Our Vendor Interviews continue today with Philly’s own The Head & the Hand. We spoke with the founder of this great, local press, Nic Esposito, whose creativity, passion, and interesting take on craft publishing and book-selling helps make H&H the “what-will-they-think-of-next” sort of press they’ve come to be. Here’s what Nic had to say in answer to our questions:
1. What should attendees of PHILALALIA expect from The Head & the Hand?
Those fortunate and forthright lovers of literature attending Philalalia can expect a few things from H&H. The first is a collection of well-written, well-designed books. If we do nothing else, we want to do our part, as modest as it may be, to keep people reading and cherishing print books. Other than that, since we’ll be there on a Saturday, we will have a few different folks taking shifts at the table. We don’t know who will sign up yet, but I can guarantee that whoever is at the table will be a smart, funny, and very proud book nerd. And we hope that you come up and talk books with us.
2. What has The Head & the Hand achieved this past year that you’re most proud of?
We’ve had a few of those “holy crap, I can’t believe this is happening” moments in 2014. Well, actually I’ll start in October 2013, which technically, was less than a year ago. At our release for our very first fully produced novel Lion and Leopard, we not only were able to set up the release party at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, but we also were able to position author Nathaniel Popkin directly under the intense gaze of the huge self portrait of Charles Willson Peale (one of the book’s protagonists) as Nathaniel read. It was a pretty great moment. Sticking with the release party theme, at our release party for Afghan Post, we managed to get James Dao from the New York Times in conversation with the book’s author, Adrian Bonenberger. To sit in the awesome bookstore PowerHouse Arena in Brooklyn and have such a powerful presence from the NYT was very validating. And then finally, the fact that our core group of H&H’ers (Linda, Kerry, Claire, and myself) are not only still together, but that we’ve added such amazing other folks (Lisa, Erin, Zoe, Lilly, and Lauren), and that we’re all still really tight and care about each other so much is probably what I’m most proud of.
3. What is something people might not know about The Head & the Hand?
Even though I’m the most apparent cross-over of the publisher/writer because of my novels and essays, most of our staff are incredible writers in their own rite. It’s not always apparent because we spend so much of our time producing and promoting other people’s work. But as was seen in both of our Almanacs, editorial director Linda Gallant can also get down in the trenches with the other writers and produce some great work. And if you read our blog, most content (writing tips, thoughts on the process) are generated internally. I would say that in the next five years, I can imagine producing a novel or non-fiction from one of our staff members.
4. The Head & the Hand sometimes seems like the indie press version of a community farm–and farming and food have an obvious influence on certain ideas surrounding the press– what do you think the farming community can learn from the literature community… and vice versa?
That’ a great question, and I’m glad that the connection is apparent. The reason that we have intertwined these two industries is because the only other industry of making and selling a product that I had experience in before starting The Head & The Hand was farming. So I took a lot of manufacturing techniques (like trying to keep the production supply chain local) and selling techniques (like our Community Supported Publishing Program) from farming. As for what can be learned from each, I would say that the publishing community can really learn from farming about how to advocate for itself. At too many tabling or market events (not book selling events like Philalalia because people go there because they love books), it never fails that someone will bait us into debate over why they should buy books straight from us and not Amazon. I mean, Amazon has everything they want, ships right to their house in a few days, and even recommends other books they would like. Who can beat that? Well, we have a whole list of reasons on why we can beat that as a small independent press. But getting back to farming, I equate Amazon with the rise of cheap, processed food. 60 years ago, industrial agriculture and processed food was a godsend. No more would farmers need to toil in the field. Now they can sit on a machine spreading engineered seeds and chemical fertilizers. No more shall we have to toil in our kitchens trying to make a meal with raw ingredients. Now, just open a box, and voila, no fuss, no must. Well, that system of homogenization and mass production started to show its dark side (obesity, disconnection from how food is grown, environmental pollution, decline in American farming). Now, this comparison to Amazon would take a much longer answer and much more research. But I believe that there’s a case to be made that Amazon will take the book industry down the same path as processed, industrialized food took the agriculture industry. Sure, Amazon is super convenient and is getting tons of books out to people, but what will be the unintended, and even intended consequences of this monopoly down the road, for publishers and readers? I think the independent publishing community needs to organize itself and follow in the advocacy footsteps of small-scale farming if we are to have a future. Although it has not been easy, it has been effective for farmers and I hope it will be the same case for publishers. As for what can publishing learn from farmers, it would be that there is nothing wrong with keeping the process of production and selling small, keeping it local, and keeping it organic.