Q&A: Kirkus Reviews Word on the Street


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.