on locking up poems

Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

Nice article at the Best American Poetry blog on poetry collaboration & technology by Rachel Blarenbat. Short interview with me as part of it, and of course I had to make my favorite point.

‘Lent/Elegies’ – interview #3 with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the third of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer and published by A Place Without Dust Nanopress.

1.Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you – did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Nico: The process was very easy. I have worked with Sonia before, on my small-run handmade chapbook Mama Lily and the Dead and so I knew what to expect. I simply sent the series of poems I had worked on to Sonia with a couple of questions–such as which ones to get rid of, whether the titles were working, and what she thought we should do about setting them up. She told me not to get rid of any of them, that the title worked fine, that we should present the title as it is written now–Lent/Elegies–and she laid them out for me as a book. Then she sourced the cover image, which was perfect, finished the layout, asked me a couple questions about font and spacing, and did some minor copyediting. Voilà.

Sonia: The collaboration was precipitated by Nicolette who asked me to come on board in publishing her latest book in a rather unconventional way. We had worked together before to publish Mama Lily & The Dead under my press, Poinciana Paper Press, so we had a level of creative trust and understanding which I think led her to ask me to get involved in her next book. Coming from a sort of specialized tradition where my books are hand-made through various binding, letterpress and printmaking processes, I nonetheless love the ways technology helps us rethink the book as an object, so the nanopress model excited me and I agreed to help edit the collection. I can’t think of anything I’d like to change–it was a fascinating exercise.

2.The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing – being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Nico: The division of labour worked just fine for me. It is the kind of thing I love, and building on it I am now working with a graphic artist for a more traditional self-publication–she is doing the layout for me, and I am doing the fiddly editorial work. I am now promoting Lent/Elegies, if you can call what I do “promotion”– I’m mentioning it every now and then and getting people to think about looking for it when the moment arises.

Sonia: Though we may not have followed the model–I think Nicolette had a very complete collection of poems that didn’t need any rearranging or many tweaks–I feel like we divided the labor fairly. In fact I wouldn’t say we divided any labors exactly–we exchanged a lot of emails about creative decisions like cover art and the name of the press itself and such so it felt more like a true collaboration that I really enjoyed. In terms of marketing I wrote an article about it and Nicolette arranged a wonderful reading this year to launch it, plus we shared the blog with our individual networks. However Nicolette undertook the recording process for the audio component on her own.

3. Talk about the numbers of readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems? What statistics can you share – would you fill in the blanks in the table below?.

Nico: As I’ve said above, I haven’t done very much marketing at all. However, just last week (April 2013) I participated in a reading at the university bookstore, all arranged and organized by the poet who shared the reading with me, and sold several printed versions of the book (30 in one week, a very good week indeed). In all, 53 print copies have been sold, and there have been 146 downloads of the digital version. The original 23 books were given away as presents, so “sold” to the author, or featured at the Bocas LitFest in Trinidad and Tobago.

Sonia: Unfortunately I am not sure how to assess that exactly, being a luddite! I have no concrete stats, but I did write two articles to promote the book that were published in the Arts & Culture section of The Nassau Guardian–one in-depth piece about the work and its fascinating publishing process around the time it launched, and another revisiting it for her recent reading and informal launch of sorts during a Meet the Writer series at the College of The Bahamas earlier this year.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Nico: The digital versions of Lent/Elegies are entirely free and can be downloaded in various formats from Smashwords, or read online on WordPress.com. The print versions have a slight mark-up of about $1.50. The main reason for this is that I have had to order the books myself in small bulk numbers to distribute to local bookstores, and I wanted the online price to be comparable to the bookstore prices in an effort to support those bookstores. I didn’t want to undercut local bookstore prices. Landed, the books cost me about $7 a copy, and that is what I sell them to the bookstores for. My suggested retail price for the books is $10. The Lulu price for the book is $7. The idea is that if one orders a copy online and one is in the Bahamas, one will discover that, once one has paid shipping and handling and duty, one could’ve gone to the local bookstore and bought a copy for the same basic price and far less trouble.

Sonia: We went with all possible models. From what I recall, the decision was really Nicolette’s which I was happy to back up.

5.How many publication formats did you choose to work with? Why?

Nico: I chose all the available formats because I wanted to see how they would be consumed. It’s been fun looking at the stats. I’m pretty chuffed with the numbers, even though they’re technically tiny. The only format still unavailable is the audio version, which takes time to prepare. I’ve begun recording the poems but haven’t yet achieved the quality that Nic wants me to, so that project is still unfinished.

Sonia: This is a similar answer to the previous question. For me really I was excited by the idea of providing as many choices as possible to readers, which is something the digital age can afford us. The idea of audio was intriguing to me and had me thinking–what’s next? A soundtrack to books that unfolds as we read? Why not?

6. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Nico: I would certainly consider it. I’d much rather be the author, though! Write the poems, the work is done.

Sonia: For sure–but for me it would have to be with a writer with whom I know I share certain creative sensibilities with. As an editor I like to have close relationships with the writers I publish so I can help them realize their vision in all its glory.

7.Is there anything else you would like to say?

Nico: I’ve always loved this idea. I really buy into the liberation being offered by digital publishing and Nic has tried to bring quality to the mix. Kudos to her.

Sonia: This was an inspiring experience that actually helped me overcome my technological prejudices as an avid chapbook publisher. I thought technology could only help print die, and but instead I see it opens up exciting alternate realities and I’ve started to explore what they can do for my handmade process in the future.

_________

Previous interviews with nanopress teams:

- Diagnostic Impressions – poems by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, published by DNA Nanopress.

- Omer/Teshuvah – poems by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat, published by Omeremo Nanopress.

‘Omer/Teshuvah’ – interview #2 with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the second of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Omeremo Nanopress published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat.

1. Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you – did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Rachel: I don’t think this experience differed from my previous experiences of editing, at least not experiences of editing poetry. There’s always a challenge in balancing one’s editorial sensibilities with the voice of the poet, wanting to be a helpful force for refining without overwhelming or overwriting what makes the poems unique in the first place.

Shifrah: This is the first time I have published a collection of my poetic work, and the first time I have worked with a poetry editor. I found it very valuable and was very grateful to have Rachel’s discerning eye on my work, and felt she did a very nice job of maintaining the balance she describes above.

2. The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing – being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Rachel: I focused both on the substance of the collection and on the technical legwork of publishing: manuscript layout, working with CreateSpace, etc. I set up the book’s website. Shifrah worked on marketing.

Shifrah: I am curious to know how Rachel might have felt about our division of labor. Since book publishing was new to me, and my expertise was limited when it came to the technical end of nanopress publishing, I leaned on Rachel a good deal for support in this area. She graciously took this on, although it may have been more than that for which she originally bargained.

One disadvantage of our particular division of labor is that some of the technical control of the CreateSpace account ended up as Rachel’s responsibility, and out of my control, which I think is challenging for us both.

In addition to marketing, I spent a good deal of time considering the art work used, finding an artist to work with, considering how I wanted the words to fit on the page, the amount of white space I thought matched the sensibility of the collection, etc… in other words, a number of aesthetic issues which needed to be considered and re-considered as we went along. Rachel was an excellent advisor, but these were decisions that were and ultimately needed to be mine to make as the artist. This may be an advantage of the nanopress model, where the artist is closer to the production than she or he might be in a traditional publishing approach.

3. Talk about the numbers of readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems? What statistics can you share – would you fill in the blanks in the table below?

Rachel: We’ve sold 227 books in total, 32 via Amazon and the rest via the Createspace e-store. The only marketing I did for the book was to create its (very simple) website and to share that website in a publication announcement on my blog. I also mentioned the book, and linked to it, in the collection of Omer resources I made available to my congregation.

Shifrah: This is probably the most difficult and frustrating part for me about this model of publishing. Marketing is not my strong suit. I think this is less a matter of ability and more a matter of time. I would love to have hours to devote to blogging and making Facebook entries, contacting book stores and calling synagogues that might be interested in selling the book, offering readings and workshops to promote it. But the truth is I only have a very limited amount of time for these activities, so sales remain lower than I would like. I could definitely benefit from teaming up with someone who could assist with this aspect of the project.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Rachel: We opted to offer the collection with a very slight mark-up — each copy costs $7, which is close to what CreateSpace makes them for. My memory is that we opted for a slight mark-up because we wanted Shifrah to receive some compensation, however nominal, for her creativity. We offered a selection of poems from the book online, but not the whole manuscript; my memory is that Shifrah wanted the book to be out there in print form, to be touched and held and used as a physical object in the world, but not as a digital download.

Shifrah: Actually, I would be happy to also have the book available as a digital download, but have not made that happen yet. I have wavered about what format to use for that.

Rachel is correct. We opted for a slight mark-up, partly for compensation purposes, but mostly to cover costs I incur in the process of marketing the book (making flyers and buying snacks for events, buying supplies for workshops, covering car travel, etc.) When I sell hard copies myself, I sell them for $12 to cover shipping and handling and yield a small profit.

Needless to say at the rate we have been selling these, profit margins remain low, which is fine. This collection is meant to enhance people’s spiritual practice, not to be a big money maker.

5. How many publication formats did you choose to work with?

Rachel: Just the one: a print book.

6. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Rachel: I would definitely be interested in doing this again, from either side of the table. I enjoy the creative collaboration which arises in a good editorial relationship. I like this model so much better than pure self-publishing (in which there are no checks or balances for the author’s sense of what’s best for the work.) And given that we live in an internet age, the age of the long tail, this is a great way for authors to get their work out to people who would enjoy that work, even if the manuscript in question isn’t going to win the Yale Younger Poets prize or what-have-you.

This actually isn’t my first nanopress, or not exactly, anyway. I’ve done two similar projects. In 2006, my short collection chaplainbook (a collection of chaplaincy poems) was printed via print-on-demand after undergoing editorial input from several literary friends. I posted about that experience on my blog at the time: the chaplainbook story.

And in 2009, I released my chapbook Through, a collection of miscarriage poems, also via print-on-demand, after putting it through the editorial refinement of working with, again, several literary friends whose judgement I trusted. (Here’s my post about it.) Through is available at-cost, and also as a free download; I wanted those poems to be available to anyone who suffers miscarriage, regardless of their ability to pay. (You can find both of those in my lulu store.)

Shifrah: Ditto for me on the collaborative and co-creative process. I love that, and this was not exception.

_________

Previous interview: Diagnostic Impressions – poems by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, published by DNA Nanopress.

Interview coming up soon: A Place Without Dust Nanopress, which published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer.

‘Diagnostic Impressions’ – interview with a nanopress publication team

As promised in this post about three nanopress teams, here is the first of three interviews with those teams. (Details on the nanopress publishing model here.)

Diagnostic Impressions by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, was published by DNA Nanopress.

1. Talk about the collaboration process as it unfolded for you—did this experience differ from any previous experiences you may have had of editing or being edited? What would you change about the collaboration process if you were to do it again?

Donna: It developed rather organically. Dana began posting the “impressions” (the smaller poems) on Facebook, and I made the comment that they would make a wonderful chapbook. When Dana began to consider putting together the pieces as a collection, she asked if I would be willing to participate in the nanopress model as editor, which I was thrilled to do. I have been an admirer of Dana’s writing for quite some time, and, as an educator, the topic was also one that I knew was important to bring to the public. Serving as a sounding board to bring the project to life was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Dana: I had seen Nic’s post calling for others to take part in the nanopress model, and I wanted to try that out. I’ve had work published more conventionally (i.e., in literary journals and through independent and boutique presses) and wanted to see what would happen when working within the nanopress model. Donna is one of the few poets I would have trusted in the editor role, and I was eager to collaborate with her. The only thing I would change is that I would make it not be a one-off undertaking. I would love to see our roles switched so that I might serve as editor on a work of Donna’s, still using our signature DNA Nanopress name.

2. The nanopress model is flexible in conception and intended to evolve according to the individual needs of individual teams. In its first conception, it envisioned the editor providing ‘macro’ input, mainly focusing on the substance of the collection, with the ‘micro’ side – the technical legwork of publishing and marketing—being the responsibility of the author. How did the division of labor work out for you?

Donna: I would say that we definitely followed that model. Dana did ALL of the work of creating and publishing the website, while I focused on how to present the work in its different incarnations. Dana originally had a different idea for how to make the impressions “jump” from the original poem, but it proved technically challenging. As she wrestled with the typography issues that would make the reading experience unique, I recorded the impressions section, at first to hear how these pieces sounded as individual poems. I felt it was necessary to see if the short impressions worked as a series of short poems, if they had a sensible progression or arc of their own outside the realm of the home text. Deciding how to read them made that process easier for me.

Dana: We did follow the model, and Donna is right about the frustrations that arose. Presenting the poems with parts obscured/deemphasized was not as easy as I thought it would be. Compounding the problem, a presentation that would work across multiple formats, including mobile apps and in print, as well as on the site itself, was impossible. We finally decided to drop the mobile version, and the print version is still in the works.

The other issue that I didn’t anticipate was how much the process would aggravate my dyslexia. That’s funny, given that the collection deals with my dyslexia. Presenting the poems in the manner we eventually agreed on—using different font sizes to signal foregrounded and backgrounded text—made formatting the poems on the site much more difficult (you should see them in html view!) and made proofing nearly impossible. Actually, I’ll show you an excerpt of what the poems look like in html view, just so you have an idea of how gnarly they looked:

code image

I mean, yuck. And then, to make things more complicated, dealing with one poem that has twelve overlays meant that extremely careful editing was needed to ensure that these texts, which looked so similar but were so different, were each treated accordingly. It would have been so easy to improperly format a word or punctuation mark without realizing it.

The print version of the collection is actually still in the works because I don’t trust my editing on it. I don’t know if I will ever trust my dyslexic eye enough to let that piece go to print.

3. Talk about the readers you have been able to reach – did you do a lot of, or not so much, marketing? If you did, how did you market the poems?

Dana: I know a number of educators and counselors who work in the area of dyslexia assessment and support. I also belong to several dyslexia groups on Facebook. I put the word out through those channels, as well as letting friends and poets know about the collection. We received a lot of support but I don’t know that the collection has made its way into the dyslexia community in the way that I would like. There are still ways to try to accomplish that, such as editorial coverage in publications that focus on dyslexia, making organizations that deal with learning disabilities aware of the work, and getting it into more K-12 classrooms.

My concern with the collection being taught by middle- and high-school instructors is that some might not know how to approach the topic because they don’t fully understand the various manifestations of dyslexia. It’s hard to be comfortable with presenting material you don’t comprehend. The challenge with regard to teaching Diagnostic Impressions is larger than the collection itself; an awareness of dyslexia is needed before it can be taught. However, it’s that very lack of awareness that makes texts like this important. So where do we start—with the texts or with awareness? We need a way in, but a lack of awareness presents a barrier to these texts, while a lack of texts makes it harder to achieve awareness.

Donna: I originally shared it with colleagues and friends in both teaching and poetry circles and got positive feedback. I think that Dana’s comments above are accurate—even as an experienced educator, understanding dyslexia and its different manifestations is a challenge. This is why I felt so strongly about getting the collection out into the world.

I recently used the collection in my own middle-school classroom as a part of a unit about identity and labels. I started with some of the teaching suggestions on the site and the students’ own perceptions of what dyslexia meant. Not surprisingly, many were convinced that it meant that people “switched their b’s and d’s” and other common simplifications. We first discussed the long version of the poem “(diagnostic)” in order to discuss the emotional impact of something that makes you different than others, something you can’t control. They responded with great empathy and many questions, which led to our readings of the impressions.

As a culminating activity, I gave the students copies of “(diagnostic)” to create erasures, therefore forcing them to experience text in a nonlinear way. Their erasures were so mind-bogglingly perceptive that we may end up putting some of them on the site as companion pieces. Hopefully, because of the fluid nature of the nanopress model, it will continue to both grow content and grow an audience.

4. In its first conception, the nanopress model envisioned that resulting poetry would be provided to readers either free of charge or, in the case of print versions, at base production price with no mark-up. Did you go with this model, or choose a different one? Why in either case?

Donna: We thought, especially with the importance of the topic, that this model was ideal for getting the collection into the hands of as many people as possible, especially teachers who often don’t have the budgets for something “extra” like a poetry collection.

Dana: The site is open to anyone, and the PDF and Issuu files can be downloaded for free. The audio component Donna recorded can be heard or downloaded for free as well. When we complete the print version, it will be made available in accordance with the model defined above.

5. Would you be willing to undertake another nanopress collaboration in the future, as either editor or author? Why or why not?

Dana: As I said, I would love to work as an editor on a nanopress project with Donna. She and I have shared work with each other for a long time now, and I feel like I could be of service to her in an editorial role. However, having seen all the issues we encountered during the production of Diagnostic Impressions, I am not sure Donna would want to enter into a nanopress undertaking.

Donna: Well, it was not frustrating on my end at all, so I would love to try the model again. Dave Bonta’s recent collection that involved poems and photography intrigued me very much, and if I decide to pursue another nanopress project as the writer, I would certainly want Dana to be the editor. She is a perceptive reader of my work, and everything she gives me feedback on is better in revision as a result.

6. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Donna: One of the best things about working with Dana is her wide-open heart. Her writing is honest and intensely personal, yet always universal at the same time. In a world where people are isolated by and judged for their differences, Dana’s work is an excellent reminder that differences are what make us unique and able to love and be loved.

Dana: One of the most beautiful things about this collection is the fact that Donna ended up reading my work in the audio recordings for the site. That choice brought a new layer to the project. I was honored to have her read my poems, to hear them in her voice as processed by her mind and heart.

Also, I would like to say this: You can be anything you want to be. With the right support, with unwavering love, and with dogged determination, we can all live free from the drowning stigma of labels and the obstacles those labels often imply, enforce and justify. If anyone labels you and attempts to turn that label into a prison, find a home outside those confines. Stake claim to your own place in the world, then find a world inside your heart, and you will be just fine.

_________

Interviews coming up:

Omeremo Nanopress, which published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat.
A Place Without Dust Nanopress, which published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer.

three new nanopress poetry publishing teams

Long-time readers of this blog will recall my obsessive focus on nanopress publishing, aka “alternative poetry publication, with gravitas.” In June 2011, after participating in two nanopress publishing teams as author myself, and after gaining multi-format publishing experience from the Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks project, I offered free publication legwork assistance to any poet/editor teams out there interested in establishing a nanopress (an offer which stills stands, by the way). Here’s the current working definition of a nanopress:

The nanopress is a single-publication, purpose-formed poetry press that brings together, on a one-time basis, an independent editor’s judgment and gravitas and a poet’s manuscript. The combination effectively by-passes both the poetry-contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by existing poetry presses, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures to the published work.

More information on nanopress mechanics here.

To my infinite joy, two poet/editor teams took me up on my offer and one poet/editor team went ahead on its own. They are:

A Place Without Dust Nanopress published Lent / Elegies by Nicolette Bethel, edited by Sonia Farmer, in May 2012. Blog post by the author here.

Omeremo Nanopress published Omer/Teshuvah by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat, in May 2012. Author’s note here and editor’s note here.

DNA Nanopress published Diagnostic Impressions by Dana Guthrie Martin, edited by Donna Vorreyer, in September 2011. Author’s note here and editor’s note here.

These three nanopresses joined the two that were already in existence, in which I participated, for a total of FIVE nanopresses out there. Woot! The other two are:

Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress published Dark And Like A Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine by Nic Sebastian, edited by Beth Adams, in June 2011. Editor’s process note here; author’s note here.

Lordly Dish Nanopress published Forever Will End on Thursday by Nic Sebastian, edited by Jill Alexander Essbaum, in March 2011. Editor’s note here, author’s detailed process notes here.

In the coming weeks, Very Like A Whale will be featuring interviews with the newest three nanopress teams about their experience and its outcomes, and showing how each team adapted the nanopress model to suit their own preferences. Meanwhile, I wanted to share updated stats for the Dark and Like a Web and Forever Will End On Thursday projects (as I promised I would here). Note that marketing & promotion for these two books was done entirely online, via websites & Facebook/Twitter, and supported by some awesome online blurbers and reviewers. No live readings or in-person hard copy sales went into the process. This is where the numbers are as of now:

Title ‘Forever’ ‘Dark’
ebook downloads 338 251
PDF downloads 44 22
print purchases 21 25
Full MP3 downloads 19 8
CD purchase 3 3
Total copies obtained 425 309
Total website views 2,522 1,300

As I said previously, there is no way to tell whether obtaining the collection = actually reading the whole collection or even part of it – the same question one could ask concerning print copies sold – but still, the evidence indicates that 425 people in one case and 309 in the other obtained copies of the collections, presumably with the intention of reading them or listening to them.  (Note: These stats don’t count the number of people who might have read the collections on their respective websites, clicking through the individual poems.)

These are not bad numbers, when you consider that in the informal poetry books sales survey we did recently, 27% of respondents reported selling less than 100 copies of their book; about 50% reported sales of less than 200 copies; and 74% less than 500 copies.

Stay tuned for the upcoming interviews with the nanopress teams.

Previous blog posts on nanopress issues can be found here.

thinking about establishing a nanopress? a special limited offer for you

If you are a poet in this situation and would like to establish your own nanopress to publish your manuscript, here’s an offer for you to consider. Find yourself an editor (with at least some gravitas, ok!? – see comments here) who will agree to edit your manuscript and publish it under both your names, and I will offer – free – publication legwork services. The honing and finalization of the manuscript will be up to you and your editor-partner, and I would also ask that you find and obtain permission to use the cover art. Give me these elements and (if I like the proposed partnership), I will do all the publication legwork free for you – design and publish the manuscript as website, PDF download, e-book, print version and (if you are doing audio) CD — see the typical multi-format production steps here. This will be a non-profit operation. The print and CD versions will be sold via Lulu at cost-price (you will buy your own review copies) and all the other formats will be available free. You can see what the final publication(s) will look like here and here. Marketing and promotion will be up to you, although I will do what I can to help with that. Email me at nic_sebastian at hotmail.com if you have a good proposal.

two nice things

that I’ve Facebooked and Tweeted but not blogged. Why do all three? Well, they say that Facebook and Twitter posts will be on the internet forever, but they are not archived and not searchable, so…

I have a poem, the week before the locust swarm, in Issue 8 of Anti-. My poem the party appeared in Issue 3 of Anti- way back when and, from a composition point of view, I now see what these two pieces have in common. When I’m not going for straight narration and instead get a slant-eyed walking-on-spider-leg-stilts feeling about a topic and write from that perspective. Thanks to Steve for that moment of insight!

The whole of Issue 8 is wonderful reading, but I am particularly taken with Landscape with deerstalker by Adam Tessier and most especially by
She Considers Trading Her Secrets from Catherine Pierce:

Oh, these girls. They are dumb

as bicycles. Their eyes like tree knots. Their smiles
like paper. If they knew that my world is not their world,

is gloaming-colored and damp, echoes with howls and bells,

Wow!

The other really really nice thing is the first review of Dark And Like A Web, the nanopress publication project I worked on with Beth Adams. Justin Evans’ take on my work joins dots I hadn’t realized existed but now he points them out – of course! He’s right! Check out his review. Warmest thanks on several levels for your time, focus and kind words, Justin!

‘The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid.’

Finally, and this is the point that I don’t see enough people making, printing a very good looking paper journal has now become so easy and affordable that many people out there are doing it in vast, unregulated numbers. The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid. A paper issue doesn’t necessarily mean you have the backing of a university, an established editorial board, or even a small press. It also doesn’t mean that you have a guaranteed readership—in fact, your work will probably be read by many more readers if you publish it online. A print issue can mean all these things, but it can also simply mean that someone has a good computer and has been visiting blurb.com.

Excerpt from an excellent post from Celia Alvarez, which pulls together and persuasively articulates in its first two paragraphs many publishing things we all vaguely know, but that I, for one, haven’t seen restated with such comprehensive clarity anywhere. I agree wholeheartedly with her point about print, and have argued elsewhere that technology has so reordered today’s publishing landscape that print publication is no longer the holy grail it once was, but has taken its place in line simply as one publishing option among many viable ones.

What really matters in all publication forms is the gravitas brought to the publication equation by the people involved. (Yes, I know – just another way to bring the conversation back around to nanopress publishing again!)

One final thought: The ‘demotion’ of print to the regular ranks of publication brings with it another seminal change – a change in gate-keepers. There will always be gate-keepers, but they are not now who they were and will change even more dramatically as communities absorb and reflect the seismic changes in the publishing landscape.

Who will be the new gatekeepers?

new nanopress project – ‘Dark And Like A Web’

So wonderful to announce the second nanopress project – Dark And Like A Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine. 15 poems – a chapbook-length publication. Available in multiple formats, some free – website, downloadable text & audio, e-reader version, print version & CD edition. I have a lot more to write about this project, but for this post will just excerpt below the project’s ‘Note from the Editor’ (the amazing Beth Adams!) and my own note below it. The inspiring cover art for this project is by Steven DaLuz. Together, we and this all make up the Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress – I so love that name! (Background on nanopress publishing here.)

A Note from Beth Adams

I was surprised when Nic Sebastian asked me to consider editing this collection of poems because we were fairly recent online acquaintances who didn’t have a long familiarity with one another’s work. Most of our prior exchanges hadn’t even been about poems, specifically, but about various models of poetry publishing.

Nic’s request, though, mentioned that she’d been reading the blog posts I had written during Lent and Holy Week of 2011, and that she felt I might be the right person to edit her new collection, “Dark and Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine.” I told her I’d be glad to take a look at the manuscript. She sent it, and after the first reading I understood why she had sensed we might be a good fit. I admired the poems and liked the chapbook as she had conceived it, and felt an immediate affinity both with the voice behind the poems and the via negativa approach to spirituality they expressed. I wrote back and said yes, telling Nic I wished I could publish the chapbook myself at Phoenicia! Now it remained to see how we could work together.

Nic’s poems were, I felt, very close to being finished. I went through the manuscript and jotted down notes in the margins, noting weak words and phrases, endings I felt could be improved, a few structural changes. We arranged a time for a phone conference, and I suggested that we go through one poem together and see how it felt before tackling the whole manuscript. Nic was not only receptive to my approach but grateful for this level of engagement and completely serious about working further. We ended up going through the entire manuscript in detail during that session.

In a few days she sent back a revised manuscript; she had responded to almost all the suggestions, and, on reflection, held firm in a few places — which was fine. After reading her revisions to one poem we had discussed at length, I decided I had been wrong and that the original version was stronger, so we reinstated it. One poem was dropped after attempts at revision, and a new one added — a poem that ended up being one of the strongest in the collection. We went through one more round of small revisions, and were done. It was a remarkably efficient process, marked by seriousness and mutual respect.

I was impressed throughout by how well Nic knew her work and herself. When I asked, “why this particular word,” or “what exactly were you trying to express here” or “I’m not sure about this repetition, what do you think?” she had an answer; she knew what she was doing and reaching for. I also tried to give clear reasons for my own reservations and suggestions. Because of this, it became quite easy to make decisions about improvements. Some were obvious. Others, much more subjective. But because neither one of us was digging in, we never got to an impasse; we listened, knowing that the shared goal was to make the chapbook as good as it could be. I strongly believe that the editor’s role should, in the end, appear as transparent as possible, and that a successful project is one which not only reflects the author’s original vision and voice, but concentrates it.

But that’s only one side of the story.

When we create, I think we all long for the close reading, the deeply attentive listener or viewer. Making our work public is an act of courage, risking not only dismissal or rejection, but also intimacy. Editing, by its very nature, requires an intimate engagement with the text, closer perhaps than anyone’s but the author. I see that intimacy as both a responsibility and a great privilege.

I’m changed each time I enter deeply into the words and world of other writers who have asked me to edit their work. Certain phrases and ideas enter me, and they stay. In one of my favorite poems in this collection, Nic asks, “how have you sharpened/into this thin bright hook/pulling me after you still/as though you were some great moon and I/some helpless tide.” This stunning image speaks equally to me about the pull of the divine, and the pull of the creative impulse, two forces not so separate as they may seem.

Beth Adams
Montreal, June 4, 2011

 

A Note from Nic Sebastian

These poems were written mostly during NaPoWriMo this year. I started the month out rather flippantly, deciding I would write ‘prayers and charms’ in April. But the poems overtook me and within a week I knew they were neither prayers nor charms, but distilled questions that had been forming over the past year. A hectic year. In addition to several professional and personal watershed events, those months witnessed the hard work and excitement of founding Whale Sound and Voice Alpha and the culmination of my long collaboration with Jill Alexander Essbaum, who so generously edited my first collection under the nanopress model. Busy, productive, whirling months. Months that had no silence or stillness in them. As I wrote these poems, I knew I was sick for silence and stillness. I knew I had to slow down and go inward. Responding, the poems wrote themselves, almost; ordered themselves, almost. Not providing answers, but asking questions, and sketching out the beginnings of a map for the way ahead.

When they were done – and I knew just when they were done – I felt I must ask Beth Adams before anyone else to consider editing these poems, for a number of connected reasons. I was familiar with Beth’s fine editing work as co-editor of qarrtsiluni and as publisher at Phoenicia Publishing. But I know the work of many fine editors and that wasn’t enough in itself. I had been posting the poems to a public blog I had created for NaPo, but after about a week I switched the blog to ‘private’, because I just wasn’t sure where the poems were going and I felt way too involved. Beth had seen a few of the early drafts and emailed me asking how to access the blog. I explained to her what happened and why I had closed the blog. She knew exactly what I meant and said: “Yes, that happens sometimes, doesn’t it, and the journey turns out to be more important than what we thought we were creating.” This was all happening in the Easter season and all the lovely roiling tension of that season was breaking out all over the blogosphere. Beth then wrote two Easter blog posts – here and here – that seemed to incorporate everything I was feeling just then. Her worldview struck me as doctrinally expert and focused, while embracing much much more than doctrine – widening to the social, the political, the cultural, to definitions of beauty and deep appreciation of other doctrine. Her perspective saw the importance of identifying the patterns and common goals that unite religious impulses and allow them both to transcend and return to themselves, the richer for it. I loved the generosity of her vision and was frankly elated when she said ‘yes.’

Our editing process was as serious and productive and as mutual as Beth described. I can’t say enough about the value to a poet of being competently edited. It’s an intensive learning experience, as much about actively listening – to yourself, to the editor – as it is about you being serious about clearly articulating and defending your own poetics and your own vision. The Dark And Like A Web manuscript was immeasurably improved and made more itself by Beth’s editing. I’ll forever be grateful to Beth for her patience, sensitivity and her superlative editor’s sense – for really making me think seriously and creatively about what I am doing as a poet, and why.

I have written extensively about the nanopress model elsewhere. I continue to believe it is a logical and viable next step for poetry publication in our age. I wanted, with this project, to show that it can work as well for a chapbook-length manuscript as it can for a full-length manuscript.

As for the press name – why Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress? Everything I have written about here – the poems, Beth, me, the editing process and Easter – constitute this nanopress, and we had to find a name that encompassed the whole adventure. Given our common Anglican experience, I had the idea of going through the Collects, Epistles and Gospels in the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer to find a name. There are myriad wonderful potential names in that text, but it didn’t take us long to agree on Broiled Fish & Honeycomb Nanopress, from Luke 24:42 – one of the Easter readings.

Nic Sebastian
June 2011

‘Poetry Book Contests Should be Abolished’ & other matters

O ye oppressed contest-submitters of the MFA world, throw away your shackles and start your own collective with like-minded friends, publish poetry you want to immortalize you, not poetry with the maximum chance of pleasing screeners and judges! Start your own press! If nothing else, write on scrap paper and share it with your wife and dog, but don’t dilute your work to win contests!

From a HuffPo article by Anis Shivani entitled Poetry Book Contests Should be Abolished: Why Contests Are the Stupidest Way to Publish First Books. If you agree with Shivani and are looking to publish a first collection, try the nanopress model!

In other news, three nice things happened for me this past week:

1. Michael Wells wrote a very nice blog post about Forever Will End On Thursday. Thank-you, Michael!

2. YB issue 4 came out, including one of my Bad-Ass Mom poems (I have to write more of those) and my review of Ren Powell’s Mercy Island. A wonderful issue from editors Rose Hunter and Sherry O’Keefe – thanks for your work and the opportunity, guys!

3. I had a guest post at Marly Youman’s Palace at 2am blog – all about nanopress publishing, with some good discussion in the comments. Thanks, Marly – love your House of Words series!

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!!

nanopress update

I’m up to my eyebrows in my own poems, picking them apart and putting them back together under Jill’s no-quarter laser editing pen. Some of them aren’t surviving the process, poor things, but others are emerging stronger. My brain is having to morph (creaking) in new directions over many questions, including that of poem order. This is quite an emotional process.

Beginning to think about cover art. Saw something today I would really like to use and have sent off a query. Fingers crossed. (And if you happen to have any cover art options lying around looking for a poetry collection to grace, let me know!)

For new readers: The full nanopress story.

publishing as a team

The publishing model Jill and I are developing – under which the final book will be published referencing both our names as author and editor respectively – generates a new and different framework for receiving critique, I find. The normal critiquing process (informal one-on-one, workshops, etc) requires you of course to carefully consider suggestions received from those critiquers you respect. At the end of the day, however, you decide what to accept and what to reject on the basis of a single optic: this work has your name on it, and therefore you alone speak for the contents.

In the case of the Essbaum-Sebastian Nanopress, however, there can’t be a single optic. There will be two names cited, so there has to be a double optic. In Jill’s comments on my manuscript, she refers to the importance of “your Nic-ness”, and I love that. While recognizing that the relative roles of poet and editor are very different (and of course always deeply vested in ensuring the integrity of my “Nic-ness”) I still must be aware of and careful of her “Jill-ness” in this project. She has to be as comfortable with her name cited as editor as I will be mine as author.

(Click here for the full nanopress story.)

The Essbaum-Sebastian Nanopress (cont’d)

This is a one-off poetry publishing project undertaken jointly by Jill Alexander Essbaum (editor) and me (poet).  Our idea is to pioneer a new publishing model that incorporates an outside editor’s judgment and gravitas while by-passing both the poetry contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by heroic but limited-capacity no-fee/no-contest small presses.  We are working on my first poetry collection, Forever Will End on Thursday, which will eventually be DIY-published under both our names. Click here for an account of the project’s history and present status. It’s going well!