Author (and former L contributor) Emma Straub, of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, writes short stories with an attitude towards urban life that’s a bit dazed and a bit curious about its attendant anxieties: turning a neurosis over in your palm like a piece of beach glass, oh, hmm, would you look at this. Her 2009 novella Fly-Over State was published by the online lit mag Flatmancrooked in a print run financed by readers who “pre-bought” the book, and her story collection Other People We Married, officially released a few days ago, is the debut book from the website Five Chapters, which serializes short stories over the course of a workweek. (Here’s her contribution.) We emailed with Straub about her adventures in alternative publishing.
Have you consciously set out to find new publishing platforms for your work, or is it a function of publishing your work with editors who’re interested in experimenting?
You know, as much as I adore small presses, and new publishing platforms, I can’t say that I’ve ever sought them out. Both FiveChapters and Flatmancrooked approached me about putting out my work, and so all I had to do was say yes. If I’m earning a reputation as a publishing maverick of some sort, though, I’ll take it.
Fly-Over State was published in a manner not so unlike kickstarter (for finished work). How’d you end up taking that route—and do you think it’s a viable way for presses going forward?
The “launch” program was all their idea, and I just had to say yes. It seemed to me that I had nothing to lose—no reputation as a publishing maverick to sully, for example—and so I was happy to go along for the ride. I think that places like Kickstarter are absolutely where small presses could go: I have friends of all different stripes—musicians, documentarians, dancers—who’ve used the site, and I think small presses are right in that pocket.
Does having fiction online build an audience and encourage the book-buying public in the way a bookstore browse does?
In a funny way, I think the internet (both through social networking sites and literary hubs like The Millions) does offer a certain kind of browsing experience. For example, one of my favorite books this year was Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky, and I picked it up after seeing it everywhere online. So I think the word-of-mouth process is even better on the internet than in person, even if you can’t actually flip the book open and read a couple of pages. I suppose if you were willing to dig around, you could potentially recreate that experience online, but by that point you would already be interested enough in the book to give it a go.
Your new collection of stories is the first publication from a fairly interesting website. What’s it like putting out a house’s first book, from an author’s perspective? How do you build an audience?
I was Flatmancrooked’s first book too, and the experiences are similar. With FiveChapters, I already had something to build on, but it really is more of the same. I spend hours every day reaching out to people—in the bookstore where I work, on Facebook, on Twitter, shouting from the rooftops. Without a big publicity machine (and those machines are often found rusting in the basement, even at the fanciest houses) behind me, I feel like it’s all up to me. And so I’m working my ass off, every single day. I love that FiveChapters had enough faith in me to publish my first collection, and I will be eternally grateful.
>As a writer, are there any as-yet-untried publishing gimmicks you’d like to see attempted, or attempt yourself? Any new ways to reach an audience online or through small presses?
Sky-writing? Morse code? I think there are some places, like Electric Literature, for example, who are really trying to push the digital boundaries further. I’m content to keep plugging away at home, and leave the gimmicks to smarter people than myself. My gimmick is this: I will love you forever. But that’s not really a gimmick, it’s the truth.