Interview with Christine Kelly, Publisher; and Danilo John Thomas, Managing Editor
How did Baobab Press start?
Baobab Press is the publishing arm of Sundance Books and Music in Reno, Nevada. Since 1985, Sundance has served the readers, writers, listeners, and friends of Northern Nevada and Northeastern California. The desire to engage in other aspects of the life of books and the creative people who write them turned into Baobab Press, which arose from the cross section of people we have met and the books we came to know at the store. In 2007, after 22 years of book buying and selling, we found ourselves temperamentally suited to the conditions of publishing, its moments of buoyancy as well as its challenges, and it has been exhilarating.
Tell us a bit about Baobab Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The experience of running Sundance Books and Music has guided the press’s aesthetic, and we at Baobab Press hope that a trip through our catalog replicates the experience of walking into your favorite bookstore. We attempt to offer an array of attractive, well-crafted books that range from comic strips and horror, to our literary exploits which receive our designated Red Ochre stripe. In the process of establishing a successful bookstore, we realized that having reliable sellers and a strong backlist allows us to take chances on books that seem important but present more of a financial risk. In all cases, we seek books that communicate and support their themes through new and well-articulated means. We like risk and invention, but more importantly we are looking for quality of thought in work that adds depth to its themes and concerns. And although it is not an official requirement, we tend to select literary work with a strong sense of place at its core.
Our mission at Baobab Press is to utilize our decades of experience in the book industry to promote works of heart and substance that are relevant now and will remain relevant in the future. We aim to collaborate with each author, building relationships on the individual level to facilitate discussion on anything from content to design. We believe that these collaborations end in printed celebrations of vital works that both publisher and author are proud to promote.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
On February 12, 2019, Baobab Press released:
- This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West which includes an amazing introduction from Claire Vaye Watkins, and stories from Tobias Wolff, Chanelle Benz, Percival Everett, Maile Meloy and other amazing writers.
- What It Might Feel Like to Hope: Stories by Dorene O’Brien
- Life Is a Country Western Song: Stories by H. Lee Barnes
- The Dying Time by Bernard Schopen and the fourth installment of Schopen’s acclaimed Jack Ross Novels
- Reckonings: Poems by Ryan Walsh
Forthcoming we have:
- Rogues from Roger Smith, the second novel in the Echoes Trilogy that began in 2017 with Echoes
- The King’s Highway by Dicus, a collection of smart, irreverent single-panel comics
- Pickles Tails Vol. 1, the first in a two-volume collection of all the adventures of Muffin and Roscoe, the Pickles Family pets. This will be our fifth and largest Pickles collection to date
- Our Arizona Baby Animals, the second installment in our baby board book series
- We also plan to extend our This Side of the Divide anthologies into a series with a volume of non-fiction and/or poetry.
We are always trying to diversify our books and authors. We have been moderately successful as of late in bringing in voices from outside the region. In the lists above we have authors from Oregon, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York, among other locales coast-to-coast. This Side of the Divide was a concentrated attempt at inclusivity on all fronts, and in the long run a microcosm of what we would like our catalog to look like. We are, of course, open for submissions of completed manuscripts in fiction, non-fiction, comics*, and poetry.
*Comics can be strips, stand alone New Yorker style collections, visual narratives, or however you define the term. All submissions must be accompanied by art, however. We do not consider scripts by themselves.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
Peoples’ stories always excite us, especially when they convey new information, turn an old thought so that it becomes fresh, or tell an old story in a new way, possibly an interesting form or bent that we have never considered and that offers a fresh take through invention. We also get excited to see the number of presses of all sizes that offer their worldviews and stances through the projects they take on. We feel it serves as a reminder of the many voices and the many ways life is experienced.
In regards to change, we wish the industry, ourselves included, could better inform everyone, from authors to the general public, on the nuances of publication. The publishing process occurs behind the scenes for the most part, but it is involved and rigorous, to say the least, and we think if everyone had a better idea about how it all works there would be a lot less anxiety on all sides.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Baobab Press?
Baobab Press has been in operation for a little over ten years. By the end of 2020 we will have published over thirty titles without charging a reading fee and we have been able to stay viable. We understand this does not work for everyone but it has worked for us so far.
That said, along with publishing an array of quality writers outside of the region, utilizing national distribution services, and working under the traditional mode of investing in these authors and their work, a unique opportunity that the relationship between Baobab Press and Sundance Books and Music offers is that it allows us the flexibility and opportunity to invest in projects of local interest that add value to Reno’s literature and arts community through region-specific publications. We have the advantage of greater sales and ultimate success with these projects through our store. Of course, our other titles benefit from sales in Sundance as well, but this relationship allows us to take a chance on some hyper-local projects where, in select instances, we have asked authors to contribute to print costs if they insist on specific, more expensive options such as hardcovers. In these very rare and specific instances contracts are designed to allow for the reimbursement of these expenses if sales permit. Otherwise, our preference is to follow the more traditional model of investing our resources, as the publisher, in the development and production of selected works and paying out royalties from sales.