By Hunter Liguore
When it comes to small presses, each one is a little different than the next one. In an effort to find a small press for my short story collection, I knew I needed three things: an editor with a superpower to appreciate stories that fall through the cracks of usual and ordinary; a catalog of books that I would actually read; and a press interested in a creative partnership handling the final steps leading to publication. Reading Big Other’s 2020 list of anticipated small press books, I found several titles that seemed rare and unique, like Nurseryman, by Art Allen, an ancient seafaring novel-in-verse. It was enough to compel me to find out more about the editor who published it. Enter Jesi Buell, Editor of Kernpunkt Press.
Hunter Liguore: When you review manuscripts, what types of elements (e.g., concept, characters, plot, originality) do you find yourself falling in love with? Please share one or two projects you have championed and describe what made them unique.
Jesi Buell: We tend to enjoy books that are heavy with symbolism and are unexpected in how they approach either structure or language. We are less concerned with plot and more concerned with phrasing and creativity. While we don’t publish traditional poetry, many of our books are written by poets. As Baudelaire said, “Always be a poet, even in prose.”
The books we’ve published so far seem to fall into two categories: ones that play with form or ones that take a common trope and turn it on its head. An example of the former would be Mount Fugue, by J. I. Daniels, while an example of the latter would be Mother Walked Into a Lake, by Alana I. Capria. Each chapter in Mount Fugue is a different type of storytelling, from IMs to news reports to diary entries and interviews. The ways the story is told through these different forms brilliantly highlight the subjectivity of “truth.” On the other hand, Mother is a feminist horror novel that uses common tropes of that genre to emphasize the invisible labor women perform.
Liguore: How do you sense a project’s readiness in order to consider it for publication? Do you work with authors to improve the work or input on the overall concept?
Buell: Most of the work we accept has very little to improve. We do work closely with the authors during the editing process to strengthen the manuscript. It is our intention that the work we produce is the author’s voice and not something we’ve imposed our voice upon. When we read submissions where there is obvious talent but the manuscript needs tweaking (in our opinion), we do encourage them to edit and resubmit.
Liguore: What is your role in the process from acceptance to publication? Please share a little of what authors can expect when they work with you. Moreover, who is on your team?
Buell: We have a small team of readers who does the original vetting process. We all must agree on a manuscript before we move forward and offer publication. After we sign our contract, most of the work becomes my responsibility. I used to work professionally as an editor and do most of that work with the author. Sometimes another editor comes on board to help as well. The promotion and marketing is a team effort between the author and myself in most cases.
Liguore: How involved is the author in the publishing process, like cover design, layout?
Buell: I do the book design and often, with author consultation, work with artists to produce the cover and/or interior artwork. The author is extremely involved and, in fact, ultimately chooses the cover design and most elements of the layout. Sometimes the authors know exactly what they want. Other times, we explore options together.
Liguore: Are you looking to work with an author for one book or support their career?
Buell: We look at Kernpunkt very much as a stepping stone for artists. Like many things in life, people tend to not give you a second thought unless you’ve been validated in some way. So I hope that we can give our artists a platform and, from there, that they move on toward bigger and better opportunities.
Liguore: Leading up to a book’s official release day, and then after, what distinguishes Kernpunkt in supporting the author/book with promotion/marketing and creating an audience?
Buell: We split responsibilities for promotion with the author. Our budget is extremely small so we try to exhaust all free and low-cost options available to us.
Liguore: When taking on a project, what is your goal or hope to gain in the way of profit/audience reach?
Buell: Our ultimate goal is to give the author an opportunity to show their work, with hopes their work finds new readers. It is always lovely to turn a profit but the whole point of Kernpunkt is to help authors get experience and a wider audience.
Liguore: Since indie publishing is a joint effort, what can authors working with you do to support the release/sales?
Buell: Authors play a vital role in the success of their book. Providing marketing ideas and reaching out to different venues are the most important areas where authors can help.
Liguore: Before submitting a manuscript, what can the “ideal” author do to increase their chances of becoming a published author with Kernpunkt Press?
Buell: We want “art house” literature—so if you feel your work falls into that category, we’re interested in seeing it! Other things: Make sure the majority of the work has not been previously published. We’re also not interested in work with gratuitous violence, especially against women and children.
Liguore: What does the future look like for Kernpunkt Press? What are some exciting things you foresee in bringing extraordinary books to readers?
Buell: We have four books coming out in 2020: Ceremonials, by Katharine Coldiron; The Fabulous Dead, by Andriana Minou; We Were Called Specimens, by Jason Teal; and Tight Little Vocal Cords, by Loie Rawding. Like the rest of our books, they vary wildly in both form and topic but they all bring forth really interesting and creative perspectives on life. We are exploring more options for creating more environmental-friendly products and we are continuing to build relationships in our small press community. We look forward to what the future holds!
Liguore: One final thing you want to leave readers with?
Buell: We hope you check out our catalog as we believe we have published some of the most creative and original artists writing today. Thank you!