Many years ago, when I was a micropress publisher, the first book I put out had an introduction written by Samuel R. Delany. This was a coup, because Delany had built a significant fan-following over his years in publishing, first in science fiction and then in the high-brow world of literary theory. He loved the short stories that we were publishing and, while his introduction may not have convinced a single person to actually read the stories, I believe his imprimatur did boost sales. Iâ€™m not exaggerating when I tell you that having his name on the cover helped us move tens of books. (I keeeed: I was not a good publisher.)
A year later, shooting the breeze in his impossibly book-lined apartment, Chip (as I’d come to know him) asked me what the press’ next book would be. I had no ideas, so he offered me two collections of his letters, one set from 1984 and another from the early 1990s. I looked over both sets of bound photocopies. I thought about the cachet of publishing new work by a guy whoâ€™d written some of the seminal science fiction (and fantasy) novels of the 1960â€™s and ’70â€™s. I considered the kindness he was bestowing by essentially offering to waive any royalties in order to strengthen the micropress.
And I told him, â€œYâ€™know, Chip, Iâ€™d love to say yes right now, but I have to tell you: Iâ€™ve never read a single book of yours. Given that fact, Iâ€™m a little nervous about committing to publishing a book by you.â€
He chewed on his lower lip for half a second, reached over to one of the many bookshelves in his apartment, and said, â€œWell, why donâ€™t you read the Einstein Intersection? Itâ€™s quick and somewhat representative of my earlier work. You can read it in a day or two and then let me know if you still want to publish my letters!â€
I did, and I did and we published 1984 a year later. (Neil Gaiman gave us a blurb for that one; I’d actually read his work beforehand.)
So thatâ€™s our 0-fer of the week: I was once asked to publish a book by someone whose books Iâ€™d never read.
Iâ€™ve gone on to read a bunch of Chipâ€™s work, including his best-known novel, Dhalgren. Iâ€™ve even volunteered to proofread his galleys under crazy time constraints (the all-time craziest being the 30 hours I spent poring over the reissue of The Fall of the Towers back in 2003). Despite my insecurities, weâ€™ve stayed pals long after I closed the press down, and that brings me to the point of this piece: to wish my pal Chip a happy birthday!
Many happy returns, y’hirsute galoot!