What was your pathway to publishing?
Circuitous and fortuitous, seeming inevitable only in retrospect. After university, where I studied literature and social theory, I did many bookish jobs: helping with the mail-out at ABR under Helen Daniel, reviewing books, receiving books, selling books, buying books – all at Readings – editing books, teaching editing, and so on. Eventually, I lucked into a job with Black Inc. and found myself on the ground floor of an expanding enterprise with a simpatico and highly creative boss.
How many titles do you publish each year?
Most years I publish around twenty-five new books. There are also new formats of previously published books. Overall, Black Inc. publishes around seventy books each year.
Which book are you proudest of publishing?
Not a book, but a series: the seventy-first Quarterly Essay was published recently. I have worked on the series since the beginning and became editor with issue twelve. It is a source of torment and delight. We have published a wide range of fine writers and thinkers. I am most proud of working closely as an editor with these writers to create the series. I don’t know if there is anything quite like it anywhere else in the world.
Do you edit the books you commission?
In many cases, yes.
What qualities do you look for in an author?
Genius. In a non-fiction writer, an original mind. In a fiction writer, an instinct for drama. Often I sense something original or impressive in a writer without quite knowing what it is, but think I would like to read more of this, to know where it will go.
In your dealings with authors, what is the greatest pleasure – and challenge?
The greatest pleasure is helping authors make their work the best version of itself. There is no greatest challenge, I am glad to say, although sometimes expectations need to be ‘managed’.
Do you write yourself? If so, has it informed your work as a publisher?
I have written occasional pieces over the years – reviews, essays, talks – but I don’t think it has informed my work as a publisher very much.
Who are the editors/publishers you most admire?
Some inspiring internationals: Robert Silvers, Carmen Callil, Mary-Kay Wilmers, Christopher MacLehose, Lennie Goodings. And some local independents (confining myself to the present): Morry Schwartz, Michael Heyward, Henry Rosenbloom, Julianne Schultz, Phillipa McGuinness, Peter Browne.
In a highly competitive market, is individuality one of the casualties?
I don’t think so.
On publication, which is more gratifying – a brilliant launch, a satisfied author, encomiastic reviews, or rapid sales?
I’ll plump for sales, although some very good books sell very slowly.
What’s the outlook for new writing of quality?
Same as it ever was: fortune favours the brave; hope springs eternal.
Chris Feik is publisher at Black Inc., editor of Quarterly Essay, and publishing director of La Trobe University Press. He co-edited the book The Words That Made Australia (2012).