May 1, 2013

Equal parts failure, defeat and sadness: shuttering a beloved indie press


One recent Mud Luscious book. A fun one to be seen reading in public, I imagine.

News ricocheted around a very specific segment of social media last week that Mud Luscious Press would be shutting down. Mud Luscious is not particularly old—it was founded by author J.A. Tyler in 2007—and doesn’t have an enormous list of titles—including the Nephew and Blue Square imprints the press lists twenty-five books on their website. The books, however, were uniformly adventurous and their authors worth following. As Tyler writes in another interview, the press “wanted to bring attention to those works that beautifully and seamlessly linked poetry and narrative.”

Mud Luscious cast a large shadow for all of its small stature. This is not a press that will fade away unmourned. No, Mud Luscious had a following.

I wrote to Tyler about what it felt like to close such a beloved venture.

Melville House: So, the press has seemed to be moving along at a good clip these past years, what with your new titles and bringing on Blue Square. Why the decision to shutter it now? Were there mounting financial issue in the background?

J.A. Tyler: We’d been struggling against some financial shortfalls since summer of 2012, but we pressed ahead regardless because we believed in the strength of our 2013 season. But in the end, we just weren’t able to sustain that shortfall long enough to see through 2013.

In the end, it was really a problem of unmanageable growth rather than a lack of sales. There was so much demand for so many of our titles, but on a quarterly system we didn’t see enough funds fast enough to keep up with both the backlist and the current titles and the payments forward to future books. If I was a better businessman, I’d have made it all work, but I went into this for the art, and the press ultimately suffered for my lack of business skills.

MH: So you’re saying that one of the biggest hurdles was keeping up with backlist reprint costs?

JAT: Definitely. Once our catalog grew, we expected some titles would be more in demand than others, but we certainly didn’t expect for *most* of our titles to remain in demand well past their first years of publication, so stocking and re-stocking those was absolutely a hurdle.

MH: You mention, in your short notice about the decision on the Mud Lucious site, that wrapping up the press feels like equal parts defeat and failure. Could you expand on that?

JAT: The words we published are, in all honesty, words I love. Every single book was a book I held a place for in my heart. So to let down those authors, their words, is one of the greatest failures of my life. Sure, we published those books and some of them were around for years; and yes, I can revel in that at some level – but in the end, I wanted those words to be around forever, even if that is a childish and impossible dream.

MH: I sure don’t think it’s childish to want the work from your press to be around forever. With luck, the authors will be able to find something else to do with the texts down the road, but it certainly means they’ll be harder for readers to discover for a while, and that’s a shame. But I also take comfort in the idea that presses, and even great books, can come and go. Not everything needs to be epochal. Perhaps it’s easier to say things like that looking at Mud Luscious from the outside.

JAT: Agreed. I’m trying to think of this as a nicely cyclical event. It is tough now, but the more time I put between myself and closing, the better I’ll feel. Also, Publishing Genius Press has taken on Gabe Durham‘s Fun Camp and a few of our other titles are already finding new homes too, so that helps to lighten our emotional burden with these books we love so much.

MH: By most definitions Mud Luscious was a small press—perhaps the best characteristic of that being any press that’s run in part from a kitchen table—but you have an outsized reputation among readers of … what should we call it, Experimental Fiction?

JAT: I suppose, though we really did try to avoid the label, since it has so many (and such varied) connotations. When asked, we told people we were mining the vein between poetry and fiction, where narrative through-line and poetic maneuvers co-exist.

MH: Perhaps that readership—I’d characterize them as pretty dedicated—are likely to follow you on to your next project, whether that be your own fiction or more publishing.

JAT: Though I don’t plan on being a part of any new editorial boards down the line, I am certainly re-dedicating myself to my own writing once the smoke clears, and I hope some of our MLP readers will follow me into that foray.

MH: As I mentioned, you recently took on distribution of a small poetry press, Blue Square. I take it they’re just going it alone again?

JAT: Yes! Blue Square Press will continue on indefinitely, and we are so proud of their work. They were a part of the MLP umbrella for the last few years, but they’ve always remained financially separate, so Ben Spivey and David Peak, co-founders of the press, will see Blue Square into the future.

MH: Mud Luscious books are still available for now, correct? Readers can order them through bookstores?

JAT: Some bookstores do still carry a backstock of MLP titles. Powell’s in particular has always been super supportive of our work and should have a healthy stock of past books. Small Press Distribution also has a constantly slimming remainder of our titles, though we assume those will mostly be sold by the summer months.

MH: Is there one easy lesson you’d say could be carried from your experience with Mud Luscious? Other than that publishing is expensive and risky?

JAT: Editing and publishing Mud Luscious Press was the single greatest artistic experience of my life so far. Forget about the risk or expense or time or energy or whatever else: if you want to put art out into the world, do it, and do it for as long as you possibly can.


Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.