Does ‘look of the line’ = ‘meaning of the line’?

E-book formatting is not the same as print formatting and e-reader devices definitely require us to recalibrate our relationship to text. Doing this seems to have been easier for readers of poetry (who seem, by and large, a flexible and open bunch), than it has been for many writers of poetry. Many writers of poetry can separate the look of the line from the meaning of the line, but many absolutely equate the two and flatly negate the possibility of separation. If, as a poetry publisher, you admit the possibility of separation, then, as Gabrielle David emphasizes below, your central task is to ensure that, no matter how the e-reader or the human reader adjust text size, the meaning of the line remains intact. I much enjoyed the post below from Gabrielle, in which she made this and other interesting points. Gabrielle’s post first appeared on the WomPo listserv and is reproduced here with her permission:

“I have watched the rise of the ebook biz and the various devices (many of which have come and gone) in the past six years. I understood that at some point I would have to consider ebook formats (for both phati’tude Literary Magazine and 2Leaf Press), and have been tinkering with the design and format of the ebook for quite some time, before coming up with a “recipe” that would address poetry and the issue of line breaks.

When you are dealing with multiple devices coupled with the fact that the end user has the ability to change the size of the font, it is a foregone conclusion that the text is going to shift. For years, the issue was the conversion of text through Word and other word processing programs which exacerbated this and other problems. At the same time, there is no standard way to convert text to reading devices, everyone does it differently, so ebooks have had their share of problems, primarily just really bad formatting of text (including poorly designed books and horrible editing), but in recent years, as the devices have grown more sophisticated, the reading public has demanded more for their money. The large publishing houses have scrambled to get people who know how to code ebooks and work with the latest technology to produce them (which they can well afford), but for the smaller presses, it’s just another resource that’s not readily available to them.

Since I have worked in the technology field for years, I was at a greater advantage and understood what needed to be done, but was in no great hurry to do it because the industry was changing rapidly, especially in the past five years. Right now, we are down to four major devices: Kindle, iPad, Nook and KOBO, including Android and Apple phones. While there are different nuances to each device and a standard ebook format continues to develop, its safe to say that the format issue as it pertains to poetry will always remain an issue because the lines will always change from device to device and end users will always control how text appears on their device.

Since most poetry books are published by small presses and many do not have the resources to convert print books to ebooks, coupled with the “hysteria” of the poets, many have not taken the plunge. I think this is a huge mistake. Poets and small presses are precluding themselves out of a market and a built-in-audience of poetry lovers who would like to read poetry on their devices. The public is buying more ebooks than print books. It’s a market that you simply cannot ignore if you want your work, including your poetry to reach a wider audience.

And really, the lines are handled just as they are in print — if it’s too long, you wrap with an indent to show it is a continuing line. Most poetry readers understand that in print, so if they see it on a reading device, they will understand it as well. To be sure, poetry with gaps of spacing, poetry typeset as a visual centerpiece to the poem is more complex to convert into an ebook. Right now there are two solutions: (1) working with someone who has a total understanding of the technology who can figure out ways to work around it, or (2) publishing the ebook with the lines flush left, but even that may change in time as the technology continues to develop.

Right now, the best way (in my humble opinion) to prepare ebooks is to hand-code the text using XHTML. This solves a number of problems: you have better control over line spacing and the flow of text, and as the technology changes, you can go back to your original XHTML file and update it. People are big on apps right now and interactive text (click and a photo or illustration pops up; click and music comes on), which is becoming popular in the children’s and YA market, but it also provides writers some creative ways to reproduce their books on reading devices. So by hand-coding books, your work is able to grow with the technology.

What’s happening is that these reading devices are providing a new stage on how we communicate through text — the world is no longer flat, it’s round. In fact, we recently released three poetry collections by Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Shirley Bradley LeFlore and Tony Medina, with more to come. Jesus’ poetry has lines all over the place and we were able to recalculate the spacing so that the work is not falling off the page/device. On the other hand, Shirley has extremely long lines, so we had to code for the indent to show that it’s all one line. When the ebooks are viewed in normal size they look just like their print counterpart on all of the devices, however, if the end-user decides to blow-up the screen, the meaning of the lines remain intact. In the end, I think that’s what really matters, when you format poetry in ebooks, the meaning of the lines remain intact (repeated twice here for emphasis).”

About Gabrielle:

I am the executive director of the Intercultural Alliance of Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS) (www.theiaas.org), a NY-based nonprofit organization that promotes multicultural literature and literacy.  I am a lover of poetry, and have been reading, writing and studying poetry since elementary school through college.  I became involved in the NY poetry scene during the 1990s doing poetry programming at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Queens, NY, booking artists like Maria Gillan, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Sonia Sanchez, Shirley Bradley LeFlore, Louis Reyes Rivera, among others. This program prompted the creation of phati’tude Literary Magazine (www.phatitude.org), and later on, the television program phatLiterature (http://www.youtube.com/user/gdavid01), which was videotaped at the Library and aired nationally on college networks and public access outlets. We recently launched our imprint, 2Leaf Press (www.2leafpress.org), which promotes multicultural poets and writers. 

Poetry finally joining e-book revolution

Over the past two years, publishers have been steadily filling one of the largest gaps in the e-book catalogue – poetry.

Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Wallace Stevens have been among the poets whose work recently became available in electronic format. And Random House Inc., W.W. Norton and several other publishers now routinely release new books in both print and digital versions, including last month’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Sharon Olds’ “Stag’s Leap.”

from the Associated Press, more here.

About time.

multi-format poetry publishing, cont’d

Check out this awesome web-page. This is how poetry should be published!

We blogged about Dave Bonta’s Twelve Simple Songs before, but there’s more now. From a single online location (Dave built a dedicated page for the publication), you can read the poems via Issuu on the web, download a PDF of the poems, download an MP3 file of the author reading the poems, or purchase (at cost-price) a print edition of the poem. You can also watch an awesome videopoem someone made based on the poems, read for the video project by someone else.

Poetry publishers take note. It doesn’t get better than this!

Other relevant multi-format publishing posts from the Very Like A Whale archive:

- multi-format poetry publishing!
Want poetry readers? publish in multiple formats, some free
Multi-format poetry publishing – production steps

multi-format poetry publishing!

I am beyond thrilled to see this great initiative from Dave Bonta. He has collected twelve very romantic poems into a chapbook called Twelve Simple Songs, and has made it available as:

- regular PDF download
an Issuu digital chapbook
an MP3 download
– and coming up: in print from a new POD service, Peecho

How awesome is that?! We, as potential readers, are asked ‘how do you like your poetry served?’ and we get some choices. I, for one, went for the regular PDF download, because honestly, I find Issuu aggravating to use. The chapbook looks really beautiful on my iPad in my iBooks reader, and is a breeze to read. Others will prefer the Issuu version, others the MP3 audio download, and others still, the upcoming print version. Some may want more than one version. By catering to all these different preferences, and by eschewing the profit motive (digital versions are free and the print version will be sold at cost), Dave has exponentially increased his poems’ chances of getting read.

A quick suggestion: Dave might at some point want to consider putting together a mini-website for Twelve Simple Songs, a place where he can consolidate the links to the different formats for future traffic and search engine huntings. As I mentioned in this 2011 post entitled another advantage of multi-format publishing, the beauty of a website for a chapbook or collection is that you can add things to the work as they happen – if someone writes a review, for example, or expands both the work’s content and its modes of expression by making a videopoem based on one or more of the poems.

Congratulations, Dave, on this tender collection and thanks for sharing it so generously.

Other relevant multi-format publishing posts from the Very Like A Whale archive:

- Want poetry readers? publish in multiple formats, some free
Multi-format poetry publishing – production steps

poetry book sales survey: results

I’ve closed the informal, unscientific survey on poetry book sales after running it for a couple of days. I was pleased to get a total of 74 responses to its three questions, which were:
 
1. How big was the initial print run for your book or chapbook? (possible range presented was 50 to 2,000 copies. In hindsight: should have included a ‘print-on-demand’ option, and possibly a ‘more than 2,000′ option.)
 
2. How many print copies of your book or chapbook were sold? (range same as above, also included a ‘don’t know’ option)
 
3. Was your book or chapbook published in any other formats? (options were PDF download, website, e-book, audio or ‘no, only print’)
 
Click on graphics below to see larger versions.

Size of print run: a topic of interest to me since writing this post way back when. The numbers from the survey pretty much confirm the range discussed in that post and exclude the multi-thousand runs of real best-seller poets. According to this survey, nearly 80% of initial runs are less than 500 copies; close to 50% are less than 200 copies; and 35% are less than 100 copies. Our world is indeed a small one…
 
print run survey results
 
Number of copies sold: 74% of respondents reported selling less than 500 copies of their book; about 50% reported sales of less than 200 copies; and 27% less than 100 copies. These numbers are skewed, however, by the ‘don’t know’ category, which represented 15% of responses. In reality, each is probably a few percentage points higher.
 
copies sold survey results
 
Publication formats: This was the real surprise, although perhaps it should not have been. Almost 90% of respondents said their book had been published in print only. Five respondents (7%) reported PDF downloads as well; four respondents report e-book publication too; while two said their poems were published on a website, and one said it had also been published as audio.

I’ve gone on at length about the advantages of multi-format publishing in previous posts, and will do so again, now that this survey is done. Watch this space…
 
publishing format survey results

New audio chapbook: ‘Abrupt Hybrids’ by Felino A. Soriano

Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks is delighted to announce the publication of Abrupt Hybrids by Felino Soriano. This is Whale Sound’s seventh audio chapbook and one that, like all those before it, was selected because it represented an opportunity to explore an aspect of reading cool poetry that was new and/or challenging to me.

As readers of this blog know, one of the reasons I started Whale Sound was to push my own boundaries and feel what it’s like to read all kinds of poetry. The first time I went way out of my comfort zone was with a poem submitted by Dave Tomaloff, who writes in the experimental vein. (I had a long conversation with David about poem-as-page and poem-as-voice here.) David then pointed me towards Felino Soriano’s work, and I solicited this poem of Felino’s for Whale Sound. Later on still, we featured one of Ann Bogle’s pieces as a group reading.

I don’t know how to technically characterize my experience of such poems as these – what I feel is an absence of that concrete (dare I say ‘emotionally guttural’..?) image-ruled poetry universe in which I was raised. In that universe, abstractions and ‘Latinate’ words are to be approached warily, if at all. In this, very different, universe it’s all about abstractions and Latinate words and it feels different – like language talking to itself but pulling all sorts of conceptions unsettlingly after it. The experience is more in one’s brain than in one’s senses but, paradoxically, reading these poems aloud, I feel much closer to words as words in themselves, than I do reading what are more ‘usual’ poems for me. Usually the connection with what the words represent is as strong, or stronger.

Anyhow, I don’t think I really can explain myself properly, so I’ll stop. I’d like to offer my warmest thanks to Felino, both for entrusting his work to me and for giving me the opportunity to feel and begin to think my way through experiencing poems such as those he writes – it’s been wonderful and eye-opening in many ways.

My favorite piece in this collection is most definitely Booker’s Garden. The title is the name of a track on the album Rabo de Nube by Charles Lloyd (you can hear a short clip here). Knowing Felino is a big jazz aficionado, I downloaded the album when I first started working with his poems and saw the reference to Charles Lloyd. I would have loved to have recorded the reading of the poem using the album as quiet aural backdrop, but copyright issues made that impossible. Instead, I recorded two MP3 versions of the whole chapbook – one without soundtrack and one using a lovely jazz piano improvisation by Serge Robinson, who has an amazing amount of work up at Jamendo. A big thank you to poet, painter and photographer Duane Locke for letting us use his work as cover art.

So do go take a look/listen at Abrupt Hybrids. As usual, it’s available as free downloadable web-based text & audio; as free downloadable ePUB version and in print version for sale at cost-price at Lulu’s.

how much money does a mid-list mystery writer make from selling books?

Wow. This author has fifteen mystery novels published and makes $18,000 a year from them. (Hat tip: Collin Kelley.)

Seems like a good moment to link to poetry – an inherently non-profit activity?, a post in which I argued that no-one has a hope in hell of making any kind of a living from selling books of poetry and should seek to gain readers instead through multi-format publication which includes free provision of some of those formats.

(Related post: Nanopress publishing – avoiding the publisher’s cycle of need

Other Very Like A Whale posts on poetry publishing)