Clash Books: Taking A Chance on the Most Special of Books -By: Liam Sweeny
Written by Liam Sweeny on November 11, 2022
Writing’s tough. I should know. It took me a whole cup of coffee just to write the following interview. But you know who has it worse than writers? Publishers. At best, they’re given treasured flowers they have to grow; at worse, they have acres of weeds to dig through. And if they’re looking for the Queen’s roses in an abandoned lot, they better get used to dirty hands.
CLASH Books is an independent publisher in Troy. Owned by Christoph Paul and Leza Cantoral, CLASH is a bouquet of the Queen’s roses; well, maybe the rainbow-colored ones that she hid on the back nine but loved too much to put asunder.
RRX: CLASH hosts a reading series at the El Dorado Bar in Troy. I’m reminded of the various Noir at the Bar scenes around the country. Is it easier, from a logistic sense, to organize a reading than a show?
CP: The rock gods introduced me to El Dorado. We met Eric Stinemire at a Super Dark Collective, he invited us to play and I fell in love with the place. I loved the location and the space and he was game to host a reading series. We moved here from New Hampshire and have wanted to build a literary community since we got here. It feels good that it is finally happening.
LC: Being a publisher is a lot of work but one of the benefits is we know a ton of writers and want to meet more local ones, so this reading is an opportunity to do just that! I love the space. It was amazing to see the turnout at our first one. We had a local magazine, “High Saturation”, come sell their mag and merch and it felt so good to start feeling more involved in the local lit community.
RRX: CLASH Books published a great mix of books that are very well written but would have been hard to place in traditional publishing. It’s a risk, no matter the business model or the production flow. But everybody’s looking for that kickass book. How do you convince a market fed on Big Five publishing to feast on CLASH?
CP: The Big Five or really Four or probably soon to be Three, publish a lot of great books because great writers want to get paid well for their labor. However, I noticed a weakness with agents and the Big Four—they are risk-adverse. The mid list and talented but ‘riskier’ authors are being left behind. I wanted to build a home between the micro-press and corporate authors to give them a home. No different than indie music labels, back in the day, did for awesome but not Top 40 bands. All we have is the trust and excitement of our readers and we have to keep that trust while still surprising them.
LC: Honestly a book speaks for itself. If it gets people excited, it just does. There is not a whole lot anyone can do to make that happen. But that said, we try to get the books out there. We share them online; we sell them at festivals around the country. We send ARCs, (advance reader copies) to reviewers and other people to help hype it. We even went to Barcelona a few years ago and had a blast meeting readers there. We do not have the ad budget or the business connects to get our books on talk shows or big ads but we get to people through grassroots efforts. Sometimes you need a publicist. Sometimes you just need a good book.
RRX: Indie publishers are my favorite. But I fall into the same trap a lot of writers fall into, that going with an indie gives you artistic freedom, but you sacrifice your NYT bestseller dreams. I know a lot of this conception is promulgated by people in traditional publishing that want to keep their jobs, but is there any truth here?
CP: The bestseller list isn’t even real half of the time. Google Jared Kushner’s stupid book. Corporate publishing doesn’t even share sales half the time. I think the NYT bestseller dreams or writing the Great American Novel (what does that even mean?) is a lot of bullshit. I think it’s cool to want to get a six-figure advance but it’s also a lottery. ‘
I’ve noticed a lot of editors in corporate publishing are also burned out and not getting paid enough. I could say the same for CLASH but it’s ours which makes it feel special. Personally, I think a small and/or mid-size press with distribution is a great starting point. I’ve met other small to mid-size publishers who truly care about the books, give good edits, and fight for the book. With big advances getting smaller and split up and writers at the big houses being treated like stock options, indie publishing is not a bad route to go.
LC: Making more money is always great. Getting your book optioned by a big producer is also great. Those things can happen in the indie route as well. You can pump a bunch of ad money behind a book. But if it doesn’t find readers you are out on your ass with a bunch of money spent on a flop. When you go indie you spend less money upfront, so your profit ceiling is massive if something strikes.
RRX: CLASH publishes crazy cool shit. I feel like a cooler person knowing that CLASH exists, like it’s a genre of music that you got to be “in the know” to know. And I also know that you can tell by that first paragraph whether a submission hits or not. So, do you have a unicorn kind of submission in your heads?
CP: It’s funny, people say we are cool and I appreciate that but I care much more about quality because cool always changes. I don’t think we publish cool books; I see them more as special books. I think what is cool about CLASH is staying true to seeking and publishing what we feel is special. Whether it be a massive literary novel like “The Logos”, a small Blaxploitation novella titled “The Pussy Detective, In Defense of Ska”, cult hit “Darryl”, Tea Hacic’s auto-fiction hit “Life of the Party”… We want something that feels special and makes us want to go above and beyond to spread that word about the book.
LC: Unlike Christoph I have no problem admitting we are indeed a very cool press. We’re plugged into culture. We’re both very picky readers. We don’t like to be bored. We grew up in a TV age that became an internet age. We are as easily distracted as your average 15-year-old. We love literature though, so we really look for unique voices that get us excited and feel like they are saying something fresh in a new way. Hook us. That is all we want. To find a book we can’t put down.
RRX: One of the best things about CLASH as an indie press is that you have success at every turn. You’ve had a book (“In Defense of Ska”) that was quoted in Rolling Stone, and you were just in Publishers Weekly with Xperience alum Johnny Temple. What are y’all spiking your coffee with?
CP: I’ll personally say being with Temple was special as I met him as an author. He has been a big inspiration. I was willing to just keep going for about five years while no one really cared and us being our own hype people and around 2020 things just started moving and the momentum kept going. This is still a tough job but we drink lots of coffee.
LC: We are picking bangers. That’s what’s happening. We try to pick good books. It is kind of up to the lit gods to do the rest. I am a practicing witch and I did make a deal with a local ghost so I don’t know, maybe that helps. I promised her we would publish the book about her unsolved 1908 murder. Her name was Hazel Drew and she is the real life muse behind Twin Peaks. Keep an eye out for that one in 2024. “Hazel Was a Good Girl: Solving the Murder that Inspired Twin Peaks”. We don’t discriminate against the dead at CLASH. They need their stories told too.
RRX: CLASH has a very ‘music’ vibe. Christoph, you play in The Dionysius Effect, and you published “In Defense of Ska”. So, being of both minds, what do you think music can teach you about writing, and vice versa?
CP: With music you can narrow it down to four things: rhythm, voice, hook and connecting. I’m biased toward singing, songwriting and bass, but I need those four to feel excited about my own songs or someone else’s. I need a voice that really grabs me, a tight flow and rhythm, and something that connects right away. If that isn’t there, then I have to move on. It’s lot like dating. At the end of the day, I’m just a reader looking to fall in love with a book.
RRX: This is where you answer the question I didn’t ask. Remarks? Comments? Enlighten, educate, emote – the floor is yours.
CP: If you’re reading this, you live in the Capital Region, if you like books and are curious about writing or just want to hear some interesting shit, come to the CLASH Books readings at El Dorado.
LC: Yeah, come out. El Dorado has amazing pizza too. Come for the pizza and beer and stay for the lit.