Looking to leverage recent critical and financial successes, the literary publisher Graywolf Press is embarking on several new initiatives to further boost its visibility and to reflect that it is, in new marketing director Michael Taeckens’s words, “entering a new era.”
“We’re not a small regional press anymore,” Taeckens said. “We’re a national press and can compete with the big publishers.” For instance, Taeckens pointed out, Graywolf is publishing Ru Freeman’s novel On Sal Mal Lane in May 2013, and in September of next year Kathryn Davis’s novel Duplex. “Both of these authors previously have been published by major publishers, and both of these books would have been picked up by the big six,” he said.
According to Fiona McCrae, Graywolf’s director and publisher for the past 18 years, the publisher’s momentum started in 2007, when Graywolf moved “to the next level as publishers” by hitting $1 million in sales for the first time due to the strong sales of Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Since then, Graywolf has managed to stay above the $1 million mark, with critical success fueling commercial success, McCrae said. In the past two years, Graywolf authors have received a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel Prize in Literature, a National Book Critics’ Circle Award, and a Commonwealth Prize, while the press has generated sales of $1.25 million so far this year, 17% above projections. With little more than a month left in this fiscal year, the press is seeing an 18% increase in last year’s total sales.
“It’s a lot of awards and attention in a brief amount of time, and it’s a trend that will be continuing,” Taeckens said. “We’re publishing our strongest books yet, last year, this year, and next year,” including Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel (Mar. 2013). Graywolf, which has 372 titles in print, publishes about 30 books each year.
With a stable financial base, Graywolf has solidified its infrastructure by investing in its staff. Last year, Katie Dublinski was promoted to associate publisher and Kit Briem hired as development director. Taeckens was hired as marketing director in April, bringing the staff up to 11 full-time employees. In order to build its publishing program as well, at the beginning of last year Graywolf started a “creative campaign,” with the goal of raising $2 million by the end of 2013. The press had already raised $1.4 million from individual donors before launching the public phase of the Next Page Campaign on October 5, 2012. The money raised will be used in part for digital initiatives, such as digitizing its entire list of prose books and revamping its Web site.
“It’s a brand-new Web site, from top to bottom,” said Taeckens, who, as former online marketing director for Algonquin Books, revamped that press’s site. The new Web site will be unveiled in mid-January. In tandem with creating a new site, Graywolf recently replaced its logo of three wolves, the company’s logo since at least 1976. which Taeckens described as “very ’70s.” The new logo, introduced to the trade in late October, features a more abstract design of three open books, while still maintaining the three wolves theme.
January will also see the launch of the Graywolf Press Poetry Tour series, which the press intends to schedule on a seasonal basis. Three poets on the press’s current list will read at one event in each of three cities. “It’s tough to get people to readings, and it’s tough to get media to cover events,” Taeckens said. “Grouping authors makes it more of a big event. People would rather see three poets, especially if one is well-known, than just one.”
The first lineup of poets going on the Poetry Tour includes Nick Flynn, Dobby Gibson, D.A. Powell, and Mary Szybist, with stops at City Lights in San Francisco, McNally Jackson in New York City, and Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass.
Like everything else that Graywolf Press is doing to rebrand itself as a major player in the industry, the Poetry Tour is one factor in the press’s overall strategy to upgrade every aspect of its operations, McCrae said. “I think publishing comes down to strengths in two areas: one is your editing acumen, and the other is your marketing muscle,” she said. “However you spin it, it all comes down to those two things.”