Catalyst Book Press

The places, ideas, and people that change us

I’m leaving on a jet plane

I’m off to New York this week to promote New Pages, Catalyst Book Press, and myself (J.L. Powers). And also to have a good time in New York, meeting up with some good friends, seeing my agent and editor at Knopf. So probably no new postings for about a week but check back around the 6th. That’s when I’m going to start really digging in to this independent culture thing.

January 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Legit publishing

 Once again, good ol’ Casey (I think that’s going to become his name on this blog, in fact, I’ll just run the words together so he becomes Goodol’Casey) pointed me to an interesting blog post.

Here was my comment to the author of the blog, which I still wonder about: “Hey, I’m curious about your thoughts on the recent phenomenon of some legitimate small publishers working hard to sell to the public online, instead of focusing on brick-and-mortar bookstores. I am starting a press this year and I spoke with one bookseller, who also ran a small press for many years, who told me that 90% of my sales as an independent press would be online. This, from a bookseller! Yet so many small presses seem to focus 90% of their energies towards the brick-and-mortar bookstore.  As a small publisher going in, I have to wonder, why? Perhaps this isn’t the forum for this question but I’d be really curious to hear back from you about your thoughts on this. ”

That goes for those of you lurking on this website. I’d love your comments. (I know you’re out there! As of today, 103 hits, and I don’t even know 103 people–ha-ha.)

January 26, 2008 Posted by | independent publishing culture, small press, traditional publishing, vanity presses | 1 Comment

Catalyst’s mascot

the-mascot.jpgHere is Catalyst’s mascot, Jamaica. And does she ever transform things around here. Boxes of postcards and flyers–she’ll rip right into them, so every morning I have to pile them onto the bed (which is 3 feet behind my desk). She likes to gnaw on books so Creative Suite 3 Bible has now been christened with her teethmarks. (Just so long as she doesn’t do that to a real Bible and call down the fires of heaven upon us.) She likes to lay right in front of the little space heater that keeps the office/bedroom warm and, right in the middle of something important–like talking to the lady who is going to design the cover of Ken’s book and possibly Labor Pains and Birth Stories as well–she wants nothing more than to loudly chase around her latest squeezie toy. What a little nuisance. What am I going to do with her? Guess I’ll just love her.

January 26, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Medusa’s Muse

Good ol’ Casey has directed me to this wonderful blog from another new, small press: Medusa’s Muse. I like her honesty about life and fears and what we actually do to “market.” (Does any of it work, this social networking? I sure as hell hope so because it seems to eat up hours each week.)

January 26, 2008 Posted by | small press | 3 Comments


Jan. 31-Feb. 3. I will be at the AWP 2008 Conference in New York City. I’ll be the deranged young adult author wandering around among all these poets and writers for adults. But when I’m feeling sane, you can find me at the New Pages  table in the Bookfair, table 215 Americas Hall 1. If I’m not there, Casey & Denise can tell you when I’ll be back.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What exactly is publishing, anyway?

Last week, my friend and editor at New Pages (Casey) got really excited one night and emailed me, sputtering, to talk about Off the Grid Press’s publishing model. Off The Grid Press is pretty open about what it does. Here’s part of its submissions policy: “To be eligible for publication by Off the Grid Press, you must be at least sixty years old, have a completed manuscript of sixty pages or more in hand, and have already published at least one book with a non-vanity press or five poems in three or more nationally distributed literary magazines. You must be willing to bear the cost of book design ($800-$1200), printing (about $2000 for 1000 copies), and distribution.”

“I mean, is this even publishing?” Casey asked.

 “I can see how this doesn’t differ a whole lot from vanity presses,” I said. “But it’s still sort of/kind of publishing, isn’t it?”

“No!” Casey howled. All-right, actually he just said it, with emphasis. But howling sounds better. “There’s no marketing, no distribution, and the author pays to have his/her work printed. How is that publishing? Sure, the press is making money but the poet who publishes with them–how are they going to sell a thousand copies of a poetry book?”

“Okay, it doesn’t follow the traditional publishing format, no, and I see your point, yes, but it seems to me that things are changing so fast these days–what are the rules to publishing anymore?”

“So…is this just part of publishing culture now?”


Well, exactly what is publishing these days? One of the dirty little secrets (and maybe it’s not so secret) is that in order to publish poetry these days, many presses split the costs of printing with the poets. Sure, maybe they don’t publish just anybody–maybe they only publish poets they respect and honor and think do good work. But the fact of the matter is that they’re still splitting costs of printing with the author, and that has traditionally been called “self-publishing.”

We also know that many presses pay for the poetry they publish by sponsoring competitions with $10-20 entry fees. The entry fees pay for at least part of the printing costs.

And then there’s definitely tons of ethical issues with the “you scratch my back/I’ll scratch your back” approach to publishing, which occurs not just with books but also with lit magazines. We’re not even talking about self-publishing or vanity publishing here. And what constitutes self-publishing anyway? Hell, Catalyst is going to publish a number of anthologies related to fertility, sexuality, and family. I’m the publisher/editor/marketer for the press but I also plan to be the series editor for those books because, well, who else is going to do it unless I can scrounge up a guest editor whose taste I trust, whose values are roughly in line with mine in terms of how I want to approach the topics? I’m not going to write what’s between the pages of the book, no, except maybe an acknowledgements page or perhaps an introduction, but my name will be on a number of those books, if not all of them, as editor. Is that self-publishing? God, I hope not. But why is it that I hope not? Because I want to be accepted by my peers.

“Why is it that the publishing industry doesn’t accept self-publishing?” I asked, with trepidation, I admit because well, frankly, I want to be liked and thought well of and admired, eventually, by all those people who don’t like self-publishing and I also have some of the same biases regarding self-published books. I’ve seen a few decent books come out that way. Many self-published books, however, are cases in point–they prove exactly why those books weren’t published by a regular press anyway and why the author had to resort to self-publishing. But still.

I continued with my thoughts. “The music industry has no problem with musicians who record and produce their own cds. In fact, the indie music scene is thriving. Why aren’t we as evolved as the music scene?”

Then I answer my own question in my head: part of the problem is that writers don’t have a venue, like musicians, to prove our worth. People have to buy the book without hearing the music, to mix metaphors.

“I’m probably going to lose friends over this,” Casey moaned.

Okay, he didn’t really say that. But I like to imagine he did.

This whole publishing culture thing: we’re in the middle of a revolution. Not everybody recognizes it yet and tons of people are clinging to the old way of doing things. Maybe the old way is the best way. Maybe the old way will win  in the end because it has all the power and money (though power and money have never been the determining factors for winning when there’s a revolution). Maybe what will emerge is a hybrid of the old and the new. Maybe books are lost forever to Amazon’s Kindle and internet publishing.

And surely, digital imaging technology–which is getting better every year–is (gasp) the wave of the future.

I asked a friend in the bid-ness why digital imaging technology (often known as POD or print-on-demand) is such a dirty word among authors and publishers. Well, about publishers, he didn’t have much to say except that he knew a number of publishers who kiss but don’t tell. But about authors, he had this to say, not in so many words but close to it: “No author wants to be told that their book can only sell a few hundred copies. Every author wants to believe that their book should sell tens of thousands of copies.”

So maybe it all comes down to pride.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Catalyst Book Press, digital imaging technology, fertility, independent publishing culture, indie, POD, print on demand, publishing on demand, self-publishing, small press, traditional publishing, vanity presses | 3 Comments

Catalysts and Transformations

I was thinking about the word “Catalyst” that I’ve chosen for the press’s name and thought about how pivotal a word it is for describing the kinds of books I want to publish:  I’m interested in transformations (personal, social, historical) and “catalysts” are the things that cause those transformations.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Catalyst Book Press | Leave a comment

Mission Statement

mighty-mouse.jpgI’m using this space to work on the mission statement for the press. Please feel free to send comments. I can’t promise to incorporate your comments or pay any attention to them whatsoever–but I’m thrilled to  get ’em because they might, like Mighty Mouse, come to save the day!

A mission statement can often be sort of lofty and, well, high-falutin’ so to speak. I’m going to do that in part A. But in part B, I’m going to get down to the nitty-gritty to describe the things Catalyst will publish and the things Catalyst won’t publish.

The Lofty, High-Falutin’ Part

A) The definition of “catalyst” is “something that causes an important event to happen.” The best literature is a force for change. Catalyst Book Press will publish books that follow the human journey through life, paying special attention to those moments of individual and group transformation, revolution, and change. While it is a worthy goal to try to transform society, that means trying to change bureaucracies, which is like trying to stop the earth from turning. Societies are changed when individuals change and so Catalyst focuses on the ground up, at the personal level. We hope to publish books that 1) increase knowledge about the world and 2) work to help transform individual hearts and minds.

The Nitty-Gritty Part

B) First of all, with but a few exceptions, Catalyst Book Press will exclusively publish non-fiction. This non-fiction should strive for the best journalistic and literary standards. We are not interested in scholarly works though we are interested in works that have been thoroughly researched and investigated. So here’s a list of things that might appeal:

1) TRAVELNOTES Like people, places have a personality–that personality is influenced by geography, culture, religion, history and politics. So Catalyst is interested in publishing books about strange or unique places, perhaps books written by people who have either travelled somewhere or lived somewhere interesting.

2) FERTILITY AND FAMILY. Catalyst will be publishing a series of literary anthologies related to those kinds of topics (birth stories, birth parents, adoption, miscarriages, etc.) exploring people’s personal and spiritual transformations. From time to time, we will send out calls for submissions for these anthologies. Although Catalyst is not interested in self-help books etc., there may be other books that fit into this category that, from time to time, we will publish.

3) RELIGION. All religions can be a force for both good and evil. Catalyst is interested in exploring individual and group spiritual experiences, books that explore religious movements or depict religious people, spiritual memoirs, biographies, popular histories.

4) AFRICA. Anybody who knows me knows how much I love Africa. In the next two-three years, Catalyst will begin publishing books by Africans and about Africa. This may be the press’s death knell. It seems like nobody buys books about Africa (woe to us.) If necessary, Catalyst will start a side non-profit to pursue this interest.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | birth stories, Catalyst Book Press, fertility | Leave a comment

Announcing Catalyst Book Press

A year ago, when I asked my friend and ex-boss Bobby Byrd (publisher at Cinco Puntos Press) what he would tell somebody who was thinking about starting a small press, he replied, “Don’t do it.”champagne-glass.gif

 Well, Bobby, welcome 2008 and welcome to the launching of Catalyst Book Press. I’m going against your sage advice and I’m starting this small independent press, focusing on non-fiction. (I do have a mission statement and a focus within non-fiction but more information on that will come later. )

Part of what convinced me to go ahead and do this anyway was a combination of things: 1) I’ve been planning to start a press for a few years so this was going to happen inevitably sooner or later; 2) I read Aaron Shepard’s book Aiming at Amazon and realized that there has to be middle way between his method (more on that later, much much more) and the traditional publishing model, which would not starve me of time and money and might allow me to still focus mostly on my own writing career that is definitely and solidly within the traditional publishing model!; 3) I keep writing little odds and ends, interviews and articles, for New Pages. Casey, Denise, and I have been talking for years about this and I finally decided I should go ahead and write the damn book about independent publishing culture that we’ve been talking about  for years and, well, I’d better be an independent book publisher if I’m going to write about that with integrity; and 4) (most important) I got tired of reading so much scholarly stuff for graduate school. There, I said it. If I’m going to read this much, I decided, I might as well sometimes read things I really, really want to read–things I’m going to write about, things I’m going to publish, and things for the sheer pleasure of reading. I’m tired of reading nothing but these academic tomes.

 This blog is going to be a combination of things. It will shamelessly promote Catalyst Book Press’s books, of course, and will contain news and updates as necessary. It will also be an exploration of independent publishing culture as I work out the kinks of this upcoming book. And it will probably evolve from there.

 So hallelujah, open the champagne bottles and let’s toast the beginnings of yet another indie book press.

January 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments