Monday, April 26, 2010

On publishing in 2010

In March of 2009, during the same week, I learned that my first book of poetry would be published and I learned that my contract at CBC would not be renewed. Amazingly, 13 months later, I appear to be still unemployed, or rather, writing-and-not-getting-paid-for-it (and I would like to thank Employment Insurance Canada, my spouse, and my father for their respective assistance in keeping me solvent), however, I am about to leave on my very first book tour (eeek!) and as such have been reflecting on the business of publishing in the year 2010, obsessed as I am with business and poetry, and poetry about business, and the business of being a poet.

Surely publishing in 2010 is vastly different from publishing in 2000, or 2015? What with the digital revolution and all. It's changing our brains, you know.

The April 75th Anniversary Issue of Quill & Quire has an article titled "7.5 Ideas for Fixing Canadian Publishing." Even though these ideas have been written from a publishing perspective, I was curious to know what a poet could take from them. (Note that I've just grabbed the highlights, and I recommend you find the article for an in-depth discussion of each point.)

(Also, No, I don't want to be one of those intensely irritating, continually self-promoting poets, and Yes, I do keep the writing entirely separate from the promotional aspect in my mind, but as an unknown first-timer, it surely behooves the poet to at least know what's what, does it not? Further, although writing is an art, a craft, an obsession and a way of life, publishing is a business, and I do think it is important for writers to have a sense of how it works and where it might be going.)

1. Less is more. More thought should be given to the all-important decision to publish. By which Q&Q means publishers need to put out less mediocre books, but this could be extended to say that poets should put out less mediocre poems.

2. Choice is king. Booksellers shouldn't cling to their preference for physical books. I do love the book as object, so I'm pleased that I get to have my first book be a physical book; who's to say whether the physical book will still exist in 10 years? But, unlike friends who first published in the early part of this decade, my book will also exist in downloadable form, for all the Kindle-owning poetry fiends out there. And if you know any, let me know, because like the unicorn, I'm just not certain they exist till I see them with my own eyes.

3. Diversify the workforce. The industry must hire from a wider talent pool. Makes sense to me. I'd love to work in publishing. But there ain't many jobs outside of Toronna, especially for a 30 year old who's never worked in a bookstore.

4. Making more efficient blockbusters. Blessedly not my problem, nor poetry's. Let's keep it that way.

5. The Web is where it's at. Social networking doesn't have to be a full-time job, but it's essential that authors put in an appearance. This section, drafted by Seen Reading's Julie Wilson, is most relevant for the poets of 2010.

In the past 13 months alone, I have embarked on a website/blog, Twitter, a FB fan page (which at the time seemed like a way to separate personal stuff from literary beings/doings, but in reality only a few already-friends are fans, and it starts to feel/looks like an exercise in narcissism), an Amazon author profile and a GoodReads author profile, with a LibraryThing profile forthcoming. Sure, the social networking (or as the kids are calling it, "social") doesn't have to be a full-time job, but when the writer in question doesn't have a full-time job, it's all too easy to get sucked in to constant pruning and tweaking, adjusting the bio, reading and re-posting everyone else's blogs. But I can rest assured that I am building my public profile as an author, generating interest for my poetry. On the other hand.... maybe not.

6. Needle in a (virtual) haystack. Better metadata will ensure that Canadian books don't get lost online. I did a bit of googling to figure out what metadata is, but my eyes glazed over and I started drooling. Think we'll leave this one to the publishers.

7. In it for the long haul. Publishers need to break the bad habit of short-term thinking. I know I'm in it for the long haul! Are you?

7.5. Don't be a buzz-kill. It's a little thing, but publishers shouldn't make it difficult for the media to cover their books. i.e., Keep giving the love to traditional media. Cool. As long as trad media keeps giving the love back.

Nikki Reimer wants you to buy her book. Or not. Whatever.


Daniel Zomparelli said...

You're book is amazing! My friends had to pry it from my hands last week.

Old 333 said...

@Sina: Good article. Haven't popped by for a while - I can never remember where I've been hounded from, but I have a bookmark here at LH still (I think Harriet actually ripped hers from my hand).

I was thinking about these very issues (publishing, pay, and books in print) whilst pondering Ron Silliman's blog a bit ago - lazily, I had planned to reproduce my comments there to here below, as they seemed perfectly apropos and I have to go and mop a flo' (true, although the rhyme was INEXCUSABLE):

but then I went and read the article you linked to, CLOSE YOUR EYES AND THINK OF ENGLAND, and can only respond with horror.

Personally, I don't think the internet makes it easier to steal art. I think it makes it a LOT easier to catch thieves, and a lot easier to GET art. I also think we are in the midst of a revolution like unto that of the movable type revolution, which is leading to a vast flowering of all the arts.

If the juggernauts fall, it's because they were hollow inside and waiting for a good wind. I very much doubt Kenneth Goldsmith is being robbed of his pith to line some Russian text-scraper's pockets. Creeeeeaaaakkkk....but nobody to hear the rest?

Vanity publishing is dead, that I will tell you for sure. It may twitch for a while. All those 'small' presses owned by bigger presses will give way to the little independents working on contract for monsters like Google or Amazon. Right now, (if the dam thing was done, a dozen poems to go and where are they? i don't know), I could print my 333 blog (which is just poems 100% natural, with 2% allowable insect parts and rodent hairs under FDA regs), stick a fancy emboss on the cover, and ship it anywhere for cheaper than I could buy someone else's in the shop. Paper copy, bound and professional. Done by some random binder in some random city. Just by going 'click', 'click' with the little mouse dealie. Then, if it sold, I'd make more of them. If it didn't - well, my vanity is cheaper on the internet.

I used to work for a little bindery (nearly 20 years ago now) - it was HARD to make it, because the big boys own all the contracts. We ate from student theses, book repairs, and government overflow from Queen's Printer. Now... small binderies can just ask Google if they need anything printed, Amazon if they need some covers done, etc.

Fake rock stars in literature are dead. it may take a few years for that to happen. The real ones will rock on, of course. Ghost writing, that horrendous crime, will end. If you can sell your own work...why bother with someone else's career?

Prince and Public Enemy saw this coming some time ago, and went to work developing independent, digital publishing systems. Ask them how their paychecks are compared to a Warner artist's. As well, no studio would touch them - they do REAL ART.

Poetry will benefit HUGELY from all this. Cheaper printing and disty, sure - but the thing is - we're the right size for the modern mind-spaces. Hoo-hee, our day has come!

I don't mind if someone robs me (I'm stuffing everything up to the net as I finish it these days - the hell with working for portfolio!). Besides, it's much, much harder to mislay that way. If they make money at it, later when I Google my own verse and catch them, I'll catch their money too. Win-win - publicity and pay in one. My copyrights are fairly tight.

Access, removal of restrictive social frames, above all CHEAP publication tech - crack the roof of the sky we will.

And for a mentally ill (schizotypal bipolar, went untreated until now @38) writer like me - that first one, ACCESS, has always come with another word attached. No longer.

Ding dong, it tolls for thee
just don't listen
and you'll be free -

and congrats on the blog laureate laurels again...good going.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

I'm not sure poets should strive to make their poems less mediocre. I mean, should they strive to make their poems more mediocre?

nikki reimer said...

@Old 333, (Nikki Reimer here, guest-poster of this post)

Thanks for your thoughts. I muse about digitization a lot, and am always interested to hear what others think.

@Glenn Ingersoll: Whoops. Poor sentence construction on my part. I meant to imply that, rather than attempting to publish every poem they write, some of which might be mediocre, poets should strive to publish mediocre poetry less often by publishing good poetry more often. Or something like that. (Please forgive my extensive poetry hangover today.)