The Dirty Goat is the press's main venue for showcasing American literature since most of Host's books are translations. The magazine also features poetry translations, which are accompanied by the work in its original language. The latest issue, published in February, includes poems written in Czech, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish.
Although Host's initial print runs range from one thousand to five thousand books, the press generally starts with fifteen hundred—five hundred hardcovers and one thousand paperbacks. Ramaswamy works with Bratcher on the design and production of the books—all of which are 5 1/2 X 8 1/2 inches and often feature original art from the author's country of origin on the cover—as well as the Dirty Goat, published in an 8 X 10 inch format. Ramaswamy also handles marketing, sending catalogues and press releases to Host's mailing list, buying print advertising in academic journals, pitching Host to the press, and attending book fairs, such as the one held as part of the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference. "One of the challenges we face in not having access to our authors is promotion," says Ramaswamy, who schedules readings and events when he can. Along with relying on the almighty word-of-mouth, Host reaches out to specific communities that may be interested in its titles—for example, promoting a book like Ambers Aglow (1996), an anthology of Polish poetry, to Chicago's Polish American community. "Because we publish it bilingually, they're very excited to see it there," Bratcher says.
According to Bratcher, a proactive author can provide one of the most effective means of selling books. He cites Anna Frajlich's poetry volume Between Dawn and the Wind as an example: "[Frajlich] is a Polish émigré who teaches at Columbia. Every time she does a poetry reading, she will order fifteen books, and she sells them. She gets a 40 percent discount, and she can sell them for the cover price or she can give them away—whatever she wants to do." Between Dawn and the Wind is one of Host's most successful titles in terms of sales; originally published in 1991, it will be reissued by the press this fall.
Bratcher doesn't let any book on Host's list fall out of print; like Frajlich's, many have gone into a second printing. (In fact, Host's first title, Three Contemporary Brazilian Plays, was rereleased in February.) The press has three distributors—Ingram, Small Press Distribution, and Baker & Taylor.
While Bratcher always hopes to see his titles on booksellers' New Releases shelves, he takes the long view. Small press books, he says, take five years to hit their stride. "A lot of the places where they get reviews are academic journals, and academic journals come out four times a year. So your [book] is going to be hitting the press two years from now, and then five years from now people are going to be picking it up for a course."
Host's largest audience is indeed the academic market, but the press tries to get the word out to any and all readers of literature. As Bratcher admits, that can be hard to do: "I think that in the United States there's a lack of curiosity, and that's a sad thing. Literary fiction is not something that people read a lot of anyway." Neither, he adds, is poetry. "It's difficult to read poetry or literary fiction from another culture, but of course I think it's worthwhile. You learn about other cultures that way."
In this age of globalization, it would seem that translation has the potential to become a burgeoning category for literary publishers. But a recent Publishers Weekly article reported that only 4 percent of the books published in the United States are translations. After all, even in their countries of origin, literary books are a tough sell, in part because of the cultural influence of the United States. "Even in Brazil, Brazilians don't necessarily like to read Brazilian literature," says Bratcher. "Most of my authors in Fourteen Female Voices From Brazil support themselves by translating John Grisham, translating Stephen King, into Portuguese, which takes up their time and creative energy."
But at least by publishing translations, Host has established a niche in the U.S. market. "When I've published American literature, I've become a tiny fish in a gigantic pond, whereas when I'm doing Brazilian literature, South American literature, Polish literature, people know that they can come to me for those kinds of books," Bratcher says. With its steadfast commitment to publishing works that would otherwise be unavailable to American readers, Bratcher and Szoka's press has proven itself to be a fine host to its international stable of authors and their books.
For more information about Host Publications, visit the Web site at www.hostpublications.com; call (212) 905-2365; or write to 451 Greenwich Street, Suite 7J, New York, NY 10013. For more information about the Dirty Goat, visit www.thedirtygoat.com.
Mary Gannon is the editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.