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Very Literary

The Well-Chosen Book

What’s your book publishing mission at Tin House? How, when, and where did you begin?

MS: As an offshoot of Tin House magazine, Tin House Books follows in the magazine’s tradition of publishing literary fiction and nonfiction, including novels, short-story collections, translations, reprints, and memoirs. Tin House Books began in 2002 as an imprint of Bloomsbury and became an independent publisher based in Portland, Oregon, in 2005.

How is the book business integrated with the collateral efforts (magazine, workshop)?

Beside the Sea Book CoverTP: Every Wednesday morning we sit around the conference table (most of us in person, some of us by way of Skype avatars) to stay apprised of what’s going on. We pass along stories, poems, and novel excerpts to the magazine editors, and they frequently send writers our way. Our authors often read and lecture at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop as well, which is a great opportunity for them—it’s not often that a debut writer from a small press gets the chance to read in front of a captive audience of several hundred people. The best example of our integrated nature might be long-time magazine contributor and workshop faculty member Karen Shepard. We’re publishing her new novel, The Celestials, in June, which feels like a tremendous coup for us.

Any especially high and/or low points in the company’s history?

YS: We have been discouraged that our short-story collections have not sold as well as hoped, especially given Tin House magazine’s strong history of championing short fiction. It is also disappointing when a book receives great press but that doesn’t translate to great sales. But our high points have outnumbered the low ones, including the success of our reprint of the 1970s DIY classic Possum Living; having When I Forgot on the front cover of the New York Times Book Review; the selection of Bright Before Us and The Listeners for Powell’s Books’ Indiespensible subscription; and Christopher R. Beha’s conversation about faith with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, following the publication of his first novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder.

What’s the best part of your jobs?

MS: The best part of our job is working closely with our authors through every step of the process, from the initial excitement of making an offer and negotiating a contract to editing and revising the manuscript to scrutinizing the printer’s proofs. One of the benefits of being a small press is that we have the time to work extensively with our authors, getting to know them on a personal as well as a professional level, and often creating friendships that extend beyond the business e-mails and that last for years.

How has the digital revolution affected Tin House?

ZP: E-books, frankly, have been a boon for us—some of our digital editions have even started to outsell their physical counterparts. For a small press like Tin House, it’s great to spend less on printing and not have to worry about returns. On the other hand, we’ve always relied on hand-selling from indie booksellers—those are our people, our ideal readers. It’s scary to think that more and more book recommendations are coming from an algorithm that favors the broadest books.

Any trends you’re seeing in current fiction? What upcoming projects are you most excited about?

TP: I think the best part about working for a press like Tin House is that we don’t have to think a whole lot about trends; our greatest successes seem to come when we publish what we love and trust that readers will feel similarly—which is good, because I have zero interest in working on mommy porn.

We’re thrilled to be publishing Matthew Specktor’s novel American Dream Machine—you’ll be hearing a lot about it next year—and we’re really excited to introduce American readers to a brilliant Canadian novelist named Michael Helm; his book Cities of Refuge comes out in March. We’re also collaborating with Octopus Books to start publishing poetry again, which has been a gaping hole in our list. It’s especially exciting because the first book we’re doing is Brandon Shimoda’s stunning Portuguese.


Meg Storey has been an editor at Tin House Books since 2005 and the copy editor of Tin House magazine since 2011. Also an editor there, Tony Perez writes about food, books, and basketball.