Kevin Sampsell is the publisher of indie press Future Tense Books, and longtime events coordinator and small press buyer for Powell's City of Books (that would be the largest independent bookstore in the world, thank you) in Portland, Oregon. His own fiction has been published widely, and he's the author of a memoir coming out from Harper Perennial in January 2010. He was nice enough to let us pester him.
Please tell everyone about who you are and what you do.
I’m Kevin Sampsell and I am a writer, small press publisher, bookstore worker, dad, and doughnut connoisseur.
The World of the Independent Bookseller: More perilous, less perilous, or equally as perilous as ten years ago? What role do you think independent bookstores will continue to play in the mysterious realm of The Future?
The world of booksellers and bookstores is more perilous and has shrunk smaller than where it was ten years ago. One of the reasons is of course the Internet and that people can buy more stuff off the web than in 1999. And then you also have big giant chain stores coming into neighborhoods and closing down two or three other places in the same zip code. Which isn’t to say that all big stores are bad. Even some of the chains can serve a good purpose when they serve a community that was lacking in the past. But independent bookstores are usually staffed by more knowledgeable and enthusiastic readers and book geeks of all stripes. It’s kind of peculiar that the world of big publishing is shrinking and people are being laid off everywhere but there are all these small presses popping up every month and releasing really engaging books. Because of that, I think independent bookstores can have a resurgence, but they have to support these new small presses more so that we can all grow together. One great example is a new place in Seattle called Pilot Books.
Is it totally deluded to think the paper book will never die out altogether? How do you feel about e-books and online content?
I think it’s pretty dumb to really think that paper books will ever die. Even if we run out of trees and have to start hiring underground rebels to print things on some weird corn-cotton hybrid paper, they will stay alive. I like E-books and online content too though. It depends on the type of book. If it’s fairly short I don’t mind reading an e-book or a story on-line. I can’t imagine reading anything longer than 10,000 words in one sitting off a computer though. When it comes to books vs screens, I prefer books, but there’s still a range of quality. A website can be just as boring or painful as a badly produced book. A really cool website can be just as thrilling as a fancy book from McSweeney’s or Chronicle.
What are a few books you've read lately that you've been pleased by?
My favorite book this year so far is Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower. It’s just a masterful and greatly entertaining collection of stories. Also, The Alcoholic , a graphic novel by Jonathan Ames (illustrated by Dean Haspiel) was super good. Hold on—let me consult my Goodreads page. Oh, yeah—these were also great “5-star” reads for me this year: The Girl with Brown Fur by Stacey Levine, The Cradle by Patrick Sommerville, Some Things That Meant the World to Me by Joshua Mohr, Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt, and The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott. And of course, there are the books I’ve published, like Chelsea Martin’s Everything Was Fine Until Whatever and the newest release, Put Your Head In My Lap by Claudia Smith.
What's most exciting to you about working in the indie world, and having your own publishing company?
I am enormously lucky to be where I’m at now. I’ve been publishing for almost twenty years now and working at Powell’s for twelve years. I feel like I’m able to keep my fingers on the pulse of things pretty easily. And when you’ve been doing this stuff for as long as I have, you develop great relationships as well—not just with writers and publishers, but with readers and fans. One of the biggest thrills for me, always, is releasing a book by someone who is getting better and better as a writer. I love feeling like I’m helping these authors get more readers, more respect, and more recognition—that I might be their stepping stone to something bigger.In January, I even get to graduate to the big press world for a while—Harper Perennial is publishing my memoir, A Common Pornography , and I even get to do a big tour and see my name in ads and stuff like that. It’s pretty crazy. You might think that some of the hardcore Indie-or-Die kind of folks would think I’ve sold out or something, but I haven’t detected any of that weirdness at all. Everyone has been really happy for me. And I’m still going to be stapling chapbooks in my kitchen for the next several years.