5-9: Ellis Felker, poet and owner of Red Oak Publishers

I am excited to post the interview of the first contributor to my blog series 5-9 which asks poets and writers who are working outside of academia what they do and how they do it. With this series I hope to create a place of dialogue for writers pursuing their craft away from the ivory towers.

I live for the colors of the morning! — Ellis Felkerellis-felker-2012

Ellis Felker is a poet and owner of an independent greeting card company. He is the author of several volumes of poetry which he published through his company. I recently asked him a few questions about his writing and his career.

Alessandra Simmons: What do you write?

Ellis Felker: I write daily journal entries, poetry, short essays and dreams.

AS: Who are the authors your are likely to return to for inspiration or other sources of inspiration?

EF: Depok Chopra and Henri Nouwen.
AS: I’ve also enjoyed reading Henri Nouwen. When did you first read him? Do you have a favorite title?
EF: I first read Henri Nouwen about thirty years ago when my printer was publishing a little book of his. My favorite title is: The Inner Voice of Love. I am now reading a short biography of his called : Genius Born of Anguish. Poor Henri. He never overcame his harsh Catholic upbringing. And he never embraced the fact that he was gay. He clung to the Church until the bitter end.
AS: Tell us more about the work you do outside of writing. 
EF: I own a greeting card company called Red Oak Publishers. I edit art and take photographs for the company. I also do marketing and sales.
AS: Owning a card publishing company sounds like creative and all encompassing work. I’m intrigued. How did you come into that kind of work?

EF: I started my card company 31 years ago. I was taking great photographs and I wanted to share them with the world. I always would rather sell one hundred photos at a dollar each than one photo at one hundred dollars. Again, I had my own vision and I could find no publisher who shared that vision. Out of nowhere I inherited some money. That was the seed money for my card company. I had a vision and a destiny to fulfill and I knew that only I could do it.

AS: What is the most rewarding part of the job? What is your least favorite part?

EF:  The most rewarding part of my card company is taking or finding new images that sell to the public. And that move and influence them. I love selling the card I shot of an archway in Ireland. It is a sympathy card that I have probably sold 10,000 of. I also love the printing of new cards on my printers new digital press. The worst part of my job is all the business and marketing and constant selling. It sometimes fries my poet’s brain! Luckily I have a very good sales director who helps me. Without him I could not run this thing.

AS: How does your profession influence/inspire/interrupt your writing or How do you manage your writing life alongside your professional life?

EF: I blend the two together as much as possible but running my own card company can get mentally overwhelming at times. I sometimes feel split between poetry and business.  Yet some of my writing does end up on my cards. It is still all “me” afterall.  I do wish I had more time to write but that will have to wait a few more years when I sell my card company. I hope I will be “freer” then!?!

AS: Tell me, how did you decided to go the self-publishing route? 

EF: [My poems] are all self-published. I started my own publishing company because I couldn’t find another publisher to publish me. And I felt I could have more control if I published my books myself. Greeting cards too. All I had to do was to come up with my company name (Red Oak Publishers) and hire a printer. Pretty easy. No rejection. Total control.

AS: That sounds great that you can use your writing in your professional work. Can you share an example?

EF: My all-time best selling card (about 30,000) has a photo I took of one of our kittens and below it my words that say: I once asked a four year old what the secret of life was. “Feed the kitties,” she said. “Feed the kitties.” A true story!

AS: Thanks Ellis! I love hearing about your career and writing. It takes a lot of thought and faith to start your own company! Thanks for sharing your story with me and the readers of this blog!

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