Catalyst Book Press

The places, ideas, and people that change us

P&W’s take on publishing

Good ol’ Casey and I have been having a back-and-forth about what exactly is publishing. I think we essentially agree that publishing is when the publisher selects a manuscript that they think is excellent and then the publisher edits it, pays to have the book printed, then distributes & markets it. But though I agree that this is the tried-and-true, socially legitimate form of publishing, I am still curious about how the trends are changing. As I mentioned before, I know many of these socially legitimate presses–and no, I am not going to name names–do in fact split the costs of printing with the artist. Is that publishing, when they select a manuscript they know is worthy but do this? Good ol’ Casey says no. I’m on the fence. It is not how I intend to operate my press, ever, but then I’m not publishing poetry. And I do admire many indie music artists who produce their own music. Why is that acceptable but self-publishing is not? Of course, the people who choose to self-publish may not care about the sort of social-contract that the literary world demands if you want to be part of it.

 Casey actually called Poets & Writers to find out what they thought. He talked to someone in the advertising section, who said that they discriminate against pubishers who publish on what they see as a vanity-press model, and that splitting the printing costs is vanity publishing, period. (I’m pretty sure that’s why this is the dirty little secret, and kept secret, as such.) Casey also asked how they feel about presses that fund their operations through “contests”–writers who submit their books pay a fee and the writer whose book is selected gets published, plus prize money. The guy in advertising said that they do see that as legitimate but only if the prize is at least 10 times more than the fee for entering. (So if you entered the contest for $20, the prize would have to be at least $200, I guess.)

So if you don’t publish poetry by splitting the costs, and if you don’t fund your press through contests, then another way to do it is to publish a very limited number of copies, say 100. And that is something many presses do. In fact, one press I ran into at the AWP does both the contests PLUS digitial-imaging-technology, which is either lucrative or allows them at least to break even. I went to Bookmobile and saw that they were advertising one of Greywolf Press’s books. Bookmobile is a print-on-demand or digital-imaging-technology printer. They are not a publisher, they simply provide the services of printing in such a way that you can order only 50 copies or 100 copies, instead of laying out $2-3000 for 1000 copies that you know you can’t sell. And Greywolf Press is, I might add, a highly respected press.

Of course, all of this is applicable to non-poetry publishing, too. It’s just that poetry is an obvious problem for any press that chooses to publish it. How to sell it? How to market it?

February 17, 2008 - Posted by | Catalyst Book Press, digital imaging technology, independent book publishers, independent publishing culture, indie, POD, print on demand, publishing on demand, self-publishing, small press, traditional publishing, Uncategorized, vanity presses | , , , , , , , ,

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