Intro & BEA Update/Rant!
June 10, 2013 § 2 Comments
Welcome to the real-deal inaugural blog post for Deep Vellum Publishing! I’m Will Evans. I live in Dallas, and I publish world literature in translation. Publishing is not exactly the first thing people think of when they think of Dallas, I know, but I’m here to change that, or at least add it to the list that includes tacos and big hats and ostentatious displays of wealth (of those three, I only possess the tacos, and really only the memory of the tacos, which are eaten always). I won’t try to defend Dallas or give you a list of reasons that would make you want to move here (yet), but it’s a huge city with a diverse population of interesting people in all walks of life, and it’s a city that supports the arts, and more importantly, it’s a city that supports big ideas in a state that practically begs its residents to think bigger than everywhere else. So I’m thinking big about books in Dallas.
Just got back from a week in New York, where I attended the big bad Book Expo America—for those who don’t know, it’s “the largest book trade fair in North America” (aka: the biggest circle jerk of corporate publishing this side of the Rio Grande). This was my second time at BEA, and it was more fun in some ways—I know some of these people now!—but it was also more depressing in some ways—the more you know about publishing, the more depressed one gets watching booksellers line up for hours to get an autograph by some culturally-relevant but literary-irrelevant “author” like Snooki or Grumpy Cat or some author of a trashy romance novel or the latest piece of throwaway writing put out by one of the “Big 5” (I promise a blog post in the future breaking down the “Big 5” and what “corporate publishing” is, because I am an independent publisher who supports independent publishing the same way I listen to independent music from independent record labels). Basically, if you were to go to BEA from a place like Dallas and come back home, you’d realize quickly that publishing has little to do with anything artistic or educational, for the most part corporate publishing these days is all about selling the highest numbers of the worst books imaginable to the most amount of people as possible. It’s a depressing realization, especially if you still harbor any traditional or romantic notion about “books” and “literature” and “book culture” as something more than random shit that educated monkeys throw onto paper and put into bookstores (and e-bookstores, or whatever you call those places you buy e-books) to be consumed by readers who are nothing more than consumers who the corporate publishers push to consume books the same way they do cheeseburgers at fast food chains: swallow them whole and forget the experience the moment the book is done, the book then passes through the reader’s system without any digestion because there are no nutrients inside, but they go back for more because of the addictive cheap time-fill the reader gets. That’s one long extended metaphor to sum up how I feel as an indie publisher about the state of corporate publishing today. It’s awful. I feel like Grumpy Cat. I hate myself for what I just typed.
Moving on, there WERE highlights to my time in New York!
When I got home from New York, I was asked to be on the Three Percent podcast again by my good friend (and member of Deep Vellum’s Board of Directors) Chad Post of Open Letter Books and New Directions‘s Tom Roberge, in which we recapped some of our favorite and least favorite moments from BEA (the first time I was on the podcast I talked about Russian literature, my academic background and the reason I’m in publishing now). But the topic I found most interesting in this podcast discussion isn’t Chad’s rants against specific terrible “authors” (“Mitch f*ckin’ Albom”), though these were particularly good rants of Chad’s reminiscent of the fiery diatribes he used to launch back on the Three Percent blog back in the days when he first started Open Letter, but the most interesting thing for me was to hear Tom explain why New Directions doesn’t participate in BEA. As a reader of this blog, you might gain as much education as I did when Tom got into how the upfront cost of participating in BEA reaps absolutely no return for an independent publisher like New Directions (which is, I must say, is my favorite publisher of all time [sidenote, I take publishing so personally I typed “who is my favorite publisher”, but that’s incorrect, right?])—a publisher that’s already based in New York, and has a longstanding relationship with the booksellers, librarians, agents, and cultural institutions who might otherwise make attending BEA worthwhile for a newbie to publishing like me. So New Directions instead throws a party of their own and invites the crème de la crème of world literature to attend, instead of paying a ton of money for a booth in the Javits Center, inevitably to be put in the Norton booth of horrors (they are distributed by Norton) or, if they wanted to spring even more money, their own booth, which would most likely end up in the back nether-regions of the Javits Center near a children’s publisher of scratch-and-sniff fart books or Harlequin or something else equally as horrifying/inappropriate for a respectable indie publisher with as many Nobel Prize laureates under their belt as any of the “Big 5” publishers. And New Directions’s BEA party is the highlight of the entire week for me, by far (no offense to any of the other awesome parties and readings I attended, including a particularly fun Bookforum party). Not only because you get to be inside New Directions’s incredible offices on the 19th floor of an older West Village skyscraper with unbelievable views of downtown Manhattan and sunset over the Hudson River and the hills of Jersey beyond, not only for the Henry Miller drawings framed in the hallway, not only for the memory of James Laughlin, not only for the file cabinets marked, for example, “Ten. + W.C. WILLIAMS Contracts“, not only for the locked room in the hallway whose insides are a veritable Fort Knox of literary history, with first editions and manuscripts of some of the greatest books ever published in the English language, not only for all that, but also because the people who come to the New Directions party are the people who do believe in books as something more than a commodity merely to be sold and trashed—it’s the only party in town where you can meet the best indie booksellers from all over the country (Brazos Bookstore in Houston; Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi; Octavia Books in New Orleans; Green Apple Books & Kepler’s from the Bay Area; McNally Jackson from NYC, etc.), the best indie publishers from all over the world (last year I ran into Aleksandr Ivanov of Ad Marginem from Moscow, my favorite Russian indie publisher[!]; this year I spent a ton of time talking with Marcelo Uribe of Ediciones Era in Mexico City, who publishes, among the long list of amazing authors, Sergio Pitol, Elena Poniatowska, Luis Jorge Boone), the best editors from the best American indie publishers (Open Letter, Archipelago, Melville House, Graywolf, etc), the best writers from all over the world (last year’s highlight was Laszlo Krasznahorkai talking with Jacob Silverman, who reviewed Satantango for the NY Times[WAE7] ; this year’s highlight was the extremely affable and erudite author and editor, Alberto Ruy-Sanchez of Mexico), the best reviewers and writers from the best publications and literary journals around (it was fun to meet Max of The American Reader, it was like meeting a celebrity after the glowing piece the Times wrote on her, though I’m more stoked about the fact she published an interview with Mikhail Shishkin!). It was so hot in those offices, but the sheer quality of the humanity and the artistic output of everyone crammed into those tiny hallways and offices redeemed the entire BEA week, gave meaning to what I’m doing way the hell down here in Dallas, another planet away from the island of Manhattan where you can tell someone you work in publishing and they don’t follow up with a quizzical glance and a question relating to what exactly that means.
Check out the podcast, it was my favorite Three Percent podcast in a long, long time, not even because I was a participant, but because I think this podcast works best when Chad and Tom get into how the publishing industry works, especially for indie publishers—it’s easy to forget once you’re inside how much of a closed world publishing can be for the average reader. And I vow to you, dear reader, to try to keep as much of how Deep Vellum operates open and engaged with my audience from start to finish. This means asking the public for suggestions, this means interactive reading groups who could have a say in what gets published and what doesn’t (And Other Stories in the UK [and now the US!] does this, and it is particularly inspiring), this means workshops with authors and translators, this means readings and parties in places like Dallas that haven’t had too many in the past. And I know I’m leaving out creative ways to engage with the public, so please suggest more. Contact me, leave a comment, do whatever. But be in touch, you can have a part in publishing.
More blog posts to come, comments are welcome.
Now reading: The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (New Directions)