|Signs of nanopress editing!|
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|Lordly Dish Nanopress: |
the firstborn child
Whether you find this idea exciting--perhaps you like the freedom of this model, or perhaps you are one of those unpublished poets--or whether you like it not at all--perhaps you find it dangerous to the work of small presses, say, or a little too close to self-publishing--it has given birth to its first books. Here is Nic Sebastian on nanopress . . .
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I've been getting some nice emails on the nanopress project from poets who are in the same place I was when the idea first occurred to me. Here is a representative one from Sheila Squillante (reproduced with her permission):
I was pretty much knocked over when I read your explanation of why you created this nanopress model for your book (which I am enjoying reading, by the way!). I could have written the exact words. I'm sure many of us could.Hi Sheila! Thanks for writing and for the kind words. Yes, I definitely had a "fork in the road" moment. You can read about it in a) look for a publisher or b) self-publish or c) go the third way - a blog post from way back in July 2008, which is what started this whole thing. I commend the comments thread to you, in particular comments by the naysayers who said the idea would never work. Don't ever be swayed by those kind of comments if you are trying to execute an idea you believe in. (Love you all anyway, guys!).
I'm in that place where I feel like I need to decide to go left or right at the fork in the road. I've invested so much time, money, energy and identity in the traditional publishing model, but how much longer can I do that? How much longer do I want to?
Anyway, I'm rambling and I'm sure you've heard these questions before. I'm wondering if you felt like you had the same "fork in the road" choice to make (clumsy metaphor, I know), and if so, would you mind saying if there was some defining moment (or something) that helped you make it? I'm finding your blog notes on the process really interesting and enlightening, too.
This is a very exciting and inspiring project and I thank you for putting it out into the world. Congratulations!
I've been thinking a lot about this topic for a long time now, but most intensively over the last couple of weeks, since Forever Will End On Thursday was launched under the nanopress model and the various conversations generated therefrom.
I've been distilling my thinking, both as a publisher and as a poet. In the post I just linked to, I talked about the 'publisher's cycle of need' - driven by significant financial imperatives - and the need for poets to break out of it, basically because poets don't share those financial imperatives.
What poet today (the rare Mary Oliver or Billy Collins aside), seriously expects to pay any bills through the proceeds from poetry sales? I mean, really? Or even wants to make money from their poems? Most poets I know just want their poems to be read. An objective diametrically at odds with the publisher's cycle of need. That cycle demands tight control of poems, which a) must be offered in one format (print) and b) must be paid for.
In the old days, the contract was worth it for the poet because of the marketing and promoting power the publisher brought to the equation. The publisher's reputation, their knowledge of and ability to leverage and exploit the market place was hugely important to the poet. But today, with the flattening of the means of production and distribution - the internet, print on demand publishing, e-book publishing, which empower the poet, the ever-shrinking budgets and resources which continually diminish the publisher's promotion power - the equation has been turned on its head.
You are your chief marketer and promoter, whether you get a contract with a publisher or not. That's today's reality for today's poet. So why not take control of all aspects of of your cycle of production?
And I repeat what I have said elsewhere - this is not about dissing hard-working small and indie presses, who are often selfless, work long hours for nothing and are deeply passionate in their commitment to poetry. It is not the publishers' fault that the system is the way it is. Nor is it the poets'. It just is. And has been. All I'm saying is that realities and dynamics have changed significantly around both poet and publisher and we owe it to poetry to absorb, assess and act on those changes.
Everyone will have their own idea about how to proceed in today's environment. My recommendations for the poet who wants their poems read (as opposed to wanting to make money from book sales -- you really do have to choose between these two objectives!) are:
a) Find a publisher who will publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.
b) Become your own publisher, with an outside editor, under the nanopress model and publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.
Free? Isn't that a dirty word? you ask.
Generally, maybe, but not for poets and poetry. Poets are not put off by "free" poetry, in the way that most of us are put off by and instinctively suspicious of anything free. Why is it free? It must be sub-standard, somehow off and unwanted. That's regular commerce-speak. It doesn't apply to poetry. We are used to seeing enormous quantities of fine poetry free for the taking across the internet. The number of reputable, discerning poetry journals that offer content received free from poets for free is huge and growing by leaps and bounds. Yes, poets look for some sign of quality control for content (who is the editor??), but we all know that dollar signs are no indicator of quality for poetry.
For me personally, and I know for many others, poetry is definitely priceless. Civilizations through the ages have recognized that poetry nourishes the human spirit and enterprise in a way few other things do, and certainly nothing that is for sale. Queens, kings and chieftains employed bards and poets just for that purpose. Sure, our system in the US (I think they do somewhat better in Europe) has forgotten this and undervalues the poet's skills and contributions, no longer subsidizes them in any material way. But does that mean that the poet should forget too and undervalue too, and try to force poetry into the channels of commerce where it never has (and never will) sit comfortably? Selling your skill as a detective story writer or a romance novelist or a how-to manual writer is one thing. Selling your skill as a poet is quite another. In my view.
But why offer your poetry free? you ask.
Fact: The difference between "free" or "for sale" is a big difference in readership. It just is. For the past several days, I've been sharing statistics from my collection, Forever Will End On Thursday, which was launched 12 days ago on March 21 under the multiple-format-some-free model. This is where we are 12 days after launch (some context - it's amazingly hard to get info about the general size of initial print runs for poetry, but it seems that in the US an initial run of 2,000 - unlikely to sell out - is standard for university presses; while small presses are more likely to have an initial run of 100 -200 or so):
free e-book downloads - 41
free PDF downloads - 24
print sales - 9
free MP3 downloads - 4
CD sales - 2
Sure, this is just one sample, and a random one at that. And it's word-of-mouth, internet promotion only - I haven't been on the road all hours (or at all) drumming up business through live readings. And who knows if obtaining a copy equals actually reading it or listening to it? Or how many more sales would have been made if *no* free copies were offered? (I suspect not many more.)
In any event, total number of copies out there is 80. Total number of print copies sold is 9. Book sales account for less than 12% of total potential reader/listenership.
Really. Get your collection published in multiple formats, some of which are free. Let's get some more statistics loaded up here.
Spread the word, Sheila: if you're a poet looking for an editor under the nanopress model, send me your bio and publication credits at nic_sebastian at hotmail dot com. If I think you might be a poet some editor out there might be proud to help publish, I'll list you on this page at the nanopress site.
Maybe all together we can make the nanopress model work for more poets and get some new cycles and models going for poetry.