The Newsletter of
The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic
Volume 1, Number 6 (July 1999)
HERE to return to the table of contents.
with John Oakes, publisher of Four Walls Eight Windows
by Jeff VanderMeer
Copyright 1998 Jeff VanderMeer
[ED NOTE: The following interview is a preview of a special Ministry of Whimsy
subsite to debut in November. This subsite will consist of interviews with
over 40 independent publishers on the subject of independent publishing
as opposed to commercial publishing—the inherent problems, creative solutions,
the influence of superstores like Barnes & Noble, and other topics.
The subsite will be designed by Jeremy Spinks, designer of the Ministry
main site, and will be creatively structured so that those who access the
subsite can either read each interview with each publisher, or the multiple
answers to the same question by all 40+ interviewees. In addition to the
interviews, there will be various sidebar articles by such notables as
Lance Olsen, G. W. Clift, Brian Evenson, and others. -- Jeff VanderMeer]
What is your particular editorial slant or philosophy? In other words,
what makes your press different from other presses?
Four Walls is committed to progressive politics, cutting-edge literature,
and additionally is for-profit. That particular combination makes us unique,
in my eyes.
What have been your biggest critical and popular successes and what
differentiates them from your less successful projects? (Which brings us
to another question--How do you define success for your press?)
Our biggest overall successes, in terms of sales, have been in the realm
of nonfiction -- popular science. In terms of critical attention, I'd say
writers like Paul Di Filippo, Michael Brodsky and Gordon Lish put us on
the map. How do I define success? When a book I like particularly doesn't
lose us money.
In looking at the major professional houses (Harcourt Brace, etc.)
what, in recent years, do you perceive as their strengths and weaknesses--what
do they do well, and what do they do poorly?
I don't look much at them. When I do, I feel what they're doing is often
comparable to what we do -- except they have a lot more money behind them,
and often they're nonetheless doing a worse job.
The proliferation of chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders,
at the expense of independent bookstores, has been criticized quite a bit
in recent years--although B&N, for example, does deal with small presses.
What, exactly, are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with the
chains. And have you had to change the way you do business?
I'm sure other people will cover this. But, for the record, the chains'
proliferation has also been at our expense, in that the returns rate has
been driven up astronomically.
Relatedly, perhaps, what are some of the biggest problems you face
as an independent? Please share some of your more creative solutions.
Problem: getting the goddamned critics to pay attention. (And I don't
just mean the Sunday N.Y. Times, either. Online "Salon" is one
of the worst offenders.) Solution: kill them all.
Based on your own experience and knowledge, what role do you see
independent presses playing in the next 10 years, and how does this role
relate to trends among the large publishers?
I think we'll continue to attract brand-name authors away from the larger
publishers, for any number of reasons. I think we'll see more of the huge
houses falter and contract, or disappear entirely.
What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect
to see from your press in the next year?
In the fall of 1998, look for new tomes from Paul Di Filippo, Kathe
Koja, and Brian Evenson (the last two authors are new to our list). In
the future, look for Rudy Rucker and Lucius Shepard.
John Oakes is publisher of Four Walls Eight Windows and has been for
three years. He started his career as a reporter for the Associated
then worked as an editor at Grove Press under the legendary Barney "Mad
Rosset before starting Four Walls Eight Windows with a partner in 1987.