When Black Sparrow founder John Martin closed his literary house in May, he did so by paying his dozen employees a very unliterary sum: one year's salary. Black Sparrow, the Santa Rosa, Calif., house started in the mid-1960s, had the distinction of being one of the few houses that published avant-garde work while still making profits. "You'd be shocked at how much Charles Bukowski brings in every year," said Martin. "He sells more than one million books in 15 languages."
In addition to Bukowski, the house published Paul Bowles and John Fante, and Martin sold the backlist of all three to Ecco's Dan Halpern before he closed up shop (Hot Deals, May 13). Martin sold his Wyndham Lewis line to Ginkgo Press of Corte Madera, Calif., and the rest of the list went to Boston's David Godine.
"It really was the best solution," Martin said of closing the company. "The employees wanted badly for me to keep the thing going, but I had an opportunity now [to sell the backlist] and I didn't know where things would be five years from now." It was not only a way to take care of the employees, Martin said, but to keep the entire backlist alive.
Martin, who is 71, won't be getting out of the publishing business entirely. He worked out a deal with Ecco to edit five unpublished Bukowski manuscripts.