Benjamin DeVos, author of Human
(Eraserhead Press), is also the editor of Apocalypse
Party. His press’ most recent
Space by B.R.
Yeager, landed with a huge amount of buzz (check out an excerpt
Benjamin possesses not only the drive necessary to start a one‑man press but
also a personal dedication and love for each book he releases, qualities
absent in many larger operations.
In this conversation, we discuss how he began his own press, his views
on indie publishing, his own novels, and his vision for Apocalypse
First, congratulations on the success of Negative
by B.R. Yeager, listed by Dennis
as one of his favorite books of the year. What was your path toward
starting Apocalypse Party? When did you get the idea and how long did it
take to come together?
I discovered the lit scene back in 2011 shortly after graduating from
high school, submitting to magazines and journals the way a lot of
writers start. As someone young trying to get my work out there, I did
all of the things you aren’t supposed to do. I submitted to places
without reading for aesthetics first, skipped through the guidelines,
etc. I was young and dumb. Once I grew up a little, my work started
getting accepted and I began to meet people in the community who guided
I’m thankful for the community because they not only welcomed me, but
helped me channel my creativity and find my voice. I was a wild
20-something-year-old that needed grounding, and finding the writing
community gave me purpose other than smoking weed in my bedroom all day.
In those years, I buckled down and learned what it meant to promote
yourself as an author, but also got some insight into the publishing
world. I had books with several small presses and began to get a feel
for the entrepreneurship it takes to run your own publishing venture.
Still, I was an artist at heart, and was intrigued by how DIY publishing
seemed. I remember discovering the press Broken River Books, run by a
single person, and how the editor J. David Osborne repeatedly made the
point that anybody can start a press. It’s simply a matter of how much
time and effort that you’re willing to put into it. I began to research
what it would take to get started, and it wasn’t long before I realized
that this was something I wanted to put my all into.
In 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated. The world itself felt (and still
feels) apocalyptic, and the writing community was no exception. I
remember feeling a lot of hopelessness, but also the sincere desire to
not let the evil in this world thwart my desire to make a change and do
something I cared about. That’s the year that Apocalypse Party launched.
I wanted to publish books that took risks and experimented with
narrative and form. I was sick of the status quo. Still, I believed in
the power of art and wanted to have fun despite the world feeling like
it was burning.
I took the launch of AP slow, and it was still very much in its infancy
until this last year or so. During that time, I connected with our cover
designer, Matthew Revert, and began branching out to make sure that
every aspect of what I did was as professional as possible. I learned a
lot on the job, and I’m now at a point where I feel like I finally ‘get
it.’ I was lucky that starting in the indie scene as an author laid a
foundation of knowledge from which I could grow. Not all of these were
good experiences. I’ve worked with bigger publications that haven’t had
the network of people to facilitate their workload and end up going
through the motions without retaining any kind of relationship. Having
experience in the community showed me how important those relationships
are, and it’s imperative to me to put great care into each and every
book Apocalypse Party publishes because, at the end of the day, most of
us are doing this for the love of it. I think that when done right, the
love a small press puts into their books can transcend the visibility
they might get from one of the bigger publishers.
Great point about larger publications becoming impersonal, even among
lit mags. You mentioned something I also agree with about looking
professional. The cliché is “don’t judge a book by its cover” but
people do. What was the process like attaining professionalism in layout
and interior design and working with Matthew Revert?
Working with Matt has been great. I first became aware of his covers
through the now‑defunct Lazy Fascist Press and kept him on my radar for
years as someone who I’d love to someday do one of my covers. He’s gone
on to do some of my all-time favorites, from Jarret Middleton’s
Darkansas to Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias. Matt’s not only a
creative genius in his design work, but also in generating ideas for the
cover. For most of our covers, all I have to do is send him a synopsis
and he comes up with something special. We’ll touch base with the author
to see if they want to rework any details, and of course there are
occasions where the fit isn’t quite right, and we have to start from
scratch. Matt’s always game, and at the end of the day, he produces a
cover that’s unique to his style and sure to stand out among other books
on the shelf.
I do all of the interior design, and it’s been a lot of fun to learn. I
had to teach myself how to use InDesign, which I soon learned was
absolutely vital in creating a professional layout. There was a bit of a
learning curve, but once I got down the basics it became almost 2nd
nature. I can hardly stand using Word now.
Do you use a DIY distribution model or distribute through another
company? Recently, it seems like Print On Demand services (through
Amazon or other places) have become a viable option for small presses.
Apocalypse Party wouldn’t exist without Print On Demand. Ingram and KDP
make it so easy to get your book out into the world. Once the hard work
leading up to publication is done, it truly is just a click of a button.
That said, I’m looking to expand our distribution in the very near
future. I think most presses stick their books on Amazon and that’s
that, which is fine, but I’ve been inspired by the professionalism of
publishers like 11:11 Press that clearly have
a solid distribution channel and are pushing to expand the accessibility
to their books. It’s one of my main focuses heading forward, I just need
to do a little more homework before I make any decisions.
Yeah, 11:11 Press is doing great things as well. What would you say are
the main criteria you search for in a submission? Are there particular
books you’ve read in the past that became the main models for books that
you want to publish from your own press?
I’m searching for imaginative and challenging books that push
boundaries. I’m not really looking for the familiar, middle-of-the-road
stuff that you can sum up in a sentence. No hate to those types of
books, I just think there are enough presses that publish those stories,
and frankly, I’m more interested in mood, sensation, and altered states
of perception than the narrative itself.
At this point, I feel like Apocalypse Party has developed an aesthetic
that I want to cultivate going forward, so I’ve actually solicited more
of our forthcoming titles than I’ve accepted through submission. Being
part of the lit community has allowed me to follow the work of so many
talented writers, and I’ve become more assertive in reaching out to
authors whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past and who I think would be a
great fit for Apocalypse Party. That said, I’m not super interested in
the author’s past publishing experience, and when they submit, I’d
simply like them to show that they’re invested in finding a publisher
that’s a good fit rather than just being published.
I think it’d be easier to name authors who have inspired my vision for
Apocalypse Party than specific titles. A few would be Blake Butler,
Dennis Cooper, Amelia Gray, Jeff Jackson, Sarah Gerard, Brian Evenson,
Sarah Rose Etter, M Kitchell, Maggie Nelson, and Bhanu Kapil. That’s a
pretty diverse lineup in terms of style, but I feel like each of those
authors is pretty singular in their approach to the written word, and
I’m in awe of the books that they’ve created.
With new technology bringing in more writing, how do you separate your
books from the rest in terms of getting readers? Many presses now demand
writers have a large ‘platform’ (a load of followers on some social
media channel) before they sign a contract. As an artist with published
books yourself, how do you feel about that?
In terms of personal use, I try to use social media as sparingly as
possible, so I totally empathize with artists who do the same. There are
so many amazing authors in the small press world because the larger
presses are too afraid of investing a huge advance and losing money over
sales because the author isn’t well known or their work is too strange
or uncategorizable. I want to invest my time and energy into books
because I care about supporting the author and helping bring the purest
vision of their art to fruition.
I do my best to gain a wide readership by submitting to review outlets,
contacting bookstores, promotion on social media and paying for
promotion through different venues with the small budget I have. There
are other ways I hope to promote in the future, for example, hosting
readings with AP authors both online or in person. At the end of the
day, I think a book will sell if it’s good. B.R. Yeager’s Negative
Space is the perfect example. So many readers have been talking about
that book because they know that it’s doing something special. But
there’s something almost ethereal about when a book takes off.
Mechanisms beyond your control start to function in ways that you don’t
quite understand, but you see the readership growing and sales rising.
It’s the sort of thing where you think, “I don’t know all of the
elements at play here, but we must be doing something right.”
Readings are a great idea, and the buzz around Yeager’s book and your
press is definitely building. Where do you see Apocalypse Party in the
next few years, barring the actual apocalypse?
I see us growing exponentially over the next few years. We’ve put out
six books, and so far we have five more planned for 2021. I wish that I
could publish twenty books a year, but right now it seems like around
eight is realistic. I want to continue to grow at a slow, but steady
pace. It’s just me running the press, no staff, so I want to be careful
not to take on too much. So many presses disappear after a couple years
because they run out of money or the editors burn out. Ultimately, it’s
the authors who suffer, so my main focus for the future is to
concentrate on Apocalypse Party’s forthcoming releases while pursuing
some of the goals I mentioned earlier, such as seeking wider
distribution, putting on readings, etc. I’m also putting together the
guidelines for a contest that I hope to hold next year, which I’m pretty
excited about announcing soon.
Yes, lit mags and presses suddenly vanishing is one of the major
downsides to the indie scene. And probably one of the top reasons people
trust journals with academic or NEA funding. As you said, the authors
suffer too, especially if the books vanish with the press. In the
future, do you see yourself ever adding extra workers or joining forces
with another press? Or do you prefer keeping it a solo project?
If the right person came along, I’d be open to adding staff, but it’s
not something I’m currently pursuing. I’m more interested in teaming up
with other presses and authors in the community. For example, 11:11
Press just released Collected Voices from the Expanded
a collaborative novel that I was lucky enough to write a chapter for. A
lot of other publishers wrote pieces as well, such as Gary J. Shipley
(SCHISM), Evan Isoline (SELFFUCK), Arielle Tipa (OCCULUM), Adam Tedesco
(REALITY BEACH), and more. I don’t see enough projects like Collected
Voices. I think part of the reason is that people have this idea that
publishers are in competition with one another, which to me is so silly.
A lot of us are essentially doing the same thing, running a small
operation, and trying to put out the best books we can while supporting
the authors we work with. Competition can be good fuel for growth, but I
don’t necessarily think we need to compete with anyone but ourselves.
Projects like Collected Voices that promote collaboration over
competition are so important because they not only expand participating
authors’ platforms, but also open the door for more conversation about
publishing in general, and in this case, testing the boundaries of the
anthology or collaborative novel. I talked with one AP author about the
possibility of co-editing an anthology in the future, and I see us doing
more to join forces with other presses in order to make this whole
publishing thing feel more like a community than a rivalry.
You recently announced that Apocalypse Party is seeking poetry
submissions. A lot of outsider or indie lit seems to be focused mostly
on fiction or hybrid work. Who are the poets you admire?
Oh god, there are so many. A few would be Andrew Weatherhead, Camae
Ayewa, Candice Wuehle, Daniel Bailey, Shy Watson, Catch Business, Big
Bruiser Dope Boy, Carrie Lorig, Young Thug. I think these poets are each
doing something totally unique, which I find very special.
You’re also the author of several books of your own, including Lord of
the Game, The Bar is Low, and your latest work, Human
released earlier this year by Eraserhead Press. How has your own writing
changed from the first book to last? What’s your reaction to your
earlier work now?
Hah, there’s plenty of writing from my late teens/early twenties that I
wish I hadn’t published through lit mags and journals. When it comes to
the books I’ve published though, I’m still pretty proud of those. I’ve
put out a book every year since I was twenty-two-years-old, so my
reactions are pretty mixed. My first was a chapbook of poetry that’s
totally unlike anything I’d written before or since, and though I don’t
think it’s necessarily bad, it’s so different from the voice I developed
in the books since that I asked for it to be taken out of print about a
My next book was Madness Has a Moment and Then Vanishes Before
Returning Again, which was probably the most important
confidence-builder in my writing career. I was in college at the time,
and much to the chagrin of my friends and roommate, went into pretty
much total isolation to write a strange book about celebrity culture.
When Dostoyevsky Wannabe accepted
it, I was kind of in shock. It helped me realize that there was an
audience for weird fiction, which previously I wasn’t sure existed. My
reaction to Madness now is mixed. I see all of the ways the writing
can be tightened up, but beyond that, it’s very much a book of its time
considering all of the specific references to celebrities and their
position in the culture. Some stories still hold up, for example, the
one about a pre-presidential Donald Trump being eaten by the Rancor from
Star Wars. It’s not a book I necessarily regret, because it’s the first
book where I wrote in a strange, more minimalist style, and that’s when
I found the voice that I’ve used in every book since.
Lord of the Game and The Bar Is Low are similar books that take
place in the same universe. They’re about everyday people just trying to
get by in their mundane lives, their terrible jobs where they daydream
about ridiculous shit, and ultimately the wrong turns that, if you’re
not careful, might lead you to work as an amputee in a pirate-themed
restaurant, or participate in a bare-knuckle boxing tournament in a
slaughterhouse on the edge of town. Those books come from a very
personal place, and reflect my own mental state having navigated a lot
of terrible jobs throughout the past decade or so.
Human Fish is about a half-man, half-fish creature from the sea trying
to figure out the human world. It escalates the weirdness found in my
previous books while maintaining a more consistent narrative whereas, in
other books, I was more willing to let things go completely off the
rails. Human Fish still goes off the rails but in a more controlled
fashion. I think the one constant element going through all of my work
is that I try to write from an honest, personal place and that alone is
enough for me to at least find something positive in most of my past
Thanks for your insights into both the small press world and your own
work. Are you writing another book now? Any final thoughts on your
future projects—both for yourself and for Apocalypse Party?
I actually wrote another novella after Human Fish, but immediately
upon completion realized that there was something off about it. This
tends to be my process. I have hundreds of thousands of words in
unpublished novels. I try to look at each unpublished work as a learning
experience rather than an exercise in masochism. I’m currently focusing
more on Apocalypse Party’s forthcoming releases and writing some short
fiction here and there.
As far as teasers, Apocalypse Party’s next
release is Terminal Park by Gary J. Shipley, which is an abstract
horror novel that I think will be a great follow-up for fans of our last
release, Negative Space. They’re very different books, but both have
that art-horror feel that I love and don’t feel that there’s enough of.
Apocalypse Party has a bunch of forthcoming releases that will be
announced in the very near future, but for now, I’m going to keep the
rest a secret until the time is right. Needless to say, lots of amazing
books coming soon.
Human Fish is available from Indiebound and other booksellers.