Curbside Splendor Publishing is one of the most prolific independent publishing houses in the nation. Founded in autumn 2009 by Victor David Giron, Curbside has produced a bevy of diverse and incredible books such as Franki Elliot's stirring poetry collection Piano Rats, Samantha Irby's hilarious essay collection, Meaty and the list goes on. I took the time to interview Giron about the trials and tribulations he faces as a publisher and came away inspired, and I hope his story inspires you as well. Interview after the jump.
What do you look for in prospective manuscripts you want to publish?
I have a strong acquisitions team and a leader in this regard with Jacob Knabb, so when it comes down to making final decisions I know the writing is strong. What I think about most is the entire package. How does the project fit in with our mission statement, within the particular season we’re trying to fill? Is the author / artist a person whom we feel will work hard to promote their work, are they a person we see as a strong partner in a creative and business sense? So I consider the author’s bio, their other work / areas of interest, the potential art that will be involved, and also things like diversity. I feel strongly that Curbside Splendor represents a diverse array of voices, diverse in the sense of artistic expression but also in the sense of background—ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age—and this is something I strongly seek to maintain.
Curbside Splendor has singlehandedly revitalized the publishing world through their artfully crafted books, what made you want to incorporate illustrations and artisanal touches in the books you publish?
I started Curbside to publish my novel, Sophomoric Philosophy. It was meant more as a joke at first, just a way to get done what I wanted to do, but in the process of working with an artist, a designer, my editor--to actually package the book--I found tremendous joy in seeing the final product come together as an art object. In the process of meeting other indie publishers in Chicago, I discovered all this passion that exists for making books as art, and so when I decided to take Curbside beyond just my own project and make it as a true publisher, I made it a goal of ours to incorporate this aesthetic into our projects. Not all books that we do are highly designed, some just beg for the text to speak for itself and thus call for minimalism. But when the opportunity arises to incorporate art, we go for it. My team feels the same way and so it’s like we’re a bunch of kids in a sandbox in this sense, and we have fun with it.
What are some of your favorite books you’ve published and why?
I can honestly say that every book we’ve published has had something very unique to me, that I’m very proud of. There have also been quite a few challenges we’ve had to overcome. I’m especially fond of the two Franki Elliot books we’ve published, Piano Rats and Kiss As Many Women As You Can, because the author reminds me of myself in a way, in that she was very much an outsider when it came to the ‘literary world’, and has a whole other professional career and was using writing to express herself. She’s a terrific writer and I only see really great things in store for her. There’s also Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby. Samantha is a true force of nature, in that her ability to write is so crazy great that it’s a bit shocking at times. Meaty has gained significant accolades such as being selected by Barnes & Noble for its Holiday 2013 Discover Great New Writers program and was thus featured at all B&N stores, being named by Cosmopolitan as one of the best books of 2013, etc… What most people don’t know about this book is that it was literally written and published within a year! We agreed to work on a book wither her, then we got signed on by our distributor Consortium and needed to adhere with their strict deadlines, which lead to her writing the book in less than six months, leaving us very little time to edit it. In the mean-time we got the Barnes & Noble news and needed to print a lot more than we had planned and had to rush everything. Plus we were in the midst of going from publishing a few books a year to 12 in one season with full distribution. From a pure editing point of view its one of the more sloppy works we’ve put out. But Sam’s writing is so strong that this flaw hasn’t made a difference, and the books importance will just continue to grow. This was a lot for us and Sam to take on, and in retrospect we’ve learned a lot from the process and will be better equipped to handle such situations in the future.
What words would you use to describe Curbside Splendor?
Eager. Ambitious. Hard-working. Learning. Urban. Crazy.
You’re very entrepreneurial, in what ways does your work as a CPA and co-owner of Beauty Bar Chicago influence your work as an editor and vice versa?
When I think of the word ‘entrepreneur’ I immediately think of the phrase ‘hard work’. My parents immigrated here from their native countries, Mexico and Guatemala, without anything and worked very hard so that our family could be part of this culture. I witnessed them achieve significant accomplishments, but also get hit with significant setbacks. My father, who was an upholstery repair man and worked for a family-owned business in Chicago’s near Southside, yearned to have his own business. I think about the business cards he made for himself and how on the weekends we would drive around and leave them in mailboxes, in hopes that the people would call for repair jobs. He was never successful in this regard and died fairly young because of health problems. For all his faults, the most important lesson I gained from him, and from my mother, is the belief that there is no replacement for hard work. We all have our inherent advantages, and disadvantages, but what we can always control is how much effort we put into the things we want to achieve. And in doing this it’s important to realize that every road travelled is bumpy. You need to be willing to face and overcome setbacks on the way toward achieving your goals. For every goal I’ve achieved I can name several setbacks / failures. Failing is ok, as long as you can honestly you put the effort in that you could have, and you’re able to learn from it and make yourself better. So all this is important in publishing because it’s so darn hard and you need to have a strong work ethic and willingness to withstand a bumpy ride to stand a chance. And vice versa, I’ve always liked bars, live music, and these interests make sense to me combined with running a publisher of creative work because in the end, it’s another form of entertainment, of being part of the cultural patchwork of our city.
What are some of the challenges you face as an indie publisher? How do you overcome them?
Well, there are many. Publishing is a very thankless and frankly discouraging business to try and make an entry into. All the risk is stacked up against the publisher. Bookstores have the right to return unsold copies. The distributor profits from being able to sell books, but does not take on any of the production risk. All of that is borne by the publisher. And all production vendors, the printer, the designers, the editors, get paid much earlier than when the publisher gets paid. It’s taken quite significant financial toll for us to transition from a basement press to a trade indie publisher, especially one that specializes in creative work. There is no easy way to overcome this sort of thing. You need a lot of upfront financing, and a willingness to take a leap of faith in the work you’re producing, and to trust those that are working with you. The tricky thing with publishing is there’s no way to really predict what the reception is going to be for a book. There are a lot of variables in play, including, to a large extent, plain old luck. You can have all the best publicity in place, but there’s no guarantee that people will cover the book and that it will sell. Again, to me it comes down to having a well defined mission statement, an execution process, and a strong belief in the quality of work being produced.
What projects are you excited about working on for Curbside in the coming year?
We have some really great projects coming out this year, starting with February’s blues-road-novel Don’t Start Me Talkin’ by Tom Williams. Tom is the head of English at Moorehead State University. In terms of reading to experience great writing, to be transported fully into the lives of fictional characters and to learn something in the process, this is the book that does all that. Then there’s Ben Tanzer’s essay collection about fatherhood and pop culture, Lost in Space: A Father’s Journey There and Back Again. Tanzer’s made a name for himself with his punchy pop-lit novels and avid writing. This book showcases his writing chops but at a much more personal and engaging level. Then there’s Once I Was Cool, Chicago storyteller and teacher Megan Stielstra’s amazing essay collection coming out in May. Megan’s work was recently featured in the Best American Essays of 2013 anthology. Then there’s The Old Neighborhood coming out in April, an amazing debut novel by Chicago street thug turned boxer turned writer Bill Hillman. It’s a grand Chicago streets, coming-of-age story about a teenager growing up amidst street violence packed with punches page after page. We’re launching the first books under our neo-noir, speculative fiction, horror imprint Dark House Press this Spring/Summer, of which I’m especially looking forward to Echo Lake, a supernatural, southern gothic thriller by Colorado resident Letitia Trent that will captivate readers this summer. And this is all under our Spring/Summer catalog. Don’t even get me started on our Fall/Winter 2014 catalog!
Filed under: Interviews