Archive for the ‘poetry publishing’ Tag

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.

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. . . .

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