Short answer: I blame Melville House Books.
I do really feel like it started with Melville House Books. It was the first time I’d fallen in love with a publisher that I was actually likely to find at a bookstore. (Much earlier, in college, I’d been obsessed with Soft Skull Press for a while, but I think I only stumbled across one of their books in a bookstore once.) Now, Melville House’s hardbacks tend to be fairly distinct from each other, but The Neversink Library, which I was in love with at the time, and The Art of the Novella both had designs that were easily recognizable by their spine. So if I were just browsing at the bookstore, not looking for anything particular, I would find myself scanning the shelves for a certain height and width in a certain off-white, with that little house logo at the bottom.
Suddenly, without quite intending to, I was reading a lot of novellas.
And there is just something charming about a small book, isn’t there? I’ve always been drawn to them, even when the stories themselves are long. My tiny Oxford classics, with 400-500 pages all on the thinnest possible paper with a tiny font to still squeeze them into a 4.5″ x 6.5″ x .75″ package. Easy to slip in your purse or hold in your lap when you don’t feel like advertising what you’re reading. And bookshelf space friendly. Sometimes I look at huge monstrous hardbacks and think, “Is that book really going to be worth the real estate on my shelves?”
But when that small book is a novella…
More substantive than a short story, but also possible to read through in a single sitting without having to stay up ’til 3 a.m. Not the potato chip of fiction, more like a cupcake. As in, you should probably only have one between meals, but you might be tempted into a second.
And this format is under-loved! Novellas are often published crammed together with short stories or other novellas. But what if you’ve only written one? Or what if you have a few, but they’re so different in tone or subject matter that they are ill-suited to bundling? Why can’t we let them stand on their own?
Now I find myself browsing shelves at the bookstore not just for my beloved Melville House, but novellas and small books in general. The last several times I’ve been to a bookstore, I’ve walked out with stacks of books that I could still easily carry in one hand. I love to admire good design in a small book and have been known to coo loudly over French flaps. (French flaps! How I love thee! And they’re near-impossible to pull off in larger books. I mean, Danielewski’s gargantuan Familiar books may have psuedo-French flaps, but they aren’t real.)
So, while I do intend to publish e-books as well, my decision to start my own press is almost entirely based on my love of books as physical objects. I want to start out creating small, beautiful books. The kind I would stumble on in a bookstore and pet enthusiastically before taking to the register. The kind I could buy six of and drop into my purse and not regret my whole life. The kind that is a tempting invitation to drop into a new world for a few hours, without feeling like you have to commit to living there for weeks.
Small, beautiful books are what I want to bring into the world.
*I spend a lot of time fan-girling Melville House in this post, but I promise I am not receiving any kickbacks for doing so, I just love them. Also, I loved them long before they ever published my sister.