By Jacob Silverman
July 26th, 2010
Melville House is one of the better regarded indie publishers, and from my remote perch, the reasons for their industry esteem and their success seem obvious: besides a solid and satisfyingly eclectic mix of titles (e.g. a book of Ray Bradbury interviews, a Jules Verne vampire & zombie novel, B.R. Myers’ book on North Korea’s self-image), including a series of pleasingly designed novellas, the people at Melville know how to communicate. Unlike many publishers, they have a clean, easy-to-navigate website, and, in my experience, they respond quickly to e-mails asking for galley copies and author information. And then there’s their blog, Moby Lives, on which house founder Dennis Johnson and Melville employees and authors offer commentary on literary news and frequently snipe at industry behemoth Amazon—a kind of bristling honesty that rarely appears on industry blogs.
I’ve also found Moby Lives useful for offering an inside look at the world of publishing, particularly at the workings of a small independent publisher. To that end, I’ve been following an ongoing series of dispatches about the publisher’s efforts to market Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, a book that’s been a critical and commercial success both here and abroad. (For more background, check out VQR contributor Matt Shaer’s coverage of Fallada for the Los Angeles Times and Tablet magazine.) Johnson’s “Anatomy of a marketing campaign” is up to eight installments now–with more to come–covering TV and subway advertising, postcards, word of mouth, t-shirts, sheer luck, and review copies (the galleys featured a stark black cover adorned with a single quote, by Primo Levi, in large white type: “The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis.”) It’s a revealing look at how a publisher leverages old and new media to get books into the hands of readers and critics, and you can read it all on the publisher’s blog.
Also, below is a trailer for the book, which features footage shot by Benjamin Ditzen, Fallada’s grandson.