*The following conversation is between Orson's Publishing (OP) and the founder of Orson's Publishing, Garrett Dennert (GD).
OP: So, uh, Dad, right—I’m supposed to call you Dad?
GD: You don’t have to.
OP: Okay. I don’t think I want to.
GD: That’s totally fine.
OP: But are you my dad?
GD: I created you, yes.
OP: How’d you do that? How was I conceived?
GD: If the hope is to be told some elaborate explanation that neatly aligns, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint. Previous events in my life led me to creating you, sure, but they’re loosely related, and cannot really be leaned upon as the impetus of you, Orson.
OP: What sorts of events?
GD: Well, I’ve been writing professionally since I was 19 years old. I’m 26 now, so it’s been seven years of navigating the odd landscape that is today’s world of publishing. For a while now, there has been this sort of war going on between what’s known as Traditional Publishing, and then what’s known as Self Publishing. Back when I started writing professionally, Self Publishing was viewed by the publishing elite as something of a no-no. Something that deserved less credit, and was done purely for vanity, and then—
"They're just these sort of gatekeeper-type figures that get to decide whether new writers are worth a damn."
OP: Two things.
OP: 1) What do you mean by “publishing elite”?
GD: When I refer to the publishing elite, it’s just this sort of talking head I’ve imagined, equal parts book critic, agent, editor and best-selling writer. They’re just these sort of gatekeeper-type figures that get to decide whether new writers are worth a damn.
GD: And I totally understand their point of view on Self Publishing when the shift started to happen, when technology began allowing people to get their words in front of people in a faster, professional, and more cost-efficient way. I totally understand any lingering animosity as well. Innovation is a difficult thing for people to embrace, particularly when it forces people to alter how they approach something they’ve spent years on end perfecting.
OP: So what has been your role in this so-called war? That’s my second “thing,” that I mentioned before, you know, up above.
GD: Umm, my role in all of it has been one of relative neutrality.
OP: Explain, please.
GD: So, at 19 & 20, I was still completing my undergrad. It was when self-publishing services were really gaining some steam—Amazon, Lulu, Outskirts Press, etc. And at this same time, all that was being taught to us students was work produced by that aforementioned publishing elite—New York seemed to determine everything, from the so-called classics, to what was contemporarily hot. It was a really strange thing, to have one party guiding us toward a writing career full of gatekeepers, and then another party guiding us toward a writing career void of gatekeepers.
Fast forward a year, through a nice pile of rejection letters—all deserved, mind you; the writing was awful—and to a summer where I was completing an unpaid internship and possessed no money to pay my rent. Fast forward to the summer that I decided to self-publish two different books, one an instructional guide, and the other a collection of stories and essays. Truthfully, I didn’t know what I was doing, and, more so than just needing the money, that was the point—I needed to see what Self Publishing was, how to do it, how to benefit from it, how it was going to affect the future of publishing.
OP: Have you published anything since then?
GD: See, now that adds another interesting layer to the neutrality I alluded to. Even after publishing those two books, even after receiving very positive reviews, even after turning a profit on each of them, there was this sense of self-dissatisfaction, that, because I hadn’t been told to pass go by the gatekeepers, I hadn’t accomplished anything. So I think I started searching for a middle ground that I could comfortably operate in. I was a co-founder and nonfiction editor of a literary journal out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I started submitting short stories and essays again, publishing a few in journals that I’m very happy to have worked with. I even sought out and acquired an agent for book-length works I’ve been working on for years.
GD: Honestly, I have too much of an entrepreneurial thing in my guts for the traditional side of publishing. I love the writing aspect, of course, but it drives me absolutely nuts to have people just consider me a writer. Why? Because I also love the editorial side of writing, the social media side, the design side, the data & reporting side. I love getting to know the readers and actually having interactions with them through the work and outside of it. And I think that it’s hard for the traditional side of publishing to offer those different hats to writers. Instead it kind of gives you just that one hat, and if it doesn’t fit like it fits Jonathan Franzen or Zadie Smith, you’re kicked to the curb and deemed unworthy. Which just doesn’t jell with how the world spins today. People have voices, they want to be heard, and they don’t need someone to tell them that they can be, or when they can be.
OP: So, wait a second. What you’re saying is that I’m just a product of your entrepreneurial spirit? I’m here just for you?
"I named you Orson because I hope one thing to be clear, now and moving forward: you're approachable."
GD: Initially, yes, you are. Why? Because I wouldn’t expect a lot of success from cultivating a small audience and then blasting them with opportunities to submit work that they hold close to their hearts, particularly to a publisher who has yet to produce. I just don’t think that we’d get off on the right foot. I mean, people most definitely can submit their work to you and I now, but, to start, I’m hoping that the work visitors find on our site can and will be seen as examples of what we’d like to see.
OP: What can you see me turning into, then? How am I supposed to evolve?
GD: I named you Orson because I hope one thing to be clear, now and moving forward: you’re approachable. It’s one thing I actually get angry at traditional publishers over, their lack of accessibility. They build these walls that people don’t want to take the time to climb over, and so people that are unfamiliar just turn away without even starting a conversation. The result is a fiercely loyal following, but one that’s as equally unreceptive to newcomers as the publisher is. So, while I fully intend for you to grow, to publish more voices, to develop a loyal following, my hope is that, yes, the work is outstanding, but also that new writers and new readers alike find comfort in you. That they frequent you because of both what you say and how you say it.
OP: So no new bells and whistles?
GD: I never said that, Orson.