April 30, 2014

Floating on a Balloon of Books: An Inside Look at Black Balloon Publishing

by Britt Gettys

"The recipes function as a sort of found poetry,
if you will, a jumping-off point for a
consideration of how sound relates to flavor." - Esquire
Tucked away in the corner of an office building in Lower Manhattan sits Black Balloon Publishing, a small indie press dedicated to publishing the strange and unique.  Despite their small stature -- Black Balloon has only ten full-time employees and a handful of freelancers to it’s name -- it’s clear early on that this company is one of both heart and ambition.

Barbara Clevland Bourland, Black Balloon’s Digital Director, welcomed Pratt Students into one of the warmly lit conference rooms,  where doughnuts and stacks of books decorated the table.  She then proceeded to tell students about Black Balloon’s mission and way of business.  “We were founded back in 2010 by Elizabeth Koch, who you may know as the co-founder of Literary Death Match, and Leigh Newman, the deputy editor of Oprah Magazine.  We only published one book that year,The Recipe Project: A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music, which is basically a bunch of recipes by celebrity chefs, which we then turned into songs.  So a CD is included with the book.”  From there they expanded to publish two more books in 2012, and then even more in 2013.  With books featured in Publisher’s Weekly, and The New York Times, this independent publisher is only just beginning to grow.   

“Our first location was in a basement, which really wasn’t ideal for a press for a variety of reasons.  Now we have this little space, which is a part of We Work.”  We Work itself is a unique venture, and a perfect fit for a small company such as Black Balloon.  We Work is a collaborative community platform, which works to connect small businesses with each other by housing them in a communal office space.  But We Work offers so much more than a simple office space -- if spaces which include fully stocked kitchens, exotic conference rooms, and theaters can be considered simple, they are dedicated to providing start-ups with the resources and amenities necessary for success such as: health care, worker’s compensation, web hosting, marketing, travel, entertainment, and more.  Bourland states that, when Black Balloon was looking for a more permanent space, their only concern was cost: “can we afford to do what we need to do here?”  When faced with We Work, the answer was yes.     

"Robert Perisic is a light bright with intelligence and twinkling with irony, f
lashing us the news that postwar Croatia not only endures but matters."
- Jonathan Franzen
Aside telling us about what Black Balloon looks for in a manuscript and the premise of their upcoming novel, which centers on the personification of a few well known bombs, Bourland also encouraged students to seek out internships as a way of getting their foot in the door.  “We are always hiring interns, and what I personally try to do, as do other members of our team, is get them actual jobs in the industry when they graduate.  We’ve promoted one of our interns to a full time position here, and other’s I’ve set up with jobs in a variety of other publications.  Part of being a small press is that we have a more personal connection with our employees, and as a result have more of an ability to care for those employees. We have the time to focus on our interns and freelancers, more so than larger publishers, because our operation is relatively small." This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between independent presses and larger publishers, such as The Big Five -- the five major trade book publishers, all of which have headquarters in New York: Hachette Books, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster.
Upon showing students Black Balloon’s actual office space, which consists of a corner, office with wall to floor glass ceilings, and enough desk space to maybe accommodate five employees at a time -- most of their square footage goes towards housing books -- Bourland also encouraged students to pitch story ideas to their blog: The Airship.  “One of the best ways for a writer to jumpstart their career is by freelancing.  All that means is pitching article ideas to magazines and various media outlets, and if they like your idea they’ll tell you to write it for them and boom, you’ve been paid and got a byline.”  
"This illustrated novel about growing up poor near the swamps of South Florida has a lurid vibrancy. Its prose is lit from below, like a vaguely scummy in-ground swimming pool, and the author’s photographs — of ranch houses, randy adolescents, alligators, drug paraphernalia, fishing tackle, convenience stores — are what you might get if you combined William Eggleston’s talents with Terry Richardson’s." — Dwight Garner, The New York Times

As the tour drew to a close, Bourland was quick to give everyone her card, as well as the card of The Airship’s managing editor, and said “If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me!”  We all thanked her for showing us around, and as we were herded into the elevator, she waved us off with a cheerful wink.     

by Britt Gettys
April 30, 2014

April 23, 2014

You'll Get a Kick Out of This: An Inside Look at Kickstarter

Kickstarters in-house theater sits fifty
and is dedicated to the showing of various
kickstarter projects.
For the headquarters of the biggest crowdfunding website in the world, Kickstarter’s front door in Greenpoint, Brooklyn was disarmingly small and unassuming. Behind that plain wooden door is an international operation run by eighty-one employees divided into the following departments: Marketing, Design, Engineering, Community Services, Finance, Management, and Product Design.  This tour of Kickstarter was part of Pratt Success’s Gotham Tours, an extension of the Center of Career and Professional Development (CCPD).

As Pratt students, we came to Kickstarter to make connections and discover the behind-the-scenes magic that makes Kickstarter’s net worth close to eight billion USD. “This building was once an abandoned pencil factory”, says Victoria, a member of Kickstarter’s Outreach team. There are just three floors. The walls are a combination of wooden beams, unfinished concrete walls, and the smooth painted variety. Several windows overlook a Japanese garden in the center of the complex, making the space airy and open. Everyone looked productive and relaxed. Even some of the people who walked by gave us a smile, including Kickstarter’s Founder and CEO Yancey Strickler.

The high point was when someone asked if there was any particular major that Kickstarter favored when selecting candidates, because Victoria replied, “Just send us an email at jobs@kickstarter.com with your resume and portfolio along with a cover letter telling us why you’re interested in working with us”. Victoria went on to mention that the type of degree, if any at all, doesn’t matter. For a list of Kickstarter’s current job openings, Victoria told us to visit kickstarter.com/jobs.
Victoria (far left), tells students all about Kickstarter's small, but ambitious operation.
After the tour, Victoria insisted on shaking each one of our hands. We thanked her for showing us around the headquarters and headed out the door. As the wooden front door closed behind us, I caught one last glimpse of Kickstarter before it vanished behind that inconspicuous wooden door. 

Check out more images of the Kickstarter tour:

Kickstarter's main office space is nothing more than a long hall of large tables
where employees gather together each day to share ideas and projects.  

Don't feel like working in the main space, then move to Kickstarter's own little library for some scholarly quiet.  
This space is filled with quiet nooks where employees can plop down and get to work.

Victoria (far left) tells students all about the future rooftop parties Kickstarter is looking forward to hosting,
as a means of promoting croundfunding projects and the business itself.

At the center of Kickstarter's HQ is a courtyard garden, bordered by high glass walls,
which employees can look down on from nearly every room in the building.

A rooftop garden with a view.

by Adrienne Arthur
photos by Britt Gettys