It’s been a decade since Steve Gillis and Dan Wickett founded Dzanc Books, and the press—heralded at the time by poet Raymond McDaniel as “the future of publishing”—is in the midst of transition. Dzanc, which was incorporated as a nonprofit in late 2006 in Michigan, has undergone many changes in recent years: Wickett stepped back from his responsibilities as executive director a few years ago due to health issues; the press switched distribution from Consortium to PGW on Jan. 1, 2015; and in June, Gillis stepped down as publisher to focus on his own writing career. Gillis said that he’s very comfortable handing off Dzanc to a great staff, noting that the publisher is “in the black,” sustained by “several hundred thousand” dollars in revenues, supplemented by the returns on an investment account he set up 10 years ago for Dzanc’s benefit.
Editor-in-chief Guy Intoci now heads the staff of five and oversees the publication of around two dozen books each year—up from eight releases in 2013, when Intoci—who is based in New York City—was hired as senior editor. Dzanc also runs Disquiet, a literary program in Portugal, and writers-residency programs in Michigan public schools.
Dzanc’s expansion of its frontlist came about as the result of its executives’ efforts to grow the house, “not just in terms of number of titles but in the variety as well,” explained Intoci, who has not yet decided whether, with Gillis’s departure, he will assume the title of publisher. The press also publishes a “handful” of nonfiction and at least one poetry title each year. Since Intoci came on board, Dzanc has begun publishing previously unpublished works by well-known authors, as well as reissuing in digital format notable books that have gone out of print. It has published close to 600 e-books.
Recent acquisitions are “solidly literary, but they have a broader appeal,” Intoci said. In April Dzanc published Movie Stars, a collection of short stories by Jack Pendarvis, a writer for the animated television series Adventure Time, and in May it published 2006 Pulitzer Prize fiction-finalist Lee Martin’s most recent novel, Late One Night. Dzanc has also published in print and digital formats three novels by William Gay, including two 2015 releases, Little Sister Death and The Lost Country, which were previously unpublished.
While Intoci declined to disclose sales figures, he said that Little Sister Death is one of Dzanc’s all-time bestsellers, followed by Laura van den Berg’s 2009 debut collection of short fiction, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, which was selected by Barnes & Noble for its Discover Great New Writers program that year.
Dzanc has also severed its relationships with the other small presses that were, for some time, Dzanc imprints—among them OV Books, Black Lawrence Press and Hawthorne Books, all of which are independent once again.
“In the past two years, we’ve been sinking everything under the Dzanc umbrella,” Intoci explained. Indeed, to further promote the Dzanc brand, the press launched an annual $10,000 Dzanc Prize for Fiction (the deadline is September 30); it also sponsors a short story competition and the Dzanc Nonfiction Prize.
Intoci said he is committed to continuing Gillis and Wickett’s mission of “putting out exciting and original work.” But, he added, as Dzanc enters its second decade, it is also striving to give its writers “a place to thrive, both artistically and commercially.”