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Dzanc Books Interview with Steve Gillis

Dzanc_2Dzanc Books first caught my eye in a recent Wired article entitled From Old to New Media: Blog Begets Publishing House.  It's great to see a new independent publisher like Dzanc do so well out the gate, but what's particularly interesting is that they got their start in the blogopshere.  Dzanc Founder and Publisher Steve Gillis was kind enough to take the time out of his schedule to answer the following questions:

JW: There hasn't been a lot of interest in starting new publishing outfits and yet your Dzanc Books operation shows there's plenty of upside available.  What do you attribute Dzanc's success to?

SG: Well, thanks for the complement.  I truly believe that our success is predicated on our desire and determination to make Dzanc work.  What do I mean by that?  Well, irrespective of our love of books, Dan (Wickett) and I didn't enter into Dzanc with any false notions.  We knew if we were going to succeed we had to have a plan and stick to it.  I was able to line up a considerable sum of money so we didn't start Dzanc until we knew we had the funds to be viable for no less than 10 years even if we didn't bring in another penny.  (And, of course, we fully intend to bring in additional funds through our books and, as a 501(c)3 to obtain grants and contributions to sustain the charitable programs Dzanc sponsors.)  Second, we refused to worry about the market and making a profit.  Our focus is solely on the writing and the author.  If that sounds inconsistent with my first statement, let me explain.  We believe, if we publish what we feel is great and worthy writing that the books will find readers.  And if the book finds an audience then Dzanc will get a return on its investment.  We also understand to make a buck you have to spend a buck so we aren't afraid to put our backing behind a book in order to expose it to the public.  We are currently sending Roy Kesey out on a 12-city tour for his book "All Over."  We flew Roy in from China, and are flying him around the country to read because we believe in Roy and his work.  Our success at Dzanc, to date, is based on keeping true to our vision which is to support and publish great writing, while at the same time being savvy about business.  We are a non-profit, with our full commitment to community and our writers.  This doesn't mean we are naive.  Both Dan and I have been involved in the witting community for a long time, and we have learned a thing or three about what is needed to make a publishing house a success and this starts with finding great writing and making our writers happy.  The profit margin and bottom line is of no interest to us.  We know what we need to survive.  Good books.  Everything else falls into place.

JW: Dzanc is a virtual operation.  What are the pros and cons of not having a physical office?

SG: There really are no cons now.  Dan's house and my house are Dzanc.  We can do all that has to be done, receiving and reviewing manuscripts, conducting daily business, literally everything from our home offices.  Plus we save on the cost of renting office space.  We have many interns working for us, other employees, a Board of Directors, a PR person, a design person, and all is easily coordinated without having to come into a specific set office.  So for now, I truly see no need to rent space.  To be candid, as someone who practiced law many moons ago, I know something about ego and such.  Dzanc doesn't need to put on a show, to rent office space and impress clients or authors.  Dzanc stands for the integrity of publishing, something if I can be candid, which has been lost these last 20 years.  Sure, we can afford a nice office but why do it?  What do we need it for if that money can be better spent on our community programs, our Dzanc Prize and Dzanc workshops and Dzanc Writers in Residency Programs, and on our Dzanc authors and our books.  We are not only perfectly happy to work as we do, but with email and such, entirely more efficient and productive.

JW: How does The Emerging Writers Network tie into all this?

SG: Part of what let Dan and I know we could make Dzanc work was our combined connections in the writing community.  EWN is clearly a great blog and has enabled Dan to connect with many fantastic writers.  We also use EWN to get out news about Dzanc to EWN members.

JW: How important has the blogosphere been in Dzanc's success?

SG: Here, too, is something Dan and I understood out the gate.  We saw the world was changing insofar as the print media was abandoning literature while the electronic online world was growing exponentially.  We used our connections through blogs and availed ourselves to the online editors etc we knew and have certainly relied on the electronic media to get the word out about Dzanc.  To date, the blogosheres are Dzanc's best ally and we don't expect this to change.  Moreover, we fully intend to expand our relationship.  Dzanc will be publishing annually a Best of the Web anthology so our commitment to the online literary world is certainly reciprocal.  We are truly indebted and immersed in the literary blogs and online community which is clearly the wave of not only the future but the present.

JW: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

SG: Ahh, the proverbial question.  I will answer as I tell my students when I teach at Eastern Michigan University - Read and Write.  Work hard and commit yourself to writing, do not delude yourself into believing you are a writer simply because you can compose something that has a beginning, middle and end.  If you want to be a writer, don't even think about publishing, worry about becoming the best writer you can be and the publishing side will follow.  Work hard.  I can't stress this enough.  Write and read everyday.  As a writer myself who has been lucky enough to publish two novels - with a third being published by Black Lawrence Press in 2008 - and 2 story collections, I write everyday without fail and never let anything interfere with my writing day.  A writer needs this selfish undivided mind-set.  Work at your craft.  Love and honor your craft by your commitment.  If this sounds corny, sorry.  It is the truth.  There isn't a writer worth a damn who hasn't put in the time and sacrifice to become what he/she is as an artist.  There are no shortcuts.  If you aren't ready to give yourself over to the time that is needed, then go sell cosmetics.  The perfume will cover your stink.


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