Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Ramble House Story

Here's my interview with the talented and tireless Fender Tucker about his fine Ramble House imprint.

What motivated you to establish Ramble House Publishing?

Back in 1999, Jim Weiler, a fellow programmer at the software com-pany we
worked, and I decided to figure out how to make books at home using our
PCs and laser printers. It worked, sort of, and we started with the
novels of Harry Stephen Keeler, a forgotten author that Bill Pronzini and
Francis M. Nevins had championed. Soon after, we met Gavin O’Keefe, from
Bendigo, Australia, online and he began providing brand new cover art.
Before we knew it, the three of us had made a couple of thousand copies
of the A6-sized, dustjacketed paperback books. Then, in 2005 the POD
companies made it easier to use them than to make my own books. So we
branched out into other forgotten authors and even added a few living
writers who have supported us.

Describe your line to those unfamiliar with it.

Ramble House is a Print-On-Demand publisher. We take old books that are
out of copyright (or in copyright limbo) and re-edit them and sell modern
editions of them through the Ramble House web site or Ama-zon. We don’t
have an inventory of books; they’re only made by Create Space, Lightning
Source or Lulu after we get an order for them. We mostly do old, forgotten
mystery or horror authors but we’ve also added a few modern mystery and
western writers in recent years.

One way to get a sense of your publishing program is to ask what type of
fiction you prefer reading.

I enjoy old mysteries the most, especially noir, but I can’t pass up
ob-scure science fiction, erotica or horror and detective pulps. Of
modern authors I find that I tend to read only the ones I have met in
person at Bouchercons and other book shows. I will also read almost
anything by an amateur author like myself who will swap books with me. I
always report on their book but they rarely ever say anything about mine.
Could that be a hint?

I read an article recently that claimed that small publishers now discover
and develop new writers far more often than the big pub-lishing houses in
NYC. How do you feel about that?

I believe it, although I think that the traditional publishing process is
still the best way to get the cream of the literary crop paid for their
work. Let me digress a bit by saying that I stopped paying any attention
to mu-sical awards back in the 80s when it became easy for anyone to
record a song with reasonable quality. How can they say at the Emmy’s
that these are the best songs of the year when the judges only heard 2%
of the songs written and recorded that year? I’m beginning to feel that
way about novels and short stories. There are way too many novels written
and published every year for anyone to claim to have a handle on which
are the best. I predict that in a few years I will even say the same
thing about the Oscars. Back when there were only 100 or so films a year
with any production quality at all, the Oscar meant something. Now there
are 1000 (3000 if you count India) films every year it’s getting harder
to say that a $100,000 film by a teenager from Cedar Rapids couldn’t be
better than the latest James Cameron blockbuster.
Democracy is good for humanity and cults. It’s bad for tradition and
el-ites. The old ways produced a Mozart every century; the new ways
pro-duces several Willie Nelsons. I’m fine with the new ways.

What are two or three of the biggest problems small publishers face?

Getting the word out about a new product is the biggest problem facing a
small publisher. Once his books get listed somewhere, he then has to find
a way to make his books stand out and that is where the many liter-ary
awards help. However, since I just trashed the whole idea of awards in a
field where there are too many competitors, I guess there’s no real
solution to the problem. In the future, all books will be cult books.

Do you feel that that tsunami of self-published books get in the way of
legitimate small publishing?

Is Ramble House “legitimate”? Probably not, according to the way I’m sure
many veterans of publishing feel. I’ve rejected a few books because they
weren’t in the Ramble House mold, but in general I feel that every-body’s
story deserves to be available in my all-time favorite medium: the paper
book. No, I don’t think everybody’s “memoir books” get in the way.
Readers just have to be a little more discerning when buying an unknown

Small press publishing is a perilous task--how are things going so far?

Ramble House started as a hobby and it’s still one for me, although I
must admit, the few hundred dollars it adds to my social security check
every month is quite welcome. If I needed $1000 a month minimum from
Ramble House I’d have given it up years back and somehow tried to land a
real job. I don’t recommend getting into POD publishing as I have if you
have a family to feed. It’s more suited for an ambitionless curmudgeon
who likes to read.

The beauty of my business is that I get paid in royalties. There’s a
reason why that way of getting paid is given such a lofty name. It’s
income suitable for a king. It’s getting paid for something you already
did. Now that Ramble House has over 300 titles in its stable, I can
probably look forward to getting $500 a month for the rest of my life. If
I get up to the 1000 titles mark, I might get that number up to $1000. Of
course, I la-bored pretty hard for the past ten years to get in this
position, and if I’d had a decent job instead I would have made $200,000
or so and could make $500 a month in interest. I guess it’s the socialist
in me, but I’m happy with collecting royalty, and consider interest a form
of blood money.

Which title has been your biggest success so far?

By far, GADSBY by Ernest Vincent Wright is Ramble House’s best-seller.
It’s sold maybe 500 copies. I consider it practically unreadable but it’s
a lipogram, and the gimmick of having no letter E anywhere in the text
makes it a curiosity that many people can’t resist. I doubt if many
people actually read it all the way through.
Of the rest of the RH titles, the two impossible crime books by Hake
Talbot, RIM OF THE PIT and THE HANGMAN’S HANDYMAN al-ways sell well. Of
our reference books, Mike Nevins’ THE ANTHONY BOUCHER CHRONICLES and

Tell us about your some of your current books as well as a few future ones.

Thanks to our merging with John Pelan of Midnight House, we’ve added a
bunch of horror and detective books from the pulps. Authors like Mark
Hanson, Day Keene, Walter S. Masterman and John H. Knox are his specialty
and we hope to have many more collections and novels from them in the near
future. John’s imprint is The Dancing Tuatara Press.
A similar surge of titles from Gelett Burgess and Philip Wylie comes from
Richard A. Lupoff under his Surinam Turtle Press imprint.
I’m excited about our publishing the novels of William Ard, one of my
favorite 50s and 60s writers, and I still think everyone ought to read at
least Harry Stephen Keeler novel.

How are you planning to deal with the e book stampede?

I’m hoping that a single format for e-books emerges and that it’s easy to
convert a well-edited and formatted book to that format in a few
min-utes. Then I’ll probably spend the time to convert most of the RH
titles to it and offer them as well as the paper editions. I don’t have
an e-book reader myself, and probably won’t get one because I can’t see
carrying around an electronic device. I’ve had a cell phone for five
years now and it stays in my bedroom, running down its batteries
regularly even though it never rings or is used. I dread talking on the
damn thing. I’d probably feel the same way about a Kindle.

Where do you hope Ramble House will be two years from now?

I’d love to move Ramble House to California where I understand people can
actually smoke marijuana without danger of getting thrown in jail by an
alcoholic, wife-beating sheriff, but I’m pretty sure Ramble House will
still be in Vancleave MS. I bought 1000 ISBNs back in 2004 and have used
550 of them so far. I hope to live to use up all of them even though as
far as I can tell, the ISBNs haven’t helped sell a single book.


Cap'n Bob said...

Interesting. I think he meant the Grammys, not the Emmys, for music awards.

Matt Paust said...

I don't watch the weekly award shows either, but looking at it etymologically I suspect you are correct, Bob.

Graham Powell said...

Now I'm biased because Fender is from my home town of Shreveport, and I used to live near the Ramble House house, but I met him back in 2005 and he's a great guy. A hell of a guitar player, too.