Noah Stetzer works as Associate Director at Bull City Press, an independent publisher serving the Triangle area.
AE: How did you discover and become a part of the Bull City Team? And, even before you came on board, what’s the story on how the lovely local Indie press came to be? Also, a little background on yourself would be great!
NS: Ross White and I attended the same MFA program (different years) and so we overlapped with many friends in common. I was (and still am) a big participant in The Grind. That’s a monthly writing group that Ross organizes. So between those two things, Bull City Press was never too far from my radar. One summer Ross posted a brief message on social media asking his followers if we knew anyone that might be interested in handling social media for Bull City. I had no experience beyond basic Facebook, but I knew I wanted to hone my abilities in other social media channels. I asked Ross if I could take on the BCP social media position short-term. I saw it as a way to create a situation in which I would be forced to familiarize myself with Twitter and other social media platforms. We agreed that I would do it for 90 days and then revisit. And the rest, they say, is history. My first three months were solid and I was excited to take on another three months. That was summer 2015, and here we are. Since then I have taken on more responsibility and my position grew bit by bit until I became the Associate Director, which I am today.
I attended the UVA Young Writers Workshop during high school but drifted away from writing for about 20 years. During that time I worked for several indie bookstores and two national chain book retailers. I returned to writing in 2012 and pursued an MFA at Warren Wilson. I have a chapbook Because I Can See Needing a Knife published by Red Bird and you can find most of my published work on my website.
This article from a few years back about Ross & Bull City Press I think gives good replies to your query about the press.
AE: As a smaller press, how do you navigate sourcing your publications from authors? Do you have open submissions cycles, and how many manuscripts do you publish each year?
NS: You can see our submission windows here. Our publishing output ebbs and flows. We are an all-volunteer outfit so all money we make goes back into publishing books. When more folks purchase our books, more books can get published. More volunteer hours—which I argue are as valuable as book sales—means more books are published. Because of that, I suggest checking out our titles as far back as three years and figuring out an average per year. Our titles appear at the website in reverse chronological order.
AE: In comparison to larger press conglomerates, what are the advantages of being published by Bull City and other indie presses instead?
NS: While I was never inside a “press conglomerate” my guess is that a “large press conglomerate” is going to have more money, more staffing hours, and more commercial reach that can be deployed for their titles. This is just my assumption and I could be wrong. I only know what I can see from where I sit at an indie press and more specifically our press. I cannot—and wouldn’t assume to—speak for all independent presses.
What we can do is pay close attention to our titles and our authors. We can keep our titles & authors “in the conversation” beyond their on-sale dates through social media, our house party reading series, and signal-boosting our authors’ books after they go on to publish at larger houses. I think this interview we did earlier this year helps give some insight about this kind of thing (page 10, I think).
AE: As everyone has had to adjust mid-global pandemic, in what ways has Bull City found themselves adapting? What is most starkly different now than before in the press business since COVID has happened?
NS: Because Ross and I already partner remotely (he’s in North Carolina and I am now in New York, but have been in DC and also Kansas City over the years I’ve been at BCP) we had that part nailed down. While some groups may have needed to adjust to an online-only work environment, we were already in that place together, along with the rest of our team. Another way I think we were sort of strongly positioned pre-COVID is that we not only make our books, but we also sell our books. And by that I am pointing out that we already had infrastructure for selling books directly to our customers—especially via social media.
The change in bookstore traffic is heartbreaking; we are HUGE fans of indie bookstores. Having said that, we know that much of our sales come from online and our annual appearance at the AWP Bookfair. In March 2020, we chose not to attend AWP in person, as the pandemic was just starting to break open and the risks were too high. We immediately shifted into “high gear” to strengthen our already established online relationship with our followers, and we’ve been tending to those online relationships ever since. Find out more about the AWP conference — you’ll see how it’s been a big part of our annual business.
AE: Being based out of Durham, do you publish the majority of your authors from North Carolina, or does it vary across the country?
NS: We will always be a Durham press—it’s in our name. We proudly publish a number of local authors (this link takes you to our North Carolina titles). What we’ve seen happen over the years is that authors from outside North Carolina have begun finding us through the Frost Place Chapbook Competition and through our online presence. And so while we have opened our arms wider to include those writers, we have not—and will not—lose our soft spot for the North Carolina area authors we’ve always supported.
AE: What’s the best way local writers and readers can support Bull City right now, and other indie presses in general? Also, what are some of the most recent Bull City Releases and ones that we should be on the lookout for?
NS: Thank you for asking how best to support Indies… The first is always going to be to buy their titles and to buy directly from the Indie if you can. That puts the most bang from your purchase back into the press so they can turn around and publish more books. But with that I would recommend that folks SIGNAL-BOOST indies. Using social media channels to not only celebrate titles/authors but also including links to books at the indie press site and not at Amazon.
A title that is on our website to come out in early 2021 is SPINNING THE VAST FANTASTIC by Britton Shurley. This manuscript has appeared in our submissions a few times since I joined BCP. I have been a big supporter and advocate for Shurley’s work since I first read early versions of VAST… I am really excited that we are at last publishing Shirley. Just read this!
AE: Lastly, what is some prose/poetry that has made these hard days feel worth it? What are you currently reading?
NS: I will always associate the following work with 2020. It has been the writing that I have returned to again and again for solace and for comfort while the world has felt out of control and too much to handle.
—Jennifer Grotz: All of her work and especially the book WINDOW LEFT OPEN and this poem, “Conversion of Paul” that I study and study because it moves so well and so effortlessly.