Counterpoint Press, Berkeley’s independent publishing company entering its 25th anniversary, has appointed one of its own into a new editorial position.
Dan Smetanka, who was most recently the company’s vice president executive editor, is the company’s new vice president, editor in chief. Jack Shoemaker will become founding editor and senior vice president while continuing to work with his slate of authors out of the publisher’s Berkeley office.
“It’s really an exciting time for Counterpoint Press given the amazing history that we’ve been able to build up … and I’m looking forward to a really exciting future given the community of writers that we have built and continue to build,” Smetanka told The Times about his promotion.
Since joining the company nine years ago, the 49-year-old has worked out of Los Angeles and maintained a company presence in Southern California.
“One of the benefits of being [here] is looking at writers who might have the genesis of their career in the western part of the country and then breaking them out into a national stage,” he said.
But what excites him most about the local literary scene is “the diversity, the room for ideas.”
“The independent booksellers across Los Angeles I think are some of the best in the country,” he said. “The L.A. Festival of Books is one of the best festivals in the country too. All of these things combined promote books and writers and literacy across the city in a way that is really compelling and I think very special.”
“We are independent, we are author-driven, we are devoted to a core mission to produce books that matter.
Smetanka has been credited for publishing some of the company’s acclaimed authors and helping launch their careers onto a national stage.
Last year for instance, Joan Silber’s acclaimed novel “Improvement” won the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.
In 2016, Abby Geni’s debut novel “The Lightkeepers” won the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction and her recent work, “The Wildlands,” is a finalist for this year’s the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Among the company’s L.A.-based writers are Natashia Deón, whose book “Grace” was named a 2016 New York Times Best Book of the Year and nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and Tod Goldberg, a Hammett Prize finalist for his novel “Gangsterland.”
Born and raised in Orange County, Smetanka earned his bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on editing and practical writing from UCLA in 1992.
Two days after graduating he moved to New York City because “that is what one had to do back then if one wanted to work in book publishing,” he said.
One of his first jobs in the publishing world was as a foreign scout working for Maria Campbell’s literary agency. After six years of learning the ins and outs of the American and international publishing landscape, he took on an executive editor role at the Ballantine imprint of Random House until he was laid off years later.
After more than 10 years in New York, he returned to California and joined Counterpoint Press in 2010.
Though he’s turned the page to a new chapter within the publishing house, Smetanka’s advancement of company goals will continue.
“I wish to continue and expand upon the role that Counterpoint Press has always served in the landscape of American publishing,” he said. “We are independent, we are author-driven, we are devoted to a core mission to produce books that matter … and we’ve always maintained a very strong list [of writers] who explore contemporary issues in society, and I see us continuing to do that.”