Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ye Olde Partners Page

Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff Decided to Publish Books and Sell Them Only in Indie Stores. Are They Crazy?

Ye Old Partners Page wanted to know, so we asked writer Jerry Dennis, author of The Living Great Lakes, The Windward Shore, Canoeing Michigan Rivers, and many other books to explain…

Jerry’s response:

No doubt about it, we’re crazy. But I think it’s a good kind of crazy.

Artist Glenn Wolff and I have made our livings illustrating and writing books for nearly 30 years. In that time we've seen the publishing industry go through the most dramatic changes since Guttenberg.

When we met in 1986, Glenn was a regular illustrator for the New York Times and for magazines like Audubon and Sports Afield, where my nature essays were also appearing. We teamed up, signed with an agent, and started publishing with New York houses. We've enjoyed—and hope to continue enjoying—all the benefits big houses bring to a project.

But we've always made time for less conventional projects, as well. We publish in literary journals and small presses we admire, such as Alice Greene & Co of Ann Arbor, who this fall brought out a chapbook of my prose poems (A Daybreak Handbook, with illustrations by Glenn Wolff and cover design by Gail Dennis). We've allowed our art and words to appear on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and a park bench. And we've published limited-edition books and broadsides with letterpress artist Chad Pastotnik of Deep Wood Press and watched those works go into permanent collections at Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Almost from the beginning we've wanted to run a small press of our own. Our chance came this summer, when we teamed up with Gail Dennis, a graphic designer with 30 years’ experience designing books and other publications and who is superbly organized and a master at implementing ideas. We named the press for the sugar maple in Gail’s and my front yard and Glenn designed a logo featuring it.

And then we made a momentous decision: Big Maple Press would publish books that can be sold only in independent stores.

Why? First, because we want to stay small. We've heard too many stories about start-ups driven into bankruptcy when big distributors ordered thousands of books then returned them. We’d rather work closely with a single distributor—Partners, of course—and with a manageable number of independent stores that appreciate our books and might be inspired to hand-sell them.

Second, because we hate bullies. I was one of 600 authors who in September signed a full-page letter in the New York Times protesting Amazon’s business tactics. As a Macmillan author, I saw the buy buttons on four of my books disappear from Amazon’s website in 2010, when Macmillan refused to buckle in to unreasonable price demands. We saw the same tactic used this year against Hachette. Glenn, Gail, and I decided we could make a few books that are impossible for the Bully to get his hands on.
But there’s a third reason, and it’s the one that matters most. Glenn and I owe our careers to independent booksellers who championed our work from the beginning, back when the big chains wouldn't bother with us. It seems only right at this stage of our careers that we should publish special editions that can be purchased only in indie stores.

Finally, we’re here—we've always been here—because we love books. We love writing, designing, and illustrating them, proofing them, opening the first carton of a new title, organizing them on our shelves, opening their covers and burying our noses in their pages, settling into our chairs on winter nights and losing ourselves in them. We've poured our hearts into all of our books and made them the best that we could. Now we have a chance to make them even better.

Is that crazy, or what? We’d love to hear what you think.


Read Jerry’s paean to independent bookstores:

Read about the genesis of Jerry’s and Glenn’s HarperCollins bestsellers, now out in indie-only editions from Big Maple Press:

It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky:
The Bird in the Waterfall: Exploring the Amazing World of Water:

For more information:
Contact Jerry Dennis at jcdennis[at]charter[dot]net.

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