The Story of Dzanc Books

Jeremiah Chamberlin

They also learned how integral a distributor was to their success. In the first year of business, Wickett had to call bookstores individually to solicit orders for their books. Then he’d invoice, package, and drive each one to the post office. Needless to say, this was time consuming. Especially considering the largest order they ever received that year was for twelve books. And, of course, their lack of distribution wasn’t by choice. They had hoped to work with Consortium, but the company’s policy was that they wouldn’t carry a publisher who had less than ten titles in print. And at that time they’d only published Kesey’s.

Then, as they say, the wind began to change. In March of 2006, Publishers Weekly ran that one-page story touting them as “the future of publishing,” and the next morning they woke up with e-mails offering distribution from both Consortium and PGW. They went with Consortium and by August they were in its first catalog.

The success of Kesey’s collection brought them further attention, both from the literary establishment and fellow writers. Soon after Kesey’s book was released, Yannick Murphy’s agent contacted them, Wickett explained. “Her agent wrote me and said, ‘I know from your blog that you really liked Yannick’s last novel, which was a McSweeney’s book, and we’ve got a story collection we’d like you to consider. Little Brown is publishing her next novel, but they don’t want the stories.’ So I said, ‘Sure.’”

“Coming out of the gate with those two writers helped cement our reputation,” Gillis added. “And since then—objectively speaking—I think our list is amazing.”

It would be hard to argue. In the last four years Dzanc (or its imprints) have published fifty-two books and five chapbooks, most of which are literary fiction, and many of which are award-winning titles. Those imprints themselves are a wonderful testament to Dzanc’s mission to promote literature. They now support four other presses—Black Lawrence Press, OV Books, Keyhole Press, and Starcherone—as well as literary journals—Absinthe and Monkeybicycle. Plus, they started their own online literary journal, The Collagist, edited by Matt Bell, the series editor for their Best of the Web anthology. Yet despite being under the Dzanc umbrella, these publications are completely autonomous in terms of staff and editorial work; Dzanc merely handles distributing and the up-front printing costs. “Our attitude when we heard that some presses were going to go under or needed help was to say, ‘We can help them.’ We didn’t say, ‘We can help them and we can make a lot of money.’ No. We can help them. And if we break even, that’s all we want to do. But we’re saving these places that people have put their hearts and souls into.”

Part of the reason that Dzanc has been able to invest so much of their money in expanding both their publishing and charitable work is due to the fact that they are incredibly fiscally prudent. “One of the first things we decided was that we weren’t going to waste money on an office,” Gillis told me. “We work out of the house. Authors don’t care. We’re not trying to impress anybody. So we save a lot of money that way. People still say to us, ‘How do you do it?’ But we communicate all the time. We communicate hourly—a hundred times an hour sometimes. You don’t need an office next door. You can do everything you need to do online. There’s no reason for the logistics to be physical.”


Hoorah for Dzanc

In this era of retrenchment from all things creative, lovely and life sustaining--particularly the commercialization and conglomerization of language-- one success story is a breath of clean air. Thank you.

Interesting and important it is, that the founders of Dzanc Books have skills that are agreeable to the corporate model that contributed to the production and promotion of their venture.

I note, though, that only after a known "establishment"--"Publisher's Weekly"-- gave the company a positive review were theycontacted and able to advance.

My father often said that "contact" was the most important component one could have. He meant, "contact" with someone who has the ability to assist. you. Publisher's Weekly was the "kiss of death" for my first publication. Giving my work to someone who was unqualified to evaluate it provided a devastating review, despite George Garrett, the Dean of southern writing, having given it a superlative review--and inclusion in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Yearbook 2002.

The luck of the draw?