September 16, 2008

Chief Bottle-Washer

Words of caution from Scott Walker, self-described "chief bottle-washer" at Graywolf Press from 1974 to 1994:
Starting a small publishing company takes an angel's combination of idealism, passion, unreasonableness, innocence, naiveté and blind obedience to an inner voice telling you to go heart- and head-long into something utterly likely to fail. It would in fact be a kindness if the venture failed, because success requires so much time and intellectual and emotional energy that it squeezes to death every last healthy impulse you had to start with.

To keep going as a publisher requires luck and a mundane assortment of personality defects. It helps enormously if you have nothing better to do, are out of touch with your feelings (agony, worry, exhaustion, frustration...) and are disinclined to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes at a time. (These faults are more often referred to as commitment, bravery and an ability to do a lot of things at once. This is clearly propaganda.)

This was therapy for me to type.

It is the beginning of Graywolf-co-founder Walker's preface to Keeping the Books: Developing financial capacity in your nonprofit press. (Long out of print!)

Much more encouraging was meeting the future of publishing at the Brooklyn Book Fair: Bruce McPherson's kids!

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