Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ask yourself why you want to publish a book...

Sandra Beasley provides a good overview of the BlazeVOX controversy and injects her own, valuable perspective.

As a poet who agreed to purchase 100 copies of my chapbook up front (at a 50% discount off cover price) as part of my publication agreement with a press, I especially agreed with this point by Sandra (click on the quote for the full blog post):
To object to providing $250 support because it is in hard money is to get distracted from the overall point. $250 = cost of travel for two events (traveling cheap) + postage for 5 potential reviews + postage for 5 reading opportunities + a box of promotional cards. If you're not prepared to pitch in this amount three times over in the first year of publication, then ask yourself what your goals are with publishing a book with a press.

Are you looking for the validation of seeing your words in print? Then self-publish. Are you looking for the validation of being associated with a certain editorial imprint? Then respect the thousands of dollars of man-hours, comparatively, someone has sunk into building that reputation. Are you looking to sell some books and maybe even make money back? Again: be prepared to invest three times over, and then some.
In the first year following publication of my chapbook, What Remains, I scheduled 14 readings and mailed about a dozen of my chapbooks to potential reviewers. I sold out of my copies, bought more, scheduled more readings, etc. Needless to say, I made that $400 back and then some.

I was asked by a poet if that was considered a "vanity press" since we had to pay to get published. I said no. First of all, the press didn't just publish anyone who sent them a chapbook and agreed to buy copies. Secondly, I told the poet that many people whose books are accepted for publication at other presses didn't get copies up front. If they did, they were lucky if it was 10-25. They would have to buy their own copies from the press to sell anyway. Since I needed copies to sell at readings, why should I balk at buying a quantity up front? And this was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-blogging. Just think how much easier it is for authors now to reach a wide audience of potential buyers!

Anyone who has ever worked a job where they had to have something printed - from a tri-fold brochure to a perfect-bound book - knows that the higher the print run, the cheaper it is per unit. Having a larger initial print run meant it cost less per book to print, enabling a steep 50% discount for me to buy my copies. Of course, the problem seems to be with writers who know nothing about the publishing industry.

It's like the owner of a factory who complains about the cost of operations without ever having stepped foot on the factory floor to see how his plant actually functions. Shouldn't you be aware of what it takes to publish and promote your book before you start submitting it?

And if you don't want to go through the effort of getting your book into people's hands after it's published, that's unfair to the press that accepted your book.

I can say that in all earnestness because, for several years, I volunteered for a few presses. I saw firsthand the people who, after having a book published, never put any effort into actually promoting it through readings. Some of the poets whose books and chapbooks I saw published seemed to disappear off the face of the earth after their books came out. Never published in a single journal, never scheduled a reading beyond the launch reading set up by the press. Google their name and you won't find a web site or blog. They "don't do" social media. And, of course, their books languish unsold in boxes stored in some editor's basement. Or the press pays fees for storing all of these unsold books at a big facility.

Thank goodness for the advent of POD.

Again, I stress that if you are going through all the effort of finding a press to publish your book, it is unfair for the press for you to then run screaming from putting in some effort to sell your books. Isn't the ultimate goal to get your poetry into the hands and hearts of readers and not just into the catalog of a publisher?

No comments: