“Our whole concept as a publisher, basically, is to try to do stuff that doesn’t already exist,” says Josh O’Neill. He and cofounder Maëlle Doliveux have done this over the course of several different projects, from radical art newspapers to a box set that tells the story of Dracula through a stack of letters, clues, maps, and phonograph records. Their most recent endeavor, live on Kickstarter now, brings their ambitious reimagining of Dracula into a more accessibly priced art book.
Here, they tell us about how they keep pushing their practice in creative new directions and share advice for other illustrators, designers, and publishers.
Why there’s so much of the same
O’Neill used to own a bookstore, so he knows the minutiae of why outside-the-box publishing can be so challenging. “You’re always working with a very limited budget, and you need to spend most of that budget on stuff that you know you can sell. So, you want famous authors and books that fit into a category of customer that you already know exists.”
“There are so many ways of exploring the print medium that never get to be explored because of sale limitations, because most publishers are limited by the fact that they need things to fit on a specific size bookshelf in a store,” Doliveux adds.
Their Beehive Books Kickstarter campaigns have allowed for more speculative projects. “When you’re selling directly to people through a mechanism like Kickstarter, which is a place people come to find weird, interesting things, what might be a weakness through more traditional mechanisms becomes a strength,” O’Neill says.
A direct relationship with readers makes the impossible possible
The publishing industry can’t control your creative work if you’re not dependent on it. And writers, designers, and independent presses have been setting up independent systems to free themselves from it for hundreds of years.
“I collect a lot of turn-of-the-century illustrated fiction, and I have a lot of these books that are so insanely beautiful,” O’Neill says. “And a bunch of them have a thing in the back like, ‘This publication was funded by subscription from the following people,’ and it’s a list of 200 people’s names. It’s the same as our business model. This is how you’re able to do this level of craft and construction.”
The more we go online, the more special books and illustration become
“It’s really interesting that in the age of digital media, we’re returning to a high-end book form,” Doliveux says. “There was a period when a home library was an extraordinary thing, right? And you would show off your library and books. In the age of mass creation and mass marketing, we’ve stepped away from that. And now that we have access to knowledge so readily, it begs the question of why to still make books. Why do we still have books? And I think the answer that we found and that the people who enjoy our books have found is that it’s because they’re a beautiful object.”
Beehive Books leans into this by creating projects that are inherently interactive. The Dracula box set, for example, puts the story in a form factor that is simply fun to play with. “It’s this immersive fictional universe where you don’t feel like you’re being fed a story, you feel like you’re being invited to explore a little bit,” O’Neill says.
Doliveux and O’Neill use their online presence to convey the beauty of their physical work—they do unboxing videos on Instagram and are always looking to upgrade their product photography, “for a three-dimensional sense of it.” And they get playful with how they communicate around projects, too. While promoting Dracula, O’Neill assumes a Transylvanian tone—“like extremely overwritten, in a very crypt-keeper spooktacular fashion.”
Lean into your weird
O’Neill’s crypt-keeper act comes out of his genuine affection for the gothic horror genre. And throughout their work, Doliveux and O’Neill prioritize really letting their personalities through.
“Don’t be afraid to lean into your weird,” Doliveux says. “That’s how you find the niche audiences who will enjoy the stuff that you like.” It’s something she tells students when she’s teaching illustration, as well: “The more specifically ‘you’ you can be, I think the more universally you can connect to others.”
“For both of us, the fun of this thing is the adventure of it, to push against the boundaries of what’s possible,”
Make it an ongoing experiment
“We always try to remember this is a continuous experiment, and that we need to always try new stuff,” Doliveux says. “And if something doesn’t work, then you learn from it and change it next time. But otherwise, we’d just be making the same stuff over and over again, and that’s not interesting for anyone, including ourselves.”
“So far, we’re 13 for 13 on Kickstarters,” O’Neill says. “But I always feel like if we don’t eventually do one that fails, it’ll be like a failing of ours that we didn’t try anything crazy enough.”
“For both of us, the fun of this thing is the adventure of it, to push against the boundaries of what’s possible,” he says. “To me, that’s what publishing should be for, to create things that are new. The things that already exist are already there. We don’t need more of them.”
This blog post was created in partnership with Kickstarter.