This is the tenth in Entropy’s small press interview series, where we ask editors about their origins, their mission, and what it’s like to run a press. Find the other interviews from this series in our small press database here and under the Resources tab at the top of the page.
Interview with Editor Gabe Durham
How did Boss Fight Books start?
WITH A DREAM. As a writer, my obsessions had been shifting from fiction to nonfiction, and I was noticing that almost all books about video games were wide, sweeping industry histories. Often they were weirdly fixated on which games made how much money, so it was more a story of capitalism than of gaming itself. These books also tended to talk a lot more about the winners than the underdogs. I’m interested in both.
So I wondered what might happen if we applied the patience and curiosity of the 33 1/3 series (see below) to video games. I began talking to friends about this idea, and the first person who really got it was Ken Baumann, and we dared ourselves into an agreement: I’d start the press if he wrote the first book. Soon after, he also signed on to design our covers.
Tell us a bit about Boss Fight. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Our biggest and most obvious inspiration is the 33 1/3 series for books about individual albums, though it was only after I’d had the idea for Boss Fight that I read a bunch of books in that series, taking close note of what I didn’t care for (the inclusion of fiction, or impossibly dry books like OK Computer) and what I loved in books like Wowee Zowee and Let’s Talk About Love.
Other inspirations: Harper’s Magazine, for how artfully they deploy facts. The Believer, which publishes articles that are always about the subject itself AND some larger truth. Kill Screen, particularly the print magazine, which feels to me like The Believer of video games. Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives, for how nicely he places gaming in a bigger artistic conversation. Polygon’s longer essays often brilliantly integrate research and analysis in a way that I really admire.
The visual aesthetic Ken settled on for the covers is both minimal and playful, which I think nicely communicates the combination of seriousness and play that I’m looking for in each of our books. On one hand, these books are serious bizness and holy shit is it a lot of work. On the other, I enjoy a feeling like I’m getting away with something, publishing book about video games—as if some real adult is going to pop into my life and say, “Okay, Durham, fun’s over.” It hasn’t happened yet.
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?
Matt Bell and I are deep into edits on his book, Baldur’s Gate II, so that’s definitely where my head is right now. It’s going really well. He writes a ton, so already there is about a second book’s worth of material that has been cut from this one.
After Season 2, I hope to continue to push the series in new directions, primarily by working with different authors who bring a fresh take to the games they’ve chosen. I also want to do books in game genres that we haven’t explored yet. But it’s a delicate balance because books about RPGs are a blast and I want to do more of those too.
Beyond content, this next year I’ll be planning to talk to distributors about getting these books into physical book stores. I’d love to eventually have them in comic book stores and maybe even used video game stores as well.
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
Indie press publishing has been exciting since the invention of the Xerox machine made zines possible. The main thing we have now that we didn’t have before is (1) the tools to make books that look great with much lower financial risk, and (2) the tools to promote our books to likeminded people for cheap or free.
I’m also lucky to be a part of a community of indie publishers like Publishing Genius, Rare Bird, Magic Helicopter, Big Lucks, and Civil Coping Mechanism—most of whom have been doing this for much longer than I have.
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 Boss Fight Books?
I came to Boss Fight as a writer who’d edited a couple of lit mags (Keyhole and Dark Sky) with a weird novel out from an indie press—not the MOST marketable start to a writing career—so this is a conversation I’ve been having for awhile now. (The rest of it—running a business, marketing it, etc.—I’ve had to pick up on the fly.) How do we get to make the art we want to make without being predatory or exploitative?
So far, we’ve financed the press mostly through two Kickstarter campaigns (which have together made just under $100,000), and our Kickstarters are based almost entirely on pre-orders: People are kind enough to pay early for a product they will receive months later, which allows us to print the books and ship them out. I find the tornado of a Kickstarter exhausting—a whole month asking for money! But it’s also what allows me to have this gratifying job putting out strange books that should get to exist.
I prefer not to charge reading fees, though I understand the need to do it—particularly for publishers of poetry and experimental prose, where there are a lot of writers but not a lot of non-writer readers.
However you run things, there will be objections. This week I had an exchange with a guy who believed it was wrong of me to have an open reading period for pitches for our upcoming Shadow of the Colossus book. Coming out of indie culture, I take weird pride in open reading periods. I know a lot of great writers and could backdoor one of them into this book easily, but to me the more honorable thing is to open it up let the best pitch win. For this guy, though, I was asking writers to do the unpaid work of pitching me a book just to make my job of “finding” a writer a little easier. I’m still struggling to see his point of view on this, but I did slightly augment the call for pitches to make it clear that writers didn’t have to, like, write a whole book and call it a pitch.
Boss Fight Books is a little over a year old. What surprised you in your first year of publishing books about video games?
Finding readers for the press has on some level surprised me. I’ve never been involved in an artistic project where people care as much as they care about Boss Fight.
I think I’ve been a little surprised that the support has come so much more from the the Thoughtful Gamers crowd and not the Curious Bibliophiles crowd. Going into it I guessed the split be about 50/50, and it’s much more like 95/5.
Last, the drafting process is a fucking miracle. Every single time I work with an author on a book, I’m amazed to watch it transform from a pile of material to a real book.