What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
This question is always a bit tricky, as it ignores the fact that the lists we are publishing now were acquired one to two years ago, in the absence of knowledge of what the current marketplace looks like. So the idea of an acquisition based on a trend isn’t something that figures into our mission. Counterpoint is an author-driven house, and we strive to produce books of literary merit that also contribute to the cultural conversation. So my hope for a trend would be one that continues to welcome new voices, that encourages writers from a variety of backgrounds and places while supporting the established writers as they break new ground with their work.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
We already see a pretty wide selection of work, both fiction and nonfiction. I am personally interested in books that contend with current events, politics, and sociology. We are one of the most progressive publishers in the country and have always maintained a strong list that explores contemporary issues in society—from the work of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder to new books from Craig Lambert, James McWilliams, Lisa Bloom, and Jared Yates Sexton.
I’m proud of our fiction program, which continues to thrive in a very difficult and competitive marketplace and continues to support new writers, writers of color, and writers whose books have been with us for decades. Last year, we saw debut books published by Abby Geni, who won the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction for The Lightkeepers; Kim Brooks (The Houseguest); and Natashia Deón (Grace): three extraordinary first novels that found strong readerships. And we continue with brilliant collections of short fiction, from Valerie Trueblood to Dana Johnson to Karen E. Bender, whose work Refund was a finalist for the National Book Award.
What do you want to change about publishing?
I think this question is better phrased: what can we change about the importance of reading in this country? How can we support education on all levels that produces a generation that genuinely cares about the importance of books? We have almost become accustomed to the competition for our attention from other media, smartphones, and social media. And there is a place for all of them, but it should not be at the cost of the elemental importance and pleasures provided by reading the printed word.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
We are independent, author-driven, and devoted to a core mission to produce books that matter. This affords us more leeway in publishing new voices, books of literary merit, and ones that don’t always conform to tradition. We begin with the authors and build the business out from that. I hope we provide a welcoming and challenging and creative space for our authors at a time when these things are not always guaranteed. And during this time in our country, our culture, and our marketplace, this feels important to me.
Daniel Smetanka, vice president and executive editor of Counterpoint Press, based in Berkeley, California, has worked in the publishing industry for 25 years. As an executive editor at Ballantine/Random House Inc., he acquired award-winning books including The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner, Down to the Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck, and Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, a 2001 finalist for the National Book Award. At Counterpoint, he acquires both fiction and nonfiction, and his projects include works by Dana Johnson, Abby Geni, Tod Goldberg, Natashia Deón, Jared Yates Sexton, Cristina Garcia, Joan Silber, and Karen E. Bender.