Thursday, March 15, 2012

Atticus Books on "Being Indie"

On "Being Indie" is a monthly feature hosted here on TNBBC. We will meet a wide variety of independent authors, publishers, and booksellers as they discuss what being indie means to them. 

Meet Dan Cafaro. Dan is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, one of my favorite small indie publishing houses. They have a great catalog, with books such as The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer and Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins creating quite the stir.

He also founded the weekly online journal Atticus ReviewDan is no stranger to print and digital publishing. He has 20-plus years experience in the field and has commissioned the work of more than 100 book authors in various genres.

Did you know he was once owner and operator of Chapters Revisited, a quaint brick-and-mortar bookshop in Doylestown, Pa.? And now, he has partnered with TNBBC to share with us his impressions and ideas regarding the question I love asking... What does "Being Indie" mean to you? Take it away, Dan....

This Year's Model:  Being 'Interdie'
By Dan Cafaro

"There's no such thing as independent bookselling.  Who are we fooling?  We have every one of us been dependent from the day we were born.  Interdependent.  That's what being a person means.  None of us exists without all of us." — Andrew Laties, author of Rebel Bookseller

This beginning quote speaks directly to all of us who have chosen literature as our manna and the written word as our pulpit—publishers, authors, bloggers, and booksellers.  In the same vain that David Foster Wallace succinctly dismissed atheism ("In the day-to-day trenches of adult life...there is no such thing as not worshiping.  Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship."), I dismiss independence.  The only choice we get is how to be dependent.  As entrepreneurs.  As artists.  How do we help each other advance and how can others help in return?

At Atticus Books, we rely on the same creative juices, resourcefulness, and sheer force of will that keep the "big six" book publishers alive and relevant.  Our world is filled with the same abundance of wildly talented writers and our mission is largely the same: to tap into the imaginative wellspring of the creative community and strike flint to a concealed geyser.  Discovery is our mission.  Small, life-sustaining revelations, the narrative threads that fill our holy grail.

Where we differ primarily from our dense, gargantuan brethren is in our role and responsibility as curators.  We interdependent small presses mostly set foot on trails guided by muses—and we tend to make our way on instincts and nuance.  Contrastingly, the big six frequently depend on clearly defined roadmaps, established mileposts, and spreadsheet-driven trail marks. 

Our novelists breathe the same air as those who follow all the ground rules, only the liquid that our authors pass around the campfire often comes straight from the tap.  It's served less distilled than what typically ends up being screened, mass produced, and packaged by the majors.  Not always, mind you.  The majors are damn good at what they do.  They don't do it less honestly or earnestly; they're just more contrived.

We at Atticus like the taste of toxins in our water.  What doesn't kill our writers makes them stronger, bolder, more eager to experiment.  And fail too.  We admire writers who understand that failure is all part of growing literary skin.  For word alchemists, failure is not only an option, it's a rite of passage, a badge of honor.

"Being indie" means allowing yourself the freedom to flip the bird without fear of repercussion.  "Being interdie" means supporting the freaks who fly their flags and encouraging them to frolic among us.  "Being interdie" means not only recognizing those who deserve to walk tall and proud, but revering those whose voices demand our attention, even if they crumple and shriek at the mere thought of publicity. 

"Being indie" means thumbing your nose at conformist society and peacefully coexisting with even misanthropic artists whose eccentric spirits are vital to our culture.  "Being interdie" means proactively finding a welcoming tribe, such as Fictionaut, that celebrates diversity and feeds off the collective energy and imagination of the commune.

For the literary arts to prosper in 2012 and beyond, it's essential for the "indie presses" to reinforce the importance of thinking holistically.  Altruistically.  Interdependently.  It's not that last year's indie model is broken.  We've always known that we're nowhere without each other.  It's just high time that we add a layer of clarity to the indie concept and embrace—nay, proclaim—our interdependence.

The indie spirit is stronger than ever.  If we can combine intellectual forces with our brothers and sisters in letters, there's no saying how far our fictional offspring can travel.



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