New Directions’ Secret to Success

New literary magazine The Coffin Factory printed an inspiring interview with Barbara Epler and Tom Roberge of New Directions. In case you haven’t heard of them, for the last 75 years, New Directions has been publishing some of the most influential voices in fiction, and their back list reads like a roll call of literary legends: Bolaño, Borges, Céline, Nabokov, Neruda, Pound, Sebald…

Although these names are all recognizable now, New Directions took a risk when they first published them. “Really new kinds of writing can take twenty years to catch on, and the people [founder James Laughlin] published were considered very far out. Then, not too long afterwards, they became the canon,” says Epler, President and Publisher. New Directions’ strong back list has sustained the publishing house for years, allowing them to continue to introduce readers to exciting and diverse literature.

Roberge, New Directions’ Publicity Director, looks to bookstores and lit blogs (ahem) as way for a publisher to build and connect with a loyal following, acting as a curator that’s more accurate than Amazon’s helpful but impersonal “If you liked this you might like this” algorithm.

New Directions also publishes a tremendous amount of translated fiction. Epler says the idea that Americans won’t read translated fiction was “created by some sort of idiotic provincials.” Ultimately, says Epler, “if you just publish very very good books, they’ll find readers.”

You can read a sample online, but for the full interview and more (including stories from José Saramago, Joyce Carol Oates, and Bonnie Nadzam) you’ll have to pick up a paper copy.

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— Benjamin Samuel is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. In his copy of The Coffin Factory, he wound up underlining most of the aforementioned interview.

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