jan 8, 8:17AM EST0

I wouldn't be doing this if the technology for producing print-on-demand books didn't exist. It has eliminated the cost barrier for poeple interested in breaking into book publishing. There's no longer any need for large expensive print runs, keeping an inventory of books on hand, etc. A couple hundred dollars for a bar code, ISBN, and printer setup fees is all it takes now. Also, the existence of online booksellers ensures that the books are widely available, and social media has eliminated the need for traditional (and costly) print advertising to get the word out. Of course, the ease of publishing now means that a lot more people are doing it, which means that there is a lot more competition for authors and publishers when it comes to getting attention for their works.

Jan 8, 11:32AM EST0

What are some challenges you faced while self-publishing?

Jan 8, 8:00AM EST0

There haven't really been a lot of challenges yet. I can do almost all of the work myself -- design, layout, proofreading, etc. -- because I've acquired a lot of these skills from past "real" jobs. I'm kind of lax in the marketing and promotion of the titles; I have no real talent for persuading people to give me money for something I've made. I should really look into hiring a book publicist someday.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 12:17PM EST.
Jan 8, 11:21AM EST0
Show all 3 replies

How are you trying to boost your Kickstarter campaign?

Jan 8, 7:13AM EST0

With a nonexistent budget, I rely heavily on social media: literature-related Facebook groups, Twitter, Goodreads, and an email list of people who have supported my last few publishing projects.

Jan 8, 11:13AM EST0

Of all the Cohen works you have published, which one was your favorite?

Jan 8, 5:31AM EST0

They all have their merits but I think my favorite is the one I'm running the Kickstarter for now: Five Fictions. Unlike the other books, which were new editions of out-of-print works, this one is completely new. I am one of a handful of people who has read Cohen's unpublished manuscripts and I got to choose my favorites for this collection so I feel that I have a litlle more of a vested interest in the book's success..

Last edited @ Jan 8, 11:10AM EST.
Jan 8, 11:10AM EST0

Do you enjoy doing this work?

Jan 9, 5:08AM EST0

Can we consider Cohen as your mentor? What is then the most important learning you have from him?

Jan 8, 4:28AM EST0

I wouldn't consider Cohen a mentor. I'm really just a big fan of his work and consider myself very fortunate to have accidentally "discovered" him. What I have learned from reading his books is that the English language can be very versatile. Not only can Cohen tell a great story, but he knows how to use words in playful and creative ways that no other writers except, maybe, James Joyce or Samuel Beckett have done so far.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 12:16PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:31AM EST0

Are you also looking forward to work on more writers?

Jan 7, 10:56PM EST0

Definitely! There are probably hundreds of unpublsihed or out-of-print and lost gems out there by writers who have been forgotten or simply neglected because they were ahead of their time or maybe a little too experimental for the average reader. One good thing about social media is that, with a little work, one can find an audience for almost anything, no matter how esoteric.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 12:14PM EST.
Jan 8, 10:23AM EST0

If your campaign is successfully completed, what are your future plans?

Jan 7, 10:21PM EST0

If my campaign is successful, I plan to keep on doing what I've been doing the last couple of years: looking for forgotten or unpublished offbeat works with some literary merit and making them available to the reading public. Eventually, I would like to reach the point where I don't need to use crowdfunding to pay the upfront book production costs but, with four kids to feed, I really can't justify digging into my own pockets for something as speculative as literary publishing.

Last edited @ Jan 8, 11:00AM EST.
Jan 8, 10:16AM EST0
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