Lauren Belski’s debut book, the story collection Whatever Used to Grow Around Here, was released on Saturday by Crumpled Press. Each copy was hand-sewn at book-binding parties at the author’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens home. (We went to one and took lots of pictures!) We talked to her about how she got her book published.
“After I submitted my manuscript to Crumpled Press, I was with my friend Brooke at the beach at Coney Island. We were going to go to Beer Island, which doesn’t exist anymore. We’d already had one beer on the beach, and we were in a good mood. There was a woman there reading palms, Madame Anna. Brooke ignored her and went on to the bar, but I sat down and gave her two bucks. First, she said ‘take off your sunglasses!,’ which I did. She said ‘you’re a writer,’ and I was thinking, ‘I’m here in my bathing suit, I don’t really know how you could tell,’ but I said, ‘yeah.’ She told me I’d finished something, and I said, ‘yeah,’ and she told me ‘two dollars and I’ll say more.’ I gave her two more dollars since I was interested. She said, ‘listen to me, you have to be pushy, can you be pushy?’ ‘I think so,’ I said.
“I took that to heart in a strange way, and I checked in on the manuscript now and then, telling [founder] Jordan [McIntyre] that I really felt good about the match of the book and the press, asking if he’d looked at my work yet. Jordan said later that my following up really got him to look at my work; he gets emails every day, and can’t always look at every single one of them. So this random fortune teller that cost me $4 kind of put me at the top of the slush pile. He liked my book, and it all ended up working out.
“I was in Coney Island this summer, and I saw her and went up to her and said my book’s getting published, and I went to give her a hug. She pretended she remembered me and was saying she had more to tell, just four more dollars, and I was like, ‘not right now, see ya!’
“I knew I couldn’t go the traditional route, and that I wanted to make it exactly what I wanted. The truth is, you can’t make it into what you want in the big publishing houses—you have to make a lot of compromises. With Crumpled Press, I’ve made maybe two. I made the book this size because I wanted it to be the exact size of the paperback editions of JD Salinger’s Nine Stories, and it is, it’s maybe a fraction of an inch off; I wanted my friend Lani to design the cover and she did. I wanted all these things and I got them—which is really rare for a writer!”