“We are not farm teams”: Rebecca Rosenblum explains her decision to remain with Biblioasis for her second book
Rebecca Rosenblum is the author of the 2008 collection Once. That book, published by the small Ontario-based press Biblioasis, won the Metcalf-Rooke Award and received almost universally positive reviews. In the wake of her success with her debut, Rosenblum was in a perfect position to jump ship to a larger house. But, for her second book, the upcoming collection The Big Dream, the author decided to stay with Biblioasis. In its ongoing series inquiring into the gulf between large and small presses, TSR asked Rosenblum about her decision to remain with her originating publisher, and her feelings about how her association with Biblioasis has benefited her as an author.
Why did you choose to stay with Biblioasis for your second book?
1) Because I had a really good editorial relationship with John Metcalf – he pushed me, but only in the directions I wanted to go, and it was exciting to be challenged like that. I think the book is better than it would have been – much better – without that relationship.
2) Because I liked the “book-creation process,” for lack of a better term. I got to lay down a piece of art on a table with Dan (Wells, publisher) and John and say, can this be my cover? And the answer was yes. A lot of work was done to make sure I didn’t have to cut the book’s length at all. The copy edit was solid. I like the title page design. These things matter.
3) Because the promotion of Once exceeded my expectations. I was really thrilled with the review coverage Once got – more like shocked, really. I got to go to a few festivals, I got to be on the radio, do readings, do interviews. I am very much aware that not every unknown author of short stories gets to do this stuff. Some of it was luck, sure, but some of it was because Biblioasis worked really hard for me.
Did you ever consider the bigger payday you might have received from a larger house?
No. I mean, I should make it clear that I think I was paid decently for Once and will be for The Big Dream. My agent, Samantha Haywood, negotiated the latter deal and was very positive about it – she would never have let me sign anything inappropriate. Beyond that, no, money was not a factor.
What do you think small presses can provide an author that larger presses can’t?
I’m not really an expert on this, having only had the one experience, but I would think: flexibility – both in terms of what they publish and how they do it. I’m pretty sure that, without corporate oversight, independent houses have a lot more freedom to publish books that are outside the mainstream or controversial or just not super saleable. And they can fiddle with production timelines – my first book was out of my hands and onto store shelves in six months, which I think is unusual.
And, at least for me at Biblioasis, there is a sense of community. I admire a number of the other authors there, and it’s been cool for me to get to meet them and, in some cases, read with them. And of course, I like John a lot, I like Dan a lot, I like their wives, I like Dan’s kids. And all of those people have been kind to me, gone out of their way for me, given me hugs.
But I’m not sure what I’m talking about is a small-press experience; it may be just the experience that I have had at a small press. I know lots of writers who have really wonderful relationships, professionally and personally, with publishers both small and large. I certainly know editors at houses of all sizes who are warm, delightful people I would be thrilled to hang out with or work with. I also know writers who have had terrible, alienating experiences with houses of all sizes – there are a few people at every level of the industry who are jerks, or bad at their jobs, or both.
I think by making this a binary – big vs. small – the real issue is obscured. And that issue is, how can we create the best books and get them read by the most people? That question is being answered in different ways at different houses, with varying levels of success. I like the way Biblioasis does things, but not because they’re small – because they’re good.
By staying with Biblioasis, you were able to maintain a relationship with John Metcalf, your editor there. How important is the author/editor relationship in your experience?
I think I pretty much answered this above, but yes, for sure. He was really generous with support and encouragement, and considered it worth his time and long-distance telephone charges to make me feel better about things. Although I don’t doubt he was fully cognizant that I work more – and better – when I’m happy.
Aside from the personal relationship, the best editors offer their writers a kind of tacit promise: I will not let you fuck up, I will not let you chicken out, I will save you from your worst tendencies so that you are free to embrace your best ones. That’s worth its weight in gold, and John did, I think, do that for me.