What's In a Name?
Where does the name Dzanc come from? After fruitless efforts on my part to find a hidden meaning behind the word ‘dzanc’ or to piece the puzzle together, I asked Steve Gillis, founder and publisher at Dzanc Books, how they came up with the name. He explained Dzanc is a combination of the first letters of his two kids’ first names and the names of the three kids of Executive Director and Publisher Dan Wickett. The way in which Gillis and Wickett decided to use their kids’ names in their company title is demonstrative of the relationship they have with their authors. “We look at Dzanc as a family. For every author we sign, we say, ‘Welcome to the Dzanc family.’”
Hesh Kestin was welcomed to the Dzanc family several years ago and received an IPPY gold medal for literary fiction for The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, published in 2010.
Other Dzanc Digital Endeavors
Dzanc Books is expanding its online eBook Club, which allows users to subscribe for a number of months to receive immediate releases and discounts on its electronic books. A point of pride for this publisher is that their works are compatible with a vast array of devices, from Kindles to iPads, Nooks, Sony Readers, and more. In fact, Dzanc Books is currently in discussions with Kobo about possibilities for the future.
In addition to the eBook Club, “Dzanc was the first literary fiction publisher to champion working with libraries for eBook distribution. We have a great relationship with libraries. We recognize the modernization of libraries to eBook will, in the long run, help keep mortar and brick libraries going, and this is key to Dzanc’s philosophy of community.” And because Dzanc Books sees the value of printed works despite their leadership in the digital shift, Gillis quickly followed his comments on digital publishing with the reassuring statement, “We continue to be a print publisher—will always be a print publisher.”
Indie Groundbreaking Publisher
Promoting Literacy and Pioneering Digitalization of New and Old Printed Works
Dzanc Books has been in business for seven short years and has already left its mark on the publishing industry by investing in the promotion of literacy in tangible ways, combining its efforts to put out great works of literature with multiple other imprints, and by spearheading the industry’s eBook endeavors. This month’s Indie Groundbreaking Publisher has remained true to its original philosophies throughout its many successes, growing into a publishing house featuring programs beneficial for writers, future contributors, and readers alike.
Steve Gillis, founder and publisher at Dzanc Books, and Dan Wickett, executive director and publisher at Dzanc, founded the company on a simple premise: “Dan and I wanted to expose great writing to a broader audience,” said Gillis. “We knew there were great authors that were out there that weren’t being published. We weren’t concerned about making a billion dollars; we wanted to get great writing exposed.”
The efforts of these men to find, distribute, and promote great writing was combined with their charitable efforts to “bring great writing into the schools” to establish Dzanc Books as a nonprofit 501(c)3 that not only features great writers, but also works “to champion literature and writing in the schools.”
Beginning as a small startup, Gillis insisted on taking each step in the process logically, avoiding starting a company on a shoestring but rather making sure the company had a proper financial backing before moving forward. “We got ourselves financially situated because our idea was to be around for a very long time,” he stated. “We got our finances in place and made sure we were going to be around, and that’s how we got going. Seven years later, we’re one of the top independent presses in the country. We’ve gone from our initial idea of publishing a couple of books and seeing what we could do to where we’re publishing not only our huge list but also [those of] our several imprints now.”
Building from the ground up, Gillis and Wickett immediately saw the value in venturing into the digital realm as an independent press. “Two years into our publishing print books, we saw that eBooks were not only here but that they were really going to become a big part of the publishing industry—that the whole playing field was changing rather quickly.”
Looking back on the decision to move quickly into digital publishing, Gillis recalled, “When we founded Dzanc, we were always progressive in our thinking and we knew that using the Web was important because most of the world had changed. Most of the conversation about literature was happening online, so we were really well-connected with getting our books reviewed online so that we had an intimate relationship with the Web.”
Pacazo, by Roy Kesey, winner of an IPPY bronze metal for literary fiction and of a Paula Anderson Book Award from Word Riot, Inc., has also sold very well in eBook form for Dzanc Books. To remain competitive and ahead of the curve, Dzanc Books “decided to be aggressive in [its] publishing of eBooks,” which took them to an entirely new level. “As we saw that eBooks were here, we jumped all over it and now we truly are the leader. Our list for fiction is head and shoulders above anybody else,” stated Gillis.
Because the philosophy of Dzanc Books is to get great pieces of writing out to enthusiastic readers, they have launched their rEprint series. This series works to convert pieces of literature not otherwise found in digital form to eBooks whether they are out of print or simply have yet to be converted. “We were literally the first in the industry to do this. Before anybody else even knew what was going on with eBooks, we had acquired 500 titles.”
As a writer and a teacher, Steve Gillis understands the need for any educator to gain a child’s trust. For these reasons, he and Wickett established the long-term Writers-in-Residence Program at Dzanc Books (DWiRP) in which a writer goes to a school to teach creative writing for one day per week throughout an entire year. These writers are published authors and “establish a relationship with a class and work with kids on creative writing.” Several of Dzanc’s authors participate in DWiRP and collectively have tutored over 100 students in each of the past several years.
Knuckleheads, by Jeff Kass was an IPPY gold medal winner for short story collection and a winner of an Independent eBook award. Kass has run several Writers-in-Residence Programs in past years.
Dzanc Books also offers an ongoing mentoring program during which writers volunteer to review a participant’s work, corresponding via email with the participant. Participants can choose the amount of time for which they will be mentored and the mentor who will be reading their work. All of the proceeds from these mentorships go directly to supporting DWiRP.
To promote literacy internationally, Dzanc Books organized the Disquiet International Literary Program, which is a writing conference consistent of two-week workshops on an array of topics as well as a literary and cultural program. Locally, they are in conversations and working with Eastern Michigan University to create a program through which students who want to teach writing in a classroom will be provided with additional tools to do so.
As was their original initiative, Dzanc Books is working to promote literacy and foster creative writing in the community, in schools, and for writers at large. The Dzanc Prize of $5,000 is awarded to authors who submit excellent writing and promote a plausible community service project, again demonstrating the company’s charitable efforts. Eugene Cross, author of Fires of Your Choosing, won the Dzanc Prize and taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to African students in central Pennsylvania. “We have such a base of writers to choose from and these people are so charitable with their time that it just makes sense,” said Gillis.
Dzanc Books also highly values its relationships with its many imprints. They work with other independent publishers to distribute great works of literature by utilizing their relationship with Consortium. Dzanc also continues to work with literary journals on digitizing and distributing their works throughout publication, leaving editorial aspect of publishing books as well as journals up to the imprints themselves.
Never once has Dzanc Books faltered in its efforts to work for the promotion of reading, creative writing, outstanding literature, and charitable programs. “You do see in business and in life, as people go along, that people’s views and values change, and ours hasn’t at all. We are still lovers of fiction and we just love great writing. Nothing excites us more than to find a great book—there’s no greater feeling in the world,” Gillis said.
In their pioneering efforts to use digital media for the promotion and distribution of their many titles as well as their commitment to instilling the value of reading and writing in others, Dzanc Books works for the readers of today and the writers of tomorrow. They are actively bringing opportunities to writers in many different communities while retaining their relationships with other publishing companies to put forth great writing, creating a balance that has brought them success in the past and will continue to help them grow as their efforts remain unshaken in the face of this changing industry.
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Ariel Bronson is a senior at the University of Michigan studying as a dual concentrator in English and Communication Studies. She worked as an editorial intern at Sleeping Bear Press in 2011 and is currently an Online Content Editor at LEAD Magazine on Michigan’s campus. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at firstname.lastname@example.org