Author Chelsea Hodson has always been drawn to the fringes of publishing. Early in her career as a writer, she found that her favorite books were “weirder, riskier books than ones I might find at a more mainstream publishing house,” she said. Now, she’s staking a claim for herself on those fringes: this year, Hodson will launch her own indie press, Rose Books.
Hodson is best known for her essay collection Tonight I’m Someone Else, published by Holt in 2018. Before moving to Sedona, Ariz., in 2021, she’d been a fixture of the New York City literary scene for nearly a decade. It was there that she got her start in the world of small presses. Her first chapbook, Pity the Animal, was published by Kevin Sampsell at Future Tense Books in 2014. “Though only 500 copies were printed,” she said, “it changed my life.” She was still relatively unknown at the time, but Sampsell “published me because he believed in me, and I never forgot that.”
Hodson was also a friend and collaborator of the late Giancarlo Di-Trapano, the founder, publisher, and editor of Tyrant Books. “I had the gift of seeing the kind of work he did at Tyrant Books,” she said, adding that she learned a lot about his philosophy of publishing. In 2017, Hodson and DiTrapano, who died in 2021, founded the Mors Tua Vita Mea workshop with the aim of nurturing a new generation of writers. Running the biannual workshop, she said, “taught me a lot about starting and running an LLC and doing things in an independently minded way.”
In 2018, Hodson read a manuscript by the musician Geoff Rickly, who was looking for editorial feedback. She had been a fan of Rickly’s since she was a teenager. She immediately fell in love with the manuscript and was struck by a thought: what if she published it? At first she dismissed starting her own press as a pipe dream. Then she remembered how Sampsell had believed in her and what DiTrapano had taught her about independent publishing.
She asked Rickly if he’d be open to publishing with her. “He trusted me enough to say yes, which meant the world to me,” Hodson recalled. “This ultimately was all the boost I needed to set this idea into motion.”
Rickly’s novel, Someone Who Isn’t Me, slated for July, will be the inaugural title published by Rose Books. The Holy Day, a novel by Christopher Norris, will be published in October, and an untitled book of poetry and short prose by Ashleah Gonzales is slated for spring. Rickly and Gonzales are debut authors, and Hodson is thrilled that Rose Books “has become a place to launch their writing careers.”
Rose Books plans to release two titles per year. A limited-edition hardcover and a paperback edition of each title will be published simultaneously, and all Rose Books titles will be available for purchase only via the press’s website, rosebooks.co.
For now, Hodson is the press’s only official staff member. “Almost every day, I’m in a situation of learning how to do something I’ve never done before,” she said, “whether that’s finding the right printer that does clothbound covers, learning how to prepare a file for interior design, or learning how to set up an online store.”
The learning curve is steep when it comes to the logistical and behind-the-scenes demands of publishing, but Hodson is facing the challenge with enthusiasm. “I know publishing independently will never be easy,” she said, “but I am looking forward to being in the rhythm of publishing rather than every day being a brand-new learning experience.”
She’s not entirely without help: Hodson’s husband, Mark McCoy, designed the Rose Books logo and helps with other design projects; her best friend, Megan Carter, is handling copyediting; Katie Coleman, a former workshop student of hers, is an editorial assistant; and Adam Robinson of the literary press Publishing Genius is doing interior design for the books. “I’ve assembled a team that can work for Rose Books on a case-by-case basis,” Hodson said.
Hodson is currently funding the press herself, but she hopes that it can soon become self-sustaining. “I admire a lot of independent presses that are currently running, but I think there’s pretty much always room for one more,” she said. “I have to be mindful of staying within my budget, but I also am not afraid to make a more expensive book for the sake of it being more beautiful to hold in your hands.”
Ultimately, Hodson’s writing and her passion for Rose Books both stem from her desire to bring beauty to everyday life. “I think beautiful objects should exist,” she said, “so I will work very hard to create them, both as a writer, and now, as a publisher.”