the hanging indent saga (cont’d)

Variety truly is the spice of life. After vigorously shaking my virtual fist at and foaming at the mouth over Harriet and Publishers Weekly yesterday, I approach them today wearing sack-cloth and casting ashes on my head. Why? Because they were lamenting the fact that long lines of e-poetry in e-reader flowing text wrap to the next line hard up against the left margin and look wrong and untidy. I insisted that the simple solution was to use hanging indents, as suggested by an intrepid WOMPO reader, who noted that print publishers use hanging indents for over-long lines, so why not e-publishers?

I thought I had worked out a way to incorporate hanging indents in e-poetry files via Smashwords technology. And indeed, the end product, as MOBI and EPUB files, looked heartbreakingly beautiful and worked exactly as intended on the various e-readers provided as part of the Calibre e-book manager software I use to test e-files.

Not so much on the actual Kindle reader. It turns out. After getting emails from two alert Kindle-owners (thank-you, guys! so cool – the whole internet is a laboratory) I tested the MOBI files today on two Kindles – the 2nd and 3rd (latest) generation.

Sadly, my alert readers are right and the hanging indents do *not* work on the actual Kindles, of either generation. As Harriet and Publishers Weekly rightfully asserted, the lines do indeed wrap hard up to the left margin if the lines are too long for the screen.

So here I am, formally wearing sack-cloth and casting ashes on my head. Sorry, Harriet! Sorry, Publishers Weekly! for cursing you out unneedfully.

(PS – However! There is a solution out there – I know there is. Onward!)

there are problems with e-publishing poetry, but not these

There are problems with e-publishing poetry, but they are not the ones identified here and here. I left this response at Publishers Weekly (I guess no one can comment at Harriet any more…)

First of all – and I am glad to see your article makes this clear — there is no difficulty with specifying hard stanza breaks and hard linebreaks when formatting EPUB and MOBI files.

The problem arises — as pointed out in the example used in your post — when lines are too long for the screen. This could be because they are just really long lines; or because the reader has chosen to enlarge her e-reader font so much that the lines no longer fit on the e-reader screen. In either case, the too-long line will wrap to the next line, hard up against the left margin. It will look both wrong and untidy.

What do print publishers when a line is too long for the page? The resolution for e-publishers in this dilemma is the same as it is for print publishers — the hanging indent.

There is a poetry collection here (http://bit.ly/hSOG43) and a chapbook here (http://bit.ly/ht3Ydv), both of which have been formatted using the hanging indent – which involved essentially formatting each line as a *potential* hanging indent paragraph. You can download these e-books either as EPUB or MOBI files (as you know, the two e-formats that together support most popular e-readers). I invite you to do so and test them on your e-readers. In both final e-formats, the lines wrap with a hanging indent *if* the font size used makes a line too big to fit on the screen, but appear whole on one line without indent if the font used is small enough for the whole line to fit on the screen.

There are other, real problems with e-book formatting for poetry, but they are not those identified in your post.

poetry print runs?

An interesting post on print runs and another one here. Would someone tell me the size of an average poetry print run? Have zero clue. This thread suggests that a first print run of 300 is standard in the UK; and that selling out a print-run of 2,000 in the US puts a poetry collection in the best-seller category.

Any additional information appreciated!

Update: Just found this thread at the Magma blog. In the very long comments thread, a representative of Ward Wood, a UK publisher, talks about print-runs and publishing poetry. I have excerpted these observations from her remarks. (For the whole context, including original post and other comments, please visit the Magma URL. )

I have to say that for me, this discussion further demonstrates the concept of the ‘publisher’s cycle of need‘.

“I think the main question in the UK is how to help publishers at least break even on the print run. It’s very hard to sell poetry – about 200 copies is pretty good and more than that is excellent. A bestseller is still in the hundreds rather than over 1,000. 200 copies only really pay for the print run, so publishers and editors are often doing all the other sides of the work without any income at all.

If poets are to keep finding outlets for their work – if they want it to be published – then they/we do have to find ways to make people aware of our writing and to tempt them to buy a book. Publishers also have to help with this and it’s all very hard with so few sales to pay for the time needed to work hard at trying to promote poetry…. I do believe that it’s possible to make people aware of what they’re missing, and I also believe more copies of certain poetry books should sell. So we’ll all keep trying.”

[...]

“If we want to have publishing outlets for poets, and keep the independent publishers going that we already have, then we have to work really hard at promotion just to get the necessary sales to pay for the print runs.

When I say ‘break even’ I mean ‘pay for the print run’ and other necessary expenses like the postage to send off the required number of review copies. About 200 copies will cover that but that does mean the publisher and any editors and book designers working without an income. Sales of 200 copies is normal for poetry so that’s the problem – and that’s a normal sales statistic even with the poet helping by giving readings.”

[...]

“To be more clear – the amount of sales needed to break even would depend on the size of the print run. So, as an example, on a print run of 200, the first 100 sales would break even by paying for the basic costs like printing and postage, and the second 100 would pay for the next print run. So there’s little or no income from it.

You need to get into higher sales to do more than break even, and that’s very hard in poetry. I’m not the business expert in our company by the way but this is my simple understanding of how the figures work out!

Some publishers have turned to print on demand, but we don’t use that method so we need to promote our authors to pay for our costs. Some publishers are using printers in other countries, such as Poland, but they tend to ask for large print runs of 1,000 at least.

Publishers do need to be helped by some of their authors championing poetry. I do understand writers who aren’t comfortable performing though and it certainly wouldn’t stop me selecting them.”

Nanopress poetry publishing: Avoiding the publisher’s cycle of need

What is the publisher’s cycle of need? Some evolving thoughts on poetry publication, springing from the nanopress experience:

Poetry publication is a difficult field – more difficult than any other kind of publication, I’d submit – because publishers so rarely make money at it. There really is no money in poetry.

I believe that where we (the poetry community writ large) go wrong is that we persist in trying to make poetry fit the traditional publishing paradigm. We look primarily to publishers who are trying to make money to publish our work.

And there is of course nothing at all wrong with trying to make an honest buck. But, again, there is no money in poetry. (Per the Mastercard ad concept, it’s priceless.) Poetry publishers, large and small alike, rarely recoup expenses, let alone make a profit.

The weakness in the system, in my view, is that (despite the hopelessness of trying to make money from poetry) the publishers — whether through contracts or through a sense of moral obligation — hook the published poet into their cycle of need: must make money to recoup expenses and/or make a profit; therefore must carefully prevent these poems from getting into any hands except those that shell out bucks for them in book form; therefore must pressure the poet to help sell, sell, sell books.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is there really any poet out there (the very few Mary Olivers & Billy Collinses of the world aside) who seriously pays or hopes to pay bills using poetry royalties?

What most poets want is to be read (or heard, as the case may be).

Poets should not have to be in the business of selling their book. Poets should be in the business of getting their poems read.

Offering a collection of poems to readers in a single limited form with a price tag on it is so antithetical to the larger objective of getting your poems read that it blows me away just to contemplate the staggering disconnect. You have an overall objective (get my poems read) and a tactical action purportedly taken to attain it (sell them in a single tightly-controlled format) that could not be more at odds with each other.

As I said, I don’t blame poetry publishers for trying to recoup expenses and make an honest buck. Most poetry publishers, especially small and indie presses, work extremely hard and are deeply passionate in their commitment to poetry.

I’m just not sure it’s in the best interest of poets to buy into the publisher’s cycle of need.

Look at the stats here. So far 50 people have obtained this collection, presumably with the intention of reading it/listening to it. If it had been published and offered in single form – the conventional print-book-for-sale-only way – that number would be 6.

So what do I think is the best publication answer for poets who just want to get their poems read?

a) Find a publisher who will publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.

or

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.

Forever Will End On Thursday – stats for first five days

Just reviewed stats at the Forever Will End On Thursday website and at Lulu & Smashwords, five days after launch. In addition to 955 overall views at the website, this is what I find:

ebook downloads – 25
PDF downloads – 16
print purchases – 6
MP3 downloads – 2
CD purchase – 1

Of course there is no way to tell whether obtaining the collection = actually reading the whole collection or even part of it, but still, the evidence indicates that 50 people have obtained the collection since it launched five days ago on March 21, presumably with the intention of reading it or listening to it.

I like those numbers, and I like even more the fact that they result from the ‘how do you like your poetry served?‘ publication package & philosophy we used for the collection, which specifically recognizes that different people like to read or hear their poetry in different forms, and that delivering the poetry in several different forms maximizes its overall chances of being read or heard. I’m particularly pleased at the e-book numbers – it was a lot of hard work and trial & error to get the e-book formats to a satisfactory level of quality, and am now so glad of that investment.

Warmest thanks to all of you who have taken the trouble to obtain a copy of Forever Will End On Thursday, in whichever form you chose….

Lordly Dish Nanopress gives birth

It’s been two years and seven months in the making. So pleased and proud to announce my first collection, Forever Will End On Thursday edited by Jill Alexander Essbaum and published by Lordly Dish Nanopress, our purpose-formed, single publication nanopress. Process notes here.

This is about encouraging each other to find creative and credible new ways to get the work of more dedicated poets out past existing publication bottle-necks, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures. I hope other poets and one-time editors will adopt the nanopress paradigm. I hope that others still will develop ever more creative publishing paradigms for the benefit of us.

A huge toast and much love to Jill Alexander Essbaum, without whom, none of this. Thank-you!!