Columbus-based Harpoon Books hooks its second release with ‘Flavortown’
Gary Lovely discusses the local independent publisher’s roots upon the release of Danny Caine’s new poetry collection
When Gary Lovely launched Harpoon as a quarterly magazine alongside Michigan teacher-turned-librarian Jack Buck in 2015, he had no idea he would one day move into the publishing world.
“I was working in a bookshop in Kentucky, and we just kind of did the magazine on our own time,” said Lovely, who recently left his job at the Book Loft, for which he was rightly celebrated in some local outlets, taking on the role of store manager at Prologue Bookshop in the Short North. “And, as time went along, it got more popular. I’d worked in books long enough that I was like, ‘Maybe I could publish a book or two,’ and it went from there.”
At the time, Lovely was also working as a satellite editor for Write Bloody Publishing, based in Portland, Oregon, and the independent publisher offered the framework on which Harpoon has since taken shape, influencing everything from the size and paper stock of published works to the attitude on which the business has been built.
Lovely described the process of moving from a literary magazine to a book publisher as a natural evolution, adding that Harpoon has attempted to hold steady to the principles on which it was founded. One that Lovely hopes to pay more attention to in the future, though, is the idea of highlighting authors who have not yet been given a wider platform. “We were looking for writers where maybe this was their first publishing credit,” Lovely said of the exploratory mindset that drove the quarterly.
In terms of book publishing, neither of the authors featured via Harpoon has been an entirely unknown quantity, at least to this point. Prior to the release of Emily as Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire, Darren Demaree had built a solid readership with his series of “Emily as” poems, while Danny Caine, whose Flavortown released today (Tuesday, May 4), is celebrated in literary circles both for his writing and for the anti-Amazon stance he’s adopted owning and operating the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas. Both were also well-known to Lovely, on a personal level.
“Danny is this force in the independent book publishing world. Everybody knows Danny,” said Lovely, who set Harpoon aside for much of 2020 following the arrival of the coronavirus, which left the publishing and book seller industries scrambling in much the same way it did every other customer-facing business. “And we had published Darren in the quarterly … and we knew that book would likely do well since he already had a following.”
Moving forward, Lovely said he intends to get away from publishing solely people he considers friends, likely beginning with Harpoon’s next release, which should follow in 2022, barring future global pandemics. (Though, to be fair, aren’t authors we haven’t published just friends waiting to be made?)
“Right now, we’re in the process of picking another book, so that should be announced shortly,” said Lovely, who estimated that the publisher receives around 200 submissions per year, which can take time to comb through, since he’s intent on giving each packet the care and attention he said it deserves. “So not only will we go through the book, but we look at the author and what the author has done. We want to take some time to learn who we might be publishing, too, which is a big thing for me. We don’t want to publish people who are secretly terrible.”