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June 15, 2020
Matia Madrona Query
Animal Riot Press makes a leap from reading series to indie press

What began as a reading series based in Manhattan has evolved into an indie press that aims to publish enjoyable and risk-taking literary fiction and nonfiction. BookLife recently spoke with Brian Birnbaum, cofounder and executive editor of Animal Riot Press (formerly Dead Rabbits Books) and author of the press’s forthcoming Emerald City.


Can you tell me about the reading series and how you first decided to launch the press?

The reading series came almost purely out of a desire to bring live readings out of Brooklyn and into venues closer to Harlem. After receiving our MFAs at Sarah Lawrence College, I lived with Devin Kelly and Katie Rainey in an apartment in upper Harlem. Our calendars were overflowing with scheduled readings in Brooklyn—readings that would last about as long as our round trips to Brooklyn and back. Furthermore, a cultural epicenter such as Harlem deserves its representative due.

The decision to launch the press actually came after I struggled to find a home for my own first novel Emerald City. Animal Riot Press pulls from the best of all types of presses and literary imprints. Like other independent presses, we’re able to focus on quality work that takes risks that bigger presses won’t normally take while imbuing our authors and their books with resources that smaller independent presses won’t normally possess. Our titles represent the vanguard of literary fiction and nonfiction, while the strategic and business side of our press offers such works the tools to succeed, regardless of who wrote the books or why they were written—tools that are rarely found among other presses, small or large.


Could you talk about the intersection of reading, writing, and community, and how you help bring writers out of isolation?

Our sense of community and its importance dates back to our founding. We were born from a desire to bring literary people together in a community whose literaries didn’t have many spaces in which to meet, let alone thrive.

What do you want new authors who feel discouraged about getting their work published to know about Animal Riot Press?

I’ve been through the gauntlet of the publishing process. Probably the most difficult period was also one of the most hopeful. In the summer of 2016, I began working with an agent at Writers House. After several months of working on revisions for the novel, my agent left the industry altogether. I was back at square one, querying other agents and small publishing houses.

I meet on a regular basis with Animal Riot writers. I talk to them about how their manuscripts or edits are coming along, or how their lives are coming along—what sorts of experiences they’re contending with or filtering through their work. I give detailed feedback on as many submissions as possible, knowing how frustrating it can be to receive form rejections that don’t give much room for growth through constructive criticism.


What has surprised you most about the process of launching a press?

On the business end of the press, we were surprised to learn that for emerging writers as compared to more established writers, investing time and resources into publicity is not quite as effective as allocating resources into marketing. So we’ve learned a lot about digital marketing, which will pay dividends with both Emerald City and all future Animal Riot titles.

On the community side of things, we were surprised at how much excitement surrounds independent publishing. Of course, as literary writers and readers ourselves, we’d always been excited about this space. However, we were pleasantly surprised at the reaction from not only our reading series communities but from people across the country—if not the world—who have already found our press and fallen in love with our mission.

With the sheer volume of publishing in our world, it was very encouraging to find that people are always looking for a press or book that matches their tastes and, more importantly, a press or a book that parallels their core values.