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The US micropress with mega-ideas

By Nathaniel G. Moore

If you’re wondering what a press called Flatmancrooked Publishing is all about, the answer is: mostly, literary fiction. “That’s, of course, a very subjective de­scriptor,” muses senior editor at the Sac­ramento, California-based press, Deena Drewis. More specifically, the house is looking for stories that contain compel­ling characters and plots. On the press’ website it says they don’t want “genre” fiction, but according to Drewis, what they really mean is that they want work that shows a close attention to language and doesn’t rely solely on manipulative emotional tropes. “In our newest anthol­ogy we’re publishing a ‘horror’ story by Brian Evenson, but it’s astounding on both an intellectual and linguistic level; it isn’t just scary.”

Elijah Mac Jenkins started Flatman­crooked as an e-zine in 2007and in March of 2008, managing editor James Kaelan arrived on the scene, and the duo transformed Flatmancrooked into a full-fledged publishing house which now employs 12people in addition to various freelance designers, readers and interns.

This small team likes to keep busy. Last year the press published three fic­tion anthologies and one novella, while the new year will see it vastly expand­ing its list, with five to six releases un­der the New Novella imprint, plus Shya Scanlon’s novel Forecast, a fiction anthology, Flatmancrooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetry, and the highly anticipated We’re Getting On: Zero Emis­sion Book, Kaelan’s debut novel with an innovative distribution plan. Thinking both environmentally and economi­cally, the planned tour includes Kaelen riding a bike across America, touring his book which offsets all of its produc­tion emissions by printing on 100% post consumer-materials and printing the cover on seed paper (so you can plant the cover in the ground and it will grow into a spruce tree). People can sign up at Flatmancrooked’s site if they want to join the bicycle book tour.

When it comes to the press’ regular means of distributing books, it relies on short runs, limited first editions and online sales or sales at launches themselves. The books utilize high design and are often hand-numbered and signed by the authors. “They are, in other words, collectible, limited-edition pieces of art,” says Drewis. After the first runs have been sold, the title is reprinted on demand and sold in bookstores across the country. The press also uses the Kindle, Sony eReader and Nook to get their books into electronic mediums.

Drewis lists McSweeney’s as a design influence “for the sheer beauty of their books, no one matches them.” A few oth­er presses have also inspired the group, including Hobart, Melville House and Caketrain, who Drewis says “are putting out gorgeous small books and journals. We think there’s a burgeoning market for the novella, and if anyone has proved that putting out easily consumable books is a viable business model, you don’t need to look any further than One Story.” Flat­mancrooked are inspired by Hannah Tinti and her team at One Story, a literary maga­zine that sends out one story every three weeks. The group has earned astounding success (inclusion in Best American Shorts Stories, Pushcart, and Best American Non-Required Reading anthologies) by choos­ing about 20great stories to publish each year. “Giving their subscribers one story to read, rather than 10or 15, helps ensure the stories actually get read,” says Drewis. “We think that shows a new sort of dedi­cation to individual authors that’s been sorely lacking in publishing.”

Because the members of staff live in different cities across the States (their design­ers and contributors live in San Francisco, New York, Nashville, Seattle and Los An­geles to name a few), the press holds events all over the country. Most of the press’ events occur in Northern California, but they’ve held releases in Sacramento, Davis, San Francisco, Brooklyn and Hollywood. “We make a point of travelling to authors’ hometowns to have parties,” says Drewis.

“It lets us get to know our writers intimately, and our writers, in turn, appreciate the lengths we go for them. If we’re building a strong company, it’s because we don’t [just] stay in our neighbourhood to promote our work.”

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