Interview with Adam Robinson, Co-founder of Real Pants


Adam Robinson, poet, HTMLGiant writer, and publisher of Publishing Genius Press, was one of Submittable’s first clients. He and Amy McDaniel recently launched Real Pants, a literary website with the tagline literature and the new literary community. In our latest interview, I talked to Adam about Real Pants and Publishing Genius, his thoughts on the literary community, and how to get into independent publishing.

Photo courtesy of Adam Robinson
Purposely misspelled. (Photo courtesy of Adam Robinson)

Asta: How did you and Amy McDaniel come to start Real Pants?

Adam: I’d been wanting to have an active blog at Publishing Genius for a long time. Every once in a while I’d put something up, but always unsystematically. When I suggested to Amy that she help systematize things, she was only mildly interested. I don’t think I made a good offer. But as we talked about it and formulated it as its own thing, distinct from Publishing Genius, with its own awesome contributors, it took on a life of its own.

Asta: How did you get to the name “Real Pants”?

Adam: We had a long list, many design terms, including “Section Break,” which we actually decided on for a while—we bought and (really proud of that). Then we thought Section Break didn’t have enough pizzazz. So back to the drawing board. We talked about it for hours, days, weeks. At one point after talking about it all day, Amy had to run out and meet a friend. She said, “I gotta put real pants on,” because we were, you know, in lounge wear. Like writers, all day in our sweats. Then, as she was walking away, Amy yelled, “Real Pants!”

Asta: What is the “new literary community”? I’m especially interested in the “community” aspect.

Adam: We’re especially interested in the community aspect, too—but a word to the literary aspect. We are huge proponents of this essay by Chris Fischbach at VQR, where he basically says that publishing is the old guard thing, but literature is timeless. Good publishing is just making literature public, making it an experience. I think the literary community, such that a community exists, is overall working toward that goal, without much regard for where the work is happening. I love that. Nowadays I read more about poetry on Facebook than actual poems in journals. I see a Tumblr like Dina Kelberman’s “I’m Google” and I think: poem. And moreover, it’s like the real de-centralized Internet promise, a meritocracy of ideas in a way, so that Poetry magazine isn’t necessarily more powerful than the Facebook post that said, “Look, we need to talk about the sexual abuse that’s happening with editors and writers.”

And, related to that last example, there were some tough times last year in the writing community. There was a lot of complicated discourse in somewhat open forums like Facebook that expanded to more or less edited forums, like Gawker, where they were pointing to a distinct community-qua-community, “alt-lit,” and pronouncing it dead, but declaring things about it. So much was taken for granted about “the literary community.” And I knew that the community was a lot bigger than what/who was turning out in these forums to have the conversation publicly. Amy and I, for example, talked for hours about the issues—in our homes, away from the keyboard—and said things we’d never say online.

So we aren’t trying to make a claim to “the new literary community” as one distinct thing that we can have governance over, or even that this community will use Real Pants as a hub. So the tagline, watered down, is that we are thinking about literature and the new literary community, not that we ARE it. We just want to be deliberate about it.

Amy and Adam (Photo courtesy of Adam Robinson)
Amy and Adam at a baseball game in Atlanta–“We go to a lot of baseball games.” (Photo courtesy of Adam Robinson)

Asta: What’s been the greatest moment as the publisher of Publishing Genius?

Adam: Oh wow, you’d think I’d have a stock answer for this, but no one has ever asked me before. I don’t think there’s just one—it’s got to be an amalgamation of a few things: being the cover story of Publishers Weekly; working with amazing writers, like the moment Rachel Glaser submitted her manuscript for Pee On Water out of the blue, the day after someone pointed me to her story “Pee On Water”; the nonstop success of Night Moves, which was the first PGP book to make SPD’s bestseller list for a whole year (2013); and losing to Spencer Madsen in ping pong.

Asta: What does Adam Robinson do all day?

Adam: On my best days I wake up by 8am and hit the gym for an hour. Amy and I got memberships to the Y last year and we have been good at going a few times a week. It is amazing how that sets the tone for the day. At home, I sit at my desk all day, unless I’m packaging books and going to the post office. At my desk, I’m constantly replying to emails, working on some design project, gchatting with a friend, editing a book, or making lists of other things to do at my desk. At some point I drag myself away bleerily and Amy and I have dinner and watch something on TV. We just started watching An Honorable Woman, with Maggie Gyllenhaal? Whoa, amazing.

Asta: Do you have any advice for someone just getting into independent publishing?

Adam: There’s a lot to know, and a lot you won’t know until you start doing it, but the one thing I wish I had realized when I started out was it gets harder as you go along, not easier. I read in Inc. about a business that had outgrown its managers. Like, a logistics manager who can handle shipping 1,000 widgets to the Midwest might not be capable of getting 1,000,000 to Japan by noon tomorrow. So my best practical advice is to formalize as many “processes” as you can at the start. What information will you put on your website about each book, in which order? How will you ship things? How will you get reports? Standardizing that means you won’t have to think about it each time you do something, and hopefully you’re going to do these things over and over as a successful new independent publisher. But also, don’t be afraid to tear it all down and start over, especially when you’re just getting into it.

Asta: Can you recommend any books, new journals, or websites to us and our readers?

Adam: A cool book is Leesa Cross-Smith’s collection Every Kiss a War, and a cool book designer is Peter Mendelsund. Also, watch that show, An Honorable Woman. And for heaven’s sake, stop what you’re doing and: I’m Google.


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Asta So

Asta So lives in Missoula, MT, with her husband, dog, and cat. She is Submittable’s Chief of Staff.