PW: You've published two of Richard Flanagan's earlier books, but what made you decide to do Gould's Book of Fish in such an original—and expensive—format?
ME: I think Richard's one of the most talented writers working in the world today. When I met him, he told me about this fantastic book he was working on—this book of fish—and he said to me, "I want it printed in six different colored inks." And I said to myself, "Well, I'm going to have to talk him out of that later." We were afraid that it would be gimmicky, that it would detract from the quality of this astonishing piece of work. But the minute I saw the Australian edition, I knew I had to do it at the same production values. As for the resources I'm putting into it, we got very good prices. I'm printing a little over 22,000 copies, because I'm also publishing it in England with my Atlantic Books imprint, and we bundled together the runs. We've priced it a little higher than a regular novel, but it's a great value for what it is. And the author kept the royalty down for me. We worked together to make it happen.
PW: Though, at $27.50, won't the margins be smaller?
ME: Yes, they'll be smaller, but I believe that the book is just so extraordinary. And it's part of the whole publishing and marketing plan to present it this way. And I don't know—I make my decisions in sort of an irrational way anyway; I don't obey formulas. It seemed like the right thing to do.
PW: Do you think that people might find the book gimmicky, as you said?
ME: I think it's done in such a beautiful, subtle and tasteful way that it works. I was carrying it around with me and showing it to everybody—at a restaurant, at a cocktail party. It's such a beautiful piece of book making, but it's also beautiful inside.
PW: Has it been generating a lot of interest?
ME: Our first printing for the [U.S.] marketplace is 15,000 copies, which for a literary novel from an Australian writer who's not completely established—though we sold over 10,000 copies of each of his other books—is a solid number. But already I'm overordered. I believe that you can't go back to black and white on this book, because the reviews are going to bring attention to the fact that it is this beautiful edition, and people would be disappointed if we came out with one that wasn't. So we're in a bit of a dilemma, because I cannot go back for fewer than 10,000 copies, and I have to print them in Australia. So this is going to be like old-fashioned publishing schedules. If there's enough demand that we do need more, it's going to have to be substantial demand, and people are going to have to wait 10 or 12 weeks before they get supplied again. The book is drawing attention, and it's gotten early starred reviews, so I think I'll be willing to take a big risk. But it's part of publishing this book: to give it an opportunity, that's what you have to do.
PW: What kind of marketing plan do you have for it?
ME: We're bringing [Flanagan] over and doing what we would usually do for a literary novelist, but we're also doing a mailing of 2,500 copies in a specially designed box to the media, booksellers, people in the industry—just to share this amazing book with them. And we've made a really elegant mailer announcing the book, with some of the news from Australia and a letter from me talking about how excited I am about the book. In terms of what my sales expectations are, if I really thought about it, my effort is probably disproportional, but it's one of the luxuries I have being an independent publisher and being in charge—I can follow my passions. But in a practical, pragmatic way, I'm as excited about this book as I have been about any book in a very long time, and I hope it will pay off in the long run—that we will raise his stature and his visibility and bring people to his work, not just this book but the backlist also.