Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Publisher Q&A: Clark Kenyon of the Camp Pope Bookshop

In something of a departure from the usual interview subject on CWBA, I thought readers might be interesting in hearing from a small publisher. Clark Kenyon, founder and sole proprietor of The Camp Pope Bookshop has kindly agreed to join us for a Q&A session.

DW: Hi Clark. Thank you for participating in the first publisher Q&A. I suppose I can start with the usual question--what got you into Civil War bookselling in the first place?

CK: Hi Drew. I’m flattered that you would want to interview me. It’s an old story: you start collecting books, you get too many, but you want more. How does one justify a hobby that takes up so much time and money? Turn it into a business. Why the Civil War? Visited Gettysburg when I was 12. You know what that does to you.

DW: Indeed. Did you realize early on that you'd be able to make a living dealing with T-M books almost exclusively? Or was it a gradual process?

CK: I might have thought I could make a living at it, but the scale is too small. The book publishing/selling business only represents about 8% of my total net income (I also have another business). So, were I to increase my volume tenfold I might be able to support myself with books alone. But the niche character of the Trans-Miss makes that unlikely.

DW: Which segment of your business—primary publishing, bookselling, contract publishing—do you find the most rewarding?

CK: I think I take the most enjoyment from designing and laying out books. I’m a little obsessive about it; I’ll spend weeks working on a book cover. (Since I have no formal graphic design training and no real artistic sense it takes that long.) But when everything finally falls into place it is very gratifying.

DW: What do you see as your greatest strength as a small publisher and a bookseller?

CK: As a publisher, that my standards are high for every book I do, not just my own. I have never produced a piece of crap for a contract job. As a bookseller, I am often complimented on the range of books I carry. People are happy that they can find so many Trans-Miss titles in one place.

DW: And, if I may add, many are available nowhere else! You are doing some really important work publishing annotated primary source materials with your series Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River (for book list go to The Camp Pope Bookshop). How did Michael Banasik’s involvement as series editor come about? Do you see the series continuing indefinitely?

CK: I met Mike in the mid 1990s when he was giving a talk at a local Civil War Round Table on his book Embattled Arkansas. We got to talking about books and the Trans-Miss, and he told me he had an idea to edit an original series of books containing primary material (diaries, letters, etc.) on the subject. He needed a publisher and wondered if I would be interested. I said yes. Our first book Missouri Brothers in Gray came out in 1998. Since then we’ve added five more titles.

Mike’s original proposal was for eight or ten titles and I don’t know if he has added anything beyond that. I suggested one title to him, Missouri in 1861: The Civil War Letters of Franc. B. Wilkie, Newspaper Correspondent, which turned out to be a very important contribution to the series. I imagine we could keep it going indefinitely.

[To be continued. Part 2 will be posted later in the week.]

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