We had the good fortune of connecting with Marko Matijašević and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Marko, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
“If you work hard, you’ll make it.” That’s a survivorship bias example in the making. Working hard on something you believe in is a given, it’s mandatory, but it’s not the *only* thing you need. You still have to do all the other things: learn, network, explore, research… and you can do all of those things right and still fail, because you need a little bit of luck, as well. So why even do it? If you know that it will keep you up at night if you don’t even try.
What should our readers know about your business?
I sit on these two odd chairs where I am both an entrepreneur and a creative at the same time. I know some people find these two roles conflicting, but I find them to be complementing each other.
On one hand, I am at a head of of a small fine press publishing company, currently expanding and working with numerous outsourced collaborators to create one or two titles per year. It’s a state of constant change and adaptation and I love it, because as stressful as it is, I am happy that no two days are alike.
On the other hand, I am a creative director of that same small fine press publishing company, working on creative concepts for our titles. I have to come up with some crazy ideas and there is no room for mistakes. Everything has to be perfect. I hate budgets and I want to create the best possible book there can be.
So I guess these two roles are at odds, even in my case. That’s why I’ve assigned them two separated phases: R&D and Production. In the first phase, there is no budget. We go crazy. Anything for THE idea. But once we reach the production phase, the main task is to figure out how to produce the madness from phase one while still making profit.
This approach got us to where we are today. Instead of any kind of mass production, we focus on one or two titles per year (should be three soon). Each edition has to be filled with numerous design details (sometimes even hidden ones) and I believe that this is what sets us apart. You can tell how much love went into each title; how every design decision is rooted in the story and how nothing is there “just because”.
Today we rank among top fine press publishers in the world. We’re expanding into letterpress books, which is possibly the highest form of printed text. We’re pushing the boundaries of publishing with each new title. So much so, that at one point NYU bought our Alice – Jabberwock Edition for their exquisite Berol Collection.
Getting here was not easy by any metric you could imagine. We’re based in Croatia, making books in English, in a highly competitive English-speaking market. Everything is a little bit harder for us, from production and brand presence all the way to payment processing and shipping. But this proved how our approach to books was the right one, at least for us. Each book is special and spend as much time as you need until you get it right. That’s how our motto came to be (shamelessly stolen from coach John Wooden): if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it all over again?
As mentioned before, we’re expanding into letterpress, which is in a league of its own. We published four titles so far: Jekyll & Hyde; Dracula; Alice; The Picture of Dorian Gray; and we have Frankenstein coming out soon. After that we’ll go with Sherlock Holmes and then our very first licensed title (and probably our first letterpress title): Catch-22. But those are titles and dry facts. The main goal is to create books that will transcend time. The books that you will find beautiful and interesting even fifty years from now. The books you will proudly leave to those that come after you, for they will be a testament to your character and who you were as a person, because what is on your bookshelf speaks volumes about you.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First of all, you need a proper meal to plan a trip. For that, I would suggest my favourite restaurant in Zagreb, La Riseria. A perfect place to feast on pasta and sparkling wine while going through the itinerary. If they had a week, it would probably be best to head from Zagreb for a quick trip through Slavonia. While not as hyped up as Dalmatia, it has some hidden gems of nature that not everyone knows, like Jankovac Forest Park (or basically anything on Papuk mountain).
After that, head to Istria, to enjoy equally breathtaking nature, as well as the local delicacies. From there, slowly make your way along the coast of the Adriatic, stopping only to eat great food and enjoy even better views. Plitvice lakes would be on the top of the list, as would Šibenik, Split and Dubrovnik.
Truth be told, if you really wanted to see all the great things along the way, you would need more time than a week, so just rolling southwards and stopping without a concrete plan sounds like the best possible plan there is. In the end, I would suggest the island of Vis. You really can’t go wrong with Vis.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My friends, first and foremost. These are the people who would not only listen to my ravings, but proactively call me and ask me how it’s going. They would admire my crazy ideas (or at the very least, pretend that they did) and try to keep my spirits up even when I refused to see the bright side of it. Some of them were worried that the dream was too big, but now they are happy I managed to get there. I see this as an ultimate level of support, because they never sugarcoated it, but they always gave me a reality check, especially when I was the one who was the pessimist.
The second “group” I’d like to thank is books. I fell in love with books when I was a kid and the thing I regret the most is that I’ve stopped reading in my puberty and young adult ages. I don’t know why, I just stopped for a few years. But looking back, I realise that books changed my life—literally—and I don’t know whether I would have been a same person were it not for them. The stories I’ve read influenced heavily who I became as a person.
Other: A Fan group page (managed and organised by our fans): https://www.facebook.com/groups/791918564901356
All photographs were done by Dino Šertović