18 June 2006

Self-Publishing -- What Do You Think?

OK, so I have a question (or, questions) after seeing the full-page IUniverse ad today on p. 2 of the NYTBR:

What do you folks think about IUniverse, XLibris, Author House and other such adventures in POD self-publishing? ( I mean, the kind where you have to fork over your own cold hard cash. The ad for IUniverse is asking for a grand in exchange for a quotient of marketing support courtesy of Barnes & Noble.)

I'm seriously considering doing something like this, and somewhat aware of the associated (esp. contractual) hazards. But to be candid, I'm tired of the hoop-jump I'm experiencing wrt certain of my manuscripts, and thinking that I generally have to invest in my own PR anyway. $1000? Sounds like a lot, but it isn't. And like the rest of you, I presume, I figure I've been around long enough to drum up some interest in my work.

I've read the comparative (online) reports of these services. It seems to me, at any rate, that they're altering the publishing landscape by offering publishing models somewhat betwixt & between vanity press and standard publishing arrangements.

But really, I'm less interested in the more abstract ramifications than I am in sheer down & dirty pragmatics. Love to hear what you all have to say.

Best,

Joe

24 comments:

Nick Mamatas said...

It's a rip-off. You're not going to sell any books, you're not going to get into any bookstores, or your book will likely look like a pile of shit (are you a professional cover artist? can you afford one? can you tell a good-looking book from bad?) regardless of its content.

Sure, lots of small presses don't have a lot of bookstore penetration, but FC2, university press, Soft Skull, etc. titles look good and there is a certain cachet there. With iUniverse, you're just hoisting a sign reading "I AM A SUCKER" over your head, and most of your company will be semi-literate authors writing about the New World Order and how Jesus is going to come back and teach liberals a lesson. I wrote about the composition of these POD vanity presses a few years ago, and don't see how anything has changed since then:
http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0111,mamatas,23054,8.html

A few years ago, iUniverse had the "back in print" program for mystery writers and other midlist authors whose books had fallen out of print. Even though these were commercial titles from commercial authors that had already sold tens of thousands of copies, most of the stuff iuniverse put back into print through this program sold fewer than 100 new copies.

You're paying $1000 for an opportunity to spend another $1000 just to buy copies of your book and fail to sell them to either stores or the general public. You'd be better off taking that grand to a bank and putting it in a CD...or hell, to the dog track.

Joe Amato said...

Nick, thanks. That's exactly the kind of hard-hitting response I was hoping for.

My question was in essence whether things had changed in the POD world. What you're saying is that they haven't.

I understand the company-you-keep argument too, believe me. I do think I can get reputable authors to blurb me -- apologies for being crass here, but here again, I'm trying to be as pragmatic as possible. Will this make a difference? Maybe not.

But my point is that it hasn't made a goddamn bit of difference insofar as the manuscripts I have in mind that I'm having trouble placing. I know how to get a scholarly book published. And I think I know how to get a book of poetry published.

The problem for me, these days, turns on my attempt to publish longer (creative) prose work (memoir in particular), perhaps b/c I fall into something like a literary fiction category. Not commercial, no, but then again, not not commercial. Or something like that.

Anyway, thanks again. I'm eager to hear what others have to say.

Best,

Joe

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the advertisement you reference, although just to mention the TImes did a notable article on IUniverse sometime in April 2005. And here's a 2002 article from the Times, so this apparently has become a perennial story -- perhaps, with the inevitable PI avalanche building momentum each year -- since 2000, now I see after googling some more. Apparently, it takes awhile for those academic-publishing sedatives to start wearing off because, you know, the virtual doors and windows have been thrown wide open for awhile now -- the convicts can escape if they want -- and the weather is quite fine on the other side. How slowly the living dead awaken to the possibilities -- a testimony to how strongly and systematically brainwashed we have been.

http://tech2.nytimes.com/mem/technology/techreview.html?res=9803EEDF143DF934A25753C1A9649C8B63

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E4DD103EF937A15757C0A9639C8B63

http://tech2.nytimes.com/mem/technology/techreview.html?res=9C00E4D91031F933A15757C0A9669C8B63

Here are some other links you may or may not have seen already:

http://www.lulu.com/

http://www.cafepress.com [not recommending this service, since they exact a good chunk of the profits, only see the community message boards or forums for a plethora of info related to your pragmatic inquiries. Last time I read the forums, they had information on purchasing ISBN's and promoting to Amazon. They have changed the format somewhat since then. Also to say, as far as I have read-up on the subject, you want to have your own or shared-interest collective's batch of ISBN's -- they are sold in bulk. With your own batch of 10, it's like having one's own publishing shingle. You can purchase them directly off of the ISBN in bulk amounts.] Lulu probably has message boards, too.

http://forums.cafepress.com/eve/ubb.x

http://forums.cafepress.com/eve/forums/a/frm/f/314104

http://technology.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,1205143,00.html

http://books.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1710311,00.html

http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,1766492,00.html

The best standout PR investment is nickel-dime cheap: http://www.godaddy.com or some service along that particular line. Hosting, same deal, about 3-4 dollars per month. And then web design/dreamweaver away to your creative marketing content.

;)

Kass Fleisher said...

setting cache aside for a moment, i think it might be worth pondering the fact that when we talk about publishing we're talking business. this is an industry. if you imagine publishing as a structure of people who come together to produce the product, or book, and then sell it, then what we have is the publisher as CEO, the editor and production staff as middle-management, and the writer as assemblyline laborer. what management has been doing over the past 20 years is shifting more and more of the risk and expense onto labor, while shifting more and more of the profit onto management. i spent $3K promoting my first book, and oh hey, i had to pay all the permissions fees etc etc myself---WHILE GIVING AWAY THE COPYRIGHT. fun fun fun. i've spent upwards of $1K trying to get my second book into hands that might appreciate it. and this is $ of course that i don't have (Ka-ching! goes Visa) and i haven't made a dime from either book unless you count the 2.5% raise i got last year on my academic salary (highest in my rank in the department---how pathetic is this, since inflation was 3.8%). so you know, what the fuck. why not grab the reigns. if readers really need an imprint to tell them what they should be reading---if academia withholds that raise b/c of that LOSER sign over your head---what's really being lost? at least i'm not bending over for management.

strike! stike! strike!

(hey! would anyone miss us if we went on strike...?)

Nick Mamatas said...

Well, why on Earth did you give away the copyright, Kass, and to whom? That's generally not something a legitimate publisher demands, or even could demand. I've published a number of books and retain the copyrights, and it's not like I'm some financial wizard or bestselling author.

As far as the other questions, the issue goes beyond the company one keeps as well. POD, like any technology, has embedded within it an associated economy. POD is low-cost but high-margin, meaning that if you do spend thousands promoting your book, you actually start losing money on the margin after selling your 300th copy or so. You would have been better off having a local printing press print up 1000 copies, then storing them in your garage, and selling them. (Essentially, a POD title costs $4 each, for example, while printing up 1000 would cost $2 per...you get to keep the extra $2 on a sale.) Kelly Link has done very well this way.

You can also POD yourself, by contracting directly with LSI, which is all iUniverse does anyway. $800 of that $1000 just goes to iUniverse to make sure its shareholders are happy. It's not a public utility, it runs on the same profit-over-all ethos as any publisher, except instead of you being a vendor (selling them writing), you're a customer (buying their services). How would you rather tangle with a big firm -- vendors certainly have a bit more power.

As far as people needing an imprint to tell them what they should be reading, well, how many iUniverse or XLIbris titles have the participants in this blog purchased? Even the basics of setting a book as returnable and giving the wholesalers a real discount is more difficult with one of these POD vanities.

While businesses are bad and evil and all that, the fact is that knowing how to properly edit, copy edit, produce, cover, and publicize a book is a complex suite of skills. It can't be done well at the prices iUniverse is charging, and for the number of books it handles...and indeed, were it to do it too well, it iUniverse would lose its greatest income stream: suckers buying hundreds of copies of their own books at inflated prices in the hope of reselling them.

The question is: can you, Matt or Kass or whomever, edit, copyedit, proofread, design, art direct, ship, and promote a book as well as people who does all these things for a living, the first time out, for about 1/30th of the price that publishers do? If your answer is yes, then sure, why not gamble a few grand on it.

But I suspect the answer is no for most people.

Nick Mamatas said...

I don't mean to flood the blog with comments on this subject, but I did dig this up:
http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/a_writers_life/2005/05/iuniverse_by_th.html

Out of  18,000 books iUniverse published in 2004, only 83 titles sold at least 500 copies and a mere 14 showed up on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (as national purchases). 

2004
18,108: Total number of titles published
14: Number of titles sold through B&N's bricks-and-mortar stores (nationally)
83: Number of titles that sold at least 500 copies
792,814: Number of copies printed
32,445: Number of copies sold of iUniverse's top seller, If I Knew Then by Amy Fisher

Joe Amato said...

Nick & anon, (full disclosure, fair warning: Kass and Joe are spouses, or spices), quickly:

(1) It's S-O-P in academic publishing of scholarly work for the publisher to insist on copyright. Just talk to any academic writer. Most (not all) academics are over the barrel on this one: the presses know you need that book for tenure and/or promotion. I've talked to the publishers of fairly large small presses who were unaware of this fact. But don't take my word for it. Just crack open any academic press book (scholarly book) you have on your shelves, provided it's not by someone like Stanley Fish.

(2) Nobody is saying that you can't self-publish. The question is whether you're getting something more from IUniverse or XLibris. You've already answered that question, Nick. Anon: I've been online steadily now for 15 years, so I'm pretty versed in the online possibilities. Which is to say, I'm very much awake, thank you. (Please don't mistake my occasional humility - and it's all too occasional, I know - for ignorance.) I simply wanted some feedback on an option that seems to me to be gaining some cultural headway. Publishing one's own work, even in today's virtual-friendly times, is still a marketing nightmare. (Which nightmare, I might add, includes getting reviewed in places like American Book Review, where Kass and I just ended our stints as Executive Editor and Managing Editor, respectively.) I'm looking to tap into an existing structure, even parasitically, to see if that nightmare might be allayed in some way. Think Temporary Autonomous Zone.

(3) Not to hurt anyone's feelings, Nick, esp. my own, but I've been rejected by Soft Skull (the memoir that I can't seem to place) and FC2 (a novel that I'm less worried about placing). I don't think a survey of what the authors here are publishing, esp. in light of the fact that I know most of them (you) personally and am intimately acquainted with their (your) work, is any kind of verification, yea or nay, as to the efficacy of the POD companies.

Apologies for the starchy tone of this post, but I would prefer it were we to imagine that we're all rather experienced at this sort of thing.

Best,

Joe

Joe Amato said...

Nick, btw, I’d read the “If I Knew Then” piece. So I was aware of those stats...

BUT, the NYTBR IUniverse ad indicates that IF your book qualifies, THEN you pay them a grand AND your local B & N will stock your book...

Which alters the odds some.

So tell you what: I’ll agree to buy the next new release by each of the contributors to this list IF they (you) each agree to order/buy my IUniverse book from B & N. Hell, I might even ask some of you to BLURB my book...

Ballsy, I know... But then, to answer Nick’s challenge, the contributors here would have each purchased an IUniverse book.

And this would save me the considerable trouble of either starting my own press (which Lidia has admirably done with Chiasmus) or going it alone and hawking my book as a one-of-a-kind production.

We all want attention, finally. It’s not enough to say, as in the commercial, that we can all publish our own books. The next question is, Who will review same? And while it’s doubtless the case, as Nick indicates, that IUniverse has real scam potential for the unqualified, it’s equally the case that even someone with a bit of a name might find it difficult to get attention via the ‘purer’ self-publishing route.

Best,

Joe

Nick Mamatas said...

3) Not to hurt anyone's feelings, Nick, esp. my own, but I've been rejected by Soft Skull (the memoir that I can't seem to place) and FC2 (a novel that I'm less worried about placing). I don't think a survey of what the authors here are publishing, esp. in light of the fact that I know most of them (you) personally and am intimately acquainted with their (your) work, is any kind of verification, yea or nay, as to the efficacy of the POD companies.

I'm unsure what this means. I'm familiar with a number of the participants of this blog (Lance's and Davis's work especially), but I don't think I asked for what anyone was publishing. More to the point, the efficacy of POD companies is almost entirely divorced from the content of their titles. Clearly, there is all kind of content made available via POD firms — indeed, I'd guess that it reflects the proportions of the publishing industry, with most stuff being commercial fiction or instructional material, and with innovative fiction being the tiniest sliver of it all.

POD firms are designed to sell books to authors, not to readers. Attempting to actually have people outside of your personal "pocket market" buy your stuff is actually read as interference by these firms. That's what it boils down to. Ads? Ads say all sorts of things, certainly we know this.

Thanks for the note, re: academic publishing. I had heard of some presses doing that and being criticized for the same by the NWU etc, but didn't realize it was very widespread in academic circles. My one academic title didn't involve the surrender of copyright.

As far as paying a grand for your local B&N to stock a book, a little pencil and paper work suggests that the only beneficiary of this will be iUniverse. Let's say the royalty is 7.5% on $14.95. You paid $1000 for your book to be available in as many as three stores (if you have three B&Ns local to you) and let's say they each buy five.

These are high numbers, btw. I'd bet it's one store, stocking three copies. Anyway, you'd make $1.21 a book. The three stores would have to sell 275 copies each for you to make their grand back. An individual store doesn't often sell more than 50 copies of anything but top-top bestsellers over the course of a year.

Or, if you just self-pubbed, you could probably go to the community relations manager of the store and get the books stocked with nothing more than a pleasant phone manner or a slightly desperate smile. But even then...it's a handful of copies. At the very least, academic and small presses can get library sales in the hundreds.

iUniverse, on the other hand, gets to keep your thousand bucks whether those initial three, five, or fifteen copies sell or not, and whether there are any re-orders or not.

To me, there seem to be sufficient small presses that going the POD vanity route, even after rejections from Soft Skull or FC2 (full disclosure: I was an editor at Soft Skull years ago, and they published a novella of mine in 2001 and another is forthcoming this year; FC2, or at least the indentured graduate students down in FL, is currently reading a collection of mine — I'll likely get my rejection or perhaps if the stars align and the baby Jesus smiles upon me sufficiently a thrilling acceptance before the summer is out) doesn't make too much economic sense, or even academic sense.

I'd just keep submitting. If that didn't work, I'd likely make the work available on an interesting website, with paper copies generated via lulu for people who like to read on the toilet. Or, if I had money to spend and an accountant familiar enough with small business to make sure I got lots of write-offs, I'd get a local printing press and book designer together, and make 1000 copies of my book and sell them out of a car trunk if I must. All of those seem to me — and as I alluded to, I've been following the POD and vanity debates for years — to make much better economic and artistic sense than iUniverse.

Joe Amato said...

Nick, thanks, all points taken. I'm pretty -- no very -- familiar with the small press world. I come to these issues, again, as a poet, which means I don't come to these issues as a poet with any expectation of making money from my work.

One quick note: wrt this list of contributors, I was trying clumsily to suggest that whether we look at what "we" publish or what "we" purchase, this isn't necessarily any gauge of what "we" might read as far as publishers go.

And again -- I've been harping on the money side of publishing -- what Kass is calling the business end -- since I started posting this list, and I don't see selling books out of a car trunk as a remotely viable route to same. True, IUniverse might not be either.

The major trade stats are not exactly reassuring, for that matter.

"I'd just keep submitting": well, certainly, but here again, that rather dodges the issue I'm raising. Are there new, more viable publishing models, or aren't there? Is putting one's work up on a website -- as an indy production -- the only alternative we can collectively muster to (let's see now) 70+ rejections for a single manuscript? (whether from a small trade, a large trade, or a small press).

I'm not bitching about rejections (I am bitching about rejections). That's the writer's life. What I'm asking is whether we're caught between the standard publishing model and simple self-publication (with web distribution potential that makes it seem, if only seem, as if The Whole World Is Watching).

Again, I'm not sold on IUniverse. Far from it. But I'm not persuaded, either, that dumping money into my book as "the last of the independents" or some such (remember Charley Varrick?) is the best alternative.

Best,

Joe

Nick Mamatas said...

Well, it strikes me that the only people who are explicitly and loudly claiming that POD vanity production really is a new paradigm in publishing are:

a. sellers of POD vanity production services,

b. individuals who recently purchased some of those same services, and

c. credulous journalists of the recapitulate-the-press-release school of journalism.

Groups b and c depend on turnover. As the scales fall from the eyes of older customers, they are replaced. Every few months a new set of press releases are sent out and picked up by reporters who, three months ago, were in college or the mail room.

POD vanity elides into the questions of POD generally (useful for short runs, or to keep backlist works in print) and vanity generally (obviously a sucker bet)...but ultimately leads to the worst of both worlds. You $1000+ ultimately pays simply for a potential book, and one that even with blurbs and lots of friends and potentially even classroom placements isn't going to do very well.

I think that there is a certain inescapable arrogance involved in POD vanities. Surely, publishing is largely broken, but that doesn't mean that people with no experience, no skills in production, and who use a turnkey service designed to drain money from them and not make money for them is a superior solution. Indeed, it can't be a superior solution.

Poetry long ago abandoned a commercial context, thus Ponzi scheme-style contests for publication, but as you had mentioned a novel and a memoir, two forms that retain a commercial context. Trying to half-step around that context by entering another context, that of simply being the consumer of various virtual services, isn't going to work.

More simply: tens of thousands of people have already been burned by POD vanity presses. Why would Joe Amato be different? What makes Joe Amato the .02% who will succeed, when even commercial writers with their backlist titles on POD can't sell more than 25 units. At least with Amway, another well-known scam, .2% of people actually succeed in climbing that pyramid.

Joe Amato said...

Well, Nick -- it's likely that "Joe Amato" now has a better knowledge of the pitfalls associated with POD etc. than he had prior, thanks to "Nick Mamatas." That alone might not generate more sales than the avg teddy bear -- or it might.

But at any rate, it's churlish of me to ask folks what they think of IUniverse, only to end up in an agonistic struggle with the person who's trying to give me advice. There's something to the tenor of your advice that grates on me, but that could be just me, and I should in any case simply accept your advice and say Thank You.

Besides, the spectacle of the two of us nitpicking each other to pieces isn't esp. healthy for the blog.

So I do think it's time that I cease & desist, and let this thread fade into the collective memory, such as it is.

Thanks again for all of your input---

Best,

Joe

Ted Pelton said...

Coming late to this one (reading manuscripts in our current Ponzi sche--, er, contest), I just thought I'd put in my scattered thoughts, as someone who has a lot of experience in this realm.

1. I agree with all of what Nick says about iUniverse. I say that as someone who rejected iU. in my choice to self-publish my own first book, stupidly giving my made up press such a clever name (smile) that I had to keep it in business by doing other peoples' books after my own and thus becoming a legitimate "small press."

2. Sales are a secondary concern in any kind of fiction publishing that people on this list would be concerned with. ANY kind. Nick, if numbers for the industry at large were available, would they be statistically much better than those you cite for iUniverse books? Very few books published by anyone these days make money, particularly (non-genre) fiction and (non-self-help, non-celebrity-written) poetry. But then, who's in it for the money? It's funny, it took a business consultant to point this out to me -- as I was looking to make my press economically viable, he said to me, You have to ask yourself why you are doing this. Is it about making money? Or is it about getting your work out, or giving yourself credentials that will help you otherwise in your career, however you define that career? The most important goal should be defined -- that is what you are really after. Then, how much of a sacrifice are you willing to make for it? The cost of effectively printing & promoting a title is roughly $6-7000. For that you can do you own book, pretend you didn't do your own book (with a made-up company, ISBN, etc.), advertise it, & likely get it reviewed here and there. Your time does not figure into that 7 thou. You will spend all of your available time on your new venture. There's always another way to promote, market, cross-pollenate, etc.

3. One of the most interesting paradigms in small press publishing that I know of is Geoffrey Gatza's BlazeVox Books. (Disclosure: GG works as a designer for Starcherone, and BlazeVox published my novella, Bhang.) BlazeVox has a couple dozen books in its imprint, set up by BlazeVox/GG as pdf's, then all done through Cafe Press, printed one at a time as ordered. His authors can also then purchase bulk copy orders cheaper than Cafe Press charges, printed by some of the better digital printers, like Fidlar Doubleday (I've used Bookmobile as well; both are cheap & good, so I never want to say one is better than the other -- but these 2 are the best I know). These are used as review copies, for author readings, etc. In the poetry world particularly, a book can pick up steam on the basis of internet buzz, and while figues aren't available, I have reason to believe that BlazeVox's publication of Kent Johnson's Epigramitis is doing fairly well. What makes BlazeVox fascinating to me is that Gatza has invested no upfront capital in the venture, yet the books get noticed. Kent Johnson's book has been discussed on Ron Silliman's blog, for instance. Of course, that's part of the incendiary strategy of Johnson's book, epigrams (sometimes nasty) about 88 living American poets. But nevertheless, the press project attracted a figure like Johnson, & other similarly interesting weird-fun poets, and audiences orf various degrees, thus proving there's ways of starting a press without ANY money (assuming you have software).

4. I've given up for the most part on B&N "brick and mortar" stores. Starcherone Books was turned away early in our career with thpose stores in a rejection letter from B&N which said, in part, that they saw little relation between sales figures and actually having the books in the stores. I know our books do get into some B&Ns through Small Press Distribution, and perhaps through some college bookstore B&Ns. But really they are just not interested in us, so at a certain point, do you keep trying to get the vapid queen of the cheerleaders to agree finally to go out with you for one anti-climactic evening, or do you look for experiences that will be more thoughtful and rewarding?

In all, yes, I think there is a new paradigm, but it has many aspects and potential strategies, as well as different assumptions. You can't beat the big boys at their own game -- whether that be the NY mainstream scene, the chain bookstores, or profitability generally, etc. But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.

Joe Amato said...

Ted, thanks for all of that. I'm familiar with BlazeVox (Geoffrey is looking at my newest book of poetry right now), and have myself helped spread word of Kent's Epigrammatitis (which is well worth reading) by posting my take on it to the SUNY/Buffalo Poetics list (which was later repro'd at the BlazeVox site).

As an academic, it would be foolish of me to suggest that cultural capital is of no interest to me. That said, I do work (as I keep saying over and over) in different modalities (a fancy way of saying that I do write at times with $$ in mind, as when I write screenplays, but also that my motives are far from "pure").

But there's a deeper reality at work here too, having to do with readership. At one point, Charles Potts (who publishes The Temple, a poetry mag out of Walla Walla) commented that one needs to be able to distinguish between an audience and, say, a dozen people. This has nothing whatever to do with quality. One of the most consistently interesting of the poetry journals out there is Chain, and I can recall, well after it was established, its editors calling for more support from the poetry community, as the journal had but 29 subscribers nationwide (and OK, I was one of those subscribers -- I can't emphasize enough how important I think it is to support small, and very small, press initiatives).

So my interest in new publishing paradigms is not driven solely or primarily by the desire to see my books in B & N. Still, I wouldn't want anyone to think I'd be disappointed if such turned out to be the case. (True confession: whenever I get a book picked up, I have a tendency to think I've done something wrong. How's that for self-doubt?) But we need to think, I think, about how much time and energy -- and money -- we have to push our work into the world, and why, given such a potentially small ROI. Some might call such efforts heroic, and in some sense they are. But as Potts was suggesting, there could be an unhealthy hallucination associated with such doings (as there is, I'd say, with so much that is published on the web).

Perhaps IUniverse (and others) constitute just such a hallucinatory enterprise?

Me, I'm not looking for a free lunch. At any rate, I think the BlazeVox model is an interesting one, and I appreciate hearing your thoughts about all this, Ted.

Best,

Joe

Ted Pelton said...

1. Literature does not operate in the same space-time as product-driven capitalism. OK, if your one or two of your "modalities" is fine with the B&N 3-month window for selling a new book.... But, as I said somewhere back there, I like the Emerson quote, "I don't read a book until it's at least a year old"; I think that's how Literature works. B&N wouldn't have any such books for Ralph Waldo, except commercial successes. I don't believe that's what he's talking about. What's the difference between a dozen people & an audience? Time, if the work is worthy enough. How many more people than that read Renaissance court poets, whose hand-written manuscripts were circulated from person to person? Little magazines and small press efforts have always been in this environment; if it's the RIGHT 12 people, you've got germinative possibilities.

Not suggesting one requires the Countess of Pembroke or other aristocrats as your readers; tho I suppose it wouldn't hurt... There's many such instances -- the surrealists or the situationists; Black Mountain poets; many of Frank O'Hara's most highly regarded poems today were first written to people in letters... Not that this is the most desireable state of affairs for circulating new writing. But given a choice between this and a "modality" that B&N would find acceptable -- gosh, I don't even have a choice here -- "write the other way I cannot" (I think that's Melville). (Why oh why do I always speak other people's words?)

2. I like Chain -- sad to say I picked up the issues I own in a $2 each bin at the Minneapolis Book Fair a couple years ago. I too agree with the necessity of paying full price, even donating to keep small mags/presses going. Incidentally, Starcherone is in the midst ofits annual fundraising drive ....

Joe Amato said...

Ted, the right 12 people -- exactly. That's why I wouldn't give up on any publishing opportunity (which isn't quite the same thing as aspiring to same, or aspiring only to same).

When Kass's SUNY book came out, she wanted most of all to give a reading at her hometown indy bookstore in West Chester, PA -- a store she'd patronized for decades. So she called them to try to set this up, and guess what? No can do, said the salesperson, b/c since your book is on an academic press, we don't get any $$ back from the press for PR (we are not talking a helluvalot of money). Whereas, of course, Random House will kick in a modest dollar.

Try as she might, she couldn't persuade them to carry her book.

But lo! -- B & N at the mall 10 miles away WAS willing to stock her book, give her a table, make her a sign, etc. She sold, I believe, 10 copies that day. Not bad for a half-scholarly, half-nonfiction book on an academic press. (Kass is a good handseller.)

Just so's we don't make B & N out to be w/o value. Or the indies to be the only show in town. That said, I'd hate to see, for instance, Tom Peters's Beat Book Shop here in Boulder fold up its tent (so I shop there too when in town).

Perhaps this does speak to a new publishing model in fact, a la BlazeVox, or Ian Wilson's 88 (with fulfillments through Amazon).

Anyway, I hope I'm getting this across: we need to keep the door open to all possibilities, as I see it.

What's the skinny anyway on the Starcherone fundraising drive? How to Etc.

Best,

Joe

Joe Amato said...

I thought I might post this from the Dalkey Archive site, re a cosponsored program last month that some of you might have heard about. This doesn't address self-publishing, no, but it does suggest the kinds of alliances that I think small presses should (?) be on the lookout for. Of course Dalkey is fairly well established these days, but that wasn't always the case.

At any rate, I believe Dalkey is onto something here, and the major trades are part of this loop (I recognize too that this speaks specifically to literature-in-translation):

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"Reading the World Program 2006:
Booksellers Bring International Literature to Readers


APRIL 2006—Translated literature is often overlooked in America, but the Reading the World Program, which began with great success last year, seeks to reverse that trend. By working together, publishers and booksellers will bring the world’s most exciting international literature to readers.

The program takes place throughout the month of May, which is World in Translation Month—an ideal time to celebrate, and promote, literature from around the world.

Begun by Karl Pohrt of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Paul Yamazaki of City Lights in San Francisco, Chad Post of Dalkey Archive Press, and Jeff Seroy of FSG, the Program will expand in its second year to include ten presses and more than two hundred and fifty bookstores.

Ecco, Harcourt, New York Review Books, Other Press, and Picador will join Archipelago Books, Dalkey Archive, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Knopf/Pantheon, and New Directions to recommend translations for bookstore displays and promotions. The presses will supply stores with materials—including full color posters, flyers, bookmarks, and tote bags—designed by renowned Czech illustrator Peter Sis, as well as complimentary reading copies.

Karl Pohrt said, “In a time when the world seems increasingly complex, even obtuse, this Program is an important means of breaking down barriers to see a wider, and more accurate, view of other cultures, ideas, and peoples. With books by novelists, poets, and nonfiction writers from the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, the Reading the World Program seeks to give readers a comprehensive vision of international literature.”

A Reading the World website (www.readingtheworld.org) will be launched in early April, and participating presses will promote the program both with a print advertising campaign and through the upcoming PEN World Voices of International Literature at the end of April.

For more information, including a full list of titles and how to participate, please contact either Karl Pohrt at Shaman Drum Bookshop (pohrt@shamandrum.com) or Chad Post of Dalkey Archive Press (cwpost@dalkeyarchive.com)."

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Best,

Joe

Raw Dog Screaming said...

Well, obviously I'm coming to the thread very late, but there are some things wroth noting...

In 2003 my wife (Jennifer) and I started up Raw Dog Screaming Press. We use LSI for print-on-demand - all of our titles are POD, except one. While most of the other new publishers I've seen pop up in the last 5 years have fallen, we're still in business.

Our trick is that we approach publishing like traditional publishers, in terms of editing and promoting the books, but use POD to save money on the printing/warehousing/etc. Other non-vanity companies using POD don't seem to left a finger to promote their titles, it seems, so they go out of business.

As has already been pointed out here the vanity companies are using LSI for their printing anyway. So why do you need them? The money involved in using LSI is far less than the vanity compies charge you, it's just that it takes some time to put the books together yourself.

What I'm saying is, start up a company. Use LSI for printing if you'll be selling less than 1,000 copies. Once you get the hang of it you'll then be able to publish work by other authors, thereby helping the entire scene.

Essentially what we're discussing here is the punk rock movement in literature. Total DIY can be achieved now. And, just as with punk, a lot of mediocre stuff will come of it, but there will be a lot of brilliance that otherwise would be snuffed out by the "big" publishers. I say don't turn your back on POD; let's move it in a positive direction and make it a tool for true creative publishing.

Starting up a company may sound intimidating, but if you want anyone to read your books you have to do the same amount of promo anyway. A horrible secret of the publishing world is that no matter how big your contract you still have to do a crazy amount of promo yourself. If you own the company, though, the money goes into your pocket - or into putting out quality titles from overlooked authors, as we do.

Just my 2.5 cents...

Joe Amato said...

Thanks for the input, Raw Dog.

We seem to be converging on the notion that everyone should use the digital technologies at hand to start their own publishing company, meanwhile publishing their own work.

I'm not exactly against such a notion -- it's generally not a workable model if you're looking for tenure from your pubs (and we needn't talk about the latter either) -- but I'm skeptical. I could list all sortsa reasons why, but here's one:

I don't have the time.

Now please don't tell me to make time. Or that everyone, for instance, has the same kind of DIY drive/knack/expertise when it comes to publishing. I've learned how to help publishers promote my own work, but w/o their help, I'm sure I wouldn't be able simply to pick up all the slack, ESP. on the marketing end. (Again, I've learned something in this regard from my short time with ABR: most of us need professional help. And incidentally, the estimated avg. cost to produce a book on an academic press, according to the director of Columbia UP in an article in last year's Profession, is $25-30,000. I've checked with other academic press directors and they confirm this. Make of this fact what you will.)

Anyway, as I see it, starting up my own publishing company, as things stand in my life at present, would cut too much into my writing time, given my work demands (etc). And I have no intention of becoming a half-assed publisher (which is to say, I'd want to do this right, as I'm sure you all want).

Another reason why I'm skeptical: there's so much work already OUT THERE. The whole purpose of a publishing enterprise ought to be, I think, to publish exceptional work. Sure, perhaps someone might "trust" me to do a better job of separating wheat from chaff. But my own wheat from my own chaff? I'm not so sure...

A third reason why I'm skeptical: simple economics. If publishing = publishing 12 copies of my book for 12 of my friends, I'm not interested. I'm just not. And believe me, I've seen aspiring writers do just this. Reminds me in fact of those student journals you see at so many academic institutions, filled with student work. Hey -- most of the time, such journals are PR devices for prospective students and their parents, b/c nobody outside of the immediate campus community ever looks at such items. Waste of rain forest material, and what's worse, a generally poor way to model the publishing experience for undergrads. (There are exceptions of course, and worthy alternatives to the standard student journal, as well. Ask me.) If you're that desperate to see your name in print, I tell my students, then hang onto your phone books.

In all, I'm evidently not as convinced as some of you that the DIY movement represented by the web (etc.), or what some have called "the revenge of the amateurs," is necessarily lifting the literary bar any. It's altering the terms of our discussion, and that's fine. And this has everything to do, for me, with a discussion of publishing models.

So if we're to get (back) into this question of what we think is quality work, and why, and what correlation it has, or might have, with publishing, then I'm going to have to insist that we scrutinize much more closely what we mean by the editing function. In a review some years ago I asked (echoing Foucault), What is an editor?

I'm asking that question again.

Best,

Joe

Joe Amato said...

Correction, and advance notice: turns out that my newest book of poetry, Finger Exorcised, will in fact be coming out on BlazeVox, happily.

So, Ted and others, it's great to be in such stellar company.

Best,

Joe

Lance Olsen said...

Congratulations, man!!! That's excellent news!!!

Ted Pelton said...

Geoffrey Gatza to the rescue again! Yes, Joe, congrats.

Hey, Raw Dog, I'm a dummy (tho my operation is more or less the same as yours, with the exception that I went non-profit -- my hand doesn't go into my pocket, it's always stuck out oin mid-air, asking): who/what is LSI?

Raw Dog Screaming said...

Joe: Congrats, re: BlazeVox! Always good news.

In reply to your other points, you are correct on all counts. My wife is actually my harshest critic, something that I forget to be thankful for during our rows over my writing. Luckily she keeps me from sending out a flotilla of pulp bearing my name. I would say, overall, the DIY thing is lowering the bar, in the short term, but there is a worthwhile tradeoff in the quality noncommercial work that comes out of it.

And, DIY expertise really takes years to learn. I ran the Dream People online literary journal of the bizarre for four years, during which time I edited some anthologies and volunteered as head of publicity for Eraserhead Press. That, combined with reading countless books on publishing, marketing, etc., (combined with a music business course I had take years before) gave me barely enough knowledge to start up Raw Dog Screaming Press. Three years later I'm still learning. It takes an incredible amount of time, which is something most of us don't have.

$$$: $25,000 to publish books is kinda nutty these days, for books that don't have mass readship potential. I think we've spent about $70,000 during our three years. And Ted, I'm with you on the hand-dipping...we stay out of the funds, so all of the money coming in goes into growing the company.

LSI: LSI is Lightning Source, Inc., the largest print-on-demand company in operation. They're located in Tennessee. They don't deal with authors, only publishing companies. Because they are partly owned by Ingram all books printed by LSI are available through Ingram/Ingram Library Service...also available through Baker&Taylor, and Bertram's UK. You're not just paying for the books with them, you get built-in distribution. We've had a little static from Barnes&Noble about our books being "nonreturnable vanity titles" because they're POD...even though ours are returnable, with the 55% trade discount, and we pay our authors!

Anyway. Check out http://www.lightningsource.com There's a good deal of info available about them/their operations. If anybody has any questions about them feel free to ask me, I'm at dlo444 @ aol.com

john

Joe Amato said...

Just to say THANKS! to John, Ted, and Lance (and to the blog community) for the kind words of support.

Means much to me --

Best,

Joe