"Surprise Good News" for Cinco Puntos Press
The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced last week the winner of the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction: Benjamin Alire Sáenz received the award for his collection of short fiction, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. The book was published by El Paso-based independent publisher Cinco Puntos Press.
Yesterday, Book Business had a chance to speak with John Byrd, Marketing Director and CFO of the family-run business. He’s had a few days now to absorb the news, celebrate, watch some college basketball, catch a cold, and recover. Now he shares his publishing insights with BB.
How are things playing out since the award was announced?
It’s been real nice. It’s been kinda hectic for us, especially for Ben [author Benjamin Alire Sáenz], who has made a lot of friends in the literary world in the 20 or 30 years he’s been publishing. He’s getting lots of phone calls and congratulations from people.
How does this affect the press?
We’ve been working steadily to publicize the book in the wake of the award to try to make as much happen with it as possible. It really was such an unexpected and a wonderful surprise. We would like to make as big a deal about it as possible.
Why was it a surprise?
Even to make the finalists’ list was a surprise. We’re really proud of working with Ben. We’ve known all along that he’s a stellar writer and someone that people should take note of. His reputation has been growing with every book he’s published. But they only looked at 350 books for the award—just to make it that far was great. To make it to the finalist list was wonderful. I’m used to being the bridesmaid. Once we made it to the finalists’ list we thought that was as far as we were going to get.
Is it unusual for an independent press to be in this position?
There is one thing not made much note of: 60% of the finalists were published by small presses. There were two books by Coffee House Press. (They are distributed through Consortium, as are we.) While the PEN/Faulkner people have made a habit of trying to include small presses in their attention, this is the fist time I think that they’ve put so much attention on the work of small presses, which I think is really important not just for the recognition it gives small presses. It says some of the most exciting things in fiction are happening in small presses.
The other thing about the small presses is that none of them are located in New York. Coffee House is in Minnesota. El Paso is the middle of nowhere as far as New York publishing is concerned. You’re seeing a shift in attention away from the traditional centers of publishing power.
What else will this award mean for you?
For us there’s lot of firsts in this award. Ben is the first Mexican-American to win the award and the first Texas writer to win the award. It’s the first time a small press has won the award in 15 years now. Really just a lot of exciting stuff comes out of the award and can be read into the award.
Are you ready for it?
I do feel pretty ready for it. Consortium is a really good partner to have in a situation like this. They’re experts at helping the indie presses. They work with them to navigate through unexpected publicity and surprise good news. They also distribute Bellevue Literary Revue and helped them navigate [they are publishers of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers] and Akashic also [publishers of the wildly-popular Go the F*** to Sleep]. I think we’ll do pretty well.
We’re also working with Coffee House. Just after the finalist list was announced we got in touch with Coffee House and decided we’d try…[to work together]. PEN makes a habit of treating winners of awards as the first among equals and giving attention to all the finalists. We decided to do a mailing of all three of the indie finalists to indie bookstores, getting bookstores to look back on books that came out last year. Hopefully that will bear some fruit and indie stores will do some shelf talkers or table displays. It's the nice thing about working for an indie press—other indie presses are always happy to collaborate and share ideas. Maybe something fun will come out of that.
What will the impact be on the author?
It’s a little hard to say. I’ve looked back through Nielsen BookScan at previous winners. It does seem the award has a nice affect on the winner and gets a lot of attention for their next book. He writes in many different forms. He’s working on an adult novel and a YA novel simultaneously. I imagine those will publish next year to a lot of fanfare. He also I think has a book of poetry in the works. And Ben being Ben, he continues to writes and teach. He may be the only PEN/Faulkner winner who teaches at a public university (University of Texas, El Paso). The award is going to help him get attention, but not change what he’s doing.
Will he publish his next books with you?
I’m not sure yet. He’s going to have to finish them. Simon & Schuster might have a commitment on his next YA novel. Ben has always been as supportive of us as we have been of him so I’m sure we’ll get back to working together in some capacity. Nothing about his next books is written in stone.