Michael Wise New Vessel Press USA Interview

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Book Blast actively collaborates with colleagues across the Atlantic on editorial and translation projects. Its digital publishing programme sees titles published with Amazon, Kobo and Google worldwide. We are featuring reviews, Q&As and podcasts in the BookBlast transatlantic series.

Michael Wise, tell us a bit about yourself. Are (were) your parents great readers?
I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a child — yes, my parents encouraged me to study and explore books. After studying French in high school and living for a summer with a French family in Clermont Ferrand, I have loved reading in other languages.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I’m relatively new to the business of publishing, although I’ve written a book (Capital Dilemma: Germany’s Search for a New Architecture of Democracy) I only co-founded New Vessel Press with Ross Ufberg in 2012. We’re both passionate about literature and foreign literature in particular — I read French and German and Ross reads Russian and Polish — but neither of us has prior experience in publishing. We’ve been learning as we go along which has made building a new house a challenge but great fun. Nowadays the publishing world is changing so rapidly that I’d venture that we have just as much of a clue as to where things are going as more traditional, established houses.

Has your vision from when you started New Vessel Press five years ago changed?
We initially thought ebooks would play a far larger role, but they’re now a relatively small portion of our focus and sales.

How do you balance originality and profitability?
We’re looking for high quality works that Anglophones want to read and want to buy.

What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?
Can’t say there was a single book that did that.

What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
The captivating quality of the work.

Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes?
Digital readers are important, but they’re not as predominant as had been thought a few years back. The hunt for outstanding literary talent and the ability to recognize it remains essential, as does good, old-fashioned editing.

Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
I prefer to read in print but read shorter works and PDFs of foreign language books that we’re considering on an ipad. Print endures.

Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
We’re distributed in the UK by Turnaround Publisher Services and in the US by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution. It’s essential for our books to be available in bricks and mortar stores, as well as online, so readers can get a more immediate sense of their distinctive qualities. Although our books are available in bookstores across the United States and increasingly in the UK, we do a popup shop in Manhattan on an Upper West Side street corner every five or six weeks. It’s an ideal way to connect face-to-face with our readers and to find new ones. We promote our books via social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. Despite the demise of major print venues, reviews in traditional media remain vital to sales and promotion and many of our books have been reviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

How important is funding for independent publishers?
It’s key, but energy, enthusiasm, and persistence go a long way as well.

Your favourite literary journals?
The New York Review of Books.

What do you think the future holds for publishing now that the US has entered the A.T. (after Trump) era? Turmoil, opportunity, growth, or downhill all the way?
The surge in U.S. nationalism has made it all the more important for American readers to look outward and delve into the foreign literary imagination.

Your favourite qualities in a person?
Honesty and authenticity.

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Honest errors.

Your chief characteristic?
Discerning enthusiasm.

Your chief fault?

Your bedside reading?
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

Your favourite prose authors?
Thomas Bernhard, John Cheever, Marcel Proust, W.G. Sebald.

Your heroes and heroines in fiction?
Moses, The Wise Men of Chelm.

Your heroes and heroines in real life?
Vaclav Havel, Varian Fry.

Your motto?
Don’t scrimp on quality.

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About Georgia de Chamberet 377 Articles
Bilingual editor, rewriter, anthologist, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.