The indie publishing universe is an exotic animal kingdom. It renders irrelevant the usual pecking order of a profit-driven henhouse. The food chain is an all-you-can-eat buffet table. It’s an unpredictable habitat without any bars or barricades. Upon entry, there is no map, guide, or menu. There are no taboo conversations and there are no hard and fast rules of engagement. Visitors and gawkers are welcome, but they need to check their expectations at the gate.
As the founding zookeeper at Atticus Books, I am driven to unlock the rusty cages of our readers’ imagination and identify a whole new species of literary works. In fact, the main thrust of resurrecting the books side of the house after a six-year hiatus is to unlearn what I learned in 2010 when Atticus launched its first of 22 book titles.
There will be no erring on the side of caution. No overthinking the optics. No recourse for the indecisive. This is the wilderness. We will pursue and publish books by authors whose hunger for human connection is palpable. Whose instincts are “like God’s eyes in my headlights, when the dogs are looking for their bones, and it’s raining icepicks on your steel shore.”
The strategic reinvention of Atticus—much to the chagrin of my astute, business-minded acquisitions editors—remains a mystery, an organically unfolding, plot-twisting, genre-busting enigma.
In the middle of the night, I hear their pleas: What types of books should we publish? Are they marketable? Who is the primary audience? What is our budget?
These are all logical and necessary questions that demand answers if you intend on remaining a viable, sustainable publishing house. But they do not inspire. They do not set my heart racing. They merely provide artificial assurances and calculated risks, padlocks to keep the wild animals at bay, and safety nets for the trapeze artist in me in case this zoo turns into a traveling circus.
To quote Edward Albee in The Zoo Story (1959), “It’s one of those things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.”
I have gone a very long distance out of my way to come back to the Atticus community. I have worked in the technical publishing industry for the better part of two decades. It has nearly gutted me twice. Gutted me to the point where I became numb to the idea of indie literature again rescuing me. I became insulated from the discipline of feeding my mind with verse and nourishing my soul with prose.
I won’t allow the magic of this kingdom to escape me this time. I’m here for the long haul, not imprisoned but enraptured by the entire small press ecosystem. I’m going to need a bigger boat, or maybe it’ll be an ark this time with a whole slew of exotic animals. (I’m going to need better, more consistent metaphors.) I’m going to need editors who both believe in my vision and challenge my unconventional thinking.
And I’m going to need you, dear reader. I’m going to need you to keep reading these words and seeking this enclave. I’m going to need you to meet me at the crossroads and check me at the gate. Tell me when I’ve lost sight and can no longer see the forest for the trees—or the true meaning and substance behind all these distracting idioms and cliches.
Brandish your weapons and let the hunt begin!
Photo by Rab Lawrence, used and adapted under CC.