Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Bullets, Booze & Bastards
Meet Jon Bassoff. See the haunted look in his eye? He's a bit strapped for time, blood and amphetamines. This guy is a high school English teacher, father, writer and now publisher. His house, New Pulp Press are the new-kids-bringing-down-the-property-values-on-the-block in the world of crime fiction. They kicked off the year with the fetid stench of Nate Flexer's The Disassembled Man and things only went downhill from there. Jackson Meeks' While the Devil Waits, Stan Richards' Almost Gone and Michael Lion's The Butcher's Granddaughter followed soon after. With a schedule that includes new titles by Jonathan Woods, Pete Risley and L.V. Rautenbaumgrabner over the fall and winter, NPP is also reprinting the likes of Gil Brewer and Lynn Kostoff. From a remote location in the majestic West, JB agreed to answer some questions.
With the general world wide economic shake up and the top-heavy publishing industry in a panic, you picked a hell of a time to start New Pulp Press. What led you into publishing?
While I had toyed with the idea of starting a publishing company for several years, the enterprise gradually started coming to fruition early last year. The company has evolved quite a bit in a short time. Initially, I was hoping just to get a few local writers involved, sell a few copies, buy a few beers. Then the agent for a very talented writer, Lynn Kostoff, contacted me expressing interest in getting a couple of his books reissued. He had felt ignored by the big conglomerate publishers and wanted to try something new. He understood that he wouldn't get rich with New Pulp Press, but he was excited about the product we put out, excited that we would give some control back to the author. I begged him to reconsider, begged him to let another company publish his work, but he was relentless. So we agreed to reissue two of his books: A CHOICE OF NIGHTMARES and THE LONG FALL. So suddenly we've got this guy who rivals James Ellroy on-board and I think, "Holy shit, we've got a real company on our hands. What the fuck do I do now?" And that's what I'm still trying to figure out.
How does having someone of that caliber aboard change your game plan?
Having authors that have already made a name for themselves certainly increases the visibility of our little "punk" publishing venture. Having Lynn Kostoff on board, as well as reissuing some books from a pulp legend like Gil Brewer, means that bookstores and libraries will at least pick up the phone when I call--unlike most girls I meet. It's a great opportunity, but I also feel a lot responsibility. Lynn is used to dealing with the big boys. Now he's dealing with me, a very small boy. I'd like to be able to deliver not for the sake of New Pulp Press, but for the sake of Lynn Kostoff, a great author who has been ignored for too long. It has actually been a big year for Lynn, as his new novel has been picked up by Tyrus Books. I'm very excited for him. And yes, I do feel the same responsibility to my other authors. That's the great thing about being a small press. I can afford to be loyal to all my authors. And they are all wonderful people. Except for L.V Rautenbaumgrabner. Wait until you read his shit. He is not a wonderful person. No, he's not wonderful at all.
Is your editorial department overwhelmed?
Well, there are only three of us who initially read through all of the manuscripts. Over the course of a month we might get fifty or so submissions which wouldn't be so bad, but all of us have day jobs--teachers, pimps etc. So yeah, it's a little overwhelming. I was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by people in publishing, so I've gotten a lot of services such as copy editing on the cheap. But as you read these submissions you realize how much good stuff is out there that might never see the light of day. And you also realize how much God-awful stuff is out there as well. I don't know which kind I like reading more.
So how exactly would you describe the niche that you want to fill?
I'm interested primarily in producing neo-noir books, books that leave behind some of the cliches of typical noir, books that might be described as post-modern. Wow, that sounded highfalutin! I feel like Charles Ardai over at Hard Case Crime has the market covered in traditional noir. I hope our books are a little edgier, a little stranger. The crime fiction that gets me going respects the past, respects Chandler and Hammett and Cain, but also bends the genre in some way. Hard Case Crime is hardboiled. New Pulp Press is cracked with yolk oozing all over a heavily tattooed corpse.
Do you envision a chain store presence anytime soon or ever for New Pulp Press?
I would be surprised. Chain stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble have built-in relationships with most of the larger publishers, and so they usually don't want to waste their time with small independent publishers. It's just not cost effective for them. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, and I don't suppose I would protest to seeing our books on their shelves. But honestly we see ourselves as an anti-corporate, independent press, and we prefer having our books in smaller independent bookstores as opposed to the big box stores. One of the ironies of starting an independent publishing company is the reliance on Amazon.com. I recognize that Amazon is as corporate as it gets, and I recognize that Amazon is taking away business from many independent bookstores. But as a publisher, being able to sell a book directly to the consumer is a powerful tool. Sad to say, we probably couldn't survive without the monster that is Amazon.
With big publishing in a time of crisis, are there any advantages you see to being small? Any new marketing/technology you can exploit to shape the future of publishing?
We use print-on-demand technology which is a bad word in much of the industry. There are several reviewers who refuse to even review a book if it has been printed with print-on-demand, which I find fascinating. Many people equate POD with vanity presses, which is false. It is true that many vanity presses and self-publishing services use POD technology, but it is just that: a technology. The traditional mode of publishing that the big boys use is off-set printing. They print thousands of copies and the cost per copy goes down the more they print. Because of the overwhelming volume of books they print, they can take a chance on having unsold inventory. In fact, big publishers assume that most of their books won't sell. They count on a handful of books to subsidize their other titles. The unsold inventory is a cost of doing business. Naturally, I can't afford that cost. Print-on-demand technology means the book is only printed when it has been ordered by a consumer. While each copy costs more to print, it is a fixed cost, and there is no risk of unsold inventory. You order a copy from Amazon or wherever, and that one copy is printed and shipped. Print-on-demand is the only way I could have made this work. It also allows me to take more chances on more authors. Many of the books we publish wouldn't fly with corporate publishing because they're too avant garde, too risky. But with our business model we can afford to take those chances. It's liberating in a way. Interestingly, I firmly believe that all publishers, big or small, will use this printing method in the not-so-distant future. As the printing costs of POD continue to decline (the quality is already on par with off-set) there will be no reason not to use the technology. I know the big fear within the industry is quality control. If POD becomes acceptable, they reason, then anybody will be able to publish whatever they want. And they will no longer be able to be the gatekeepers of literature. But is that such a bad thing?
Are you having a hard time getting reviews?
Well, getting pre-publication reviews (Publishers Weekly etc.) is very difficult for any small press. They are so overwhelmed by submissions that they will look at any reason to eliminate a title from consideration. We have been fortunate to get many post-publication reviews, mostly from bloggers like yourself. The Disassembled Man has gotten ten or more reviews, mostly positive, including a very good one from Crime Spree magazine. The Butcher's Granddaughter, our latest title, is in the hands of many reviewers as we speak. Since we can't afford any type of real marketing, and we can't pay off bookstores to display the covers of our books, the blogosphere is our best bet. And so far I've been real encouraged by the response.
How long do you think New Pulp Press will last? Will you go full-time any time? Will you burn out and remain in the day job world forever?
I'd like to think we'll be around for a while, but you never know. I am a busy dude, no question. In addition to publishing and writing, I've got a couple of toddlers at home, not to mention my day job as a high school English teacher. But publishing gives me a satisfaction that I'd like to hold on to. Let's just say this: it's far too early in the game to become too nostalgic or speculative.
Now that you're a publisher and an editor, will you continue to write?
Yeah, I'll continue to write, although my time is much more limited now. I'll just have to give up my addiction to day time soaps.
(DON'T FORGET THE CONTEST TO WIN JAMES ELLROY'S DESTINATION MORGUE. READ BELOW.)