Catalyst Book Press

The places, ideas, and people that change us

Life on the Road

Ken (Alaska’s Fiddling Poet) calls me every couple of weeks from somewhere else in the United States. He spends his days, running from place to place. At each place, he plays the fiddle, reads poems, meets friends, hears interesting stories, gathers some more and heads on to the next place. Sometimes he makes a lot of money, sometimes he makes less. Sometimes he sells a lot of books, sometimes just a few. Last week, he had car problems–with the van that has criss-crossed the country ten times or more, been his home-away-from-home for years now–and called to say he hoped it wasn’t biting the big one this time around. It didn’t but it’s just a matter of time.

There are times I envy his life, though more to the point, I think I envy his willingness to stake his everything on his art. And then I realize I’m living my own version of his life: the artist’s life outside of the academy never looks the same from artist to artist. I love travelling but I also love the idea of holing up somewhere, being a hermit, alone in a cabin, alone with my thoughts and maybe a dog, just writing. In the last year, I’ve spent quite a bit of my own time on the road as an artist: 3 weeks travelling Texas and New Mexico, another week in El Paso, a few days in Colorado, a week in Utah, a week in New York, another week in El Paso. I’m planning a trip to Book Expo America in May, then possibly a week in South Dakota in June, and then five weeks in South Africa–all in pursuit of the writing life. All of it necessary to sustain the writing life but much of it taking time away from the writing life. 

Ken has learned the way to keep himself sane while spending most of his life unsettled and in strange places (sometimes with strange people.) One thing he’s learned to do is write in public, on public computers. I haven’t yet learned the tricks of the trade for how to mesh writing and travelling, or how to find calm and peace in the midst of a hectic schedule–but I know I need to find the things that allow me to do it.

March 27, 2008 Posted by | Alaska's Fiddling Poet, Ken Waldman, the artist's life | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Details, details, and more details

Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. I hope to be up and blogging away again soon, this upcoming week, but I’ve been sort of lost in the details of designing Ken’s book, geting his cover & back cover text together, sending out permissions for essays in the birth stories anthology, planning to do taxes (THIS WEEKEND, I SWEAR!) and holding my life together, which seems to get busier and busier as I head back to the spring quarter at Stanford. Gaack. Doing too much. I just need to hold it together for the next ten weeks and then I’ll have more time on my hands. I hope.

March 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

books & wine

I was describing the controversy in the publishing world between POD books and offset printing to a friend, and she said, “Oh, it’s kind of like screw-on lids on wine.” She’s right. The purists may think corks are the best way to go–but it doesn’t make any difference to the final product. Maybe book lovers would disagree–there is a difference in quality. But it’s an interesting analogy.

March 15, 2008 Posted by | digital imaging technology, POD, print on demand | , , , , | 1 Comment

Cinco Puntos blog

My old bosses and good friends the Byrds have started their own Cinco Puntos Press-related blog. So far, their blog is more interesting than mine, I think, because it’s more of a discussion of the books they’re publishing. Well, they have 20+ years of publishing behind them (plus 130 books)….I will soon be discussing the literature we’re putting out, too.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Trouts & Love

Ironically, the award for the post that has gotten the most amount of traffic so far goes to Killing Trout and Other Love Poems. Good ol’ Casey thinks it’s because of the book cover but I think fishermen just love their trout….

March 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Publishing & the Public

Everyday, I run into people’s curiosity about the book business–as well as a lot of misperceptions about it. I guess when you become a publisher, by default you also become an educator. Perhaps it’s that way with any business.

 One of the most common misperceptions about publishing is that there is a lot of money in it. That would be great but most independent publishers do what I’ve heard called “publishing by Visa.” Meaning: They’re in debt. Sometimes, a lot of debt. (This, I am trying mightily to avoid!) Unless you use print-on-demand (digital imaging technology), it costs a lot to get a book together. Even if you do use POD, it can cost a lot. Plus, the risks are many and profits low. Let’s say a press manages to get the cost of printing a book down to $2, and they charge $16 per copy. They have to sell it at 50% off to bookstores, which means they sell it for $8.00 per copy, for a total of $6.00 profit per copy. But that doesn’t include publicity costs, shipping costs, receiving un-sellable returns from bookstores that couldn’t sell it, or the cost of warehousing/storing the book, not to mention royalties or other payments to writers.

Another common idea is that all you have to do is publish a book and it’ll do well or be available in bookstores or that it’ll sell thousands and thousands of copies because so many people across the U.S. will be interested in the book. I really, really wish that were true. I went to the Book Expo America in 2003, the most important conference in the book industry. That year, over 100,000 new books were published. 100,000! Even if all 250 million Americans bought a book each year, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.

My novel, The Confessional, has done all-right and has received excellent reviews. Plus, it’s published by one of the big guys, Knopf. But I get emails from people all the time who say they couldn’t find it in the local bookstore, including the local bookstore in El Paso, where the book is set and where it’s sold really well! So you never can tell why a bookstore will stock a book and why they won’t, but I’ve heard through the rumor mill that B&N gives a book a “two week window” to sell and then they return it. Maybe that’s exaggerated and it wouldn’t surprise me–but it also wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true!

Anyway,  I guess I’m going into publishing because I really, really, really LOVE books. And if they can bring me some income, enough to make it worthwhile, that will be great. But I’ll probably do it anyway. It’s just like being a writer: I write because I love writing. Am I paid what my writing is worth? No, not really. But who is, except J.K. Rawling? (and we can’t all be her…)

March 10, 2008 Posted by | bookstores, digital imaging technology, independent book publishers, independent publishing culture, indie, literary presses, POD, print on demand, publishing, small press | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment