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JC: Here at Three Guys One Book, we’ve long been fans of Featherproof Books. Amazing writers like Natalie Edwards, Amelia Gray, Blake Butler, Kyle Beachy and Lindsay Hunter have already been featured in our virtual pages, and we’re looking forward to seeing a lot more of their colleagues here too. If you haven’t looked at the Free Mini-Books on the featherproof website, you’re really missing out. Here’s what Zach Dodson wrote about how they came about and why they do it.

Why We Love What We Do – Zach Dodson

HISTORY

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Featherproof was started in 2005, by me and my friend Jonathan Messinger, over a falafel lunch break from our day jobs. I was a designer at TimeOut Chicago, and Jonathan is still the Books Editor there. We were talking about all the fantastic live readings that were happening in the city of Chicago, and bemoaning the lack of publishing outlets at the time, so we decided to start our own little press. We didn’t know the first thing about the publishing industry. But I thought books could use a little more design. Jonathan brought important things to the table like spelling and grammar, so it ended up being a good match. I sold my car, a ’68 Volvo, to fund the start up. And though I miss it, I have to say: it has been worth it.

APPROACH

At featherproof, we feel it’s really important that we do whatever we want. So important, in fact, that we put it in our mission statement. Our first author, Brian Costello came up with this idea that making your own fun is more fun than participating in anybody else’s fun, and we’ve tried to hang on to that idea as well. We also try to straddle both sides of the digital divide. A good example of that is our mini-books, which were the very first thing we did. We knew it would take us a while to get a book out, but we were eager to start publishing. The web provides that opportunity, but we didn’t want to be just another online lit blog. The mini books allowed us to use the distribution of the internet (wide and free) while keeping the physicality of books that we love so much. We put a lot of care into the design and production of our perfect-bound books, and are very interested in the book as an object, but we’re not afraid to mess around in the digital playground. All of our books are available as eBooks, and we’ve got a free iPhone app called TripleQuick. We’d just like to be wherever our reader’s eyes are.

TASTE

We’ve had trouble defining exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to submissions, or exactly what groups our catalog together, in terms of a an overall theme. Perhaps the best indicator of our tastes is a quick read through all of our books. Actually, most often we’re looking for idiosyncratic books. Ones that feel like they couldn’t have been written by anyone except that one author. New discoveries are a lot of fun. If there was a vin diagram of what we like, I’d say it went like this:

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I like things that are kind of bizarro, or have weird subject matter, and Jonathan wants things that are well crafted and show technical prowess and innovation. Our thin sliver of overlap ends up being: Books about Weird Stuff that are Wrote Real Good. We have that stitched on a pillow in the
office, actually.

PLANS

We always have a shortlist of manuscript submissions that we are sitting on and agonizing over. We have very few ‘slots’ for publishing, we only do 2 or 3 books a year. And there are many more manuscripts than that that we would like to publish, so it’s always very difficult. I tend to sit on things and worry about them for a long time. But I find it leads to very sure decisions. We also try not to book ourselves too far in advance. I don’t like to make the final decision about what say, our Fall title will be, until the last possible moment. If we were booked 2 or 3 years in advance, I think that would drive me crazy. Plus you never know what will pop up at the last minute.

We also have any number of hair-brianed schemes in the works at a given time. For example, right now I’m working on something called Storigmai. And extension of the mini-books, they are stories that fold into various recognizable shapes, and as they are unfolded in different ways, so are the stories. I think Jonathan is cooking up some text-based adventure game based on one of our books. These schemes rarely work out. We should really stick to the books.

SPEAKING OF THE BOOKS

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We are really excited about both of our fall releases. Daddy’s by Lindsay Hunter is full of these dark little stories, told in a tight, mean southern syntax. They are funny and menacing, all at the same time. I do spend a lot of time designing each individual book we put out, and trying to imbue those with something innovative that speaks directly to the book, or the stories.The original idea for Daddy’s design was to have the stories rolled up on little scrolls, and then have 20 of them in a cigarette box, but the mechanics of producing a book like that on a mass scale got out of hand. We ended up turning ‘Daddy’s Brand Cigarettes’ into ‘Daddy’s Bait & Tackle’, which in the end, felt like a better fit. The book is designed as a tackle box – it has flaps that form a lid, and opens sideways. Lindsay thought of all sorts of nasty things that might be inside Daddy’s tackle box, and we made graphics out of them all. She was also brave enough to volunteer her 8th grade photo as her author photo, which is hilarious. We’re really happy with how the book came out.

Our other book this fall is The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville. He’s a great Chicago writer with all sorts of success, so we’re really excited to be putting out a book of his. Especially since it’s his strangest book yet. It’s a collection of short stories, it a wide variety of voices that are tied together by a novella at the end in which a man discovers a supernatural helmet that allows him to listen to other people’s thoughts. It’s a really fun book, and for the design, we wanted to echo Patrick’s sense of out-there playfulness. So I designed it as a mobile. You can punch out these planets on the cover, and actually assemble the entire book into a mobile and hang it from the ceiling. Whether anyone will want to do this or not is unclear. That book is being printed right now, and will come out in November.

INDIE IS THE FUTURE

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Another exciting thing for featherproof this year is a big office move. We’re shacking up with The Green Lantern, which is a micro-press and gallery here in Chicago. Caroline Picard runs it, and she’s great. We’re starting a small bookstore together, called The Paper Cave, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I love contributing to the indie book culture by releasing the work of writers I really love, but a bookstore will open up whole new avenues for promoting what’s happening in the indie book world. We’re going to focus solely on independent presses, and, at this point there are almost too many great ones to name. We really admire Akashic, Two Dollar Radio, Soft Skull, Publishing Genius, Chin Music, Melville House, McSweeneys, Dalkey, the list just goes on and on. To collect all of these great books under one roof will be a dream come true.

And of course, we’ll continue to chop wood, and throw our bizzaro little books on the pile. And hope people read them, or, at the very least, assemble them into mobiles.

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