Go Forth (vol. 7)

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Have you any books from Siglio Press? I think if you saw one you’d remember it, because they happen to rock. Siglio Press has been putting out basically some of the best hybrid art books for half a decade now, with incredible success. Want to start an art press but you’re also into majorly legit writing? Would you like to learn about varying contemporary art movements and then wow a dinner party without sounding like a jerk? Siglio Press Publisher Lisa Pearson made some time for us—which, that was cool, and you might enjoy reading this. If you’re a square, don’t bother. Love, Nicolle 

NICOLLE ELIZABETH: Hi, Lisa. We’re interviewing publishers, authors, and editors in an effort to share information with readers on what it is like to work in the many facets of publishing. Siglio is a publishing house that has brought many things, such as the works of Spero and Brainard and Calle, to better light. Can you walk us through the differences between publishing novels and publishing art books, with regard to the specifics of the process?  

LISA PEARSON: Collaboration and conversation. The novelist generally writes in isolation and most often thinks of “the book” as a kind of delivery system for the language she has so carefully composed and honed into a work of literary art. If she works with an editor, it is on the writing itself; the physical qualities of “the book” are out of her hands and may be of little interest other than wanting a really great cover and decent paper stock. For an artist, and particularly for the kinds of books Siglio publishes—which are more like artists’ books than monographs or catalogues—the physical manifestation of the work as a book is not only critical but intrinsic to the work: it mediates the reader’s relationship with that work in a way that is much less transparent than with a novel, a nonfiction book, or a collection of stories. There are a thousand decisions, large and small, to get the work to really live on the page and as as an object the reader holds in her hands. That’s a dynamic process in which publisher and author/artist engage together: it’s creative and conceptual, but also practical and logistical. And I bring that same kind of attention to the fiction and prose I publish. For instance, in the novel SPRAWL by Danielle Dutton, there are no actual images, but the shape of the book itself, the wide margins, and the space between lines of text, make an essential contribution to nature of the reader’s experience with the book. It’s subtle, but it makes a difference.

NE: How much time does it typically take for an art book to be birthed to the world, from acquisition to shelf?

LP: “Acquisition” isn’t quite the right word for what I do, though I hope it will be sometime in the future (and make my life a little easier). Many of the books I publish are nurtured, developed, shaped into form out of conversations with the artists and writers (or those who represent their estates) I approach or who approach me. Sometimes it takes as little as six months from an initial breakfast meeting of coffee and latkes to a press-ready book (as with The Nancy Book by Joe Brainard, edited by Ron Padgett and myself). Other times, the gathering, editing, designing process can easily take more than a year (or three as it was with It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers, so that I could consider hundreds of works and narrow the selection down to a couple dozen). And in some cases, a conversation gets started without necessarily a specific project in mind, and we just see where it goes. Of course, when an unsolicited query lands in my inbox and yields a book like SPRAWL (which required minimal editing), I’m thrilled. 

Once a book’s on press though, the timing is pretty standard. I have to print overseas in order for the books to be affordable. Six months is generally the norm from going on press to the book appearing on a bookstore shelf—and the norm is generally full of mishaps so it shouldn’t take six months, but it always does. Anything can happen. From tsunamis and earthquakes to sunken boats and lost trucks, not to mention recalcitrant (or just plain slow) printers can add weeks to the schedule. 

NE: Do you believe that art books are a niche market or can they transcend into the literary realm as well, and if so, how? Siglio seems to transcend genre.

LP: The books I publish straddle both the literary and art worlds. Though most look like “art books,” they are all very literary—language, narrative structures, poetics, lexica of various sorts, voice, character, etc. play essential roles in various ways in all Siglio books. Or as in the case of SPRAWL and the kind of fiction and prose I publish, “the visual” inflects or infiltrates the text in sometimes literal and sometimes oblique or even invisible ways. Siglio is all about that hybridity which actually means many niches, many audiences. And I think niche is just another way of saying small—so yes, the market is relatively small, but it’s diverse, and a little different for every title. What matter most to me—after developing as wide an audience as I can for each individual title—is building a core audience of readers who are curious, adventurous, and fascinated by the unexpected connections that a shelf of Siglio books might yield. The readers who can make the leap from  radical geography to abstract tantric painting to a visual archive of a fictional alter-ego to nonsensical, Victoriana collage to pop appropriation to… Well, that’s a very small niche of readers, but I’ve found them—and they’re finding Siglio. I love those readers most. They transcend.

NE: If one, just one of our readers wanted to start an art book press, what would you tell them?

LP: Go to Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair (every year in September at MoMA P.S.1) or the new one they’re organizing in Los Angeles (at the MOCA Geffen) in January. You’ll see all kinds of amazing presses doing extremely interesting things and giving it absolutely everything they’ve got. If you don’t see there the kind of work you believe deserves a space in the world—and you’re willing to give it every ounce of your being to make it happen—then go for it. There are plenty of us somehow making it happen. Why not you?

(Image Courtesy Siglio Press)