- An interview with Natalie Zeldner
Could you briefly describe your press’s history?
Our roots trace back to the Cow Eye Ranch, which gave rise to the town of Cow Eye Junction, then Cow Eye Community College, and then ultimately our publishing house. We had never intended to become publishers, but once we began to experience the sorrowful condition of mainstream publishing—how it has come to be dominated by agents and salespeople and award-winning novelists with trendy coiffures—we realized we had no other choice. We established our imprint in 2014 as a response to all that is regrettable in the world, not just in the realm of book publishing but also as it pertains to the deepest recesses of our collective soul.
Our first title, released in 2015, sold thirteen copies in its first five months before eventually becoming a classic of modern literature. Our second title, an alternative work of literary criticism staking a claim for innovative fiction, was released about a year later. And our most recent title, a novel about an American who moves to Moscow to teach Russians the difference between the and a, came out last spring, though it has struggled to find an audience due to a complexity of factors beyond our control. (Hint: as a small publisher, all factors are beyond our control.) So I guess you could say our history in the field has been brief but generally well-intentioned.
How would you characterize the work you publish?
Editorially, we look for books that challenge the status quo—both artistically and ideologically—and that are intelligent, counter-intuitive and unconventional. We want imaginative works that will be interesting beyond the narrow window of their initial release and accompanying promotional campaign—those that will still be meaningful to intelligent readers in ten, twenty, even twenty-five years. Beyond that, we simply ask that each work contain at least one direct mention of cows or cattle.
Who is your audience, and in what ways are you trying to reach them?
Unfortunately, we don’t have much of an audience at the moment, and in fact, the specialized nature of our books virtually precludes any sort of mass readership. This means that in lieu of proper promotion to the general public, we tend to rely on the avenues that are available to us as an independent press: handwritten pleas scribbled onto napkins, sandwich board advertising at busy intersections, and of course social media. We’ve also had some success being mistaken for iconic postmodern cult figures and intend to continue that inadvertent marketing approach well into the future.
What is your role in the publishing scene?
Unlike most publishers who pride themselves on being professionals and good literary citizens, we delight in being outsiders ill-suited to the rigors and conventions of commercial publishing; needless to say, our “role” in such a scene will be minimal. This is not just a function of our inexperience and ineptitude, but also a deeply ingrained foundation of our editorial philosophy. Nowadays so much attention is directed toward what might be called the “spectacle” of literature—the empty hyperbole and reliance on authorial celebrity, the fatuous shortlist, the pseudo-literary event and tediously cultivated controversy—that a publisher can get caught up in the various ephemera at the expense of the literature itself. We believe the focus should be on the words that make up the story, not the words about those words, or the person who created the words, or the publisher who created that person. Rather than participating in any sort of literary “scene,” we are content to let our titles quietly represent us to the broader world. After all, a publisher should be judged by its books, not a book by its publisher.
What’s in the future for your press?
If not insolvency then quite possibly a violent reckoning with the New York publishing industry. It’s not easy being an independent publisher because there are so many hurdles that have been put up to make it difficult for...