March 20, 2012

The little publisher that could


MobyLives isn’t all that goes on at 145 Plymouth Street, DUMBO; there’s also that little thing of publishing books. The Economist recently came to interview Melville House co-founder and co-publisher Dennis Johnson. Talking about the experience of becoming a publisher after a career as an artist, Dennis says:

Do you consider yourself an artist?

Yes. Valerie and I struggle to call ourselves business people. We prefer to call ourselves people in business. It really isn’t second nature to us. We started this business in middle age and it’s been a sharp learning curve. We were struggling artists living below the poverty line. We knew how to work on a shoestring but at the same time we spent what we had to make a thing right. That’s the payoff. I mean it’s so hard, this business. If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to know why you’re in it. The first book we published, something got mucked up on the cover and we couldn’t bear to have it released. The books had been printed and loaded on the trucks but we called them back and we redid the cover, which was astronomically expensive. Now we’ve surrounded ourselves with people who remind us to behave within costs. But still if we do something we have to do it right. We got into this because we thought we could do it better. Now we have something that could conceivably outlast us. It’s a very satisfying feeling. When I walk into a bookstore and see that little house with the roof blown off it still throws me.

You can read the full interview here.



Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.