International Press Watch

EXAMINING SMALL PRESSES OUTSIDE OF CANADA

This issue, our correspondent visits the zany and enterprising duo behind Chicago’s
FEATHERPROOF BOOKS

There’s a bit of work to reading a Featherproof book. Literally. First, you download a title from its website. Next, you print it off. After that, you follow the step-by-step instructions: fold here, fold there and staple here. Et voila! An intricately designed chapbook-style “mini-book” — that is to say, a self-bound short story. Or you might have chosen to create your own “storigami,” a poem folded into an origami creature that you read in sequence as you unfold.
If this all seems like a little too much work, you could choose instead to download one of the press’ full-length short story collections or novels — no folding, cutting or stapling required. Except for one title, Patrick Somerville’s The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, a collection of science fiction stories which, with a little elbow grease, turns into a hanging mobile of planets.
Featherproof may be zany, particularly for those who like to read a book start to finish, no crafting involved. But, while every publication is trying to figure out where the industry is going (DRM! E-books!) the Featherproof founders, Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Messinger and Creative Director Zach Dodson, are experimenting with ideas they think are cool. They’re having fun, but also outstripping those that continue to think exclusively between two covers.
In the spring of 2005, Messinger and Dodson were working together at Time Out Chicago, Dodson as a designer and Messinger as the books editor (where he is still employed today). Together, they dreamt up a vision for an innovative publisher that would be modeled after indie music labels they admired, such as Flameshovel and Dischord.
“We saw a sea change in the publishing industry that was similar to the music industry,” says Dodson. As big record companies merged with big publishing houses, more and more indies began popping up in protest. Today even the writer contracts at Featherproof are modeled after Dischord’s fair treatment of its artists, with profits split right down the middle. “Esthetically,” says Dodson, “we also wanted who and what we’re choosing to be exciting.” To date, Featherproof has published 12 short story collections and novels, not to mention several dozen mini-books and four “storigami” products.
Another unique aspect of Featherproof is its genre-jumping roster. There is no one type of Featherproof book, but a healthy amount of the off-kilter is required. “Generally, we say that we like idiosyncratic stuff; stuff that seems like it could have only come from one person,” says Dodson. “[Messinger] tends to like things that are very well-written, and I tend to like things that have weird subject matter. It’s a Venn diagram: we publish stuff that’s weird, but well-written.”
So far, this includes Christian TeBordo’s surreal short story collection The Awful Possibilities, described as absurd and subversive by reviewers. There’s also Lindsay Hunter’s flash-fiction collection Daddy’s that earned the following description from Bitch Media: “wicked little works of fiction with sharp edges and unpleasantly squishy middles… These stories, despite their brevity, have texture.” Most recently, Featherproof just released the “weird mid-western” paperback The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense from musician Tim Kinsella, which the author began selling during his band Joan of Arc’s summer tour in advance of its official release.
Over the next year, the pair is working on promoting its lower-profile roster of e-books. These, say Messinger, sometimes get lost behind the glitz of origami poetry and story mobiles. After that, they claim to have a whole roster of genuinely cool design gimmicks in development for both print and digital formats. But, you won’t find Featherproof leaking any future off-the-wall projects here. “Everything else,” says Dodson, “I’ve got to keep close to my chest.”

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