Dzanc Books, a small nonprofit press, is committed to championing innovative literary fiction and nonfiction. Michelle Dotter, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of Dzanc Books, shares her insights about the publishing industry.
Staying afloat in the publishing industry is not an easy task. Publishers have to compete against a deluge of new titles, and they are pitted against incumbents with established brands and massive resources. In the midst of such rigorous competition, several independent publishers are able to achieve international success. Media Context speaks to an editorial representative at Dzanc Books, a company that has made impressive strides in their industry.
About Dzanc Books
Created in 2006, Dzanc, a small nonprofit press, is committed to championing innovative literary fiction and nonfiction, including award-winning titles such as What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg, White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, and The Brunist Day of Wrath by Robert Coover. Dzanc also supports the writing community through the DISQUIET Literary Festival, held annually in Lisbon, Portugal.
We publish adult trade fiction, primarily for readers who enjoy cracking a book open and delving into the deeper meaning within any story. We publish pretty eclectically. The most important thing for us is the craft of the book, how is it written, what risks is the writer taking, and how does it innovate or expand what we think of as a novel, a short story, or a memoir. Most of our books are best classified as literary fiction, though many of them have stripes of horror, science fiction, historical fiction, or Southern gothic.
Overcoming Challenges Of The Publishing Process
Overcoming the Challenges of Working with a Small Team
We're a small staff, so everyone's wearing a lot of hats. That can make production complicated, especially when every project is in a different phase of development.
To overcome this challenge, organization is key. Our production calendar tracks the vital dates for every project, and we try to keep team members in communication and stay ahead of the critical deadlines. That said, sometimes you just have to burn the midnight oil.
Overcoming the Challenges of Publishing during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Our biggest challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic was helping new readers find our books at a time when conferences, events, and readings were cancelled across the board.
To be honest, it wasn't easy. But we focused energy that might usually have been spent on events on personal outreach to book clubs, independent bookstores, and other reader communities, through which we were able to get our books in front of new readers and help our Spring 2020 releases get the readership they deserved.
Publishing with Dzanc Books
How does Dzanc Books' editorial team decide which manuscripts to publish?
We have a very small list, and we acquire selectively. When we do pick something up, it's always because the book has managed to transcend its individual elements - character, plot, style - and become a new whole, something strong and unique that seems to burn with a vital spark. The most important aspect of any acquisition is finding and championing a book that is, on its face, a very well crafted book. Marketing concerns are secondary. We have most of our 2020 list locked down, but we're still reading and acquiring all the time for future seasons.
What would Dzanc Books like to see in its manuscript submissions?
We're always glad to read innovative, unique, and experimental literary fiction. We take submissions primarily through our annual contests, which we run every year from March 1 through September 30. Interested writers can find all the relevant information on our website, dzancbooks.org
Working with Partners
How does Dzanc Books intend to grow its business?
For many years, we've supported the DISQUIET International Literary Festival in Portugal, which gives U.S. and Portuguese writers a chance to meet and work together, learn about different literary traditions, and establish global connections within the writing community. We're exploring the possibility of more community offerings like this, such as additional writers' retreats and author mentorship opportunities.
Does Dzanc Books collaborate with international partners?
We've partnered with international presses a few times, particularly in the publication of a certain title, as we did with The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby this spring (published outside of North America by No Exit Press). We're always on the lookout for more opportunities to bring our books to a wide variety of readers all over the world.
Working with Authors
Would Dzanc Books prefer to work with established authors or novices?
We like working with both established authors and debuts. There are significant benefits to working with authors in both stages of their careers, and a balanced list often includes both. For us, everything begins and end with the book, whether we acquire a submission or not comes down entirely to skill, quality, and the accomplishment of the manuscript.
Does Dzanc Books mainly work with local/regional authors, or authors from around the world?
We primarily work with US authors, but we do have authors on our list from around the world, including, most recently, the UK, Denmark, and Nigeria. We welcome submissions from international authors.
What prominent opportunities can Dzanc Books observe in the publishing industry?
The publishing industry is in an interesting phase of transition right now. With the decline of national and international chain stores and the rise of e-commerce, there are fewer opportunities to get new books in front of potential readers, which means those opportunities quickly get bought up by what you call the "publishing incumbents", the big presses with a lot of marketing money to spend. In a crowded marketplace, it's hard for small press books to get noticed.
How can Dzanc Books utilize these opportunities to remain competitive?
We submit all of our books for multiple awards. We’re very proud of the quality of the books we publish, and the number of them that win awards reflects that quality, I think.
One other very cool thing that is happening right now, at least in the U.S., is the rise of independent bookstores. Unlike chains, these bookstores are liable to champion local authors and tend to be big supporters of small and indie presses as well. We try to make and keep good connections with booksellers, so that they can help us with the most important work: getting our books into the hands of excited readers.
How does Dzanc Books market its products to its target audience?
For the most part, we concentrate on publicity like reviews, excerpts, and feature articles in journals and online magazines, as well as trade reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, Library Journal, and Booklist. Beyond that, we’re eternally grateful to the support of independent booksellers, who are so supportive of small press books.
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