Archive for the ‘play publishing’ Tag

A Great Moment in the History of Publishing!   4 comments

At least as far as I’m concerned it is:

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

The publication of my play Queen Lear through Blurb.com.

I have written about the current reality of the publishing world on this blog before but at the risk of repeating myself, here are some thoughts about where I feel things stand right now. Right now being on a Sunday morning in mid-October. A mild autumn day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

I should preface this post by repeating something I said in an earlier post, that if someone tells you they know what’s going on in the publishing world these days, turn and run the other way. They are lying to you. No one knows. All we know for sure is that things are in a state of flux.

I have also mentioned in an earlier post, but it bears repeating now, that I have four books published by, one could say, traditional publishing houses (Coteau, Red Deer College Press and Broadview). While I believe I was paid a reasonable amount from Coteau, as far as I can remember, I have only received one royalty cheque in my almost twenty years from Red Deer, and that was for $16.00. Broadview sends me royalty statements informing me that I am in a never-ending negative position with them. They figure I owe them some $160.00 after 12 years with two of my books in their catalog. Who am I to argue?

Of course, until now I have published only plays, and one could say that plays don’t really sell all that well. The greatest possible benefit for the author is that their publication increases the likelihood of more productions. What the benefit is for the publisher, I couldn’t really say.

But listen to this. My play, my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, was published by Coteau Books in Regina, my home town, in 1995 and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. The book sold out its run, but they decided not to reprint it and declined the opportunity to publish subsequent plays of mine. It was like I had done something wrong.

Go figure.

So, you can well imagine that when my friend Michael J. Finner approached me with the idea of starting a publishing company of our own, I was all ears. What did I have to lose? On a cold day in early January, 2008 we met and created B House Publications, with the soon to be realized goal of having my play Writer’s Block as our first publication – for sale in the lobby on opening night.

It was never my intention to have B House serve as a vanity press for me, and so I have worked hard, more so in the early days, finding writers I admire and helping them bring their work to publication. I am proud to say we have published some of Calgary’s very finest authors, including Kirk Miles, Tyler Perry, Jude Dillon, Lindsay Burns, Neil Fleming and others; and dozens of others through two Caffè Beano poetry anthologies. (Another of these, a book of smart phone photographs, is planned for next year, edited my our in-house photo guru, Jude Dillon. It will be launched at Beano’s Stampede Breakfast next July.)

The problem that arose is that I am only one person and can only spread myself so thin. I love the process of meeting with fellow authors and even editing their work and helping get it into book form. After that, in terms of marketing and distribution, I admit I am essentially useless and have let all of these authors down. There just aren’t enough hours in a day.

Until now, we have had our books, usually designed by the amazing Peter Moller, printed with a local company, Blitz Print in Calgary. They do very fine work and are reasonably priced if you’re thinking of printing a book in Calgary.

Someone would then end up with boxes of books in his or her closet, the idea being to sell these, becoming rich and famous during the process. In the early days, we had high hopes that these books would be sold here and afar, but because we never had any marketing support (let alone a plan for distribution) the books and the big dreams only went so far.

Many a time I felt so overwhelmed that I just wanted to abandon the entire project. But then a poet or playwright would approach me with a book idea and I just couldn’t say no. And so we have limped on. I love books and the chance to bring a new book into the world has always been too compelling not to do it.

For the last few years, B House has essentially been an opportunity for self-publishing but with our logo on the cover. Our writers have kept 100% of the royalties. I have spent thousand of hours on B House business and would hate to calculate what that has worked out to as an hourly wage. Meager comes to mind.

Altruism? You bet.

But I’ve also been driven by the fact that because we don’t know the future of publishing, it wasn’t a bad idea to keep this thing alive. You just never know. I honestly don’t know what the future holds, where this might lead, if anywhere, but it just made sense to try against all odds to keep the enterprise afloat.

5 years ago, I wrote the play Queen Lear. B House published it, using our model of having a good design and then printing it locally, we me carting home the books from Blitz Print. I think we printed 100 copies. And then we ran out. (To put it in perspective, a wildly successful play in Canada would be lucky to sell 1,000 copies. We’re not talking huge numbers here.)

I’ve had orders for the book over the last few years, but I just couldn’t see the point of continuing on with our same model. I really didn’t want to order 100 copies, sell ten, and then have those remaining 90 copies taking up space in my office. Boxes of unsold books cause their own kind of anxiety, let me tell you, quite unlike anything else.

This summer I heard about Blurb.com, which I suppose one could best describe as a virtual publisher. They create your book only when an order is placed for it, from one to – well, the sky’s the limit, I suppose. The information on the book and the mechanism for ordering sits on their website (blurb.com or blurb.ca) and so I can promote it, in blogs like this for example, and any way I see fit. But I don’t really have to worry about it after that. This finally offered B House some relief on the distribution side of things.

And so, after some research and growing pains, we finally got the reprint of Queen Lear up and available through Blurb.

The big difference for B House in using Blurb is that we don’t have to make an initial costly purchase of our book, and then find ourselves on the hook to distribute it. It’s just there, on their website. You can order one copy, they will print and mail it to you. Or you can order 100 copies. (In fact, I wish you would!)

Through Blurb, I am able to establish my own royalty which I don’t share with a publishing company. I set it myself and know exactly what I will make per book. If the total exceeds $25.00 in a month, it is deposited in a Pay Pal account for me. Simple. And effective.

At the same time, I can order copies of my own book at cost price and sell these in bookstores that I promote, in this case Calgary’s Shelf Life Books. And any other that would bother to ask me.

My goal here is not to circumvent booksellers. Only publishers.

Is this the future of publishing? Could it the end of conventional publishing as we know it? We have seen the demise of newspapers – I lost a good job when the Calgary Herald was in danger of going into the dumpster a few years ago. Is there any reason to think the same thing won’t happen with publishing houses?

Time will tell, I suppose. Despite what it might seem, I don’t wish any of them any ill fortune. I’m guess I’m old school, but I believe we need books and readers of books to salvage and maintain what’s left of our faltering civilization. Hopefully there is room for all of us, big and small. Or, as we like to say at B House, not small but boutique.

I’ll tell you something. Things are changing and I embrace the change. I welcome it. And I’m curious to see where this all ends up.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a performance by a man who wrote a great book, his autobiography. Amazing how he keeps going strong after all these years. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publish and Perish — Part 2   6 comments

When Michael Finner and I began B House, I thought we would become a publisher of drama, for the simple reason that there are not a lot of good opportunities for play publishing nowadays. Also, I know all the playwrights in town so what was to stop us? I’m not sure how to answer that question. Only Lindsay Burns came forth and we published her two wonderful extended monologues, Dough and the Vajayjay Monologues in one volume. We then published my play Queen Lear, but since then, nothing. Like I say (in Part One of this piece) we have a number of plays in the works, and I hope B House will have some new drama books on the shelf this spring.

At the same time, though, we did manage to publish a number of poetry books. This happened for a number of reasons. I was becoming more involved in the poetry scene in Calgary, with readings at the Spoken Word Festival and Single Onion events. I’ve also become a mainstay at Jocelyn Alice’s wonderful eclectic “Art Saving Lives” events held at Higher Ground Café in Kensington the last Sunday evening of the month.

Calgary continues to confound the experts (ie, people not from Calgary) with it’s insanely vibrant theatre scene, yet I was surprised and delighted to discover that we are home to a very rich poetry scene as well. As far as I’m concerned, Calgary is home to some of the best poets in the land.

Our involvement with poetry began with a poetry anthology which came about as a result of the coffee shop I frequent, Caffe Beano. One day I was in there happily writing in my journal and I looked around and saw that five of six other patrons were doing the same thing. Suddenly the penny dropped and I realized that there must be a lot of poetry written by the people who frequent Beano, if not actually in Beano.

And so with the help of the ownership and a little arm twisting here and there, in the summer of 2008 we came out with the first Beano Anthology. In the slim volume, we published poems by over 30 writers – for some of them it was their first publication. We transformed Beano’s Stampede Breakfast into a book launch and sold 93 copies of the book that day.

This must be some kind of record, on many levels. Again, it confounds people’s image of Calgary, to think that the hot topic at a Stampede breakfast would be poetry, but that’s one of things I love about Calgary and my place in it. The minute you think you have it figured out, something like this happens and you have to reconsider your opinion of the city.

Other books followed, including an art book made possible by the City of Calgary and the Drop In Centre: reproductions of paintings of trees by “homeless” artist Reg Knelsen, accompanied by poetry by David van Belle, appropriately titled Reg’s Trees.

Our next book was Kirk Miles’ wonderful collection, of ash of brick, of water.  When we published Kirk’s book, we were still following the classic model, that of paying for the design and printing costs ourselves, and then trying to offer (and deliver) Kirk a reasonable royalty.  But I must admit by this time, two years into this venture, we were running a little thin. Our original manager, Stephanie Davis who did an amazing job for us in the early years, was moving on in her own life and so left us with the files but Michael and I, fair to say, are not good at the daily nuts and bolts stuff.

Personally, I was getting behind in my own work and was finding it hard to get to all the manuscripts that kept trickling in.  Michael was getting tired of putting his Mastercard out for all our expenses. So when we decided to publish Tyler Perry’s book, Lessons in Falling, we were pretty much running on empty. We managed to get the book designed and printed, but from that point on Tyler became pretty much a one man show in marketing and selling his own book.

That said, thanks to his own initiative, Lessons in Falling is probably our best-selling book thus far. In fact, it was on the Calgary Herald’s best selling list for a few weeks, not bad for a local company publishing the work of a young writer. But it’s through no thanks to B House. The success of the book came entirely from Tyler himself.

I actually took this cover photo but forgot to credit myself. Oh well!

The results of having a published book are intangible, of course. Tyler was recently short-listed for the City of Calgary Poet Laureate and wrote to thank me for helping publish his book, for without that publication he probably never would have been nominated. So you never know. And you can see how the rewards go beyond money.

If you are a Canadian poet or playwright or publisher and you go into this for the money, you’re not even mad. You’re not ever crazy. You’re just stupid, that’s all.

As self-publishing becomes more and more popular – in part this is due to changes in print technology that allows for small runs of high-quality books – maybe a small press like B House is destined to be an alternative. a clearing house for writers, allowing them total control of their book while offering an association of like-minded authors who, all in all, add up to a force greater than an individual author could create for him or herself. The success of your book then depends on your own ability to get out and promote it.

As this is increasingly where we’re heading, why not do this with a smaller company where you at least get something back for it? It’s 2012. No one else is going to do this for you. That’s just a reality these days.

In a sense, it reminds me of an old school writers’ collective, and I like it. No one’s going to get rich from these books, but it may make us more likely to get a coveted Canada Council grant or even become Poet Laureate.

I believe this may well be the future of poetry and drama publishing in Canada.

What B House offers at this point in time is quality control, I suppose. If you publish with us, we will make sure that your name will be associated with other authors who function at a certain level, who share a certain sensibility. Design-wise, there is a consistency to the look and feel of the books, as we have as our favoured designer Peter Moller, whom I happen to think is the best in the business. (I’ve added a link to his site, Egg Press, on my list of links on my website.)

A loose affiliation of like-minded individuals. Maybe that’s all it is. If B House continues to move in this direction, then I think the sky is the limit, and I believe we will offer a great service to local writers without totally burning ourselves out, creatively or financially.

A clearing house for good books by good writers. That’s something to aspire to.

Thanks for reading. . . .

Publish and Perish   2 comments

Publish and Perish – Part One

I recently received a flurry of emails from participants in the World Interplay Festival of 2001. These are young playwrights from around the world whom I worked with when I was the Canadian delegate to this festival that runs every two years in Australia. Only now, of course, eleven years later, most of them are at the next stage of their careers. They’re not so young anymore and are becoming established in their various countries.

If there is a universal concern shared by these emerging playwrights and myself, it is the sad and worsening state of publishing that seems to be pretty much the same wherever you go. I shared my situation with them and thought I’d share it here. It’s rather lengthy, so I’ve broken it into two parts, the first having to do mostly with play publishing, the second with poetry.

My situation: 10 years into a two book publishing deal with a reputable Canadian publisher, I received my Royalty Statement last week and learned that I am now at a balance of -$239.53.  This is presumably good news, showing positive growth from last year’s figure of -$249.06. It looks to me like I made $9.53 last year.

At this clip, in 23 years or so I will be out of the red and into the black.

One of the books in question is my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required. It was originally published by another publisher. Although the play has received scores of productions, at least one a year in the 18 years since I wrote it, and although it was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, when the initial printing sold out, that publisher decided not to reprint it. I never understood that, other than to think of it as being a typically Canadian decision: that thing is too successful. We want no part of it! If nothing else, at least that decision made the play available for the other publisher with whom I now am in a negative variance.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like anyone is purposely trying to rip me off. Sadly, it’s just how it is. There’s no skullduggery here as far as I know. Anyone involved in the book publishing industry these days must be driven by only the fuzziest of romantic notions of a world that has books in it. Canadian plays published and on the shelf is a laudable dream. It’s no one’s fault. The reality is there’s just no money involved. We simply don’t have the numbers. It’s just how it is.

So when my friend Michael J. Finner approached me almost five years ago with the hair-brained scheme of starting our own publishing company, I thought I could hardly do worse than I was already doing, and so B House Publications was born.

Trevor Leigh and Arielle Rombough who starred in the premiere production on the cover of B House's first book.

We chose as our entry point into the madness my play Writer’s Block. To make a long story short, we had the play in the lobby on opening night and we sold more copies than I thought possible.  A subsequent launch of the book at the Auburn Saloon made the book a virtual best seller in Calgary. Thanks to a generous contract I negotiated with myself, I was in at about a 25% royalty. You can clearly see that even selling one copy of the book would put me miles ahead of where I am with my other publishers.  As far as play publishing goes, I did quite well on that book. Don’t get too excited, though. All in all we’re only talking a couple hundred copies.

Suddenly we had a publishing company and now there was work to be done. It was never my intention for B House to be a vanity press. As was the case with T.S. Elliott and Faber and Faber, I thought it would be permissible for me to publish with my own company as long as we were publishing other writers as well, and I was publishing with other presses, which I have done.

In the world of drama, we published a book I am very proud of, Lindsay Burns’ two marvelous scripts, Dough and the Vajayjay Monologues. I have had many conversations with Calgary playwrights (we think of ourselves as a Calgary only publisher) and as far as I know we are now moving forward, roughly at the speed of a glacier,  with works by Ethan Cole,  Jason Long and Neil Fleming. I hope before too long we come out with books by these fine Calgary playwrights, and others yet to be identified.

In the meanwhile, B House published another play of mine, Queen Lear.  Again, we had it in the lobby on opening night. Again, I made more money than I could have hoped for from a “real” publisher. But that’s as far as it’s gone in drama publishing, as this point in time.

I should mention that the name of the company, B House, is a frank if somewhat tongue in cheek admission that we wouldn’t think of ourselves as anyone’s “A” choice. I encourage the writers who come to me to exhaust other possibilities and only come to us as a last resort. “Start with Random House! Start with Frontenac!” We have no resources, no marketing, no one to maintain the website, no one to pick up the phone, no phone on any account, no one who even knows how to create an invoice. More and more, the company is sliding into the deep abyss of  “a great creative venture marred by the absence of any organizing principle or anyone who knows how to do or is willing to do what the fuck needs to be done.”

Yet, B House has had something of a resurgence thank to the very rich poetry scene here in Calgary. I will pick up on this theme in my next post . . . coming to you a few days from now.

Thanks for reading!

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