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 ( and a chapbook here (, 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.


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!!

e-readers & poetry – solution for line-wrapping with long lines

One e-reader poetry problem is that lines that are too long for the screen wrap to the next line hard up against the left margin, and look both wrong and untidy.

In an exchange on the WOMPO listserv, Catherine Daly suggested using the hanging indent to resolve the problem, noting it “is what print publishers do with lines that are too long for a printed page.”

I tried this at Smashwords and it worked! I set my guinea-pig poetry chapbook up in Word – essentially formatting each line as a potential hanging indent paragraph – then uploaded to Smashwords, which transformed it into EPUB and MOBI formats, the two e-formats that together support most popular e-readers.

In both final e-formats, the lines in the poems 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. Woohoo!

Note: There was also some pro- and anti-hanging indent commentary on the list, with the anti-camp arguing that hanging indents are, in effect, line breaks and do, at the end of the day, make poetic statements not intended by the poet. I do share something of this reservation, but comfort myself as an e-publisher by recalling that ‘lines too long for the page’ are not an issue limited to e-readers – it’s something that print and web publishers have to deal with as well.

More posts on e-publishing poetry.

e-poetry publishing happiness

Ha! Figured out the format fix for MOBI files, so now have beautiful EPUB, MOBI and PDF files up at Smashwords for the guinea-pig chapbook. Add that to figuring out how to disable the various other dud e-formats, and we’re sailing pretty close to perfection here, people.

Have also been trying out various ‘make your own EPUB files’ mechanisms available on the web (do a Google search, there are quite a few) and so far all have fallen short of the Smashwords standards. The most promising was saving the formatted Word doc as an RTF file and converting it to EPUP/MOBI via Calibre. The result was certainly usable/readable and looked pretty good throughout – except for links. All the internal and external links got somehow deformed and de-activated. So I’m still swearing by Smashwords.

e-publishing awesomeness!

I actually read the Smashwords style guide to the end and discovered you can de-activate any dud e-book versions you don’t want your book downloaded in at Smashwords. So I’ve disabled everything except EPUB, MOBI and PDF at the baobab girl Smashwords page. MOBI still needs a small format fix, but I think I now understand why the first-line indent happened.

All this makes me a very happy poetry publisher!!

poetry and ebook formatting

Many thanks to Bill Lantry for pointing out the free ebook manager/converter Calibre and to Dave Bonta for mentioning Smashwords, the e-book publisher. Wow – who knew? I’ve been so focused on online website publishing and print/CD work that I haven’t spent much energy on e-book publishing and management. It’s clear that there are major new horizons out there. Such exciting stuff!

It’s immediately apparent, after just a few experimental uploads and conversions, that the challenge for poetry when it comes to e-books lies in the formatting, and I recall Reb Livingston writing several posts about this. e-publishing is easy, it’s the formatting of the word doc that you upload to Smashwords that will cause you to tear your hair out, it appears (see this post from Reb – comments especially – and this one at Huffington Post.)

The issue for poets is neatly encapsulated early on in the 72-page Smashwords style guide:

How Ebook Formatting is Different from Print Formatting

Ebooks are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your ebook look like an exact facsimile of print book, otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook.

With print, you control the layout. The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to appear.

With ebooks, there is no “page.” By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your readers gain much more in return.

Page numbers are irrelevant. Your book will look different on every e-reading device. Your text will shape shift and reflow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader to customize the fonts, font sizes and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment.

By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers can enjoy them.

At Smashwords, our motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to consume your book however works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background color, and triple spaced lines. Many e-reading devices and e-reading apps support some or all of these strange different tastes.

Admit it, O poets. Doesn’t all that make your skin crawl? What?! A reader able to consume your book in 18 point blue-and-lime Helvetica with triple-spaced lines and mess with your linebreaks and stanza breaks? Infamy!

I don’t know if this is an insurmountable problem or an amazing opportunity…

more about poetry publishing and Lulu

Received a few queries in the wake of this BAP post about audio chapbook and other publishing, including this one from Poet X:

I’ve been approached by a good poet who doesn’t live in the USA about becoming a partner in a publishing house. A popular concept, I realize (!)….I am wondering if you’ve been satisfied with working with with the production of your Whale Sound chapbooks. Am I understanding it right that they take your doc file and convert it to epub? and were you required to order a certain number of print books, or is it truly pay as you go?

You’ve done so much homework and I don’t want to take advantage of your work to save me mine. but I am checking with a few other journals who have been using to determine if that might be the outlet we’d like to go through should we step into this publishing house notion.

Dear Poet X:

I want you to take advantage of my homework. I want us all to take advantage of each other’s homework, especially if it moves this publishing equation into some more productive dynamic than the fruitless ‘print books are dying; oh no, they’re not; yes, they are; oh no. they’re not’ exchanges we have been seeing everywhere for so long.

All that’s happened to print books is that they’ve lost their be-all/end-all holy grail status and are simply having to take their place in the very varied line-up of current methods of poetry delivery. They’re still alive and well, otherwise.

As are online text and online audio. And PDF downloads. And MP3 downloads. And e-books. And CDs. (As we said, How do you like your poetry served?)

You only need three building blocks to generate a whole slew of poetry delivery options via Lulu – 1) your edited manuscript, 2) your recorded/edited audio, if you’re into audio and 3) your cover art (needs to be high resolution).

With the above on Lulu you can produce perfect-bound collection size editions (production price for a 70-page book is about $5.98); or 20-page stapled chapbook editions (cost-price about $4.98); and/or a CD, cost-price about $5.50).

Lulu provides templates into which you place and upload your edited word document. I have been working exclusively with 6” X 9” paperback size, which is working fine at the moment. You get to choose your font and font size, but everything else is pretty much set. The diciest part is the cover design (mostly because you have to please both yourself AND the poet), but Lulu lets you design and save as PDF, using a bunch of different design templates, so you can share your cover drafts with your poet. With all publishing options you can order one copy or 5 million – the system doesn’t care. You get discounts if you order larger quantities, but you are not penalized for ordering just one copy. What I find works best so far is to publish a book or CD as a private operation, order one copy, and then edit the project if there is anything you don’t like about the one copy once it arrives, and only then publish the project as ‘general access’ (Lulu allows you to keep a project completely private, just make it directly available by URL, or make it generally available and searchable via general access.) The preview copy plus shipping will cost you roughly $10 – not an obligatory expense, but one I feel comfortable meeting on a one-time basis per project, as the publisher.

We’re assuming that many/most people will go for the free download options at Whale Sound, rather than paying for a book or CD, and that’s absolutely fine. As we said, we’re not trying to sell books or CDs, we’re trying to get poems read. (In addition I, as publisher, want a print edition and a CD to keep on my publisher’s boasting shelf, and it’s worth it for that goal alone to do the upload/design/publishing work at Lulu. Add to that that your poet will definitely want at least one print edition/CD for their mom’s stocking at Christmas and probably at least a handful more to use at readings, and there you have it. Any additional print or CD copies bought by consumers is gravy that has pre-cost you nothing, and delightful therefore.)

Remaining challenge: We do format our chapbooks via Lulu as free downloadable e-book PDFs, but one area we are still exploring is the more formal and more universal e-Pub format. Lulu charges for the e-Pub conversion service and we’re not yet comfortable enough to go for it. We’ll keep you posted.

new audio chapbook: ‘Dark Refuge’ by Edward Byrne

Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks is very happy to announce the publication of Dark Refuge, a chapbook of lovely lyrical poems discussing various aspects of autism. I have learned so much from working with Edward on these poems and would like to thank him most warmly for giving me the opportunity to work on and voice these poems, and Alex for inspiring them. They have touched me deeply.

As usual with Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks, the question we ask is: How do you like your poetry served? You can get these wonderful poems as online audio, online text; free downloadable MP3, PDF or e-book; or if you are the ‘must have it in my hands’ sort, you can purchase a print edition and/or a CD. Check it all out.