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The indie press interviews 4: Andrew Latimer

Little Island Press interview

 

Before the title, or even the author’s name, it’s the design of Little Island Press’s books that catch the eye. The sharp and minimalistic covers, designed by the award-winning studio typographic research unit, are just one way that the UK-based small press is setting itself apart in a burgeoning independent publishing scene.

Aesthetics aside, the press also boasts books by Gordon Lish, Jason Schwartz, Russell Persson, Merrill Moore and the critically acclaimed debut collection by David Hayden, among others. With new print journal Egress on the way, it’s an ideal time to check in with Little Island Press’s publisher Andrew Latimer to get an insight into Little Island Press’s objectives, how they came to be, and to get his view on the state of small press publishing. 
– Tristan Foster

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3:AM Magazine: Both stylistically and aesthetically, Little Island Press fits neatly into the small press renaissance taking place in the UK. What makes this boom possible?

Andrew Latimer: Two things in particular. As much as I dislike the way it eats up my time, the internet has been invaluable to this renaissance. There’s no way a press as small as Little Island could reach as many potential readers as it does without social media, a website and mailing lists. If Little Island relied entirely on the exposure it got through traditional review outlets, I doubt we’d still be around today.

Secondly, the whole-scale commercialisation of ‘big’ publishing allows smaller presses to flourish. The onslaught of profit margins, board meetings and budget evaluations has led to a more conservative approach among the big publishers. Once upon a time, an editor could try out one or two wacky books, knowing full well that their list would counterbalance any risk with a stable of best-sellers and safe bets. Nowadays, every book must earn its own bread.

With low overheads and an often episodic operating status, the small independent press is nicely placed to snap up the most innovative literature going at the moment. To take the risks. Meaning that small presses are no longer just outfits set up to publish your or your friends’ work. They have something genuinely important to offer.

XxX by Merrill Moore

3:AM: How did Little Island Press begin? Are its goals of today the same that the press started out with?

AL: Like a lot of small press founders I was looking for a way into publishing – as well as a way out of academia. Without moving to London (I’m a Glaswegian), I couldn’t see a way of working for a publishing house whose work I liked. Believe it or not, the simplest way for me to get into publishing was to start my own press.

Despite wanting to work in publishing, I was a publisher’s worst nightmare: I rarely bought new books. So my goal – however solipsistic – was to publish the kind of books I would buy, and read. My reading habits have changed since starting the press, so that the shape of our list has developed. But I don’t think there’s anything on our list that’s discontinuous with anything else.

The only other “goal”, per say, is to continue to experiment. I don’t want the press to ever fall into a formula, or to be pigeonholed – “They do great reissues of modernist poets!” – I want to keep pushing, exploring the kind of title we can get away with. And working with authors who challenge the way I think about writing, editing and reading.

3:AM: In The Art of the Publisher, Roberto Calasso writes: “Along with roulette and cocottes, founding a publishing house has always been one of the most effective ways for a young man of noble birth to fritter away his fortune.” What will it take for Little Island Press to live a long and robust life? How do you measure success?

AL: Frankly, I’d prefer my odds on the roulette wheel. There’s a reason that so much good material is coming down to the small presses: it’s difficult to turn a profit, all things considered. But you can’t go into small press publishing and complain about the money. Little Island just needs to survive. If we’re still around in a few years – in vaguely the same shape as we are today – then, to me, that’s success.

Darker with the Lights On

3:AM: What role does criticism play for a young indie press?

AL: In one sense, you put a lot of yourself into a small press – it’s your personal tastes that are on the line – so when criticism is levelled it can feel personal. But, on the other hand, it can be very welcome and necessary. You’re never entirely impervious, and one of the main benefits of being a small operation is that you can change the way you do things quickly in response to criticism. In all instances it pays to have a sense of humour and perspective.

3:AM: How does Egress fit into what Little Island Press is doing?

AL: Egress is vital to the operation of the press and to my personal sanity. Through Little Island Press, I’ve encountered a plethora of outstanding writers but as we publish just five books per year, I only get the opportunity to work with a tiny proportion of these. Egress gives me the opportunity to see what’s out there, to experiment and to take risks that we might not get away with in book form.

3:AM: The reception of David Hayden’s collection, Darker With the Lights, has been overwhelmingly positive. How did you come to publish it?

AL: There’s an interesting 3:AM / Egress / Little Island cross-over to that. I was in touch with literary critic David Winters after signing Gordon Lish to LIP (David is Gordon’s authorised biographer). David Winters had been following David Hayden’s work for a number of years, in journals like The Stinging Fly, and brought him to my attention. I read the collection in one sitting, and we signed the following week. While we’re on the topic, it’s important to mention the invaluable role played by people like David Winters, who relentlessly (and selflessly) put the right thing in front of the right people. David Winters is now my co-editor at Egress, not to mention a co-editor-in-chief at 3:AM.

AL: Another David – David Collard – deserves mention here. He was instrumental in helping get word of Darker With the Lights On around – as he was with Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Mike MacCormack’s Solar Bones.

3:AM: On the website, you write of asking Gordon Lish to record himself reading a chapter of White Plains, which you have just published: “With Gordon Lish, nothing is ever simple.” What was it like working with Lish?

AL: I’ve never met him face to face, but I consider him a good friend. He has taught me a lot about editing, what to look for in a sentence. And he can certainly write an email or two! But Lish has a bad reputation in the publishing world – mostly by his own making. He is a champion grudge-holder. With the corrected proofs of White Plains I received a list of reviewers and readers that I was not supposed to send the book to. He has a lot of very loyal allies too. His students especially – although not all of them.

White Plains by Gordon Lish

3:AM: Apart from White Plains, a re-issue of Jason Schwartz’s collection, A German Picturesque, is on the way. How did this connection come about, and do you expect to continue on this line of publishing alumni from the School of Lish?

AL: We’ve also just published The Way of Florida by Russell Persson, who, like Schwartz, was a student of Lish’s in the 1990s. The connection with Schwartz and to Persson came, not surprisingly, through Lish himself. He’s very generous with his recommendations. I imagine that, after having been in the practice of publishing bold new writers for so many years, he must miss it. For the most part, he fills that hole with his own writing these days.

AL: I don’t intend to turn Little Island into a Lish alumni house; that was Knopf in the eighties. But I am constantly drawn to writers he’s been involved with. His influence will no doubt always be there.   

3:AM: Implicit in a number of the questions above is that running an independent publishing house is no easy feat. What are some of the challenges faced by Little Island Press?

AL: As always, tricking people into buying books. I’m told that the next generation will be more interested in “experiences” than in tangible objects like books. That’s a pretty big challenge to a publisher of any size.

3:AM: What are one or two books you’re especially excited about that should we be on the lookout for?

AL: One of the great advantages of only publishing five books per year is that I get to be excited about every book. But, as this interview is for readers of 3:AM, I can highly recommend one: Kathryn Scanlan’s debut short story collection, The Dominant Animal. For those who have enjoyed Darker With the Lights On, or the writing of Claire-Louise Bennett, Joanna Walsh and Lydia Davis, Scanlan’s debut will be a treat full of unforgettable surprises and breathtaking prose.

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Andrew Latimer is the founder and editorial director of Little Island Press and Egress

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He is a co-editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, November 9th, 2017.