November 18th, 2010 / 2:35 pm
Behind the Scenes & Web Hype

Talking With Vouched’s Christopher Newgent

In her post about Barnes & Noble, Roxane Gay wrote a great introduction to this interview with Christopher Newgent about his Vouched project. She was walking around the store, saddened by the selection and (more importantly) the detachment from literature that the store promulgates. She wrote:

I walked around some more and thought about the Vouched Books project where Christopher Newgent brings his table of indie books and magazines he can vouch for to various literary/arts events around Indianapolis. There’s a lot to be said for bookselling on such a small scale. I’ve seen Christopher at work at a reading in Indy and he was never without interested people hanging around his table. People seemed really excited to be able to talk to someone about potential books and magazines worth buying and reading. One young man I saw was totally excited to learn about writers he had never heard of. I saw him walk away with like three books. As booksellers struggle with how to stay alive, I think part of the conversation should center around how we can make people feel connected to books.

That’s kind of like the dream scenario. And Christopher’s idea continues to grow. He runs a reading series, has a gang now, and as he announced in their new bi-monthly column at Small Doggies, they’re starting to run reviews (I think I have one forthcoming about that book Chris Higgs wrote). I’ve been excited about Vouched since Christopher first contacted me to order PG books. Before the project gets too big and leaves us all behind, I thought I’d throw some questions at literature’s newest Sam Walton.

I think when Vouched was just firing up you wrote somewhere that the idea came to you and you got excited about it and you just jumped in, cutting down on other projects and your job so you could focus. Can you talk about the beginning?
The idea for Vouched came from a couple conversations with Chris Heavener at the Annalemma blog about how to promote small press lit on a more personal and grassroots level. I seriously think it went from idea to project launch in a week. I was actually emailing small presses about wholesale arrangements before I’d even told my wife about the idea. It all came together stupid quick thanks to a kind and generous donation that practically bankrolled my entire initial inventory. Within 3 weeks, I set up my table for the 1st time at a reading with Brett Jenkins. A couple weeks later, we had to put a new roof on our house.

I had to put Vouched on the backburner while I picked up a couple spare jobs to pay off the roof, but as soon as I could, I quit those jobs so I could focus again. Since I’d cleared my plate of some bigger obligations while working to pay off the roof (namely my co-founding role in INDYCOG–now I just blog for them basically), I could really concentrate on Vouched for a change.

Vouched does more than just sell books — you also do other interesting things, like you have a nice-looking website where you link to online writing that is exciting for you and the other people on the Vouched crew. Are there other things that fall under the Vouched umbrella?
The other big endeavor is the Vouched Presents reading series I just started with the help of the Artifice crew on their recent reading tour. I’d been wanting to start a series in Indy since talking to Jim Ruland last AWP about his Vermin on the Mount series, so when Tadd contacted me about setting up a reading, it just made sense to put it under the Vouched umbrella and focus on bringing in small press authors. So I approached Big Car, a local art collective, about hosting it in their gallery and they were more than welcoming. The Artifice crew was incredible and gracious and powerful and actually made me believe something like Vouched could turn my entire city on its tired head.

We’ve also recently partnered with Small Doggies Magazine to write a bi-monthly column called the Vouched Satellite about goings-on in the small press world. Tyler Gobble and I are each writing a column a month reviewing books, discussing small press community happenings, whatever. The first few are up now, and the concept is still new and malleable.

You also announced today that you’re going to run reviews. Will you be accepting submissions for those?
Yeah. I’d be glad to accept review submissions, with the stipulation that we only intend to review small press books. If you have a good review of a small press book, send it our way and I’ll take a look at it.

How do you sell books? Like, where/at what events and also, do you have any tips for “tabling”? What should numbnut tablers like me know for, say, AWP?
I honestly just set a table up flea-market style at art and literary events. There’s not much more to it. I have a monthly table outside Big Car Gallery during the First Friday Art Walk, which is my primary outlet.

As for tips, booze is handy. I’m kind of an awkward dude, so having a beer or flask handy helps me loosen up. NB: Aaron Burch manning the Hobart table at last year’s AWP. Whiskey helps.

Seriously though, I’m probably not the guy to ask about tabling tips. Making a sell takes me forever because more than selling the books, I love talking about them and connecting with people. My wife helped me run the table at Vouched Presents and we made a damn good team. I’d be talking to people about the books and suggesting purchases while she took money and marked sales. Otherwise, I’d have probably only sold half the books I did that night because people would’ve gotten tired of waiting for me to finish talking to someone else so I could take their money.

About how many books are you vouching for currently?
I currently have 22 titles on the table: poetry, fiction, and a few lit journals. I’m probably going to cap it soon actually, probably no more than 25. I don’t want the table to get too overwhelming in the sense of choice for the customer.

Are there “bestsellers” — like are some easier to vouch for than others?
I’m still kind of learning this myself, really. Some sell really well because something about them catches a passerby, like Lovelace’s Eggs catches a lot of people initially because it’s a bright and beautiful book, and Bailey’s Drunk Sonnets because the funny/provocative title. With that initial interest, it’s easy for me to get them to crack open the book and read a particular passage or poem that gets them to buy it.

Other times, it’s the books that make the jump from books-I-dig-a-lot-and-want-to-promote to books-that-completely-flattened-me-when-I-read-them, like We Take Me Apart or When All Our Days Are Numbered or Easter Rabbit. Often people ask me which books to buy, and I’ll naturally gravitate to 1 of these.

Journals have been easier to sell than I initially imagined, too, and it’s usually to people who are interested in the Vouched project as a whole, in discovering new words. I usually suggest journals to these people as something like a sampler of current writing/writers.

Name one thing you like and one thing you dislike about small press culture.
I think the biggest draw to me is the community, and I love highlighting that when talking to people at the table. A couple times when talking to someone about a book, I’ve almost thought about calling the author and saying, “Hey, this guy’s thinking about buying your book. You should tell them why they should.” I love that. It reminds me of the Beats hitching across the country to get to Gary Snyder’s going away party before he left for Japan.

Of course, with community always comes the inevitable drama. There’s bitching and moaning and posturing and jealousy and envy and the people who feel left out or discarded. And of course that sucks, and I’m not above it myself, but you can’t have a good story without that and I don’t think you can have a good community without it either. I’ve only been a part of it for a little over a year, but even in that short time, I’ve seen people grow through that, both as writers and people. I’ve grown myself.

You used to be thick into bands, right? Do you see any overlap worth talking about between the indie lit scene and the indie rock scene (both of which are mega yucky words for some reason)?
I see huge similarities between the current indie lit scene and the indie music scene of the mid-late 90s when all the indie labels and bands were finally starting to learn how to use the internet to promote themselves on sites like Book Your Own Fucking Life,, and later Myspace Music.

I feel like the indie lit scene is perhaps a decade behind on that movement, but the indie music scene didn’t have to fight established prejudices that music on the internet wasn’t as good or legit as printed music.

I should probably stop myself there. I could honestly go on all day about the similarities between the two, but basically, as the music world became more democratic and the underground scene more organized, the more opportunities presented themselves for the independent labels and artists to promote and distribute themselves to a wider and more receptive audience. Once the gatekeepers were no longer as central to the industry, the real cream busting their asses in the underground to create smart and beautiful and meaningful music was able to rise to the top.

What kind of money do you hope to see passing through the Vouched budget? Now that you’ve got your roof fixed, are you actively trying to make this a full-time deal, get a summer house, that sort of thing?
If I could grow Vouched into something that sustainable, hell yes. But, who knows. Right now, I only mark the books up $1-2 more than I get them from the presses, and those proceeds go to growing the inventory, some promo materials like postcards and bookmarks, and hopefully to being able to pay the readers who come in for Vouched Presents. I’m more interested in selling books than making money at this point, though, so the lower I can price the books and get them out into the world, the better.

Will you speculate on the entrepreneurial spirit of groups like yours and Pilot, Weightless Books and Annalemma’s flea market table and so on — groups that aren’t just about publishing anymore? Where is this coming from and where is it going?
It’s strange to me to be lumped into that group, to be honest. I hadn’t even thought of that.

Well, as I see it, the move toward innovative promotion and sales in this niche is a new development. I mean, sure, independent bookselling is an old concept, but doing it punk style like this isn’t. Punk style like DIY or whatever — “Okay, I like that idea, I’ll do it.” Running with it. So, my question to you is — what made you want to take up this end of the business rather than running a journal or a press or (strictly) a review site?
Essentially, I wanted to go where people are. The classic promotional venues are severely limited in scope and visibility. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, but their primary audience is people who already know where to look. I wanted to go where people didn’t even know there was something to look for.

And, to better connect to these people. The Internet provides a great place to connect and share information, but there’s only so much community that can be built around binary code. I wanted a way to talk with the people about these books, not just at them. Sure, there are comment threads and stuff to facilitate some talk/discussion online, but it’s not the same as waving your hands and gulping beer while you geek out with someone about books.

Are you tabling at AWP?
Nah. I have a really strict rule with myself to not compete against the actual publishers or writers I’m trying to support. It’d be a pretty dick move to table at a venue where the presses are trying to shill the same goods. I can imagine Tadd and Rebekah’s opinion of me and Vouched would be much different if I was trying to undercut them at the Artifice reading. Vouched is about promoting presses and writers, not taking their market share. I actually even mention on the site that I don’t do mail-order, and provide links to purchase them online, direct from the press.

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  1. Joseph Young

      just took a whirlwind tour through the vouched site since, poorly on my part, i’d not done so for a while, but it’s somewhere i’ll go back to a really look around–it’s not just that there are so many good books and mags and links and such featured, it’s also the…spirit of the whole venture. a generous thing.

  2. Giant Doggies. «

      […] Robinson just posted an interview with me about Vouched over at HTMLGiant, and said some kind and incredible things in his intro. That dude has been supporting Vouched from […]

  3. Tadd Adcox

      Um, yes. That sounds awesome. And also like you might win the indie-scene punk rock prize forever.

  4. stapleton

      Newgent is a a gentleman and a scholar. Glad to see some good love headed his way. Keep up the fight, Christopher!

  5. Joseph Young

      just took a whirlwind tour through the vouched site since, poorly on my part, i’d not done so for a while, but it’s somewhere i’ll go back to a really look around–it’s not just that there are so many good books and mags and links and such featured, it’s also the…spirit of the whole venture. a generous thing.

  6. Rebekah

      I love Vouched. And this interview is fantastic. I have a fever so if nothing I say makes sense (except my love, that trancends) I apologize.

      I’d love to have Vouched present at AWP at the tables of folks vouched-for by Vouched. Artifice is against co-branding, but I’d happily have stickers or something at our table to say, “Hey, here’s another outlet where you can get Artifice and other cool stuff.” I bet other publishers would too.

      When we were in Indy, it was amazing what sellingn to an unsaturated market looked like. People were leaving the reading with Issues #1 and #2 of Artifice PLUS a couple books from the Vouched table. There are audiences that are hungry for new stuff. Christopher calls lit journals “samplers” and while that seems strange in a way, it’s also quite effective I imagine. I love samplers!

      Joseph Young’s right (above). It is a generous thing, and that’s what feels exciting about it.

      Plus Christopher’s a bang up guy. AND loves bikes. WIN and WIN.

  7. christopher.

      What’s sold out now, what?

  8. Roxane

      This is such a bad ass interview and really, Vouched Books is a fierce idea. I was really inspired by seeing Chris at work selling his books in Indy. I couldn’t believe how many people given the size of the crowd, lingered at the table looking at all the book objects and asking questions.

      I’d also add that Chris, I’d have no problem with your selling PANK at AWP. We just want our magazine in people’s hands. We don’t much care how it gets there.

  9. Rebekah

      I want a “We’ve been VOUCHED” sticker, like a Zagat sticker. Seriously.

  10. Adam Robinson

      Same here re: PG books at a Vouched table. I mean, people pay distributors for essentially the same thing.

  11. Rebekah

      Yeah, I actually have no problem w/ a vouched table either. Although they’re sold out now? VOUCHED! You are a tastemaker.

  12. Mike Meginnis


  13. christopher.

      You know, I could always bring my table and set up on the streets of D.C. while I’m there. Then I wouldn’t feel like I’m competing directly with you at the book fair (I can’t afford the book fair anyway this year). The worst that could happen is I get asked whether I have a permit, and I say no, and they tell me to leave.

  14. christopher.

      I don’t even know how to respond to that intro or to these comments. Just thanks, Adam and everyone.

  15. Tadd Adcox

      “The Internet provides a great place to connect and share information, but there’s only so much community that can be built around binary code. I wanted a way to talk with the people about these books, not just at them. Sure, there are comment threads and stuff to facilitate some talk/discussion online, but it’s not the same as waving your hands and gulping beer while you geek out with someone about books.”

      Absolutely. The other side of this, probably, is that the internet makes possible a sort of real-life community that might not otherwise have existed. I like both.

      Also: Badass interview, in general.

  16. Tadd Adcox

      Um, yes. That sounds awesome. And also like you might win the indie-scene punk rock prize forever.

  17. M Kitchell

      christopher newgent is the man. thank you for making me not the only person who is insistent upon comparing the ‘indie lit scene’ with the ‘indie music scene’.

  18. Rebekah

      Tadd and I have been having that conversation for ever. Please take your turn having it with him.

  19. M Kitchell

      this is true. jereme dean just sort of jumped on me w/r/t that in mah post the other day. SOLIDARITY.

  20. christopher.

      After our comments the other day in your post, Ryan C. emailed to ask if I’d do a guest post about that subject for HTMLG, so I’m stoked about that. It’d be cool to bounce some ideas off you as I’m writing it, have you fact check some stuff for me, etc.

  21. stapleton

      Newgent is a a gentleman and a scholar. Glad to see some good love headed his way. Keep up the fight, Christopher!

  22. jereme_dean

      I guess I wasn’t lucid enough.

      I didn’t say indie music & indie lit are unrelated; they obviously are.

      What I had issue with was the laziness of your post. You started making valid, interesting points then stopped dead to finger point at music. It made no sense and was a little confusing. I wouldn’t have commented if your own analysis of why self promotion in music is moral but not in literature was in the article. You simply pointed and said, “look, look, they are doing it!”

      The same empty finger pointing occurred in your NaNoWriMo post but in a slightly different delivery. “I don’t like NaNoWriMo much. This lady says a bunch of crazy shit. I agree with some.” Well what the fuck do you agree with and why?

      I’m interested in hearing your mind. Not everything has to be an ambiguous question posed to the audience.

  23. jereme_dean

      I would like to read that too.

  24. M Kitchell

      The thing is, I don’t think I would use the word “lazy” to describe what happened because I was operating under the assumption that I didn’t need to go into detail to point out parallels between each “scene” due to my presupposition that the parallels were obvious. Clearly, not everyone operates under this assumption, and now that I know that I will not operate under said assumption in the future.

      Similarly, in the NaNoWriMo post I wasn’t particularly interested in what I agreed with or disagreed with in the lady’s article, so I didn’t go into it. You seem to be suggesting that I explain every tangible connection, whereas the way I have always written everything, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, texts in general, is more often than not to just sort of lay everything on the table and allow the reader to connect shit if they want to. Or not if they don’t want to. Nobody has to. I am aware that this is occasionally problematic towards a less-active reading, and also potentially presumptuous in the sense that it implies I think my ideas are Great enough for people to work for, but really it’s more of a personal appreciate of play and discovery than it is anything. I would honestly feel like I was wasting time, that I were being condescending, if I were connecting all the dots, or whatever.

  25. Dawn.

      Fabulous interview. Vouched is such a bad ass idea in action. It makes me wish I lived in Indy.

  26. Sean

      Thanks for this and for Vouched

  27. christopher.

      What’s sold out now, what?

  28. christopher.

      To be fair, I’d venture to say there’s a larger portion of readers here who aren’t familiar with the indie music scene than there are familiar, and would probably benefit from a bit of background. I actually plan on having a short history of indie music of the mid-90s on. I almost thought to do my guest post as an info-graphic timeline showing how indie music progressed with its use and acceptance of the internet and how indie lit is progressing now, just to provide some backstory of sorts.

  29. jereme_dean

      I think if you are going to give your opinion on something, you should provide some sort of reasoning as to why and how you formed your opinion.

      Otherwise the posting seems lazy, arrogant or disingenuous. Something to stir up shit.

      A troll post.

  30. Lukewarmresolve

      really? you have to start in on it again?

  31. jesusangelgarcia

      I love how you had this idea, Chris, and you put it into action, and you haven’t looked back, only forward, full-throttle. As Joseph and others have pointed out: very punk, very generous. You’re a dharma punk!

      Your effort reminds me a lot of Evan Karp, this Bay Area writer who has videotaped nearly 2000 readings in little over a year. From his interest in documenting the scene, he has contributed to it in a massive, magnanimous way. He also launched a very successful reading series and a litmag that accompanies each gig w/ texts from the gig. He’s now recently putting the whole thing together, kinda, with Litseen:

      I feel like y’all should team up. Seems like there are too few connects between Left Coast lit scenes & the rest of the country. Literary Death Match is the only (inter)national entity I can think of. Are there any others? Is such a thing possible? Would it be beneficial, do you think?

      Excellent piece, Adam. Great reminder that EVERYTHING is possible and community is key.

  32. jesusangelgarcia

      Of HUGE interest to me, Chris. My first take on the current indie lit community (online and off) when I first started getting involved a little more than a year ago was how it mirrors the DIY punk, fanzine, indie-label culture of the late ’80s and early ’90s when Subpop, Alternative Tentacles, Touch and Go, SST, Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, Flipside, Factsheet Five, etc. all led the charge. Mail-order, baby. Pre-Internet. But the vibe feels exactly the same. There’s something happening, and it seems to be happening all over the country.

  33. deadgod

      co-brand even though you’re “against” it

      just call it something else: log-rolling

      people in the wilderness are going to live somewhere

      what the hell

  34. Molly Gaudry

      Definitely call me if someone’s on the fence about WTMA. I think that’d be great. Thanks for everything, truly.

  35. christopher.

      Now that I’m done with the next Vouched Presents flyer, I’ll get right on this.

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