Interview with Carl Adamshick, Editor and Publisher, and Natalie Garyet, Managing Editor
How did Tavern Books start?
Tavern Books started in 2009 with the idea that books are public events that happen in solitude. We wanted to model the press after a public space and create an open dialog with readers and writers. Our vision was—and still is—to make beautiful, lasting books and offer an old-world subscription series by mailing books directly to readers’ doorsteps. We wanted to publish new work, but we’re also committed to the backward glance in that we frequently re-issue great work that has fallen out of print. We want lost and obscure—but deserving—books to enter back into the cultural fray.
Tell us a bit about Tavern Books. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
As for aesthetic, we don’t really limit ourselves to one, or identify with any one school. Our mission is to print and preserve books and book culture. We are inspired by poetry collections of the past and by new, engaging works. We like the idea of a tavern as a public forum, a place to meet and talk about culture—something at a remove from a podium or pulpit. In a way we see our press as a book club, and our catalog as a list of book recommendations.
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 quite a few books in the queue. It is always exciting to watch a manuscript turn into a book. We are working on a book by Elisabeth Borchers translated from the German, a reprint of Ai’s Killing Floor, and we are starting to read submissions for our Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series, a series dedicated to championing exceptional work by women forty years of age and younger. This February marked our third published volume in the series.
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.
Our view from the office is that independent publishing is alive and well. It’s exciting to see so many new presses springing up, even in the face of constant discussion about the death of print, bookstores, and book culture. And we’ve noticed a renewed dedication to translation among many of these small, independent presses in the US—perhaps because editors that are not as sales-driven are emboldened to take risks on authors who aren’t widely known to an English-speaking audience. The more translation, the better, in our eyes! If anything needs to change, it’s the amount of funding available to nonprofit literary arts organizations and the amount of real estate committed to poetry on the shelves of bookstores.
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 Tavern Books?
Certainly, running a press is a stressful endeavor with lots of responsibilities to juggle. To be successful, you have to pay attention to all of the departments and their unique realities; everything from freight costs to distribution fees to the expense of book fair attendance and events affects the value of the book and determines the scope of our production. Tavern Books publishes six titles a year, and a considerable amount of our income—roughly 70%—comes from foundations and individual donors who understand the cultural significance and importance of a book’s publication. Sales are a relatively minor portion of our income. We are like public radio or a city orchestra in that way. As for reading fees, it’s a fine line. Reading submissions for a series or a contest takes a lot of extra editorial time and resources, and presses need to account for that. But ultimately, as publishers, it’s our responsibility to make sure our authors’ best interests are in mind. Throughout and after the publication process, the author should feel like everything possible is being done to ensure the quality and visibility of his/her book.