Why we don't want to publish good books
At Cinnamon Press we love books. We adore poetry and fiction, literature that defies genre and books that take risks. We find writers with distinctive voices who have something real to say exciting to work with. So what would make an independent press in love with words and story declare we don't want good books?
Why is good not good enough?
Because the world is awash with good books. And 'good' is such a bland description. 'Good' is a word so often devoid of content it makes us ask, What does that mean? We can read 'good' or 'worthy' or 'satisfying' books and stay fast asleep throughout the experience. They don't get under our skin. They don't surprise us. They don't ignite strong responses.
To get a book ready for publication demands a huge amount of work. Even when a book comes to us in a clean form, we still have to pay attention to the editing, layout, design and promotion. We're a not-for-profit press and, to pour in all this work, there has to be a reward. It may not be financial but we do desire a level of pride and satisfaction. We want the manuscript to enliven and thrill us. We're not only editors, designers and promoters, but creative practitioners. We want to work with writers whose prose or poetry challenges us to push our own creative boundaries.
Books that excite
This is not only an issue of writing technique. Of course we want work that is cliché free and stylish but there are books that are excellent, though raw and in need of work. Whatever stage the writing comes to us, we want it to be bursting with potential and inventiveness.
We love making finds, whether through literary competitions, mentoring or teaching writing courses. Some books arrive in our in-box as superb manuscripts; others with potential to be so. Either way, these are the books we want to publish. Developing an exciting, original draft into a stunning manuscript is always satisfying.
Writing to Oskar Pollack, in 1904, Kafka noted:
We ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? […] we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
A month earlier, Kafka had written that:
Some books seem like the key to the unfamiliar rooms in one's own castle.
Breaking through to the depths
We can dispute whether all books that affect us and shake us awake have to come to us like death, disaster and blows. Those that inspire beauty, courage or hope can also break through the frozen sea. But the basic sentiment holds. Great reads should excite, surprise, stir us up and make us look deeper within ourselves. This is exactly why we are not looking for 'good' books — or 'good' ideas for books in progress. This is why we want fascinating, superb, distinctive books and works in progress.
In 1951, E.B White wrote:
Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy.
Why settle for 'good' books when there are writers who can provoke ecstasy, empathy and thought?
Becoming a different story
In the last several years of publishing we've published some extraordinary books — the poetry of John Barnie and Gail Ashton, the novels of Jean Harrison and Kay Syrad, and many more. It's books like these we are more and more determined to publish. This requires the courage to say 'no' to 'good' books — books that are worthy or well-crafted but don't excite, surprise, stir, aren't completely aligned with the values and aesthetics of the press. It's a learning curve — a long one that we are still refining after twelve years of publishing. We're currently going through a major process of review and, over the next few years, the balance of astonishing books to good books will rise rapidly. Within a couple of years, there will be only those books we feel so strongly about there is simply no other choice but to publish them.
It's a promise to ourselves as publishers and to our readers — books that will be the axe for the frozen sea inside us, books that take us to the depths. Books that invite all of us to be part of a different story.