The Pub Is Here: An Interview with New Indie Lit Company Founder Molly Gaudry
Attention indie authors and publishers, current and aspiring: after months of planning, legal work, and anticipation, today—June 1st, 2011—marks the official launch of The Lit Pub, a new publicity company/online bookstore completely devoted to independent literature. One of their most ambitious plans: to create a viable small press, non-Amazon alternative. Others: to replace current, lame distribution models and to hawk a bunch of great books they personally like (36 books a year—more info on that below). Founded by writer Molly Gaudry, the Lit Pub team consists of fellow writer/entrepreneurs Christopher Newgent, Sales Director; Erika Moya, Social Media and Marketing Editor; Mike Bushnell, Director of Business Development; and Elizabeth Taddonio, Community Manager—along with a staff of publicity assistants, sales assistants, and a board of advisors.
I talked to Founder Gaudry yesterday over a “shared” Google document (Gaudry’s suggestion) about what it is exactly that The Lit Pub will do, whether The Lit Pub would ever represent Philip Roth (or Woolf, or Borges), and whether what they’ve got planned is dedicated and meticulously scrappy enough to maybe just work.
I: “HOW MANY AUTHORS WOULD WANT TO ASK PEOPLE TO TALK ABOUT THEIR BOOKS ON THEIR OWN WEBSITES?”
THE FASTER TIMES: What were you doing today before sitting down to answer these questions?
MOLLY GAUDRY: Well, because tomorrow’s our launch, I woke up this morning pretty frazzled. But I pulled it together and went out for coffee, bought some Tyvek Grip-Seals, which are more expensive than you would expect ($40 for 50 envelopes!, but necessary because they are lightweight and waterproof and therefore great for shipping T-shirts), and then on the way here I chatted with my banker, and now I am answering emails.
TFT: What exactly is The Lit Pub? Where did the idea come from?
GAUDRY: The Lit Pub, in simplest terms, is a book publicity company/online bookstore. But we are more than that, too. “Pub” may stand for publicity and publishing but it’s also meant to work as “pub,” a gathering place, a hangout, a comfy spot to chat with friends.
I would say that the idea started at AWP this year. I asked a bunch of publishers if they wanted to go in on a large batch of ISBNs (which Bowker will not actually allow us to do). But then this idea of pooling resources quickly became larger than ISBNs, and in the end what we have here is the result of many months of brainstorming with Christopher Newgent, Matt Bell, Erika Moya, Mike Bushnell, and about 40 publishers that gave us feedback about what we might be able to do for them.
TFT: Who are some of the authors you’re representing first?
GAUDRY: In June, I’ll be representing Lidia Yuknavitch; Chris Newgent will be representing Ethel Rohan, and our guest publisher for the month, Mike Young, will be representing Ofelia Hunt.
We each also have our own library of recommendations (like, hey, if you like my featured book you might like these, too), and the authors represented there collectively are: Selah Saterstrom, Claudia Smith, Lydia Millet, Daniel Bailey, Mary Ruefle, xTx, Aaron Burch, Joe Young, Jason Bredle, Rachel B. Glaser, Stacey Levine, Jamie Iredell, and the five authors from Rose Metal Press’s recent anthology: Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller.
TFT: What are some of the things that The Lit Pub will be able to do for writers that we wouldn’t be able (or want) to do ourselves?
GAUDRY: One thing for sure is that we’ve got an awesome website (thanks, Fuzzco!) that is built to hold a lot of content. It’s user friendly and intuitive, and everything will always be archived and update-able. So in this way, we are able to provide authors with a working “home page” for their book that has a ton of information—blurbs, trailers, reviews, interviews, purchasing options, and tons of content that others have written about the book in one easy location.
We will be working our butts off to create a buzz about our books, on our own website and on Facebook and Twitter, on behalf of our authors. This is the kind of Internet publicity some authors simply don’t have the time for, or desire to do themselves. Particularly when you consider that we’ll be generating ongoing conversations about these books for months at a time. How many authors would want to ask people to talk about their books on their own websites? That is almost an impossible task, but that’s where we come in.
II: “THE AUTHOR CAN SELF-PROMOTE, BUT THE LIT PUB IS, IN ADDITION, GOING TO CULTIVATE A FAN BASE AROUND THE BOOK, ON BEHALF OF THE AUTHOR.”
TFT: What you said about creating buzz via Facebook and Twitter is interesting. I mean, we both know many writers of our generation are already using those mediums (some, very heavily) to promote their own work. Could you talk a little more about how The Lit Pub will be working in ways that might be more effective than the writer simply posting about something they wrote in their status updates?
GAUDRY: Well, I’m not sure there is any difference if the writer or The Lit Pub posts an update. However, how many times can the writer post an update about one book? We’ll be posting updates about our posts, about people commenting on our posts, about people who reblog or Tweet or Facebook about our posts, and then we’ll also update about reviews and interviews and all of that. So it’s like this: the author can self-promote, yes, and many of our friends and colleagues do this just fine on their own, but The Lit Pub is, in addition, going to cultivate a fan base around the book, on behalf of the author.
TFT: How might what you’re doing differ from the in-house approaches that a larger publisher might offer their writers?
GAUDRY: I think an in-house publicist needs to try really hard to get their authors’ books reviewed; they probably also need to try to set up the authors’ reading tours and maybe even a radio tour. We’re not going to do those things. We’re going to focus our energies on our own website, and maybe in the future the in-house publicists will contact us about their upcoming releases in advance, to see if we’d be interested in featuring the book on our site. We’d love to hear from the in-house publicists; we’d love to receive ARCs to consider. In fact, Lidia’s publisher, Hawthorne Books, has an in-house publicist, and we’re all working together on Team Lidia!
TFT: Would The Lit Pub ever take on a client who was on a major publisher such as, say, Random House? Would The Lit Pub represent Philip Roth?
GAUDRY: This is a good question. And the answer is no. If there comes a time when we have really expanded and brought on many more publicists and multiple guest publishers at once that can devote their time to the indies, then that could change, but for now I’m going to say no.
I don’t know where I’d be without the independent publishing community; I mean, I wouldn’t have a book; I wouldn’t have read in as many cities as I have; I certainly wouldn’t have the online presence that I do. So there’s no reason not to try this thing and see if it can give back to the community as much as the community has given me.
TFT: I don’t mean this to necessarily be an absurd question, but would The Lit Pub represent a deceased author, on behalf of their estate or publisher? Would The Lit Pub represent Virginia Woolf? Borges?
GAUDRY: Interesting. I only see one flaw with this, and it has to do with our mission, which is to connect readers with the writers we represent. Loosely, yes, we could introduce readers to deceased authors’ writing, but we can’t really introduce them to the actual authors. Part of what’s cool about TLP is that we have these relationships with authors that are willing to get involved and engage with our audience. So I guess we’ll just have to deal with this one if and when it presents itself in reality?
III: “I AM NOT WRITING ANYMORE.”
TFT: What made you want to seek work as an independent publicist?
GAUDRY: Simple: I need a second job. For the past several years I have always taken on adjunct work at whatever university will have me. But this is tiring and there’s no joy in it for me. Some people are meant to teach freshman composition. I think, maybe, not me. Or, at least, not as an adjunct who gets no benefits and no job security from semester to semester. So to be perfectly honest, I wanted to find a long-term solution that would allow me to do something I would enjoy (and I definitely enjoy reading books and talking about them) and I also wanted to find a way to make money doing it. So far, I’m in a fair amount of debt because of The Lit Pub, but that’s an investment I was willing to make. I believe in The Lit Pub, and I believe it has the opportunity to positively impact the independent publishing industry.
TFT: Many of us already know you as a pretty serious and dedicated fiction writer. How’s it going, balancing The Lit Pub with your work as a writer? I imagine there’s a fair amount of interplay between the two—or not?
GAUDRY: I am not writing anymore. If I drop dead today, I’ll be upset that I didn’t get to see The Lit Pub launch, but I won’t care about my writing. If the only book I had in me was We Take Me Apart, then that’s what I’ll leave behind, proudly.
GAUDRY: Eh, it’s more like having decided some time ago to not feel bad or guilty for not writing. It comforts me to think that I’m the kind of writer who just waits for another book to come. And until it does, I’ll wait, happily and guilt-free.
TFT: A few years ago, an editor friend of mine once told me that my starting a literary magazine was “going to cost me a novel.” At the time I resented him for this statement—it seemed incredibly presumptuous to me, also kind of rude—but three years later, I can see where he’s coming from, that he was speaking from a kind of personal experience. Do you have this fear, that starting something as ambitious and work-intensive as a new business will have a negative effect on your literary output? How have you been navigating it?
GAUDRY: I totally understand where your friend was coming from. And I worry all the time about how this business might take over my life—but maybe it already has. Still, I just keep thinking about how I believe it’s a good idea, and all we really have to do is find readers and ways to keep them coming back to our site. The bigger our audience, the bigger our potential. Eventually, I’d like to have multiple guest publishers at once, and it would be great to have many more publicists. The great thing about an online business is we can all work from home… but one day I think it would be cool to have offices. To have our bricks and mortar bookstore on the ground level and to have some cool lounge-area offices upstairs, where we all work together and goof off on the Internet as our full-time day jobs. Seriously, I mean, you know?
TFT: What can we look for or expect from The Lit Pub in the near future?
GAUDRY: As soon as our loans are paid off and we have generated some income, The Lit Pub will begin funding film projects—book trailers, short films, and documentaries.
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