Q&A: Kirkus Reviews Word on the Street

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I recently had the pleasure of talking to Kirkus Reviews for their “Word on the Street” series about the joys and challenges of working for an independent publisher of international literature. We cover bookstores, diversity, and other signs we’re living in a great time for smart literary publishing.

What are some upcoming trends for the rest of 2016?

Trends can be deceiving. Restless Books began as a digital publisher at a time (late 2013) when everyone seemed to be freaking out about eBooks. Since then, many of our paperless cohort have either shut down or adapted, as we have, by shifting to old-fashioned print publishing. So I would advise caution to anyone devising an Augmented Reality publishing platform (though I’d like to see them try it).

I am hopeful that the growing volume of conversations about race and identity will be reflected in a demand for a broader spectrum of books and authors outside the American mainstream. Let’s hope that the proliferation of literature in translation that has been noted by booksellers in this interview series is not a trend but a lasting transformation.

Speaking of booksellers, it’s gratifying to see independent bookstores doing so well. For all of our technology, storytelling is a human experience. The most effective avenue to book discovery has always been one person saying to another, “You have to read this.” Long may they prosper.  

What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?

Even before the ominous rise of Donald Trump, we made immigration stories a special focus of our list. This year we awarded our first Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing to a fantastically gifted young writer out of Abu Dhabi named Deepak Unnikrishnan, for his novel Temporary People (out in March 2017). Next year we’ll be awarding $10,000 and publication to a nonfiction book by a first-time, first-generation American writer. Submissions open in September; see our prize page for details.  

I’m thrilled that soon we’ll be breaking into international books for young readers. Too often when young people of color browse children’s or YA book sections, they don’t see their faces or their stories reflected in what’s on offer. Fostering a healthy global awareness—and book reading!—from an early age can only be a good thing.

What don’t you ever want to see again?

Books titled “The [   ] Wife” or “The [   ] Daughter.” It’s an appalling trend that needs to die.

Also, speaking as a sometime freelance editor: Aspiring writers who don’t read enough books. If you’re thinking of writing a book, read as many good books as you can, and pay attention. It’s the most important thing for any writer to do.

What is unique about your corner of the industry?

To someone who has worked for one of the “Big Five” publishers, the shift to independent publishing has come as a relief. It is an inescapable fact that the vast majority of books, taken individually, are not profitable. Yet the corporate ethos insists on year-over-year growth and profit, which (in addition to generating an atmosphere of fear and dread in-house) results in often-regrettable hail-mary bets and artistic compromises. It’s exciting to be part of a growing cohort of forward-thinking, independent publishers that, either through a non-profit structure or independent funding, are empowered to prioritize the quality and importance of a work over its potential profitability.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s a favorite pastime among book people to fret about the uncertain future of literature. I like to repeat a joke I first heard from Michael Pietsch, who has seen his share of highs and lows: “The second book to be published on the Gutenberg printing press was about the death of publishing.” We’re still here, everyone. Take a breath.

Nathan Rostron is the director of marketing of Restless Books. Previously, as an online editor, he helped to launch Bookish, an innovative book discovery website for readers. Prior to that, as a book editor at Little, Brown and Company, he edited several award winners and New York Times bestsellers. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Nathan holds a master’s in English and creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s in English from Pomona College.

This interview was published as “Q&A: NATHAN ROSTRON OF RESTLESS BOOKS” on the Kirkus Reviews website on October 19, 2016.

Texas Book Festival Panel with Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jim Shepard: Twisting History into Fiction

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Join me in Austin for this year’s Texas Book Festival as I moderate a panel with two phenomenal authors: Jim Shepard and Viet Thanh Nguyen, in a conversation called Twisting History into Fiction:

“Take a look in history’s rearview mirror with Jim Shepard and Viet Thanh Nguyen as they consider the ways in which they twist war and history into fiction in their novels The Book of Aron and The Sympathizer. Moderated by Nathan Rostron.”

When: Saturday, October 17, 1:00pm

Where: Austin Capitol Extension Room E1.026

 

Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative, and the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the academic book Race and Resistance. He teaches English and American Studies at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. Read more on his website.

Jim Shepard is the author of six previous novels and four story collections, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won The Story Prize. His short fiction has appeared in, among other magazines, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, Tin House, Granta, Zoetrope, Electric Literature, and Vice, and has often been selected for The Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with his wife and three children and teaches at Williams College. Read more on his website.

New Trends in Literary Publishing: A Panel at AWP

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I’d love to see you at AWP! Restless Books will be at this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference, to be hosted at the Minneapolis Convention Center this week from Thursday through Saturday. I’ll be speaking with publishing luminaries Fiona McCrae of Graywolf Press, Jon Fine of Amazon, Deena Drewis of Nouvella, and Kevin Nguyen of Oyster, in a panel on “New Trends in Literary Publishing,” moderated by Jeffrey Lependorf of CLMP, the Council of Literary Magazines of Presses.

What: AWP Panel: New Trends in Literary Publishing

When: Thursday, April 9, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Where: Minneapolis Convention Center, Auditorium Room 2, Level 1

Who:

Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of CLMP

Fiona McCrae, Publisher of Graywolf Press

Deena Drewis, Editor of Nouvella

Nathan Rostron, Director of Marketing at Restless Books

Jon Fine, Director, Author & Publisher Relations at Amazon

Kevin Nguyen, Editorial Director at Oyster

We’ll be talking about a host of issues facing literary publishing, including the changing landscape of digital publishing, new subscription models, longer/shorter formats, digital marketing, the rise self-publishing, and how traditional and new publishers are adapting to the changing climate.

More about the panelists:

Jeffrey Lependorf, CLMP’s Executive Director, has over twenty years of experience in development, fundraising, corporate sponsorship, and strategic planning. He serves as a “shared executive director” for Small Press Distribution (http://www.spdbooks.org). His past work experience includes Development Director for the Creative Capital Foundation, Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project, the Poetry Society of America, and In the Life Media. He is also a professional musician, active as a composer, a “certified master” of the shakuhachi (traditional Japanese bamboo flute), and serves as Director of Music Omi, an international music residency program in upstate New York. His Masterpieces of Western Music audiocourse is available through Barnes and Noble’s “Portable Professor” series.

Fiona McCrae has been publisher of Graywolf Press since 1994, following eleven years at Faber and Faber, in London, where she was a director and executive editor. At Faber and Faber, she worked with such authors as Kazuo Ishiguro, Caryl Phillips, and Howard Norman. In 1982, she moved to Boston to work with Faber and Faber USA. While there, McCrae taught publishing courses at Harvard University and Emerson College. Authors that McCrae has published at Graywolf include Elizabeth Alexander, Charles Baxter, Per Petterson, Salvatore Scibona, Percival Everett, and Binyavanga Wainaina. She currently serves on the board of Books for Africa and is an advisor for Open Letter Press.

Deena Drewis is the founder and editor of Nouvella, an independent press dedicated to novellas. She started Nouvella in 2011, and in the three years since, they’ve picked up a National Jewish Book Award and an Amazon Best Book of December pick, and helped launch the careers of New York Times bestsellers like Edan Lepucki and Emma Straub.

Nathan Rostron is the Director of Marketing at Restless Books, a new independent publisher of international literature, based in Brooklyn. We’re devoted to expanding the horizons of English-language readers with great books and important stories from around the world. Nathan oversees Marketing, Publicity, Sales, and Distribution for Restless. Previously, as an online editor, he helped to launch Bookish, an innovative book discovery website for readers. Prior to that, as a book editor at Little, Brown and Company, he edited several award winners and New York Times bestsellers.

Jon P. Fine is director of Author and Publisher Relations for Amazon.com, coordinating outreach to the author and publishing communities, including the company’s grant program which supports a diverse range of not-for-profit author and publisher groups dedicated to fostering the creation, discussion and publication of new writing and new voices (www.amazon.com/author-grants). He joined the company as Associate General Counsel for media and copyright in January 2006, and subsequently led business development for Brilliance Audio following its acquisition in 2007. Prior to joining Amazon.com, he served as VP and Associate General Counsel for Random House, Inc., where he directed legal affairs for the Alfred A. Knopf division as well as for Random House of Canada. He previously served as Senior Media Counsel at NBC, handling content and associated issues for NBC News, Saturday Night Live, MSNBC, CNBC and other divisions; as counsel at King World Productions for Inside Edition and other “reality-based” programming; and as a litigation associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, where he focused on copyright, libel, internet and other media-related matters.

Kevin Nguyen is the editorial director at Oyster and edits The Oyster Review. He writes regularly for Grantland and has been published online in The New RepublicThe Paris ReviewThe Millions, and elsewhere.

Ilan Stavans at the Texas Book Festival: A Most Imperfect Union

DSC_2041I’m honored that I’ll be speaking with Ilan Stavans—prolific author, translator, critic, Amherst College professor and Publisher of Restless Books—at this year’s Texas Book Festival. Stavans and I will discuss his most recent book, A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States, an illustrated history of our country that serves as a corrective to mainstream received ideas. From the press materials:

Enough with the dead white men! Forget what you learned in school. Ever since Columbus–who was probably a converted Jew–“discovered” the New World, the powerful and privileged have usurped American history. The true story of the United States lies not with the founding fathers or robber barons, but with the country’s most overlooked and marginalized peoples: the workers, immigrants, housewives, and slaves who built America from the ground up and made this country what it is today.

A Most Imperfect Union, by Ilan Stavans

A Most Imperfect Union, by Ilan Stavans

The event, which will also be broadcast on C-SPAN’s BookTV, will be from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on Sunday, October 26, 2014 in the C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent. The festival is held in downtown Austin, TX, along Congress Ave. and in the State Capitol building. I hope to see you there!

A MOST IMPERFECT UNION

Date: Sunday 10/26

Time: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Location: C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent
Authors:
Ilan Stavans
Moderator:
Nathan Rostron

 

Smith Henderson Reads from Fourth of July Creek

Smith Henderson Reading

Join us for a reading and conversation between Smith Henderson, PEN Emerging Writer and highly acclaimed debut author of Fourth of July Creek, and Nathan Rostron, Director of Marketing at Restless Books.

Tuesday, June 3, 7:00pm, Barnes & Noble, 150 East 86th Street, New York, NY 10028

A muscular, hugely ambitious literary debut set against the vivid backdrop of the Montana wilderness, Fourth of July Creek is the story of Pete Snow, a troubled social worker barely on the right side of the law, who tries to keep a dangerously paranoid survivalist from jeopardizing his family, even as Pete’s own family disintegrates.

“This book left me awestruck; a stunning debut which reads like the work of a writer at the height of his power… Fourth of July Creek is a masterful achievement and Smith Henderson is certain to end up a household name.” —Philipp Meyer, author of The Son

Fourth of July Creek knocked me flat. This gorgeous, full-bodied novel seems to contain all of America at what was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment in its history…. Smith Henderson has delivered nothing less than a masterpiece of a novel.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Fourth of July Creek cannot possibly be Smith Henderson’s first book. Its scope is audacious, its range virtuosic, its gaze steady and true. A riveting story written in a seductive and relentlessly authentic rural American vernacular, this is the kind of novel I wish I’d written.” —Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn

SMITH HENDERSON is the recipient of the 2011 PEN Emerging Writer Award in fiction, and was the Phillip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University the same year. His short story, “Number Stations,” won a Pushcart Prize and a finalist honors for the University of Texas Keene Prize, where he was a Michener Center for Writing Fellow. He currently works at the Wieden + Kennedy advertising agency, where he contributed to the Emmy-nominated “Halftime In America” Super Bowl Commercial. Born and raised in Montana, he now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Fox News Video: The Best Books to Give as Gifts

My first appearance as a talking head: dishing on books for Fox News. Watch out, O’Reilly.

Fox News Video: The Best Books to Give as Gifts

Here’s me on the “vanity cam,” which was clearly designed for selfies:

Fox News Selfie

Fox News Selfie

TV and Movie Character Memoirs We’d Love to Read

What if Walter White Wrote a Memoir?

What if Walter White Wrote a Memoir?

Don’t you wish you could know the full story behind your favorite film and TV characters? What was Walter White’s real endgame? How did “Twin Peaks” special agent Dale Cooper keep his cool? Why did Kenny from “South Park” have such trouble staying alive? For at least one of our favorite on-screen heroes, our curiosity has finally been satisfied with the release of “Anchorman” Ron Burgundy’s memoir, “Let Me Off at the Top! My Classy Life and Other Musings.” Inspired by Burgundy’s illuminating tell-all, we’ve put together memoir ideas for our favorite TV and film characters–plus the real-life book each should use for inspiration.

“The Heisenberg Principle: My Life in the Empire Business,” by Walter White

Model: “The Prince,” by Niccolò Machiavelli

Discovered posthumously under the floorboards of a remote New Hampshire cabin, chemistry genius and drug kingpin Walter White’s manifesto reveals the workings of a brilliant but monomaniacal mind. Handwritten in what looks to be great haste, White meticulously lays out his philosophy of family and empire–a mix of Walt Whitman, Machiavelli and Vito Corleone (turns out he loved “The Godfather” even more than “Leaves of Grass”): Master the universe, but keep it in the family at all costs.

“I Loved Lucy,” by Ethel Mertz

Model: “Here’s the Story,” by “Brady Bunch” star Maureen McCormick

Can you blame her? Suffocated by a husband as stingy with affection as he was with money and by a society that didn’t accept her, Ethel retreated into the gentle embrace of vaudeville–and of her favorite tenant, Lucy Ricardo. As she reveals in her startling memoir, “I Loved Lucy,” Ethel and Lucy carried on an illicit, steamy affair beneath the noses of unsuspecting Fred and Ricky.

 Check out the full list on Bookish.