August 26, 2016
The People Who Make Melville Happen: Simon Reichley
by Jessica Yung
Today, we’re proud to unveil the first post in The People Who Make Melville Happen, a series of interviews with the staffers of various departments that keep our indie ship watertight. Melville intern Jessica Yung sat down with Simon Reichley, Melville’s assistant to the publishers and office manager. They talked about college radio, world-class pens, and just what exactly Simon does here all day.
ML: I think I’m going to use my phone to record this.
SR: Yeah, that seems very official, like a radio interview or something.
ML: I actually used to do a lot of radio stuff—
SR: Oh, really?
ML: Yeah that was kind of my main thing for a while. It’s kind of embarrassing, I hope no one ever searches for it.
SR: I did, I think, two years when I first started college. It was awesome, so much fun, but, yeah, hugely embarrassing looking back on it.
ML: Were you, like, a podcast kid, or did you do more of a radio show?
SR: Yeah, we had a college radio station. My friend and I had a show, and we just sat around and played Wilco and stuff.
ML: Of course.
SR: I won’t say any more about it.
ML: Ok, then I guess I’ll start asking official questions now. So, back when I was not interning here and was a little Melville admirer from afar, I remember reading MobyLives once, and somebody, somewhere, had referred to you as Melville House’s “Everything and Nothing.”
SR: That is totally 100% accurate.
ML: How so?
SR: Well, more like 50% accurate.
ML: More towards the “everything”?
SR: More towards the “nothing.” I mean, the job that I do is a lot of little things spread out over an incongruous landscape. I do a lot of little stuff that people don’t have the time to do or will forget. Like making sure the trash gets picked up every week, or filling out paperwork for awards submissions, or ordering paper so we don’t run out — we print out a lot of material, and it’d be a real bummer if we just ran out of paper. It’s all this little stuff that doesn’t really appear to be much but adds up.
ML: Yeah and this is also the stuff people don’t think about either, when they think about publishing or any other office. But it’s also probably one of the more essential components of keeping an operation running.
SR: I think it’s not so much that it’s absolutely essential; it’s just that if no one does it, everything else becomes that much more difficult. These are all smart people. Someone would figure out how to get paper here. It’s not that it wouldn’t get done, it would just be so much more inefficient to have everyone trying to play catch-up all the time as opposed to having someone stay on top of that sort of thing. And that’s why the “Everything and Nothing.” It’s not a particularly sexy job — I don’t think it’s the kind of job that anybody thinks about as, like, I can’t wait to go work in publishing… as an office manager! And I understand why that might be, but I don’t know, I really enjoy it.
ML: Well, it’s funny — when I first got here, I wasn’t totally sure what you did, because whenever I would ask someone about a task I didn’t know how to do, they’d be like, “Oh, you should ask Simon.”
SR: That’s hilarious.
ML: For so many random things! “You know who knows a lot about that? Simon.” From what I see, you’re kind of this weird glue around Melville House.
SR: Everyone’s got their own little world, and all these very important sets of things that they’re personally responsible for, where the stakes are higher. In editorial, publicity, marketing, production — everyone’s got these things they have to take very good care of or else the wheels come off, right? I’m here to take care of everything else.
ML: With your myriad of jobs, day-to-day, are there tasks you enjoy more than others? Or do you kind of like the juggling of things?
SR: The sort of random-fireworks-going-off element of the job is exciting. It’s unpredictable. But that’s also true of everybody else’s job here, I think. Hm, but what do I like most? Well, I’ve always loved office supplies. And so, that actually is a secretly beautiful part of my job, that I’m responsible for the kinds of pens that everybody gets to use.
ML: So you were one of those kids that were like overly excited at the beginning of the school year because you got to buy new school materials?
SR: Hell yeah.
ML: What’s your favorite pen then?
SR: The Bic Cristal. Great pen.
ML: Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.
SR: But, aside from supplies, I also have really enjoyed reading contracts for [Melville House co-publisher and co-director] Valerie [Merians]. It’s interesting — the peculiarities and the sort of baroque styling of the publishing contract. It’s a fun little world to live in for short, controlled periods of time.
ML: What specifically is interesting about contracts?
SR: I think they’re cool because they’re the point at which all the different interests of publishing come together. So we have our interests as a publisher, what we need to stay in business, and what we need to make the best book we can and to promote it as effectively as possible — that’s our set of concerns. And then you have another set of concerns from the author, which is obviously hugely important to us, because there’s no point in being here if we don’t have great writers — like David Cay Johnston, who is willing to come to the table with a Pulitzer Prize and twenty-eight years of experience writing on Donald Trump and produce a bestseller. Or if Martin Seay isn’t toiling away for five years, writing this insane and beautiful monster of a book. So their interests are really important to us. And then, there is sometimes the intermediary of the literary agent, whose responsibility is that their author gets the best deal and is as effectively represented as they can be. And the thing at the center is, of course, the book. The contract is interesting because it lets you see how all these interests interlock, and how we come to an agreement. It’s the whole picture; everybody in publishing is in this twenty-five-page document.
ML: Ok I have one more question I really wanted to ask. The books here at Melville: which ones have you been most excited about while you’ve been here?
SR: That’s a good question. I really, really, really, really love These are the Names, which is a fall title by Dutch author Tommy Wieringa. That book is really fucking good.
ML: SO good.
SR: Also, Future Days was one of the first books I was here for; it’s this big, fat history of krautrock in Germany from the end of World War II up until the early 90s-ish. It’s really, really, really cool. If you have any interest in electronic music you should read this book. Early electronic music is really fascinating on a lot of different levels, especially in Germany at that time, where you have this very intense political conflict centered around Berlin, and you have the rise of automation and computerization in the second half of the twentieth century and the rise of manufactured corporate culture. And these musicians, who are actually pretty apolitical for the most part and are not revolutionaries necessarily, are making this really weird, revolutionary music at this weird, revolutionary point in history. And they’re all grade-A freaks — so yeah, it’s cool stuff.
SR: So are we going to do an intern interview?
ML: We already did one! In the beginning, remember? You interviewed me when I applied.
SR: Oh, but I didn’t record any of them. I should have! “The Intern Tapes.”
ML: You’d hear me like answering all awkwardly and nervously, and with a five second phone lag. No thank you.
SR: Ok, fine, I’ll hold off on that.
Jessica Yung is an intern at Melville House.