Sword & Kettle Press Interview with Kay Allen (Small Press)

Well, this is our favorite origin story for a small press ever: “...went through a bad breakup, and instead of getting a dramatic haircut or something, I gave the press a facelift, changed the name to Sword & Kettle.” Hell yeah. Sword & Kettle Press is a values-driven press that publishes inclusive feminist fantasy & speculative writing, creates resources for writers & publishers, and makes beautiful books. And it is run by Kay Allen–hey, wait a minute, we know that name. That’s right! Sword & Kettle is the parent to Corvid Queen, the feminist folklore, fairy tale, and myth mag. If you have shorter works like that, check out our Corvid Queen interview here. If you have a longer work of feminist fantasy or speculative writing, find out what Kay Allen and their team are looking for below.

Could you tell us a bit about the history of your press? (what you do, how you got started, what your goals are)

Sword & Kettle was my solo passion project for a long time! I was excited about working with writers to develop their work, curating a literary magazine, and binding issues by hand. We were originally called 308 Press, after the number of the dorm room where I started it. We didn't have a specific genre focus; the early issues instead focused on different forms (letters, found poetry, flash fiction). But I've always been a fantasy fan, and as I kept publishing, I was drawn toward the more speculative submissions. And then, after college, I went through a bad breakup, and instead of getting a dramatic haircut or something, I gave the press a facelift, changed the name to Sword & Kettle, started our magazine Corvid Queen, and focused exclusively on speculative writing. It gave me something constructive to do at a time when I was feeling really down.

Sword & Kettle really took off when I put out a call for additional editors to work on what became our Cup & Dagger series of handmade mini-chapbooks. Our incredible editors, Naseem Jamnia, Jessie Ulmer, and Monica Robinson, have brought so many great ideas to the press and really solidified our focus on queer and feminist, and inclusive spec fic. Our goals are to publish inclusive feminist fantasy & speculative writing, create resources for writers & publishers, make beautiful books, and build a business driven by our values.

What is the process of publishing a book like for your press? From the first read-through and acceptance, through publication and promotion.

We've mainly been focusing on mini-chapbooks lately: the Cup & Dagger series, which came out in 2021, and the New Cosmologies series, which we're currently working on! In both cases, we started with an open call for submissions, and all of our editors worked together to review all submissions and put together our final series line-ups. Then, we work with accepted authors to really fine-tune their mini-chaps, and start commissioning cover art and designing the interiors (which we usually do in-house).

For our Cup & Dagger series, we made our first foray into crowdfunding, and thanks to the friends and family, and community who supported us, we ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. For New Cosmologies, we're planning to run a crowdfunding campaign this January on our own website rather than going through Kickstarter again (we're not big fans of the blockchain/crypto direction they've been talking about). These campaigns basically function as preorders, helping us get the funds to print the books ahead of time. Once the books are printed, we actually bind them all by hand—for Cup & Dagger, we sewed up 1700 books! Then we send out books and special extras to our campaign supporters, and then get the books out in our online shop and any in-person vendor events.

So many people are involved in this process: authors, editors, artists, vendors, and all the people who support us by buying books or spreading the word. (And the roommates and partners who put up with us binding books all over our homes—thank you!)

What kind of books are you looking for? Do you follow the market, wait for anything good, or have a particular niche in mind when you’re reading through submissions?

For our Cup & Dagger series, we were looking for a real range of speculative writing, and we ended up with fairy tales, horror, sci-fi, reinterpretations of historical works, secondary world fantasy, contemporary fantasy, and poetry in the series! For the New Cosmologies series, we looked for variations on the themes of beginnings of worlds, ends of worlds, and personal mythologies. We have some prose, some poetry, some retellings, some totally new worlds—so many unique responses to the call for submissions. So I'd say we usually have particular niches in mind, and we're always thrilled when people connect with them.

Our standalone books have really grown out of the relationships we have with writers. We haven't yet done an open call for full-length manuscripts, but that might change in the future!

How many pages into a manuscript do you get before leaning one way or the other on accepting it?

Speaking for myself, I usually have to read a manuscript a few times before making a decision, especially if it's for a series and assuming the manuscript follows our guidelines and is on-theme. And even after leaning one way or the other, I don't send decisions until we've read and considered all the submissions. We try to find the balance between taking our time to make confident decisions and not keeping authors waiting for too long!

Do you have any recent books you’ve published that you’d like to show some love for?

I'd love to show some love for Bewildered, our most recent standalone chapbook! Written by our editor Jessie Ulmer, Bewildered reimagines Hansel & Gretel through prose and poetry. The collection explores the different ways in which people experience, remember, and process trauma, and the different ways fairy tales themselves are retold and recycled. It's a little sad, a little funny, a little queer, a little gross, and (hopefully) a little magical, and we're all very proud of it.

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Sword & Kettle Press

"We publish inclusive feminist fantasy & speculative writing, create resources for writers & publishers, and make beautiful books."
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