Do It Yourself

A Few Words with Steve Almond

A lot of readers probably know Steve Almond for  his fiction collections The Evil B.B. Chow and My Life in Heavy Metal (published by Algonquin and Grove respectively) and his nonfiction titles Candyfreak (Algonquin, 2004), (Not That You Asked) (Random House, 2007), and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life (Random House, 2010). Yet while maintaining a high level of success with works from major publishing houses (including a forthcoming fiction collection due this Fall), the author has also gone the do-it-yourself route with his most recent titles Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. With these DIY endeavors in mind, Almond recently took some time to answer a few questions about self-publishing and the effort that went into his labors of love.

You’ve published three DIY titles—Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. What led you to publish these titles on your own rather than seeking a more “traditional” publishing arrangement?

Initially, I did it because I sensed that it didn’t really make sense to partner up with a corporation to make these little, idiosyncratic books. The editors I spoke to didn’t get what I wanted to do, or how it was supposed to make money. They were probably right about the latter. But now that authors can make books pretty easily, I just said, The heck with it, and did it myself. Here’s a more lengthy explanation: Presto Book-O (Why I Went Ahead and Self-Published)

I love the dimensions and overall design of This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey. The book has the feel of something religious zealots might hand out on the subway, or something meant to be concealed due to its subversive content. It also gives off a strong pulp-fiction vibe. How much of a hand did you have in the design? Was there dialogue between you and book designer Brian Stauffer? What was your process like?

Oh, totally. I always had in mind a book that would fit in someone’s back pocket, that folks could carry around. We experimented with a smaller size, then a bigger size, and finally settled on 4.5″ by 6.5″, which feels perfect. Brian’s a genius, so I let him do the interior design and covers. But I did talk with him a lot. It was a real artistic collaboration. As an example, in one early version of the cover for Minute, Honey, the lady in black is holding a “marital aid.” We both felt that was too overt, so Brian made it a whip instead. Much better.

Along similar lines, did you seek any outside help with editing your DIY titles? With marketing?

I show the manuscripts to my wife and three or four friends, all writers, all sharp editors. And I look over the inaugural edition of the book. As for “marketing,” I don’t do much other than look for opportunities to read from the books, and talk about them.

I notice your DIY books don’t have ISBNs. Was there a reason behind this decision?

Mostly sloth. But I also want the books to be regarded as artifacts more than commodities, and that ISBN number, with a serial code, is one of the things that signals that something is for sale.

Do you regard your DIY titles any differently than the books you’ve published through established houses?

Well, yeah. I think of them as much more personal and idiosyncratic projects. My intention isn’t to create a bestseller, but simply to find readers who might dig them. It’s a huge relief to set the bar a little lower in that way, to detach the work from the sales numbers.

Did you learn anything from publishing these titles on your own? Any advice you can give to authors or would-be publishers who might be thinking about doing the same?

All I’d say is that writers in the early stages of their career should really focus on the work, on making the best decisions they can at the keyboard, and not on how a book is going to move into the world. Those are separate issues. Also, as much fun as I’ve had with the books (a lot), it’s been a lot of work to take on the duties (design, printing, distribution, etc.) that a traditional publisher would handle.

To keep up with all of the latest news on Steve Almond, you can visit him on the web at stevenalmond.com. You can also click on the following titles to order copies of his DIY work: Letters from People Who Hate Me, Bad Poetry, and This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey.