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October 26th, 2005 Karla Starr | Featured Stories
 

Lost And Found

Seth Friedman and Davy Rothbart both started their literary careers through indie publishing. That's where the similarities end.

     
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For Davy Rothbart, the creator of Found, and Seth Friedman, former editor of Factsheet 5, the story starts the same way: Boy develops interest. Boy discovers self-publishing. Boy's self-published zine about his interest gains an audience. Boy gets major book deal.

At this point, their stories take different turns. Since publishing the first issue of his zine, Found, in 2001, Rothbart's résumé has blossomed. After a cultlike following grew around the random and hilarious "found" notes and photos featured in his magazine, Rothbart became a contributor to magazines including The Believer and GQ. Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World, his first book based on the zine, published by Simon & Schuster, was a bestseller, and the 29-year-old is currently at work on a second. Rothbart is in Portland this week as part of a 50-city tour promoting his new, surprisingly beautiful collection of short stories, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas (also published by Simon & Schuster). His appearance doubles as a fundraiser for Portland's Independent Publishing Resource Center, which is fitting since Rothbart is currently on top of the indie and corporate publishing worlds.

Friedman was once in a similar position. The recent Portland transplant (one of the brothers from Andrew Jarecki's award-winning 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans) edited Factsheet 5 from 1991 until its demise in 1997. An exhaustive review of other zines, it was long considered the indie publishing world's bible, a resource that—like the IPRC—created a sense of community within the diverse zine subculture. But his book, The Factsheet 5 Zine Reader, was published in 1997 by Random House and quickly forgotten.

WW recently spoke with these past and present kings of independent publishing to find out how an analytical longtime god among zinesters faltered in the corporate book world, while a ticket scalper with no prior publishing experience climbed to the top.

LIFE BEFORE THE ZINE

Seth Friedman: I was writing for other zines [such as Food for Thought] for about 10 years.

Davy Rothbart: I was working for This American Life, but I was also scalping tickets in Chicago for a while, when the Bulls were so popular. I think of Michael Jordan as the patron saint of Found magazine.

THE ZINE BECOMES A BOOK

SF: I edited Factsheet 5 from '91 to '97, and we printed about 15,000 copies of each issue, but its impact was much higher than that—the pass-along was tremendous. I'd been friends with Ira Silverberg, who became a book agent. He'd been pushing me for a while, probably years, before I finished planning it and decided to pursue the book.

DR: I spent three nights with my friend, slapping together the first issue [of Found] using scissors and tape. We went to Kinko's to make 50 copies, and this punk-rock kid who was working there at 3 am said, "Dude—this is awesome. We should make 800 copies. I'll help you—I'm working the next few nights." Over the next few weeks, so many people came to buy a copy that the neighbors called the police because they thought it was a crack house. People just responded to Found in a way I never imagined they would—it's stunning and overwhelming. When this editor at Simon & Schuster contacted me, I was thinking, "We've only put out two issues of it, and they want to put out a book!"

THE BOOK COMES OUT

SF: I was extremely happy with the way the book came out, but disappointed with the end result. It was hard to come up with an idea of what zine material would translate into a book or something for a more general audience—my idea was to collect the best articles that appeared in zines. I hate to use these words—marketing and branding—but it's about name recognition. No one's going to pick up The Factsheet 5 Zine Reader unless they've heard those words before.

DR: We went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last year, and one kid who worked at Borders said that as soon as the Found book came in, she liked it so much that she passed it around to all of her friends. She'd been excited about finding things herself for years, and after her friends saw the book, they all got into it, too. After people look at it for a few minutes, they're either addicted, or they decide that it's just not for them.

PIMPING THE BOOK

SF: I wish I'd spent more time promoting the book—I should have made that a full-time job. But I was coming to the idea of making a book from underground press, where you don't spend the time marketing—you spend your time creating. Publishers just keep making these books until they have a hit, [then] they pour all of their publicity money into it.

DR: I'd been on one short, 15-city tour in 2001. The next year, I did a 50-city tour. Last year, we did a 136-city, 50-state tour that operated in much the same way—I set up the whole thing up with the help of both friends and strangers, amazingly generous people who...were so excited about Found. The publicity budget from Simon & Schuster didn't even cover the gas.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

SF: I have plans for some new projects—the book-project idea I have will be noticed. I'm ready to take on the challenge of book promotion. I don't think about writing the book—I think about how I'm going to market the book.

DR: Something I tell people when they're starting their own indie projects is that you have to be your own biggest advocate...and be a tireless warrior for your project. Some nights I wanted to just stay in and watch a movie instead of going out and telling people about Found, but I went out. I think that my ticket-scalping training helped, because I got so used to getting rejected and having people think I was a weirdo. Just when I feel like I've seen everything that can possibly be in a note, somebody throws me something new and really great...there's just a limitless number of stories to be told.

SF: It's extremely important for everyone to publish their own zines and websites because it's an activity that engages people in their own lives, one that's different than watching TV. If everyone was a creator, then you would have a much more dynamic culture—and that's really what's going to shake up things like TimeWarner. That's what they're afraid of.


Davy Rothbart will appear at the Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., 284-8686, at 8 pm Thursday, Oct. 27, for a fundraiser for the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Tickets are $9.95 and are available at Ticketmaster and IPRC (917 SW Oak St., 827-0249); for more information, visit www.foundmagazine.com . According to Seth Friedman, he is currently "living life in the moment" and "gardening."
 
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