Publisher Martin Reiner on books, business and Brno

Martin Reiner, photo: David Vaughan

As well as being a poet and novelist, Martin Reiner is one of this country’s most successful publishers. He has been in the business since 1991, first at Brno’s Nakladatelství Petrov, which he took over after a year at the helm, and more recently at Nakladatelství Druhé město (Second City Publishers), which he set up in 2005. He publishes the Czech Republic’s best-selling contemporary writer, Michal Viewegh, as well as Jiří Kratochvil, Ivan Wernisch, and indeed himself. I met him in a café in sunny downtown Brno, which he moved back to in 1991 after a stint as Culture Ministry spokesperson in Prague:

Martin Reiner,  photo: David Vaughan
“I needed to go back to Brno from Prague, and I was looking for a new job, and I was told that there was a chance to work in publishing. I just grasped it. So, that is how I became a publisher.”

You took over what was an already fully-fledged publishing house – it wasn’t that you had to build Petrov up from scratch – but did you take it over and quite drastically change the direction it was going in?

“Actually, I had to change the technical way in which Petrov existed. Because when I was not the owner – when I was the director – I had ten employees. But when I became the owner, I had to stay there just by myself, because there was no money to pay the employees. So that was the most drastic change I had to make. But the kind of books I wanted to publish didn’t change.”

You told me that you had friends amongst the Czech community of authors and poets – did they help you out?

Brno - Petrov
“Most of them were those banned authors from before the Velvet Revolution – under communism they had been prohibited. And there was a kind of hunger for this kind of literature, and I had a very direct connection to this sphere of literature. That was a big help, because it meant that I could publish very interesting titles. And actually, the friendship with those people helped very much.”

You are now head of a new publishing firm, which is called Nakladatelství Druhé město, that’s not just a name change – this is not just a case of you rebranding yourself is it?

“The biggest difference between Petrov and Druhé město is the number of titles we are publishing. Before we finished with Petrov we were bringing out more than 30 titles annually – at Druhé město, we bring out about ten a year. But the biggest change is this – that Petrov was not only a publishing house, it was a sort of cultural institution. We held poetry festivals, we had very famous meetings of poets and readings and other stuff. And I liked it, actually. But after 15 years, I became kind of tired of it, and I wanted to make a ‘pocket’ publishing house, which would bring me money, which I needed of course. So I stopped with those activities on the side.”

Brno - Petrov
Nakladatelství Druhé město and Nakladatelství Petrov at least both in name reference in some way the town that we’re in right now – Brno. Would you say that one of the aims of both of these publishing houses, under your management, has been to represent Brno or put Brno onto the map?

“That was never on my mind actually. Because most of those afore-mentioned friends, those poets and novelists, are actually from Prague. Of course, I’m a citizen of Brno – it’s my hometown. And I like this town, this city. I also know lots of very interesting people living here and writing here – and that is why there are lots of Brno-based authors published by Druhé město, and who were published by Petrov too. But I never tried to be a local publisher, my ambitions were always a little bit higher than that. And they never changed.

“I could have moved to Prague in the middle of the 1990s, and certainly it would have helped the business. I’m quite sure of that. But the price would have been too high for me. Because I love this city, and I want to stay here, and that has never changed, actually.”

Are there any particular difficulties that come with being based in Brno as opposed to Prague?

“I am in quite lively contact with most of my authors, but it is not the same. I always call them to talk about the publishing house. But if you can meet them daily in the pub, you can speak about girls, about football, about politics and stuff like that, which helps to make a friendship, which is very important in this field.”

Is it fair to say that Michal Viewegh is your big author who really earns the publishing house its money, which then allows you to go on and publish other, more obscure titles – or is that an oversimplification?

“Definitely Michal Viewegh is the best-selling author in the whole of the Czech Republic, and of course he is bringing the biggest sum of money into the publishing house, and has been doing so for the last 12 years. So that means he is this kind of golden egg, and everybody knows it of course. Or at least it is a very public secret that he is the biggest supporter of the publishing house. But still, he is just one of the many authors published. I was very lucky to meet him and then to persuade him to come to Petrov and then to keep him at Druhé město.”

Do you get sent hundreds of manuscripts that you have to read through? Is that how you find new authors, or is it more that you make friends with people, like their writing and then sign them up? How can new talent reach you?

“You know, when I started in 1991, I had no big ideas about publishing, it just happened. I became a publisher overnight, and there was no big idea about how to become a better publisher, the best publisher. And actually, my ideas haven’t changed after all of those years. My main aim, (what a horrible expression!) – what is on my mind first – is the people. It is a joy to work with these people, they are gifted, educated, friendly and nice. And that is the most important thing for me.”