Relegation Books, a small but growing independent press in northern Virginia, is in the business of “craft publishing literary fiction of fine vintage.”
Founder and publisher Dallas Hudgens started Relegation in 2012 after having trouble finding a publisher for his new short story collection, Wake Up, We’re Here. The author of two previous novels from Scribner — Drive Like Hell (2005) and Season of Gene, an October 2007 Book Sense Notable Pick — decided to hire a freelance editor and cover designer to release the book under his own imprint. After a positive experience, Hudgens decided to keep the press going as a means of publishing new works by previously published but under-recognized authors.
“I had really enjoyed the collaborative process and I had a thought that it might be worthwhile to keep Relegation going and publish other authors,” said Hudgens, especially those he thought deserved a bigger audience than they were already getting through traditional channels.
Relegation titles are distributed by Itasca Books in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which also distributes to Ingram and Baker & Taylor, so Relegation’s books can be found in the wholesalers’ catalogs. Relegation Books operates out of Hudgens’ home in Falls Church, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C. Hudgens works with publicist Lauren Cerand, who is based in New York, as well as an editor and designer on a contract basis.
Sales and marketing consultant Jeff Waxman is currently working with Hudgens to bring Relegation’s titles to more independent bookstores. A former bookseller at the Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago, Waxman has been doing outreach, mailings, and in-person visits to help build Relegation’s relationships with stores.
“Jeff helped me realize that simply having books available through a distributor and having good reviews out there didn’t necessarily mean that people would notice the book,” said Hudgens, who with Cerand and Waxman recently took part in a discussion about the publishing industry for Fountain Bookstore’s JABBIES™ (Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Spine) program, hosted by store owner Kelly Justice, a longtime supporter of the press.
“I think almost all of the good things that have happened to me as a writer happened because of independent booksellers, so from the very beginning I really wanted to work with those booksellers,” said Hudgens. “It took some time to begin to understand how to do that, but I think that the most important thing to do right now is to make sure our authors feel like they have had a great experience with Relegation and that their book has the best chance to find the readers that they deserve, while still continuing to build those relationships with booksellers.”
Hudgens told Bookselling This Week that he chose the name Relegation Books for his publishing venture as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his not entirely voluntary separation from the traditional publishing industry. The term comes from a practice in English soccer in which the teams in the Premier League that have lost the most games in a season are “relegated” to a lower league.
Relegation Books has published four books to date, including Hudgens’ short story collection, and Hudgens said he is deeply committed to the success of each one. Relegation’s second title was a novel, On Bittersweet Place, by Ronna Wineburg, who is the founding fiction editor of the Bellevue Literary Review. The book, a coming-of-age story of a Russian Jewish girl who flees to America during the 1920s to escape political turmoil in Ukraine, was recently featured on LitHub.
Relegation’s other two titles are The Loved Ones, a novel by Sonya Chung, another Scribner alum, which published this past Tuesday, and the novel A Single Happened Thing by celebrity ghostwriter Daniel Paisner. Published in April, A Single Happened Thing tells the story of a neurotic book editor struggling to get a handle on modern life whose anxiety is manifested in visions of a 19th century baseball legend.
The Loved Ones was chosen by booksellers for the November Indie Next List and garnered starred reviews in Kirkus and Booklist. Abby Fennewald of BookPeople in Austin, Texas, called Chung’s book, which concerns family and loss spanning multiple generations and divergent cultures, “an intelligent, compassionate story that crosses all kinds of divides.”
Hudgens is also the founder of Stillhouse Press, an independent student-run nonprofit publisher based at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The idea for the project took root in 2014 while Hudgens was visiting an MFA class to talk about Relegation Books and heard students speak knowledgeably about the publishing industry. He then reached out to MFA professors and university officials and worked with students to get operations going. Today, Stillhouse Press is based on the idea of working hand-in-hand with authors from the MFA program and beyond to deliver a more personal publishing experience.
The whiskey reference — “craft publishing literary fiction of fine vintage” — relates to both the slogan on the Relegation Books website and the Stillhouse name, explained Hudgens, adding that it came about after an evening of whiskey-drinking with Cerand, who made the comparison between distillers and small publishers.
“We are trying to take our time; the book is ready in however long it takes. Then there is the idea to not forget about the book once it is published but to continue to find readers for it,” said Hudgens. “It means thinking of a book like wine or whiskey in that it becomes more complex and interesting over time; it’s not just interesting from the publication date up until six weeks out.”
Hudgens said that right now he is more interested in creating relationships with his authors than in the number of books Relegation is able to publish each year.
“We work from project to project and try to focus as much on the present books we have out and the past books we did. Once we publish a book we continue to support it and believe in it; we don’t immediately move on the next project. Right now, we’re still thinking about finding readers for Ronna and for Dan,” said Hudgens. “We’re not as interested in growing and publishing tons of books as we are in giving our authors the best opportunity to find success, and I think that takes time at a very small press.”