Bryan Ibeas was my boss – well one of them – during my stint at Cormorant Books. He tried to fire me everyday. And by fire me, I mean tell me to do something arbitrary and threaten to fire me if I didn’t. (“Alessandra, convince Meryl to drive us to McDonald’s or you’re fired”) But he’s also the rad founder/creative force behind Found Press, a micro publisher that publishes e-book singles from amazing authors that’s kind of like iTunes for literary short stories. And by iTunes, I mean if iTunes came out quarterly, only chose ridiculously good songs and wrapped them up in original cover art. We’ve talked about Found Press before on tBS, (as well as being featured as one of their ShortLit Crit bloggers) but now it’s time to learn a little about the guiding force behind it and how his job works in the scheme of publishing-things. So here is Bryan in his own words, someone doing great things, who I am incredible privileged to know:
AF: Who is Bryan (in a nutshell)?
BI: Bryan is someone who likes to do things the hard way, not necessarily because he thinks he can do better than anyone else, but because he wants to figure out how and why things don’t work. He was the kid who broke his toys to see how they were put together. And then made his own toys.
AF: How did you come into the world micro fiction publishing?
BI: I came into micro fiction publishing purely by coincidence. It was around 2010 and I was teaching myself how to put together ebooks for work. It occured to myself and Blake Sproule, who helped found (haha) the thing and is now on our board, that ebook was a format seemingly tailored for short fiction. Not having to print anything means not having to worry about length – something that appealed to us, as well as to writers we spoke to. Plus, not every short story writer is interested in putting together collections. Ebooks give them the freedom to write as few or as many one-offs as they want. This was before the e-single had become established as a thing, so like a vain idiot, I thought I was the first person in the world to conceive of the notion.
AF: Besides the length, what is the central difference between a short story and a novel?
BI: Funny, I was chatting with Chad Pelley a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that shaping a story is a bit like gardening. It’s a big dumb analogy in retrospect, but it made sense at the time and I think some of it still holds true. I think it goes something like: consider the story as a plant. Now, a novelist is like a gardener: they want that plant to spread out, to fill our, to bloom, to be as lush as it can be. There’s still a lot of pruning involved – that’s how to really make plants flourish, by cutting some branches in order for other, stronger ones to thrive – but what you’re after is the experience of the whole plant. The short story writer is different. They’re the cook, harvesting an herb. They’re after the essence of the plant, the one bit that sets it apart, makes it magical. And to get that, they have to pick out the part where the essence is strongest. Sure, the whole bloody mess smells lovely, but you need to really focus on what you’re after. When I harvest, say, rosemary, I only pluck the leaves. If I threw stem and root in there, or let it flower, the essence gets diluted. Less effective. You have to be ruthless or else you’ll just make a mess.
AF: What do you look for when acquiring a story for FP?
BI: That’s easy. Kick my ass and break my heart.
AF: Found Press includes unique cover designs for each of their stories. Is that part of your job too? What is the creative process for designing a cover for a FP short?
BI: Yes, I design the covers. It’s not something I usually get to do, so I “enjoy” it whenever I can. The creative process involves the team – that’s us, and sometimes the authors – talking about stuff we like about the story. Sometimes I’ll have a concept already part-formed by that point. Other times I’ll have no idea. Then I get to sit in front of Photoshop for hours, sometimes days, just faffing about until I do something everybody likes. And honestly, the results have been about equal either way. Some covers I thought were brilliant from the get-go I’ll look at now and think, I’d like a do-over. And then there are some covers I put myself through the wringer to mock up, alienating my friends in the process – and they’re my favourites now. Art is wonderful like that.
AF: Who is Found Press’ focus audience?
BI: Our focus audience? People who like the sort of writers and stories we like, I guess. We are the focus audience. Our strategy is pretty terrible.
AF: Do you have a favourite short story? (It’s okay, you can tell us!)
BI: What a cold question to ask. Who are you, the Joker? “Favourite story”….Well, there’s one story that holds a bit of meaning, only in the sense that it really affirmed to us that we were doing a good thing setting Found Press up. ‘Addresses’ by Cynthia Flood came in super early in the game. It was literally one of the first stories submitted to us. We read it and it blew us away. And we thought, What the hell is a Journey Prize-winning author doing sending this amazing story to us, a bunch of nobodies who’d done little more than munble vaguely about “iTunes for short stories”? And then – here’s the kicker – Cynthia, who lives in Vancouver, actually met with me when she was in Toronto a few months later, basically to see what my deal was and whether I was serious about it. Like, obviously she didn’t come out here just to appraise the cut of my jib. But it meant a lot, because it told me that we have a responsibility. What we do actually matters to people other than ourselves.
AF: FP is a purely digital publisher. What are the main differences from the print publishing model (minus the obvious)? What are the challenges?
BI: I think the biggest difference is the market. At this point in time, it’s much more rigid. Let me put it this way: someone who has no prior experience or interest in poetry, nevertheless may catch a waft of verse somewhere and decide to drop twelve bucks on a chapbook. Whereas no one is going to go to one of our events or visit our website or whatever and think, Yes! Now I shall buy a Kobo Glo! Or maybe I’m wrong and people have splurged because of us and Kobo now owes us a commission. My point is, epublishing is – whether we want to admit it or not – much more closed market. Not everyone will be into ebooks. Not everyone can or will buy an e-reader. But then again: quite a few of our readers are folks who have not and possibly will not purchase e-readers, and we’ve had to walk them through how to read ebooks. Which is pretty awesome because it shows just how much they want to read our authors.
AF: Do you prefer digital or print for your own pleasure reading?
BI: It’s weird. I’m weird. I read everything digitally, but I’ve also begun assembling a collection of clothbound editions of books that are near and dear to me, which I do not actually read but instead put on the shelf and sometimes look at.
AF: Do you include one space or two after a period?
BI: One space. The only thing worse than people who still use typewriters are people who type on other things as if they were typewriters.
AF: What do you like to read?/What are you reading right now?
BI: Big surprise, I like short fiction. I do enjoy novels too, but the ones which actually coalesce into something more than just a pleasant five or six hours are so few and far between that I’m reluctant to start many. The last non-work novel I read was The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and it was just such a fulfilling experience that I find myself holding onto that rather than rabidly and aimlessly searching for something similar. On the short fiction front, I just finished The Cloaca by Andrew Hood – motivated partly by the recommendations of yourself and the rest of the ShortLitCrit crew, I may add – and it was pretty fantastic.
AF: Where can we find FP stories?
BI: FP stories are available in ebook format from Kobo, Kindle, and www.foundpress.com. Additionally, folks can now subscribe to the site and read our entire library of stories online.