“It’s because we’re trying to compete with porn sites in search engine optimization.”
That’s how Cat Fitzpatrick, one of two co-founders of LittlePuss Press, jokingly describes the origin of the house’s name. If Fitzpatrick’s assertion were true, it would still constitute a canny marketing move, but the name is actually a portmanteau made up from portions of the titles of Fitzpatrick’s poetry collection Glamourpuss and the novel Little Fish, by the press’s other co-founder, Casey Plett.
“I said, ‘Hey, Cat, I’ve got a great idea for the name of the press. We’ll call it GlamourFish,” Plett says. “It was Cat’s girlfriend who said, ‘Are you kidding? It’s got to be LittlePuss.’ ”
It’s an appropriate origin story for the nascent independent publisher, which was born out of a punk mentality and a desire on the part of the two friends and former colleagues to put their previous experience in the industry to work bringing out quality books by writers they see being passed over by more established or mainstream houses.
LittlePuss represents a reunion of sorts for Fitzpatrick and Plett, who worked together previously at Topside Press, a Brooklyn-based publisher that launched in 2011 with a mandate to publish work by trans writers. (Topside published Plett’s first book of stories, A Safe Girl to Love, in 2014.) The press, which was cutting-edge in its day, has since ceased publishing. “It exploded in spectacular and ghoulish fashion,” says Fitzpatrick. “There were mirrored sunglasses, there was microdosing. Don’t ask.”
After Topside stopped bringing out new work, Plett and Fitzpatrick realized there were still many books and authors they were interested in publishing, and they now had the skill set with which to make that happen. “I remember Casey saying to me, ‘It would be a real shame, now that we know how to do this, if we don’t ever do it again,’” Fitzpatrick says.
Additionally, the 2017 anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers, which Plett and Fitzpatrick edited together, disappeared when Topside went quiet (this despite having received praise from Booklist, Library Journal, and other established reviews, and winning the Barbara Gittings Literature Award at the 2018 Stonewall Book Awards). Other Topside titles remain available in print-on-demand and as special orders from Amazon and other retailers, but not that one, for reasons that elude the two editors. “We don’t know exactly what happened,” Fitzpatrick says. “Therein probably hangs a tale.”
The pair’s frustration at not having the anthology available lingered in the background as Plett and Fitzpatrick mulled the pros and cons of launching a press over the course of two years or so. And then COVID-19 hit. Plett had just left her job as publicist at Windsor, Ontario, press Biblioasis and moved to New York City when the pandemic resulted in global upheaval and shutdowns around the world. The lockdowns acted as a catalyst for the two, who decided it was as good a time as any to bring the anthology back into print under their own auspices. “I think our reasoning was, if we can do it and not fuck it up, then maybe that means we can actually go forward with this,” Plett says.
Fitzpatrick, for her part, recalls a slightly more debauched series of events. “I think what happened is we got drunk and talked about it fourteen times,” she says. “And the next time we got drunk, Casey was like, ‘It’s surprisingly cheap.’”
In addition to the relatively light financial outlay (both co-founders put up their own money to help get the press off the ground), Plett and Fitzpatrick benefited from the punk ethos at Topside, where the DIY mentality allowed for learning publishing skills that might otherwise seem mysterious or unavailable. Fitzpatrick taught herself typesetting and elements of book design; she jokes that one reason for launching LittlePuss is it gave her an excuse to get an Adobe account again. “When I was at Topside, I learned to make a website, and I learned to design a book,” she says. “The interior. I haven’t designed a book cover. That is above my pay grade.”
Plett’s and Fitzpatrick’s respective interests, background experience, and expertise in the area of book publishing proved surprisingly complementary when they started seriously mulling becoming publishers themselves. “We have completely separate skill sets and completely separate aesthetic interests that somehow work together very well,” Plett says. “I remember Cat trying to talk to me about font choices and kerning, and I stopped paying attention after ten seconds. And then I was like, ‘Guess what? I talked to [our financial expert] and we have this advantageous tax structure if we incorporate in this state.’ ”
As for what they hope to publish, Plett and Fitzpatrick are explicitly interested in developing the press as a home for the kind of anarchic, underground, and madcap writing they don’t necessarily see being promoted elsewhere. “Which doesn’t mean we won’t also produce small, beautifully observed books of short stories by sad women,” Fitzpatrick says.
They are also willing to take a look at different genres of writing, though Plett acknowledges that they are currently not in a position to look at juvenile manuscripts or graphic novels. They are also not currently considering poetry, except for novels in verse or book-length narrative poetry. And they do not have any restrictions regarding who can submit material for consideration. “We’re not an all-trans press,” says Fitzpatrick. “We definitely understand ourselves as a feminist press run by trans women.”
In the short term, the plan is to aim for two books a season and their “most optimistic timeline” is to start bringing new books out in fall 2022. While Plett is currently in discussions with various entities in both the U.S. and Canada for distribution, at present the press comprises a staff of two. “Cat has the formal title editrix, and I have the formal title publisher, even though we share both duties,” Plett says. “But I think basically our titles connote the areas in which we’re the bad cop.”
Fitzpatrick says they have already begun receiving inquiries from prospective authors, which is a good sign that LittlePuss has started to make a mark, even before its first full publishing season. As to whether the press intends to grow in the future or whether it will remain a small, boutique outfit, Plett is cautious in her response. “If you’re still talking to us in four to five years, if we exist and are still putting out books, I would say we’ve fulfilled our wildest dreams.”