Bigger is Not Better

If you write literary fare, a small press may be the perfect fit. Q&A with Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books

By Marcela Landres
Published on LatinoLA: March 8, 2010

Bigger is Not Better

Bigger is not better. As large publishers become more dependent on blockbusters and sequels, the task of nurturing and supporting literary writers increasingly falls to small presses like Unbridled Books. Unbridled was founded by Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson who together have a well-deserved reputation for publishing gems such as Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue and more recently C.M. Mayo's The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. If you write literary fare, a small press may be the perfect fit. To learn more, read this month's Q&A with Fred Ramey.

Fred Ramey works in Colorado as Co-Publisher of one of the country's first decentralized publishing houses, Unbridled Books, an independent, virtual company specializing in the old-fashioned, nearly traditional publishing of quality fiction and narrative nonfiction. Previously, he was one of the founding editors of BlueHen Books--Putnam's erstwhile literary imprint--and through the 1990s was Publisher and Executive Editor of MacMurray & Beck, an award-winning independent press in Denver. For more information, including submission guidelines, visit http://unbridledbooks.com/

Q: As Co-Publisher of Unbridled (and in the past as Publisher and Executive Editor of MacMurray & Beck and as co-founding editor of BlueHen Books), you have published books that won or were short-listed for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Book Sense Book of the Year Award, and the National Book Award, among many others. Clearly, you have a nose for talent--how do you choose the books and authors you publish?

A: My editorial partner, Greg Michalson, and I choose only those manuscripts that tell us stories we have not heard in voices that are unfamiliar. And each of these is driven by the author's ability to attach us in real and visceral ways to characters whose experiences are revelatory of life and of thinking. We want every book in our list to be a pleasant surprise--to be readable and to involve the reader, to please the reader at the end. As the Big Six publishers become increasingly dependent on "the big book" and on the celebrity author, we think the work we do to bring fresh voices to the reader grows even more important. Certainly, it is more rewarding to be doing so.

Q: In addition to your exceptional editorial taste, what distinguishes Unbridled from other publishers?

A: Patience and commitment. We know that in a celebrity-based reading culture, it takes time for an author to find his or her readership. We therefore commit to supporting each book as deeply as we can and to do so for as long as is practicable, through both the hardcover and paperback life of the book. In addition, we do our best to expand that commitment to the author's subsequent (and occasionally to their backlist) titles. We know how good our authors are and how rewarding their books are at every level--from the literary to the more entertaining aspects of real reading. What I'm saying here is that every book in each Unbridled list is tremendously important to us, and we work hard to give each title is best shot and its longest trajectory.

Q: What kinds of literary fiction and narrative nonfiction are you seeking?

A: We acquire for literary quality first, so our authors are attending closely to their characters and their language. But virtually every title we take on has a commercial side as well--that is, we believe that the readership for each of our books could be noticeably wide if we can bring attention to the work. The fiction needs to be fresh and unfamiliar--this is why the variety in our fiction list is so great: It is the unique aspect of a book that most appeals to us, not its similarity to what the readers in the world have already been served again and again. As for the nonfiction, we have published quite a few memoirs and still have some interest in handling those--though a memoir that appeals to the reader in the same way as I've described our fiction is a difficult book to locate. With the release of Colin Dickey's Cranioklepty we have also taken our first step into microhistory, and this is something that interests us greatly as a promising support for our list as a whole.

Q: Which common mistakes would you recommend writers avoid when submitting their work to Unbridled?

A: We are completely overwhelmed these days by unsolicited manuscripts. We try to get to them, but often cannot for long periods--so impatience with us is not helpful. But the most frustrating part of the acquisitions process is definitely finding among the unsolicited manuscripts projects from authors who clearly have no idea what we do, what we're interested in, what our role is in the publishing industry of the day. (Worse than that, perhaps, is a submission from someone who doesn't know the names of the editors here; we are two and we are public. It's not difficult to find out about us.)

Q: After honing their craft, what is the smartest step writers can take to become successfully published?

A: To ensure that they can support their work after it's published. I mean support by their own efforts to connect with readers. It's an interactive age, a social-media age, and authors must be able to network their books, to connect with readers nationwide, even worldwide, and to maintain that contact in a positive, interactive way. Battling for a new author in a world in which the mainstream media and the bookstores are so heavily dedicated to celebrity publishing and brand name authors is difficult. The author needs to fight alongside her or his publisher. Readers want to read books by people they are interested in, and I think that--in addition to the extensive work we do in publicity and marketing--a writer needs to take an active part in reader contact.

About Marcela Landres:
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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