Spiegel & Grau is publishing Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Thayer Hamann's debut, but the book, originally self-published, has spent years as an underground favorite.
There's a constellation of facts that would be interesting to readers and self-publishers, but the tiniest kernel was the question, “Is it possible to take control of your art, to shape it and breathe life into it, without feeding the system or having the sense of needing to create for the system?” I wanted to work with something really organic, the whole way through. I wanted to make that art my own.
What was the first step towards self-publishing Anthropology?
I collect rare books and have always been interested in the history of paper and binding. With my husband at the time, I had a design and print company called Vernacular Press, plus a gallery in SoHo with a staff of about 10 people. We made beautiful products and decided we wanted to do really beautiful books. Our first thought was, “Let's just do something for ourselves, and then we'll send it out.” Our plan was to make the book, send it to critics, establish the print company as a publishing vehicle, and then to start receiving manuscripts from other people.
Once you had made the physical book, how did you find an audience?
Well, first of all, I am an intern magnet. I always had about five loyal, terrific college kids working with me. With them, we made up a spreadsheet with the book reviewers at good magazines, and then we wrote handwritten notes and sent them out. I think the reviewers felt they had to give it a shot. The object demanded a certain kind of attention. And then, once they read it, they were happy to review it, because it was actually good.
What would you tell other potential self-publishers about why you did it and why you stopped?
Self-publishing is difficult, because you don't really have the eyes to see. By 2007, I was exhausted, overinvested emotionally and financially. That's when we shut Vernacular, and I sent out the manuscript, again.
After having been so intimately involved in the creation and publication of your novel, how does it feel to now work with a large publisher?
I'm really impressed. The care that I've received and the concentration that's been put into this book have been amazing. With more hands involved, there's a lot more thoughtful back-and-forth. It's not like these people are out lunching every day. They are really dedicated, terrific people who love literature and love reading. Just like me.