Vancouver-based creators Tyee Bridge and Anne Casselman coined the word "nonvella" to describe the kind of work they like to read: timely, interesting nonfiction that falls between 5,000 and 20,000 words. It's an umbrella term, but one that has helped them hone their mission statement.
Now, as Nonvella the publisher, they aim to put out six of these works, complete with simple, timeless, and compelling cover designs, every year. We asked them a few questions about design, nonfiction, and where the two meet.
You describe yourselves as "the craft brewing of publishing" — it's a wonderful description that brings to mind the aficionado, as well as an appreciation of nuance. Can you talk a bit more about what it means to you?
It sort of came off the cuff and then, inevitably, stuck. Especially in Vancouver right now there are all these great microbreweries. They're fresh. They're local. They're good value. They're smaller. And best of all, they're actually influencing and shaping our taste buds for the better.
The more we struggled with summarizing what Nonvella Publishing was about to people, the more we realized that yes, we really are the craft brewery of publishing: local, small-batch, community-oriented, taste-makers.
Why longform nonfiction? What draws you to that length of writing?
As we say on our KS page, longform hits a sweet spot of heft and brevity. You'd be surprised (as we consistently are) with what you can do in 10,000 words. Some of North America's greatest writers — from Thoreau to Krakauer, Baldwin to Ackerman — have used 'nonvellas' as we call them to take readers everywhere you can imagine, from the Himalayas to the Florida swamps, from the exalted realms of mystic theology to the dive bars of San Francisco.
Thanks to pioneer publishers like The Atavist, the nonvella form is getting the attention it deserves, and we're thrilled to be part of that literary resurgence. It's an exciting time to be a literary craft brewery!
How does your design aesthetic inform (or work with) what you choose to publish?
When we worked with our graphic designers (shoutouts to Grey Vaisius and Justin Alm) on our graphic assets, they really understood from the get go what we were after with Nonvella: substance with style (a straight up, clean, timeless style to be exact).
In many ways that mantra applies just as readily to what we publish. Yes, we want our nonvellas to be contemporary and relevant but there has to be an evergreen quality to them. They have to weather and age well. As for substance, writing without substance is like cooking without salt. We'd never dream of it!
What's your team like, and how are you organized?
The two of us, Tyee and Anne, are the cofounders/publishers of Nonvella (for more about us, go here). Outside of that we have drawn on the talents of a wonderful group of designers, marketing professionals, videographers and volunteers (Team Nonvella!).
We also have relied on the good graces of Vancouver's greatest nonfiction writers (somehow this city is a hotbed for top tier narrative nonfiction talent!) and publishing professionals to help us navigate these new waters. You can see a list of our advisory board here.
Form or function?
Ooh. You'd make us pick?! On this front, we believe that you can have both. The very best form, always, should serve function first and foremost. That said, with a book that function can change, and there's where the fun comes in. Maybe that function is to be a beautiful book series that you can display on a shelf as well as dip into for a good read.
Maybe that function is to transport the reader away into the world of the author's insights and thoughts, in which case the form can be any variation of words on a page, whether it's an epub for a kindle, PDF for your laptop, or print edition in your eager hands.
Can you judge a book by its cover? No. Of course not. But can you judge a publisher, even a micropublisher like us, by their covers? Yes.