99% BLUSTER: AN INTERVIEW WITH JON LEON ABOUT THE FUTURE OF LITERATURE
Wrath of Dynasty is a boutique imprint of fine art objects that was established by Jon Leon halfway through 2010. If you’re not familiar with Leon, the best thing to do is check out his poetry, some of which is available online here. If you want to check out any of his many chapbooks, well, you’re pretty much out of luck, because they’re all out of print. In three days the final title from this season of Wrath of Dynasty, formerly Legacy Pictures, will also be out of print. In fact, in three days, everything Wrath of Dynasty has ever released will be out of print, at least until the next season starts and a new series of unique print objects are brought to light. I have been consistently impressed with Wrath of Dynasty, which has brought to light a lot of exciting and unique work that would undoubtedly be inappropriate for other venues, so I thought I’d send Jon an email and ask him more about it. Check out the interview behind the cut.
M KITCHELL: I’ll get this question out of the way, since it’s something I’ve specifically wondered about myself: What inspired the name change from Legacy Pictures to Wrath of Dynasty halfway through this first season?
JON LEON: It came to my attention that there was a film and video production company named Legacy Pictures in existence since 1998. I’m not sure about the volume or type of projects they’re involved with, but Wrath of Dynasty is increasingly involved in promotional video projects for authors and I didn’t want any confusion at all. Going forward, the entire Wrath of Dynasty model is focused on book trailers and image production. Our mission is to be the go-to house for authors seeking to clarify their image.
MK: The Wrath of Dynasty website informs us that we’re at the last title of this season’s releases, which is Prop Tragedies by Jennifer Krasinski, putting up this seasons number of releases to 9 (10 if you include your own The Painting Show, which seemed to exist as a Legacy Pictures release before Legacy Pictures existed).
What lead you to starting Legacy Pictures initially? Did you have any plan as to how many titles or what you would be releasing when you started out?
JL: Legacy Pictures began in the Spring of this year when I announced and brought out my last print object The Painting Show (formerly White Girls). I told a few people about expanding my interest in the author’s multiple to include other writers. Particularly other writers who were creating work that I thought wouldn’t otherwise become available. Daniel Feinberg’s title for example, The Ecstasy of Betrayal, is an interview we felt was too antagonistic to appear in Art in America (or too dangerous according to his legal counsel), so Wrath of Dynasty brought it out in a very limited quantity for those with the inclination to seek it out, for the initiated really. Another characteristic example is Kate Zambreno’s I Am Sharon Tate, an excerpt from a longer piece of her most provocative fiction to date.
In an e-mail to my patrons back in April I made explicit my intention to discontinue all production of my own work, and that this decision did not “preclude the production and distribution of editions by writers other than myself.” Legacy Pictures was really conceived in that sentence.
I did have a rough plan sketching out the pop-up idea of the press, the raw materials and design involved, and the type of work I wanted, but from the day I approached you about doing the first title I really had no idea how many authors would get involved. However, the appetite for this kind of format was so strong that took care of itself in a matter of days. I’m incredibly thankful and more than satisfied with the work I’ve been able to bring about through Wrath of Dynasty.
MK: About halfway through this season’s releases, at the end of September, you sent out an email with the subject of “The Care and Preservation of Your Legacy Pictures Multiple.” One of the things that I like about what you’re doing is that you’re approaching the release of what could ostensibly be called “chapbooks” as fine art, often in terms of both semantics and content. In addition to publishing poems yourself, you have also had art criticism published throughout the web. How does this approach, relating contemporary lit to contemporary art, and the specific attention to the idea of the rare object, affect what you’re doing? Does it specifically flavor, so to speak, what you choose to release? How about how you market the releases?
JL: Where Wrath of Dynasty excels is in its conception of the printed object or “multiple” as the author’s art. Writing is an art form, as is bookmaking. That insistence is integral to the mission of the imprint and the context in which its catalog is merchandised. We want the work we produce to reach an audience ready to receive it. I’m not talking about an audience who reads competitively so to speak, the competitive reader who buys everything to survey and to inspect as a future outlet for his own work, but a sincere reader who’s interest is really a loyalty or a commitment to a certain authorial vision. Each and every author on Wrath of Dynasty has this kind of appeal.
An understanding of the market dynamics around this kind of object definitely informs who I publish, and an insight into the tastes of the reader through an ongoing relationship with that type of reader definitely helps us guide our authors to the work in their oeuvre that their unique audience, and therefore Wrath of Dynasty’s unique audience, would be receptive to. Through that lens, every decision we make is a marketing decision. Keeping them rare is about finding an equilibrium with demand and producing just below that. If publishers knew how to meet demand all books would go out of print immediately. As new readers emerged so would a secondary market for that title.
The very first Wrath of Dynasty title to enter the secondary market, Kate Durbin’s Fashionwhore, went on auction this past weekend in Los Angeles. I forecast more of that type of activity to come for our titles.
It’s increasingly important that publishing models be sustainable. The model of Wrath of Dynasty has succeeded through 9 titles in 3 months because it is that. Publishing models that operate on continuous losses through an insensitivity to the complexity and dynamism of pricing and demand further erode opportunities for authors to make a living.
MK: And as a final question, what’s in the future for Wrath of Dynasty? Any titles planned for next season yet?
JL: I have a short list of authors I’m looking at for next season, but I’m not certain it will come together. Our focus now is almost totally on image production and book trailers. I’m already working with some of the sexiest and smartest people in the world. Going forward, I want to make sure everybody knows about them.