May 5, 2017

“At times, incoherent…. a brand centered on, of all things, anger”: Melville on the Verge


Friends, we find ourselves at the end of what can, in fairness, be called a shit week for the news. The House of Representatives is out for blood (they don’t want to test it for treatable ailments, though, just, y’know, drink it), France’s wannabe fascists are having a moment (don’t do it, amis — trust us), the fast-deflating balloon animal currently masquerading as President of the United States responded to questions on the possibility of a nuclear war with North Korea by saying, “I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see.” This, all of this, is bad.

So how about chasing it all with something good? May we recommend… ourselves?

Now, we feast.

If you just answered, “Why, sure!”, then you’re in luck. Recently our own Dennis Johnson and Julia Fleischaker, the former Melville House’s co-founder and co-publisher, the latter our director of marketing and publicity, sat down with Kaitlyn Tiffany of The Verge to talk publishing, resistance, and how exactly it is that we, walkers of the Melvillean path, do what we do. The interview, with some additional writing by Tiffany, went live earlier this week.

Modestly—humbly, even—we say: You should read it.

About our reputation within the publishing world, Julia says:

It’s a little bit of like, not the id of the industry, but we say a lot of things that other companies and employees of other companies wish that they could. We have that freedom because Dennis and [fellow founder and publisher] Valerie [Merians] created the company around that freedom. I think people are happy that we’re here.

To which Dennis adds:

A lot of people stop me at industry events, and thank me for things that we’ve said. I think it generally is known that we’re the one company saying what every company feels about the industry but they’re afraid to say. They’re afraid of retribution. They let people like us go out and say it, and then they thank us later in private.

Asked about our vaunted (and thanks for the vauntin’, guys) relationship to the internet, Dennis says:

We’re doing something that publishers used to do. We get a lot of credit for being very edgy, state-of-the-art, digital hipsters, and I feel like we’re just doing something that all the great, famous American publishing houses did at their beginnings, when they were all privately owned companies. When Random House was owned by Bennett Cerf, when Knopf was owned by Alfred A. Knopf, when Simon & Schuster was owned by two guys named Simon and Schuster. Now those companies are completely different, they’re conglomerates and they have to be more concerned with their bottom line. Not that I’m not concerned with our bottom line, but I do feel like the company should express its passion, and that makes for great publishing. That’s how all the publishers I admire started.

They go on to note that “we hear from a lot of wackos,” reflect on the lifelong dream of being in the “argument of the year,” and generally hold forth, with eloquence and fervor, about how we see who we are, and how we do what we do.

It’s a great read, and, honestly, we’re all proud as hell. Read the complete interview here.