Why was Fra founded and what were you starting with? Did you miss content you wanted to be available here?
I wasn’t keen of design, but of books and their content. I didn’t really like the discussions about the font and the type of binding… I found it quite crazy. I wanted to come up with something simple, cheap, with interesting texts. I wanted a simple edition and I didn’t see anything like it here. I don’t think showcasing is important; I was attracted by the production of French publishing houses with their formally identical editions. I knew I wouldn’t want to invent every new book anew.
Is it possible for such a publishing house to function commercially in Czech Republic?
I think that if it’s possible in Germany or France then why it wouldn’t be possible in Czech Republic. But we would need to become part of the distribution and be bigger. It wouldn’t work otherwise. But it’s also truth that we don’t put too much effort into marketing…
Are there some other options for distribution? Some experiment?
Small publishers sometimes go to all those important booksellers, bring them directly the books and explain what those books are about. We had done it for a while, but it stopped being interesting for us after some time. Another option is to sell books completely outside the distribution networks, at some events. But the options are limited mostly by time: we want to do books and not to travel around festivals and events with a backpack. Other forms of distribution are, I believe, for projects of different kind. We are a standard small publishing house. We are no experimenters at all.
What does one have to be aware when publishing books?
I would like to know that, too… I don’t think it’s a rocket science. In a way I like when someone overdoes something visually, but I wouldn’t do it, personally. I find it amusing, it’s a kind of a formal game which is not funny; I don’t care about that. Interesting content doesn’t mean the cover needs to bear a title upside down. The meaning of books lies in texts; they are the most important thing.
What makes you still enjoy doing it? When you publish poems, poetry? Is there something you would like to try?
These aren’t really the best times and I don’t want to lie to you… (Laugh) But I don’t want to complain all the time. I think in the beginning it’s amazing to meet an editor or an author who leads you to even more people. I met a lot of very interesting people. Also, it’s quite energizing when a completely different text comes; something new, powerful, and important – that’s inspiring. Also, I have a feeling it’s important. There are a lot of contemporary texts that simply wouldn’t exist if they weren’t published by us. We know that we may be publishing books we don’t find perfect, but I believe the world of literature needs this. A book is important when it’s published. It’s similar to local art exhibitions. The content is always interesting in one way or another; I don’t remember a boring book.
What questions and topics are you interested in when you publish a book? How do you set the direction Fra goes in?
I am interested in opinionated editions, a publishing house with views. And what does Fra want to say? We probably don’t have exactly a vision. In most of the things we are looking for outstanding personalities and outstanding aestheticians, but I can’t say that we would be setting any kind of pre-meditated direction or looking for some common ideas. Not even the outsiderism is relevant anymore… so, authenticity? That’s probably a cliché, but that’s how it is, probably: authenticity.
What do you miss, even generally, not just within publishing business?
Lately, the art scene – full of young curators and artists – became quite lively. The publishing houses are actually quite boring in comparison. It’s interesting they are not connected… not a lot of readings are being done, it’s difficult…
And what do you read?
Mostly things I am preparing for publishing and print. I read manuscripts, do proofreading, ten things at the same time. I haven’t read anything with proper focus for a long time. Last time it was “Alphabet of Things” by Karel Císař.
How is it with grants?
If you want to do something for a long time then you need grants, but you can’t rely on that. There are quite good commitees at the Ministry of Culture, it’s not a useless thing if you want to publish more books. There is no lack of options; in the end, what matters is who is more capable and who less. You have to spend some time doing it, and it takes a lot of time, but there is always a way to get money.
Do you stay in touch with someone abroad? Friendly publishing houses?
No, we are interested in authors; we stay in touch with agencies and bigger publishing houses.
Did you experience something unexpected? Something that sold unexpectedly well or that happened?
Most of the time we are surprised when we are awarded with Magnesia Litera for something we didn’t expect and vice versa… We don’t quite get it, one needs communicativeness, success. Marketability can be pretty much gauged. We keep reprinting Barthes, but with poetry collections it is quite the contrary.
Bigger assortment of books means bigger returns, so having a small publishing house means small returns. Bigger publishing houses live off the fact they have more books to offer and it piles up monthly. The more books you offer the bigger the chance you can make a living. When you start with one book the incoming invoice is just empty. The only option for small publishing houses is to have more of the books.