From Pandemic to Publishing

  • By Courtney LeBlanc
  • September 6, 2021

Why I launched an indie poetry label during quarantine.

From Pandemic to Publishing

The pandemic changed my life, as it did for nearly everyone I know. Pre-pandemic, my job entailed traveling 50 percent of the time, and because I was often on the other side of the world — averaging 12-hour days — I would log on early in the morning or late in the evening so I could catch my DC colleagues in the office. The pandemic brought this to a stop, and I began teleworking 100 percent of the time.

With the disappearance of travel, I found my daily routine changing as well, and I was able to carve out more time for myself. I was regularly attending a weekly Zoom writing workshop. I began hiking daily with my dog. I adopted a second dog. And on our hikes, I began thinking about what I wanted from poetry and what I could give back to poetry.

My day job is drastically different from my creative life. I work in International Affairs for the U.S. Government and have a background in business. In my late 30s, I felt I’d exhausted the local-writing-group level of growth and decided to pursue my MFA, graduating from Queens University of Charlotte on my 40th birthday.

Before I started my MFA program, I had two goals: I wanted to improve my writing and I wanted to find my writing community. I achieved both, so when I started to consider my next steps in my creative life, I turned to those in my community for advice. After all, my idea was big — I was considering launching an independent poetry press.

My first full-length collection of poetry, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, was published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in March 2020, the week the pandemic shut down the world. Suddenly, I was in the position where I had my first book, something I was very excited about, and I couldn’t celebrate it. I canceled my book-launch party and, one by one, canceled every poetry reading I’d scheduled.

Things moved online, and the world moved forward, but in an altered fashion. My publisher, through no real fault of his own, didn’t offer any support. This is the reality with many small, independent presses: They simply don’t have the money, bandwidth, and/or energy to provide much support to their writers and so those writers are left on their own to figure out promotion, schedule readings, and try to make connections in the literary world. So, when I began to toy with the idea of starting my own press, I knew I wanted to provide more to the poets I’d eventually publish.

A background in business was helpful in creating a business plan for the press — I structured a budget, determined what I could offer poets in terms of a contract, how I could support them, and what contacts I could leverage. After bouncing the idea off several of my close writing friends, I decided to move forward with the press and, in January 2021, Riot in Your Throat officially launched.

I began with open submissions and received 88 manuscripts. Of those, I selected three collections I would publish in 2021. After my own manuscript, which was longlisted for PANK’s Big Book prize, didn’t get selected for the award, I added it to the 2021 roster, too.

With each book, I worked with the poets to not only create a book they would be proud of but to coordinate readings and promote their books via social media and other avenues. As a publisher who began during the pandemic, I’m working hard to ensure I offer my poets the most support I can and to promote their books so they reach the widest audience possible.

[Editor’s note: This piece is in support of the Inner Loop’s “Author’s Corner,” a monthly campaign that spotlights a DC-area writer and their recently published work from a small to medium-sized publisher. The Inner Loop connects talented local authors to lit lovers in the community through live readings, author interviews, featured book sales at Potter's House, and through Eat.Drink.Read., a collaboration with restaurant partners Pie Shop, Shaw’s Tavern, and Reveler’s Hour to promote the author through special events and menu and takeout inserts.]

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full-length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat) and Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press). She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog and follow her on Twitter at @wordperv and on Instagram at @wordperv79.

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