Illustration by Johnny Sampson, inspired by the late, great American illustrator Boris Artzybasheff's Machinalia series.
Illustration by Johnny Sampson, inspired by the late, great American illustrator Boris Artzybasheff's Machinalia series. Credit: Johnny Sampson

Publishing? Your guess is as good as mine. The basic idea is the same as it ever was: get words and pictures—which is to say ideas, art, entertainment, information, instruction, enlightenment, beauty, smut—to the masses. It’s how to do it that’s gotten crazy. What does it mean to put out a book when the very concept of a page is in play? Where’s the silver lining on the Intercloud?

This spring books issue is about finding out.

We asked five local players to tell us just what it is they think they’re trying to do. Agate’s Doug Seibold, Curbside Splendor’s Victor David Giron, and Drag City’s Rian Murphy all come at the problem from the independent end; as acquisitions editor for Northwestern University Press, Mike Levine sees the challenge from the academic angle; and James O’Neill presents the point of view of educational publishing behemoth Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. We’ve also sought out work by authors who’ve taken matters into their own hands and self-published.

One thing we’ve learned: it helps to keep your nerve. As Seibold put it, “There’s a lot of things that are very, very uncertain right now, but from where I sit that’s a good thing.” —Tony Adler

“The status quo is good for the big guys, but when it starts
to break down, opportunity is created for small companies
like mine.”

Doug Seibold, founder, Agate Publishing

“Instead of the teachers teaching everything for the first time in the classroom, they can now have the students use the app as a way to learn new concepts.”James O’Neill, Senior VP, marketing strategy, Houghton Mifflin

“We work like hell, and our goal is to make a beautiful-looking book.”Victor David Giron, publisher, editor in chief, publicist, and accountant,
Curbside Splendor

“The book business is just as on its knees as the record business.”Rian Murphy, head of staff and sales, Drag City

“It’s important for publishers to remember that they’re not
technology companies.”
Mike Levine, acquisitions editor, Northwestern University Press

All next week on the Bleader:
Blogging spring books

Starting Monday, April 9, on the Bleader, we posted write-ups of books—all self-published by Chicago authors—about embryos that can preview life, an art docent who is drawn into art smuggling, a homeless artist versed in Kierkegaard, the first woman to physically trade financial futures in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade, and more.


Reviews of self-published books: Coming Out Can Be Murder,” by Sam Worley


The Prospect of My Arrival: oh, the techno-humanity!” Dwight Okita’s novel reviewed by Tony Adler


Infinite gestation,” a look at a great short story we published in 1981, by Michael Miner

A Q&A with Sam McPheeters,” Born Again frontman and author of The Loom of Ruin, by Miles Raymer


The art of blathering,” examining The Atlantic‘s review of The Art of Fielding, by Michael Miner

‘ . . . and Joyce had a secretary named Keith,’” a critical appraisal of James Joyce via Kool Kieth by Miles Raymer


The Sea Is My Brother: even when Jack Kerouac is awful, he’s great,” by Mick Dumke

The feculency factor: reviewing a bunch of self-published books,” by Tony Adler, in summation


Spring Books Week means baseball books,” by Ted Cox.