Interview with Jonathan Marcantoni, Publisher
How did La Casita Grande start?
LCG was the culmination of six years working as an editor and then as an Editor in Chief at a pair of small indy presses, Savant Books and Aignos Publishing. During my time at those two companies, I sought out Latin American and Latino writers and was able to learn a lot about the industry and the different challenges facing writers of color and writers outside the United States. I wanted to create a company that addressed many of those issues, especially the problem of the kinds of books that are published and pursued by largely white editors as well as the handful of Latino-owned presses. It’s not just a mainstream problem, our own community pushes for the same stories to be told in the name of marketing. And, to be honest, I’m not a bestselling author myself, even with an IPPY award, even with having received some bigtime media coverage for some of my projects, like in Huffington Post and NBC Latino, but it’s that very experience that has taught me how steep the hill is to climb to get noticed. I understand why the business caters solely to one type of Latino or Latin American narrative. There has been some proven success, but what interests me more is proving that success can transcend those models, since once upon a time, those now “safe” genres were a big risk. So LCG was all about making an entire company looking for the next big risk.
Tell us a bit about LCG Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
LCG Press seeks two main goals: To provide a space for innovative and forward-thinking literature, that not only remakes established genres but dares to create its own, and to provide a space where writers to develop their skills and receive constructive feedback that adheres to their vision and intent, rather than molding them to be like somebody else. The Lounge is where we give people that learning space, but also with our internships, I am able to develop future editors for acquisitions, proofreading, line edits, etc. With our signed authors, we give them instructions on building their social media presence as well as developing their skills at hosting events and participating in local functions to engage their communities. Our aesthetic is one that is author centric, because especially for writers of color, there is so much pressure to sacrifice parts of themselves, and here we allow them to be whatever they want to be, and celebrate it. So, the aesthetic is cutting edge, and adapting to whatever comes our way. My influences, funny enough, aren’t even to be found in publishing, but rather in theatre and things like artist collectives, where creativity is forged via community collaboration and respect for the individual’s perspective and intent.
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?
We have already published the surreal comedy Dysfunctional Males by Fernando Sdrigotti and the poetic, real time account of living through 2016 Spanish Coffee: Black, No Sugar by A.B. Lugo. The rest of 2017 is dedicated to Spanish books, my own Tristiana in August, which explores, in kaleidoscopic fashion, the line between theory and reality in regards to activism and revolutionary politics via dialogues, monologues, and vignettes that mimic painting and photography. In October, we will release Mateo by Carlos II Ocasio Díaz, which is a supernatural mystery about a man who has out of body experiences trying to track down his brother’s killer and discover the truth about himself. We already have as eclectic a lineup in 2018, beginning with a short story collection revolving around mental illnesses, a YA adventure fantasy, a drama about Latino expats in Japan, a feminist magic realist short story collection, and a poetry collection from Havana that mixes the personal and the political in unexpected, mind altering ways.
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.
Education is key, and I don’t mean writing classes, I mean editors taking the time to not just tell an author, “Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook and promote your work,” but actually take the time to school them on how to use those platforms, and to give them greater assistance in doing events and interviews. I have worked with many an experienced writer who doesn’t know the first thing about approaching the media, and it’s like, that is really essential stuff to know! And these presses, they are very, very busy, and often times, as is our case, running a business while balancing a day job, but it is an investment to take the time to educate your authors on how to take their book beyond the release date or first weekend. Taking the few hours it requires to give your author a bit of assistance in learning these ropes pays off in the long run. I also think small presses should limit the amount of books they publish a year. I get the impetus to want to print a dozen books in a year, but the quality suffers. And quality is king. That book is going nowhere if it looks like it was thrown together at the last minute.
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 La Casita Grande?
I completely understand why presses are charging for certain things that in the past you wouldn’t do in order to avoid bad reviews on sites like Predators & Editors. The idea of a no expense publishing house is perfectly reasonable when you are a large company with plenty of revenue. Indy presses don’t have that luxury, and the owners are oftentimes on shoe-string budgets and have bills to pay. I completely understand and I wish more writers spent time as editors themselves so they could get away from the author bubble of art and expression and see that their art and expression is supported by business needs. That’s just how it is.
That being said, we are an imprint of Black Rose Writing, a medium size press that has very generously footed most of our bills. We have to pay in for certain things, like festivals and book copies. We try to keep our author’s expenses as low as possible, and we don’t pressure them to buy so many copies or that they must attend a festival—we know they have budgets too and we won’t make them feel bad if they don’t have the money to do certain things. But if we didn’t have the support of a parent company, we couldn’t take on the expenses of running a company on our own. If that were the case, the book side of LCG would not have survived without charging some kind of fee. I don’t like fees, and to be honest, had we been forced to charge fees I would not have started the company, at least not the book side of it. The Lounge would be around and that’s it. My own ethics prevents me from doing that, even though I recognize that I may be naïve on the subject.