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Running a press, you meet people who want to be published. By you, yes, but by lots of other people as well. It’s a weird dynamic when your face, your name, your conversation, is inextricable from an entity that is, in fact, just a concept.
There’s a lie built into the words “Sorry House” and the lie is that there’s anything more than me, alone in a room, and some favors and odd jobs and late-night chats from a network of friends. The lie is the branding, and the branding implies that there’s an office somewhere, an intern or two, a stable address at least. But there isn’t. The return address is my parents’ apartment in a different borough, and when I order books from the printer I have them shipped to my day job.
I get at least an email a month from undergrad students who want to intern for Sorry House. I don’t know what they imagine that internship would look like when they draft up a cover letter, but they probably don’t picture their boss being the same age as they are. I used to tell them this but have less time than I used to. A lot more has slipped through the cracks lately.
Transparency has always been important to me. That’s why I tell people how much I pay my authors if they ask, that’s why my authors know in advance how much they will be paid. That’s why I wrote an article about starting a small press and included almost everything I knew from personal experience. That’s why I tell people, when they attempt to have me publish their book (however subtly) that I don’t actually run a press.
I wake up just before I need to leave for work at the bike shop, sometimes within 5 minutes of hustling out the door and getting on my bike. I arrive at the store and negotiate an infinite list of tasks and responsibilities, including dealing with coworkers, customers, third-party companies, marketing opportunities, cardboard and trash and recycling, inventory, sales, and so on. I finish at around 7:30 p.m. and will usually have a beer with my colleagues.
Right now my title is “Brand Manager.” Being a Brand Manager is a lot like being a regular employee of a bicycle shop, except you sometimes get to have meetings with people and a lot of the time have to tell people no.
I have a lot of investment in my job. I don’t like retail, and being a part of the reason why people spend their money makes me feel dirty. As far as jobs go, though, I’m extremely lucky. I don’t have a college degree but I get paid enough to live comfortably in New York. I know my bosses intimately, I know their dog and their daughter, and when they have their second girl I’ll know her, too. I’m in the business of putting people on bikes, which is an entirely good thing, both for them and our environment. I don’t work on commission and I don’t have to manipulate anyone to open their wallet. If a customer wants to take a few days to think about it, that’s okay with me. I get to be more or less who I am all day. Whatever that means.
At home, I have a label printer and some envelopes and a box of books. I’m in a nice room in a nice house but only for a couple more weeks. After that I’ll have hopefully found somewhere else to be. Though it probably won’t be as good of a deal.
I’ve stopped sending books to Amazon. I don’t have the energy to go to the post office anymore. They’re offering me $500 gross to send them some books but that doesn’t seem like enough money to make the time. I’ve stopped having sex, I think. As an idea it doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Before I go out at night I masturbate so I’ll be less tempted to sleep with anyone. Masturbation is better because if I lose interest no one gets hurt.
There are websites to go to and some of them will show you people fucking and others will let you submit your manuscript. Some will let you order a dog and others will tell you about the world. I don’t run a press. I don’t publish books. I don’t want to read anything and I don’t want to write anything. I don’t want to go to work but if I stay home I’ll feel even worse. My days off are overwhelmed with the pressure to make them count. I stay in bed.
The paragraph I just wrote, right above this sentence, is filled with truths but not all of them are entirely accurate. I do publish books but not the ones anyone wants me to. I do want to read some things, I just can’t think of any. I do want to write something, I’m just afraid I won’t like it (you won’t like it). I do want to go to work because I like money and require structure for productivity/satisfaction. I don’t always stay in bed when I don’t have anywhere to be.
But the many perspectives of a given thing are sometimes narrowed for me, and not in the best way. When Sorry House does well I feel good, like there’s suddenly something else. When I get a paycheck from my job I’m reminded of why I’m there and I feel empty. It would be better if I chose to do it like I choose to make books. I would feel better about all the energy I don’t have. I would wake up earlier and take care of myself like I enjoy participating as a body among others. My underwear would by outside-in and my body odor would be negligible. I use Tom’s.
I would love an internship, I think. Something unpaid and unfulfilling but beautiful and emptying. Menial work under a proper guise. Free labor for an intangible reason. Looking forward to something, the structure of a company telling you who you are. The combination of a literary world and the passivity of an office. I’d be inspired again by the tedium of a corporate publisher, to go home and publish books more quickly, more interestingly. But I don’t really publish books. I just happen to put one out now and again.
But only when I really have to.