The Secret of Publishing   9 comments

Hard at work, signing and numbering the books. I'm actually much better looking than this in real life.

Hard at work, signing and numbering the books. I’m actually much better looking than this in real life.

If you should happen to meet someone who claims they know what’s going on these days with publishing, run the other way. No one knows. If anyone might know, it might be me, but I’m telling you I don’t know. Therefore, no one really knows. And there certainly is no secret.

When first there were computers and clumsy dot-matrix printers back in the early 80’s, it didn’t seem to change much, and so it was business as usual for writers for a few more decades. We carried on the same as we did when we were typing.

It seems to me (another way of saying I have no idea what I’m talking about but I’m going to say it anyway) that not a lot of attention was paid to printers in the early days of computers because the theory was that we would soon become a “paperless society.” That’s what they told us and we believed them.

I don’t know how many trees I’m personally responsible for slaughtering since then, but probably a small forest.

And yet, at the same time, they weren’t entirely wrong, these experts. The fact that you are reading this post electronically, as we say, is proof of that.

The one area of printing that befuddled the experts from the beginning was the book industry. Rather than roll over and die, it seemed to flourish in the electronic and later digital age. It seems to me (again, no idea, just saying) there were two (at least) reasons for this. For one, those of us in the literary community supported the industry as well as we could in the best way we could, by buying books. I know so many people like myself who own a Kobo or Kindle and an iPad or other tablet who still (and always will) prefer the “real thing” as it were. And the book industry responded by creating nicer books. It’s true. Books, as physical entities, as artifacts, are much nicer now than when I was a student of literature in the 70’s and 80’s.

Being in the publishing business myself, I know that it is possible  to create beautiful books. Especially with a small press like B House, where we do very small runs of our books, it’s possible to create books that are beautiful inside and out, as it were. (We like to think that not only do they look nice, but that what’s inside them is worth reading as well.)

While I’ve been hard at work (not really, but you get my drift) publishing the work of others, I was recently rewarded with a publication of my own by an even smaller press than B House called 100 têtes Press, run by Calgary poet Paul Zits. 100 têtes is somewhat oxymoronically (I love that word) a chapbook press. All the books are created by Paul himself. The care he takes with typesetting and selection of papers results in very beautiful and unique books. He even sews them together on a sewing machine on his dining room table.

Here’s what Paul has to say about it:

Written, the name 100 têtes translates into English as “one hundred heads.” Spoken, the name takes on a second possible translation, namely “without a head.” The name, appropriated from Max Ernst’s 1929 graphic novel, La femme 100 têtes, reflects Zits’ own personal interest in collage-work and literary montage. From their materials, design and binding, reflected in each book’s unique presentation, is 100 têtes belief in the book as art object. But the name is also meant to emphasize the Press’ community-driven focus, made up of, simultaneously, one hundred heads and no heads.

 It is the mandate of 100 têtes Press to publish local writers, both new and established, of any genre, with an emphasis on experimental and conceptually resonant poetry, prose and visual art.

 The name of my book is Silent Suite and it exists in a limited edition of 40 copies, signed and numbered by the author himself. (That would be me.) It contains three short, sparse poems which I wrote really in reaction to the oh so busy wordy poems I’m used to hearing at poetry readings these days. (Remember the famous line in Amadeus – “Too many notes, Mozart.” I feel like saying that to young poets nowadays – “Too many words!” Hmmmm. Maybe I did just say it. That feels better!)

So, here we see at least a trend in publishing – smaller runs of uniquely produced books which can quickly become collectors items given the small numbers involved. The problem, as you can probably tell, is that no one makes any money from this. That’s the problem as I see it when it comes to publishing in the modern era. As bad as it was for writers in the past, it only seems to be getting worse. The resume expands even as the bank account shrinks. What else is new?

Because Paul is not in it for the money, as they say, his suggested price for the book was $4.00. The day I signed them at Shelf Life Books (there’s a link to Shelf Life to the left – that’s where you can buy a copy, or through me directly), manager Will Lawrence (always the sharp businessman) countered by suggesting a price of $8.00 per book.

After much strenuous negotiation between publisher and book-seller, finally a compromise was reached — $6.00 a book!

As I say, none of us is getting rich, but we at least have the satisfaction of bringing a funky new book into the world.

Thanks for reading.

9 responses to “The Secret of Publishing

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  1. Eugene;

    We at Shelf Life Books were gratified to reach such a companionable settlement on the pricing of your new book of poems: Silent Suite.  These agreements are not always so achievable in the book business. ( See Amazon vs Apple eBooks & the Big Five

    There are two factors that contributed to our amicable settlement:
         Your unique experience (Writer, Publisher, Teacher, Gentleman)
         and: Paul Zits, your publisher, who has taken a position at our bookstore. (We are lucky to have him on staff.)  It’s possible he concluded the negotiations on a conciliatory basis in order to rise above some of the drudgery that plagues the lowly bookseller (re-cycling, dusting the shelves, purchase orders, checking the waste bins in the washrooms before a book release party, etc.)

    Aside from all that; I am with you on the theory that there is no “Secret to Publishing”  It seems like the most appropriate approach is an open and collaborative method aimed at gaining the attention of more readers for more authors.  In my few years in book-selling I’ve been amazed at how diversified and imaginative the publishers really are.  

    We can only applaud the noble position my fellow bookseller; Jeff Bezos took with the US Department Of Justice on the subject of eBooks; the customer must be protected against price gouging conspiracies between publishers and book sellers.  Much like Jeff, my concern is always with the satisfaction of a person I’ve sold a book to.
     But it’s hard to judge the level of protection we need from 100 têtes Press.  Should all publishers have only one outlet? How much customer security is required?  Who sets the price?  How much does it cost to get a favourable decision from the Department of Justice ?  And, should all small publishing be done through e-books & Amazon’s Create Space or is there room for “nicer books”… but I’m wandering into the philosophical area, an area where I can’t compete with Mr Bezos’s robust Libertarianism. 
    “It seems to me” that $6 dollars is a good price for your beautiful book of poems. I look forward to many happy customers, at least 40 of them.

    Thanks for writing
    Shelf Life Books

  2. Your photo caption makes me smile. Thank you!

  3. Thanks Eugene, very informative .. I plan on picking up your book in September, I have not been to that bookstore and would like to visit it.

    By the way .. hope your poem does well this weekend at the Festival … I liked it!

    Good luck!

    • What poem? What festival?

      • Coral, thy name is bonehead…
        I read a feed I am following, confusing your submission of Caffe Beano for the Calgary Project (starting August 15) with the People’s Poetry Festival (starting August 16)…. at least the two dates were close.. lol … what can I say… it has been a hot summer working in the bakery, more brain cells have withered… giggle giggle
        Think I will have to visit Caffe Beano to observe what makes it so exceptional for poets…

  4. Congratulations! A book written, published and presented is always a gift – with or without money. But the preference would be with money!!

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