Writer-Illustrator Duo Shares Story of “Idiots’ Books” Vanity Press with Andover

On February 17, Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, the husband-wife, writer-illustrator duo behind the vanity press “Idiots’ Books,” shared some of their illustrated satirical tales with the Andover community and recounted how they came to run their own publishing company out of an old barn. With Swanson writing and Behr illustrating, the duo has created works ranging from a mock academic treatise on traffic to zombie-narrated musings on funnel cake. Swanson and Behr began their self-publishing venture in 2007 after resigning from their previous careers. Swanson joked, “We failed in adulthood, so we decided to quit our jobs.” “We moved into Robbi [Behr]’s parents’ old barn and started making books together with whatever savings we had,” he said. Though they had only planned to experiment with their press for a year, the Idiots’ Books project mesmerized them both. The two decided to “hide from the world and make books until [they] ran out of money,” according to Swanson. The company ran on a subscription service in which customers pay in advance for six books each year. Swanson said, “We started getting enough subscribers to generate enough revenue to keep running the press — so we did.” Swanson and Behr decided to publish their books through a self-managed press because they wanted more freedom to create their tales without the interference of a publishing company. “The traditional publishing world requires you to produce work that has a certain amount of broad appeal or [publishers] won’t be interested,” said Behr. “If we had gotten to the vampire bandwagon when we started, we wouldn’t have started Idiots’ Books.” “We didn’t want to just sit around, waiting for other people to say that our work is good enough,” added Swanson. Swanson and Behr have published more than 30 books on their own. However, their project recently expanded after the duo granted publishing company Lightning Source permission to commercially publish their book “Ten Thousand Stories,” which previously had only been available through Idiots’ Books. Though their books are meant to be witty and satirical, Swanson said he has found deeper meaning behind the name of their company, “Idiots’ Books.” “It might be just my post-rationalism thought, but I think it’s true. [Across] all of our work, if there’s a through line, it’s the satire of humanity – not of a particular person or historical time, but of the common failings that makes us all human, they ways in which we’re all broken. So they’re books for idiots, by idiots, about idiots.” In their presentation, Swanson and Behr said that running their own vanity press has allowed them to learn about the competitive nature of the publishing world. They also realized the potential of writing and art conferences, such as New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) Festival and the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), as a way to help new authors get their work known. Behr said, “Ultimately, any time you can get your work into the hands of anybody else, whether it gets published or not, is worth it. Putting your work in front of anybody’s eyes is never a mistake.” The duo encouraged aspiring writers in the audience to take advantage of all opportunities. “Opportunities are exponential. We never know what kind of crazy things will turn out into something good,” Swanson said. Jared Newman ’15, who is interested in getting his own creative writing published, said, “[Swanson and Behr said] to never get discouraged because the writing world, in a lot of cases, is about getting declined. People get discouraged too often and it’s always a good thing to keep going on.” Ali Belinkie ‘13 said, “I have never heard of small presses [like Idiots’ Books] before. I thought it was intriguing that they’re doing what they wanted to do.” At the end of the presentation, Swanson told the audience, “We don’t have an extravagant life at all but [running Idiots’ Books] it’s extravagantly pleasurable.”