Typecast Publishing, which started as The Lumberyard magazine in 2007 before evolving into a small publishing house, is metamorphosing yet again with its recent move to Asheville, N.C. Publisher Jen Woods and crew have set up shop in the mountains and plan to produce much of their future poetry books and magazine using raw materials grown on their farm. “I’m in an industry that prefers to handle its ailments by railing against Bezos, and that’s just not my style,” said Woods. “I like to get to work actually doing the thing and save the complaining for old age, which means I’m constantly thinking and rethinking the ways in which we execute book products. I want to secure a small corner for the artists I feel create inspiring work, to give them something inspired back in return.”
While the initiative is still in its trial run, some fall books might contain materials derived from the farm. “Some of our experiments have worked, most have disproved every bad piece of advice I got in my early days from industry folks, and a few have been outright failures,” Woods said. “The areas where we continue to struggle the most are those where we are not self-sufficient, where we have to go outside of our doors for resources, be it a paper source or a reliable distribution model.” Woods isn’t deterred by the setbacks. “We are looking at inventive ways to close those gaps, looking at the world and our industry for what and where it is instead of trying to maintain some status quo. The farm where we are based is an instrumental part of that, both as metaphor and resource, and this very literal way of looking at making books is taking us in some weird and wild directions.”
The innovative direction Typecast is pursuing includes the use of farm materials and biodiesel to create and print its poetry books. The reasons behind it, for Woods, are simple. “Let’s be honest, the making and distribution of poetry books in this country is a highly inefficient and confused system. It occurred to me that on the farm, we waste very little, and a lot of the plant matter that was considered ‘cast off’ was actually raw materials that lend themselves to the very materials one needs to print a book.”
The ways Typecast utilizes its farm and crops to cut down on waste vary, starting with ink dye. “We have two cherry trees on the farm that produce little, dark fruit. It’s not great for eating or making into jam, but it is awesome as a dye. Over the coming months, we will experiment with making the cherries into the kinds of dye we might need for a print project. Later, in the fall, when we are pulling sheets of paper made from the cotton we grow—knock on wood that didn’t just jinx the harvest—we will use the successful recipes to color our paper.” Some of the paper could come from sunflowers, whose “stalks can make some seriously incredible paper. So this fall, when we gather the flowers to take the seeds, we will actually use almost the entire rest of the plant to support our projects at Typecast,” Woods said.
The money for the innovation comes, as Woods puts it, the old-fashioned way—from the sales of its books and magazine. “We are not a 501(c)(3), nor do we intend to be. There are plenty of presses already fighting for grants and government funding; the world does not need another. We like being accountable to the consumer alone, free from the confines of answering to various underwriters.” In addition to doing four poetry titles this year, Typecast publishes The Lumberyard twice annually.
While Woods doesn’t expect the publishing world will follow her model, she does hope the industry is headed toward an environmentally focused change. “Sustainability is the balance of the universe, and it should be applied at both the macro level (are your business systems sensible and efficient?) all the way to the micro (are we doing more harm than good in the long term by printing with these materials?). It follows that if preserving literature is our true goal, we have an obligation to truly sustain it for the long haul. Otherwise we’re all just stroking our vanity and most of what we espouse is total hogwash.”
As for the manual labor and extra hours the small staff of four to six people at Typecast Publishing must commit to in order to transform the publishing house into a sustainable press, Wood knows it’s a group effort. “My community of Asheville is ripe with awesome people who have skills in farming, alternative energy, and a long history of self-reliance. We all help each other, sharing tools, ideas, and experience, and I would be lost at sea without them. Also, I feel like our authors at Typecast do so much of the heavy lifting to keep the lights on around here––even though they are not technically employees, their hard work is instrumental to the big picture.”
Wood doesn’t harbor any illusions about the task ahead. “Will we have to work a little harder? Yes. Will we have a lot of fun doing it? Absolutely. Will we stay energized and positive about our future by focusing on our own back yard? You bet.”