What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Fairy tales and books based on fairy tales, coloring books, and hybrid books. The adult coloring books have been going strong, so we are finally releasing a poetry/coloring book by Gary Lemons. The fairy tale interest may be the generation of avid YA readers moving into adult books based on myths and fairy tales, but we’ve been doing well with Ron Koertge’s fairy tale–based flash fiction and are now adding a couple more authors in that vein—Diane Gilliam and Melissa Coss. The hybrid books are hot. The big interest in graphic novels and YA books with pictures may be driving that, but there’s no doubt that illustrations are back.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Everyone’s talking about upmarket fiction, and certainly with the right novel, you can make the leap from modest literary sales to those juicy commercial sales, but what we’d like is a big novel or nonfiction book with wicked writing, imaginative plot, and fingers tapping on the pulse of culture. Big ideas and writing that follows the reader to bed. We just took on a creative nonfiction book on the moon by Pope Brock that rides full tilt at windmills and sustains passion and play and a thicket of ideas you can’t stop musing on, and that’s what we hope to keep finding.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
That’s difficult because we get deluged with topics, but I still feel the right unique book could make it possible for us to dive back in. We’ve gotten a lot of memoirs about tortured childhoods, and we are taking a break from them for a while; we are doing a fantastic brain injury book, but one is probably enough. I’d have to say that I did a couple really atmospheric books in which nothing really happens, and I still love them, but we are not doing more of them. Red Hen is big enough that we choose prose that is going to reach an average-size audience, and the audience for experimental fiction just doesn’t seem to be one we can market to. I still love experimental fiction myself, but it isn’t right for Red Hen now.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
We are nimble. If we were a little mini-Titanic, we would never have hit the iceberg because we would see it coming, we’d turn, and we would have reached New York instead of the ocean floor. We are quick to notice what books are selling and figure out how to shift editorially to include lead titles that will sell well. When it comes to marketing and publicity planning, rather than having a large team sprawled across offices, we have a tightknit group that crafts and executes a plan for each lead title. Our out-of-office team drops off galleys in person, we visit international book fairs in person, we visit the tastemaker booksellers across the country in person. We jump on planes, trains, or buses. We’re across the country visiting bookstores, libraries, venues, and book fairs. Back at the office, our team in Pasadena, California, is crunching through the details of book tours, media launches, and reviews. And we are in New York (because we avoid icebergs) meeting with key media, running events, and making sure the New York publishing world knows that in spite of our palm trees, sunshine, and beaches, we run a pretty tight ship.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Publishing has never been a business that makes heaps of money, and if you’re an indie press that’s not publishing The Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey, the heaps are not really even so much heaps as, well, sometimes there are actually gullies. You’re raising money to publish the books. We help our authors create a tour that works for them and creates energy, fun, and excitement. We remind them to enjoy getting out there and celebrating their book launch, their readings, the interviews, the essays. This is it, this is your book. It happened. Your dream came true. Have a party. And all that celebration and energy and tearing up the town with fun ends up selling books. Which, for us, is always a good thing. Recently, we went out with Maxine Hong Kingston after hearing her read with our authors Percival Everett and Brynn Saito at City Lights. We were still so high from the reading, we were all talking at once. Language, story, and magic are worth celebrating.
Kate Gale is managing editor of Red Hen Press, based in Pasadena, California; editor of the Los Angeles Review; and president of the American Composers Forum, LA. She teaches in the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska in Poetry, Fiction, and Creative Nonfiction and serves on the board of the Poetry Society of America. She is the author of five books of poetry and six librettos, including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis, which had its world premiere in October 2010 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee. Her current projects include a creative nonfiction book, Flight of the Ugly Duckling; a co-written libretto, Paradises Lost, with Ursula K. LeGuin and composer Stephen Taylor; and a libretto based on The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle, based on Alfred Kinsey’s life, with composer Daniel Felsenfeld.