From day jobs to evening gigs and volunteer duties, Outside the Lines, is a series of posts exploring MFA graduates' lives and literary work outside of their primary writing practice...
I’ve been making books since the first grade, but I first got paid for it around the time I started my MFA: I worked for a couple of years editing bios for legal directories at Thomson Carswell (thanks to a temp agency that really listened when I said I’d like to try my hand at working with books). And Andrew Faulkner and I started our chapbook press, The Emergency Response Unit, in part with OSAP funds— which I can say because I’ve finally paid back my loans. Rounding out my publishing resume are stints with Mansfield Press and Coach House Books—and now, I work as Invisible Publishing’s publisher (say that three times fast).
I’ve tried my hand at a little bit of everything: I’ve applied for tax credits and saddle-stitched chapbooks and designed websites and edited books and exhibited at book fairs and gotten printing quotes and designed covers and hand-bombed boxes into the backs of trucks. Every day is a new day in small press publishing, and that’s what can make publishing other people’s work as a writer really, really awesome, and really, really tough.
It’s tough because I spend much more of my time on other writers’ work than on my own work. It’s tough because the pay is incredibly low, the hours are incredibly long and there is still never enough time to get things done (I’m writing this with a wiggly newborn kicking the edge of my computer screen). It’s tough because sometimes books you think deserve a wide readership fail to launch for no particular reason. And it’s awesome because I get to help my peers polish their work and put it out into the world. It’s awesome because sometimes the authors I work with get a particularly kind review, or are invited to festivals, or receive awards, and as a writer, I appreciate what those “wins” mean.
It’s awesome because I’ve learned that it’s okay to hold onto work and not rush into publishing it, because there are so many books published every year and there is never enough shelf or review space, so you might as well wait until you’re sure you’re saying what you want to say; that editing other people’s work can inspire you to dig deeper with your own; and that I will probably never write fiction again, because I like editing it much better than writing it, and I’m okay with that, because poetry really is my jam. But really, I’ve learned that I’m lucky to get to surround myself with words, and people who love to use them.
Leigh Nash (2007 cohort) makes books with Invisible Publishing and The Emergency Response Unit. She is currently treasurer for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), vice chair for eBOUND Canada, and serves on the board of directors for the Association of Canadian Publishers. She is the author of the poetry collection Goodbye, Ukulele (Mansfield Press, 2010).