Boss Fight Books was founded in June of 2013. The same month as the obviously doomed streaming console, The Ouya was released. One of these two is still going strong and thankfully for Gabe Durham this article isn’t about an Andriod based streaming micro-console.
We first heard about Boss Fight Books when we connected with Reyan Ali, author of NBA Jam The Book on Twitter. At that time we didn’t know much about Boss Fight Books, the publisher of books about our favorite pixel adventures and memories. One thing we’re certain of is that we are fans of anyone who is helping preserve and document video game history.
Founder of Boss Fight Books, Gabe Durham graciously agreed to chat with us and talk about what lead him to create a video game book publishing company and what the future may hold.
NJB: Your website states that you started Boss Fight Books back in 2013. What gave you the idea? Did you have any previous experience in the book publishing industry?
Gabe: The idea came to me when I was reading a video game history book and noticed that all the books I’d ever read/seen seemed to offer vast industry histories about the rise of Nintendo — X game came out, made Y dollars, and opened up the Z market. They were often good books, but they were more about commerce than appreciating an emerging art form. I liked the 33 1/3 series of critical books about music albums so I googled “33 1/3 for video games” and was surprised when nothing came up.
Before Boss Fight, I was primarily a writer. I did a creative writing MFA. When I started the press, I’d just published my first book — a novel. But I’d been the editor of a couple of literary magazines, given feedback to a lot of peers, and had taught a bunch of college freshman composition courses, so I’d already done a decent amount of editing other people’s writing. The business side of things I’ve had to figure out on the fly.
NJB: How many people are part of the Boss Fight Books team and how did you meet each other?
Gabe: The core team is me and Mike Williams, who I originally met when he pitched and then wrote our Chrono Trigger book. We got along really well, and now he edits all the books along with me. But the larger team includes editor Aylse Knorr (our SMB3 author), book designer Cory Schmitz, layout designer Chris Moyer, copyeditor Ryan Plummer, proofreaders Joe M. Owens and Nick Sweeney, bookkeeper Melissa Malan, and former intern/awesome help Cameron Daxon. Last, we owe thanks to our original book designer Ken Baumann who had the idea for our minimal visual style.
NJB: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice before you created BFB, what would you say?
Gabe: A lot of little things. I’d have started using an offset printer and doing bigger, cheaper print runs sooner. I’d have reached out to others for help and advice more often instead of trying to stubbornly do too many things myself. I’d probably also have taken on more book projects and then Kickstarted them later in the drafting process so that it wouldn’t be as stressful when a delay comes up.
NJB: Based on my research it appears Earthbound was the first subject tackled by BFB. What lead you to make that decision?
Gabe: It was the first book we contracted, and the first book ready. In retrospect, I feel lucky that it was first because it did a good job setting a tone for the series. It’s a weird book about a weird game and not the buttoned-down game analysis some may have expected. We have done some more straightforward books since then, but EarthBound helped build a more elastic readership who is ready for many different approaches.
NJB: What is the process like for your team to select a subject and an author to write a new project?
Gabe: We don’t have a list of games to write about, but rather rely on writers to propose topics to us. To me, this ensures that we have writers who are really well-matched to their subjects instead of simply picking popular games and finding a “hired gun” to write about them. The conversation begins either when an author pitches us during an open reading season or when we reach out to a writer directly.
NJB: What are some of your most popular titles?
Gabe: Spelunky, Metal Gear Solid, EarthBound, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy V
NJB: assesI’ve noticed that your books have very minimalist covers that don’t appear to have any assets from the games they are about. I assume this is because you don’t have the rights from the game developers/publishers. Can you elaborate as to why you’ve made this decision?
Gabe: You’re right that we want to be careful about rights, though I think it would fall under “fair use.” But I like the minimalist covers a lot: They buck the trend of busy retro art and help us stand out. They also give us a chance to get creative — every cover uses real world images to nod to something in the game itself that fans of the game will instantly understand. It’s fun to watch people point to the covers and have that moment of recognition: It’s Lavos! It’s the raccoon suit! It’s the sea salt ice cream! Last, I think the minimalism of the covers give the sense that we’re not here JUST for the fun nostalgia ride, but are here to dig deep into these games and their impact on the world. That’s the goal, anyway.
Gabe: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, NBA Jam, Postal and then we’ve got a bunch more in the works from there, including Final Fantasy VI and Red Dead Redemption.
NJB: interviewed Reyan Ali, who is working on a book for you covering NBA Jam. That game has had a huge following spanning several decades now. Can you tell us how you decided to publish a book about Jam and when will people be able to pick up a copy?
Gabe: Reyan reached out during our open reading period with one of the best and most detailed pitches we’d received yet. What I remember most was how excited he was about the game and its story, and I couldn’t help but get excited too. What’s crazy is: that was 3 1/2 years ago. So this book has been cooking a long time, and I think Reyan’s hard work is really going to show. It will be in out about three months from now. The official release date is coming soon.
NJB: The retro game industry has exploded recently. Have you noticed this having an impact on your book sales?
Gabe: Yeah, the retro market offers a lot of new opportunities to find new readers, and it also keeps the classics in the public discourse. The NES/SNES mini consoles, the Switch library, the rereleases like the Mega Man/Mega Man X collections, and the HD remaster/remake traditional are all helping build a retro canon — and emulators/ROMs do the important work of catching the rest of games that would otherwise fall through the cracks. And then, more directly, events like Portland Retro and PAX offer us chances to get our books in front of new readers all the time.
NJB: Where can people purchase your books? Are any copies available at physical brick and mortar stores?
People can get our paperbacks and ebooks at bossfightbooks.com
and Amazon, and can get paperbacks in a lot of brick and mortar stores as well — a few favorites include Pink Gorilla Games in Seattle, Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Stories and Skylight Books in Los Angeles, The Strand in NYC, and Powell’s Books in Portland.
NJB: Where can people follow you to stay up to date on all things Boss Fight Books?
Follow us on Twitter: @bossfightbooks
and Instagram: @bossfightbooks. And check out the books at bossfightbooks.com
, where you can find links to free excerpts of all our books.