Thursday, April 24, 2014

Favorite Small Presses: The Unnamed Press

Because I have soooooo much free time, I often fantasize about what it might be like to run a small press.  In what I hope is the first of a new series of blog posts, I’m happy to have the opportunity to pose a few questions for C.P. Heiser, publisher of The Unnamed Press, to get some insight into the small press world.

The Unnamed Press publishes literature, comics and lost classics from around the world.  (It also distributes books with publishing partners like sister nonprofit Phoneme Media.)

Based in Los Angeles, the Unnamed Press (previously Ricochet Books) seeks boundary-breaking, border-crossing stories. Our stories are set in places like South Africa, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Estonia and Istanbul, to name a few places. But they are also set right here in the U.S.A.

The Unnamed mission is simple: to help introduce new voices and perspectives that broaden our view of the world and the people that live in it, rather than confirm what is already familiar and safe.

Mr. Heiser was kind enough to answer the following questions via email; thanks to Director of Marketing Olivia Taylor Smith for facilitating.  His bio follows this interview.

What advice would you give to someone pondering starting a small press?

Work in a book store.  Make zines, make a website, make an ebook.  Bam.  Wake up one day and start calling yourself  publisher.  

How do you find the manuscripts you choose to publish?

There is so much good work out there, and with so much consolidation in the industry, the cultures of many imprints in the corporate net are naturally squeezing out diversity and unique talent whether they want to or not.  Agents, in turn, are trying to sell their clients to these behemoths and so their tastes are narrowed or very targeted as well.  That leaves us.  We are open to new ideas that may not necessarily fit the mold.  We seek work from around the world and have a couple of wonderful editors at large who bring in authors from their networks.  

What are some upcoming books we should know about?

Our first two books were soft released just a month or so ago and have gotten amazing traction.  Good Night, Mr. Kissinger is a set of stories from the city, but not just any city. The author, K. Anis Ahmed, is writing about people living in the densest place on the planet: Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Nigerians in Space by Deji Olukotun is an international crime thriller featuring a lunar rock geologist, a young South African abalone poacher, and a supermodel. Good Night, Mr. Kissinger and Nigerians in Space are both available in the store and through online sales at Politics and Prose in DC and other indie bookstores.

We are very excited about our next title, Walker on Water, which is a set of short stories by leading Estonian poet and writer Kristiina Ehin and will be out in June.  Ehin writes these amazing, surreal contemporary folk tales that are really hilarious and also showcase a fascinating gender-bending POV.  Her characters eat their husband’s arms off, for example, while remaining deeply in love.  You get the idea.

What qualities does a small press publisher need to thrive in a crowded marketplace?

An understanding of their target audience. An understanding of the current marketplace for books and its historical context so that you can, as wisely as possible, buck the trends that are sinking big publishing. Plus energy.  Flexibility.  Risk tolerance.  Good taste. A deep love for the product.  At the end of the day, our books are products, and if we were publishing self-help manuals or professional development pamphlets I would rather not be in the business.

What advantages are there for a writer who chooses to publish with a small press?

As an author, you want to be sure you are getting complete commitment and belief from the small press.  If we’re doing our job, we are bending over backwards to get you exposure and sell your books.

What is the best part about running a small press?  The worst?

The people that exist around this thing we’ve created are absolutely the best part.  The authors, editors, artistic collaborators, and, of course, new fans.  That’s what’s wonderful about good books—they represent a shared consciousness around a group of ideas.  What does that result in?  You never know.  That’s what’s really exciting.  I don’t have a “worst”—I can’t think like that.

More information about the press:
To learn more about the books mentioned (including purchasing information):

About C.P. Heiser

C.P. Heiser is the publisher of The Unnamed Press and Executive Director of its sister nonprofit Phoneme Media. He continues to be deeply involved at the Los Angeles Review of Books, where he advises on marketing, communications, and business development.  Previously, he has worked in book publishing, legal marketing, and residential construction.  He was once a water polo player.  He divides his time between his home in Silver Lake and the Unnamed Offices in Eagle Rock.  


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.