- Scenes:Dorothy, a publishing project: an interview with Danielle Dutton
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Could you briefly describe the history of Dorothy, a publishing project?
I founded Dorothy in 2009, with help from my husband Martin Riker, and our first two books came out in the fall 2010. The decision to start the press came out of a lot of different factors, among them, in no particular order: my sense that there weren’t enough presses dedicated to publishing non-commercial fiction; my frustration with the incredibly misogynistic things I would sometimes here otherwise intelligent men say about books written by women; a move to the Midwest after grad school; and the birth of my son. I was experiencing a cultural loneliness, I guess, which spilled over into other aspects of my life. So: a press!
The plan was to do something that could be sustained long term, and was both big enough to make a dent of some kind in the publishing world yet small enough that we could really devote ourselves to doing our best with each book, from making it a beautiful object to getting it reviewed as widely as possible. To that end, Dorothy publishes only two books each year, together in the fall, books that we think, together, say interesting things about what fiction can be and do. We conceive of each year’s pairing as a conversation, and we work to get both books into as many readers’ hands as possible by offering them together at a discount through our website. We also offer a sale on any six Dorothy books for $60 in the hopes of encouraging readers to engage with the list as a project, which is how we think of it: a thing that changes and grows and keeps making new claims about fiction and the world. All of our books—eight right now—have the same slightly unusual size and shape and the same velvety matte finish. I was a book designer before I started Dorothy, and one of my great pleasures is the actual making of the physical book.
Oh, and I should probably say that we’re a press dedicated to publishing women, or mostly women.
What is your role in the publishing scene?
In terms of our authors: I’d like to think Dorothy opens up a space wherein women who write stylistically ambitious, wild, critical, not particularly commercial books can find community, on the page and off. In terms of readers: my hope is that we can surprise and excite someone. I think, too, Dorothy is one of many small presses proving, right now, that publishing can happen and matter outside of NYC, outside of massive advances, outside the status quo. These various presses—from Two Dollar Radio in Ohio to Action Books in South Bend and Siglio in Los Angeles—reinforce my own sense that readers want books that challenge them, make them think, delight in language, feel good in their hands.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
Anyone who can read English is our desired audience! Just as we’re interested in multiplicity in literature, we hope for a diverse readership as well. This is one cool thing about publishing very different sorts of writers: Barbara Comyns’s 1954 novel Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, for example, brought a group of readers to Dorothy’s other books that likely wouldn’t otherwise have found one of Renee Gladman’s novels, say, or Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler (2012).
As for how we reach them, that is a work in progress, but at the moment, it is more or less the conventional ways; that is, through independent booksellers and print and online publicity. For a press of our size, we’ve done well with publicity, including reviews and interviews in places like the L.A. Times, BOMB, Paris Review, PBS.org, The Millions, Nylon, and Publishers Weekly (which has reviewed all of the original titles we’ve published so far), along with the necessary and deeply appreciated support of smaller online magazines and...