New York’s Crumpled Press released its latest book this weekend: Lauren Belski’s Whatever Used to Grow Here. A few weeks before that, the books were hand-sewn at a book-binding party in Belski’s Prospect Lefferts Garden home by the author, her friends, and Crumpled Press’ founder and editor Jordan McIntyre. We spoke to him about e-books, finding the right paper, and environmental responsibility.
“The reason we decided to do handmade books, sewing them instead of having them stapled, is because we wanted to make durable books that would be precious. When you get a Crumpled Press book, you can feel that it was handmade by somebody, you can feel slight irregularities in it. It’s a precious object that you’re not going to throw away. So if I make 250 or 1,000 copies, those books are going to carry on.
“With the advent of digital publishing, a lot of people ask me if I’m opposed [to it], thinking as a publisher I’m obsessed with the book as object. My answer is no. If you want to read a throwaway paperback that you may forget about, then read it on a Kindle. If you want something in your collection to last, if you love it, then it should be bound in a more caring manner.
“Our first book was a straightforward saddle stitch chapbook. We got into larger work, which was Take a Right at the Tank and Other Ways to Get Home, an account by an elections monitor in Liberia, including a photo journal. It was a thicker book, and one night the others went to an event, and I stayed home, thinking “tonight I’m gonna figure out how to sew this damn book!” I’d seen Japanese style book-stitching, and I took a drill, put holes in it, and played with string until I could figure out a stitch that worked; I made that same box stitch that we’re making today. Over the years I’ve refined it as books have had different strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned the various tricks you need to able to print a 90-page book like this, as opposed to a chapbook.
“I try to make each book into enough of a success for me to be able to fund that book and the next one. That means there is a one to two book insurance-policy I can build in to protect me from failed projects. It’s not like the publishing industry now, where if you fail, you’ve made 10,000 copies of a book and you send it to a distributor and have three months to clear the shelves. If it doesn’t sell, they send it back, your press eats it, and it’s a major hit to your business. When fewer and fewer people are buying hardcopy books, it’s no surprise that large publishers are producing books that are part of a formula they know already works. What we’re doing here is trying to find a new formula that works, and expanding the realm of what’s possible for publishing, rather than working to just make money off of it. The books have to be winners at large publishers, but I can take a chance on a loser, and I can also discover a surprising winner.
“This book and the last two books have been printed on Nina Environment paper, which is 100 percent recyclable, and has been made using wind-generated power; it’s as environmental as you can get, both heavy enough that it feels good and thin enough that I can print 90 pages and still bind it. You go into shops now and see so many magazines, so many journals, so many new publishers—every day there’s a new publisher. All of them are just putting out paper and paper and paper, and if you’re going to do that you need to be able to justify it. You have to be able to justify that (a) the work you’re publishing is new and different and needs this, and (b) that if you’re going to use that paper that you do it responsibly. We’re using recycled materials whenever we can and working as sustainably as possible. It’s a big part of our goals.”