Interview with Fredric D. Price, Publisher
How did Fig Tree Books start?
After a year of pre-planning, Fig Tree Books LLC was created in 2013. Through the end of 2014, work focused on developing the operating business and acquiring the first books, which were published in 2015. The idea for the business came out of my desire to merge my twin interests of Jewish literature and American civilization.
Tell us a bit about Fig Tree Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
The mission is embodied in our tagline: “Publishing the Best Literature of the American Jewish Experience.” We’ve attempted to take the best practices observed throughout the book-publishing business and adapt them to our particular style. We only publish a small number of books so we’re highly selective in our acquisitions. We’re looking for manuscripts that tell a story (whether via fiction or non-fiction) in a compelling, unique way that all readers will learn from and enjoy.
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?
Our next book, which will be out in March 2017, is our first that isn’t a novel: Abigail Pogrebin’s My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. It’s a memoir that takes a deep dive into religious observance for a year and should be enlightening to Jews and non-Jews alike. Several manuscripts are currently “in process,” written by authors of great talent, and we hope that we’ll be able to say more about them soon.
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.
What’s exciting in a small press is that we get to write the rules for ourselves. We’re not shackled with restraints. Sometimes, this translates into taking risks that may not always pay off. I don’t have a prescription for what others in our position may want, but I’d like to see joint ventures established with some of the larger presses, which could reduce overall risk for both parties while preserving each entity’s independence and expertise. Many other industries use this model to varying degrees of success and it’s time to create some experiments in our industry as well.
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 Fig Tree Books?
With the exception of “blockbuster” books, profit margins are wafer-thin (or non-existent) in the book-publishing business. Price increases over what are considered industry norms are literally off the table (in fact, My Jewish Year is our first hardcover and we are offering it below the typical hardcover price) so we have to look for creative ways to generate income. Given the current financial situations in which publishers operate, some ingrained customs should be re-thought. Experiments aren’t always easy, but they need to happen.