Chickadee Prince, a small press based in Brooklyn, is planning on opening up a pop-up bookstore, in addition to publishing new titles. Read on for a great Q&A with founder Steven S. Drachman, who created Chickadee Prince from a bookseller’s perspective.
S.R.: What inspired you to start Chickadee Prince Books (CPB)? And when did you start it?
S.D.: The name came about five or six years ago, because my daughter, Julianne, loves chickadees. So she inspired the idea of having some kind of business with “chickadee” in the name. My wife suggested the name “Chickadee Prints,” and I misheard her. Before you could blink, I had a beautiful logo of a chickadee prince, with a scepter and everything. Garrett Gilchrist, who was working with CPB back then, and who designed the website, drew the chickadee, and he did such an incredible job. Once you have a great logo for your business, then you need to have a business to go with the logo. At the time, I didn’t realize that “chickadee” is a really difficult word for Americans to spell. So it has some drawbacks, but I am fond of it, and I really love the logo.
There really are still demonstrably, objectively great writers out there who don’t yet have a home in the large or small publishing houses. We will never ever say that some book is not the “right kind of book for us,” or that we published something in that genre recently and so we’re not going to publish another one so soon. Or that we don’t know how to market something even though it’s great, so we will have to pass. We will never say, sorry, your book is amazing, but there aren’t enough readers who want to read about the mountains of Kazakhstan. CPB is a small press that will publish anything, so long as it’s great. So we are incredibly selective, but the good kind of selective. Sales and success will chase quality, if we keep getting the word out.
CPB really began as a going concern in 2015, with the publication of two new novels for spring. This spring we are publishing five new novels. Donna Levin, who made a splash some years ago with Extraordinary Means and California Street, is back with a great commercial novel, There’s More Than One Way Home. Mark Laporta’s very delightfully weird YA/SF series, The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek, is coming to a close with his third book. The famous Los Angeles defense attorney, Ed Rucker, has written the first of a series of legal thrillers, The Inevitable Witness, which I think will do really well. We also have a moving family memoir, Finding Maria, by poet Peter Szabo. And finally we’re publishing In Love With Alice, Alon Preiss‘s second “thirtover” book, a literary novel set in the waning years of the 20th century. All of them have gotten really amazing pre-publication acclaim.
S.R.: In Spring 2018, you’re planning on launching a pop-up bookstore that will appear at street fairs and book fairs. What’s the story behind that?
S.D.: The small press is really our biggest priority. The same idea that inspired the publishing arm of CPB inspired the dream of having a bookstore in 2018. The publishing world has grown terribly silo’ed and inflexible, and all kinds of acclaimed and award-winning authors have fallen between the cracks, and plenty of others who have not fallen between the cracks just want to write. CPB gives authors a home, and the bookstore will give other authors shelf space.
S.R.: Why a pop-up bookstore instead of a permanent book store?
S.D.: I don’t want to make decisions that won’t be sustainable. If one of the CPB authors can man a booth, we’ll open up and sell books, get the message out about acclaimed authors that your Barnes and Noble probably won’t carry, then close up till we can gather the manpower and the budget again.
S.R.: How long will the pop-up bookstore be around, and how many places will it pop up? (If it’s successful, do you see this being a regular thing, like every Spring?)
S.D.: As long as it is needed. Certainly, the idea is to do it more than just once, but we will see how it goes. As I said, if we have a great spring at CPB, the bookstore will be correspondingly easier to get off the ground and fly with than if we have a horrible spring and all our books flop.
S.R.: How big will the bookstore be? About how many books are you aiming to carry?
The goal of the bookstore is to give the individual authors attention, to have publicity cards that shows off their awards and reviews, and prominent placement, so it will be clear to consumers why we chose them. It’s like an alternative universe Barnes & Noble, and it will be as big as we can possibly make it.
Right now, everything depends on the success of the publishing house, which is our principal endeavor. We’re rolling up our sleeves and working really hard to try to make Spring 2017 a great hit for CPB. Then I’ll sit down with the authors and see what we can all contribute to keep the house going into 2018. If we have a smashingly terrific spring at the publishing house, and we are the toast of the publishing and media world, then the bookstore will be bigger and more popular and better-funded than if we fall on our faces this spring.
S.R.: The pop-up bookstore will sell CPB books, as well as acclaimed and award-winning books from micro-presses, as well as some books from self-published authors, if their book has a rave review from Kirkus, Foreward, or PW, or has won a prominent indie book award. How will you find and choose which books to sell?
S.D.: I’ll reach out myself to authors I know about and whose books I like, and the authors who have won the biggest independent book awards over the course of the last year, scattered across all genres, then we will review submissions from authors who have reached out to us. But it will depend on how well we do as a publisher this spring.
In the category of mainstream literary books, James Hitt’s Carny: A Novel in Stories, which won the grand prize from the Indie Excellence Awards some years back, should be on the shelf, along with his latest novel, The Courage of Others; David David Katzman’s A Greater Monster won the IPPY gold medal for outstanding book of the year, and it would be my first choice for really adventurous avant garde fiction, Sherban Young’s Enescu Fleet novels would represent the sophisticated comic mystery shelf, and I would even like to try to stock J.L. Bryan’s Paranormals series – those aren’t particularly award-winning, but it’s an example of an extremely popular and epic series of fantasy novels that has flown entirely under the mass media’s radar. I hope to have a few kids books about dinosaurs! Now, maybe these guys won’t want anything to do with my bookstore, but I hope they would.
S.R.: More bookstores are starting to give indie books shelf space. How will CPB’s pop up bookstore further help indie authors?
S.D.: I know some authors have done OK by self-publishing, and there are a few that have even done really well, but mostly through online sales. Bookstores will order from the big publishers and from a few favored small presses, but generally not from self-published authors. Most distributors who have the capacity to push books into bookstores will not distribute books from one-author houses. Most bloggers won’t even review self-published authors. This resistance is because the overwhelming majority of self-published authors are so awful that they drown out the one-half of one-percent that are any good at all, and the tiny sub-category that are truly great. It is not impossible, of course, but I just don’t think the bookstores or libraries have really shown enthusiasm for sorting through “Kirkus Indie” reviews to find books to order, and they don’t exactly open their doors wide when a self-published author wanders in off the street with a suitcase full of books. I wish they would, but they won’t. The CPB bookstore will.
The CPB bookstore will show that there really are great authors falling by the wayside, and the small press is already showing that great authors can still find a home at a great publisher, that if you are a good author, you don’t need to resort to publishing your own book. There is another way, and that other way is CPB.
S.R.: If the pop-up bookstore is successful, do you see it growing? Or potentially turning into a permanent bookstore?
S.D.: Right now I think a bookstore like this would really fill a gap. But the best-case scenario is that our endeavor is so successful that a CPB branded pop-up bookstore is no longer needed, because so many other bookstores and publishers are rushing to fill the gap that the gap doesn’t exist anymore.
Learn more about Chickadee Prince Books on their website, at chickadeeprince.com.