Lord of Misrule earlier this month focused on the ideas that the win was both a huge upset and also a coup for small, independent publishers. The novel, which Gordon nearly gave up on after it was rejected by several larger publishers, finally found a home at McPherson & Co., a tiny literary press that had only planned to print 2,000 copies of the novel before its NBA nomination.
But this got me thinking, in general, how much do readers really care about who publishes a novel? Sure, everyone likes rooting for the underdog, it's always fun when a David slays the Goliaths, and I certainly understand that some readers enjoy supporting small, independent publishers in the same way that I enjoy supporting small, independent bookstores. But when all else is equal, does a novel's publisher really have any influence on readers' purchasing decisions?
To me, as I suspect for most readers in most cases, the answer is 'no'. Quick, without looking, can you name the publisher of your favorite novel this year? I couldn't — I had to cheat. And when I did, I discovered that the publishers for some of my favorites this year are all different. (See below for a list, if you're interested.)
Of course, bigger publishers try to force themselves to matter more to readers by spending obscene amounts of marketing dollars on their darling authors — something smaller presses just can't afford to do. And oftentimes, publishers have "imprints" or divisions that focus on particular types of writing. But to me, the big publishers all seem to cancel themselves out in these ways, and I really can't (or don't try to) distinguish between any of them. Is Little, Brown known for a particular type of novel? Does Simon & Schuster publish more womens lit than other houses? I have no idea. (And frankly, don't care.)
McSweeney's Books. McSweeney's is the San Francisco-based publishing house founded in 1998 by author (one of my favorites) Dave Eggers. Probably better-known for its quarterly literary journal, Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, than its books, McSweeney's publishes an eclectic mix of young talent and established writers, including Eggers' own books. So I'd been reading a few somewhat mixed reviews (but the positive ones were very enthusiastic) about Chicago-based writer Adam Levin's 1,000-plus-page tome The Instructions. You're always hesitant to pick up a novel it's going to take you several weeks to read if you're not positive you're going to love it. But when I saw the book at B&N, and noticed it's published by McSweeney's, that was it — I pulled the trigger. I figured Eggers wouldn't lead me astray. And so far, so good — I love it!
But again, that's the exception. Generally, for me, the publisher doesn't matter one iota. How about for you? Do you even look at who published a novel? If you do, what are the circumstances? Do you go out of your way to support smaller houses?
Bloodroot by Amy Green, published by Knopf; Room by Emma Donoghue, published by Little, Brown; Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, published by Farrar, Straus Giroux; Let The Great World Spin (paperback) by Colum McCann, published by Random House; and Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr., published by Viking.