What happens when a poetry video gets 3,000 plays in 5 days?

The video-maker freaks out, is what happens. This will be the last post I write about viewer stats for still image remixes, but I did want to get this experience down, noting that what has been interesting for me is less the stats themselves than my reaction to them.

As previously recorded, I had already been unsettled by the relatively high numbers of viewers attracted by earlier still image remixes I had done for poems from The Poetry Storehouse (this one and this one in particular). But neither of those came anywhere close to numbers of viewers attracted by Items of Value to a Dying Man (shown above – poem by Kristin LaTour, art by Peter Gric), the response to which just blew me away. Peter Gric was wonderful to work with – open, generous and in no way inclined to control any part of my remix process – but either his terrific art has made him much more famous than I thought, in my near-total ignorance of the art world (I found him by clicking randomly through links and simply emailed him via his website) and/or he has – relative to online poetry networks – a pretty enormous online network.

The video got 1,050 plays on the first day, 1,650 on the second. My original FB posting of the video link got 554 shares after Peter shared it. The video exceeded 3,000 plays today. (As I said before, I am used to the most popular of my poetry videos capturing maybe 40 or 50 views on their first day. Over time – months, sometimes longer – a video may end up with 200 to 300 total views.)

I was delighted of course, but fell into angst at the same time. What did it mean that I had accidentally put together something that led to hundreds of people interacting with a poem they would almost certainly have had no interaction with otherwise? Was I burdened with some heavy new Responsibility to Poetry as a result?

I took my angst to (where else..?) Facebook. Is a poem that is read by and moves 10 people of more value to the world than a poem that is read by and moves 1 person? I posted as my FB status, not even sure if that was in fact the question I was struggling with. The question got traction quickly and, as is usual in the poetry community, thoughtful and helpful responses came quickly (see here for the exchange, although I don’t know if any or all of the conversation is viewable from the outside). It turned out that wasn’t at all the question I needed to ask, and the back and forth over a day or two was very helpful in clarifying my thinking.

I see now that what had been complicated for me by the experience was my sense of my role as showcaser, curator, remixer, presenter of poetry (at The Poetry Storehouse now, at Whale Sound previously). Was I now obliged to take these activities in some different, burdensome, non-fun direction?

What the Facebook exchange clarified for me was that poems are not like the toys in Toy Story. They don’t have a separate, secret life that springs into action whenever their owners are asleep or otherwise absent. A good poem can support a literally infinite number of interactions – living in interaction over and over again through aeons, each time as freshly as the first time. But a poem has no life outside its interaction with people. When they are not being interacted with, poems lie dead in the dark, where they are purposeless, and meaningless.

The role of the curator, remixer or publisher of poetry is to maximize the number of interactions each poem has with people. In the hands of the successful curator/publisher, the poem lives in interaction repeatedly and reaches a higher level of its interaction potential than poems in the custody of less successful handlers.

That’s the role of the curator/publisher in the scheme of things poetry. But it doesn’t have to be their motivation. This is where I got confused. If things go well, more people will interact with poems as a result of my remixing and curating. If things don’t, they won’t. But that’s not why I do what I do. I do what I do because I like voicing poems, I like exploring the technology of putting poems online in different ways, I like the challenge of combining poetry and digital imagery in video, and experimenting with sound.

The additional interactions that occur between poems and people are a happy by-product of my doing what I like to do. But I don’t do it in order to increase the number of those interactions.

And that made me feel so much more relaxed about those viewership stats. Some videos will get 3,000 plays in a few days. Most will be lucky to get 300 plays in a year. Should that influence what I do and how I do it? No.

As artist Kiki Smith said, in a quote I recently encountered via a Twitter feed: “Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn’t, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink.”

With warmest thanks to the Facebook friends who were so thoughtful and generous in their responses to my original and subsequent questions.

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. 

who needs words in the age of the image?

…the most important language of our so-called post-literate society. The image. Ours is a world where the ability to communicate doesn’t require anything more than rudimentary reading and writing. And, in fact, sounds and pictures can do the job just as well.And given time constraints today, perhaps better. This is what virtual reality has wrought.The image is the new word. Don’t send a message expressing your emotion, send an image representing the idea.


It would be useful [..] to trace the history of Western civilization with an eye towards evaluating the war between image and word. Start with the Mona Lisa on one side and Don Quixote on the other and count up the wins and losses in each column [...] most realists among the wordsmiths already know that short of some massive cataclysm that lays to waste the electronic grid that makes the delivery of images so easy, we are pretty much done for.

From The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz – read full article here.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his premise, but do think there is a key distinction to be made between written wordsmithing and spoken wordsmithing. Which doesn’t much help the written word crowd, but does make the overall case for wordsmiths somewhat less dire.

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

revisiting ten questions for poets – on poetry, publication, technology

This series represents a wealth of poetry and po-biz wisdom from a bunch of awesome contemporary poets. I used to have these linked as separate standing pages, but didn’t refresh that format when I changed blog themes recently. Have just added these standing pages back to the left-hand column, and got lost in re-reading while I did so. Thank you once again to the generous poets who participated for doing so! That wonderful group includes Ron Silliman and the late Reginald Shepherd.

poets on poetry
poets on publication
poetry editors on publishing poetry
poets on technology

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.

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

poetry book sales – please take this quick 3-question survey!

Am returning to questions raised in this post on poetry print runs, and still thinking about poetry publication generally. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information out there on poetry book sale numbers and I thought a survey (anonymous, of course – no need for names of poets or publishers) might be helpful. It will literally take you 10 seconds, and as soon as you are done, you get to see the survey results as they are at the time you take the survey. Click here to take the survey (it’s at SurveyMonkey), and thanks in advance!

we have a videopoem triptych!

45 responses to the videopoem triptych call for submissions! We were staggered. But very happy. And some really wonderful work came our way. Thank you so much to everyone who submitted – we’re only sorry we were looking for just three poems.

We’ve decided to do a three-poet triptych – our awesome finalists are Donna Vorreyer, David Tomaloff and Lisa Cihlar. Thanks, guys!

More process notes later, but I did want to share the rejection letter we came up with, because it highlighted so much that was unique to me in both the call for work and the process of selection:

Dear Poet X – Many thanks for your submission to the videopoem triptych project. Unfortunately, your poems have not been selected for inclusion in the first triptych. This is a unique project and we have had to consider submissions simultaneously as ‘voice’, as ‘film’ and as ‘music.’ Our final decision says little about the quality of your poems, but a great deal more about the combinination of our own personal aesthetics as reader, film-maker and musician. We are honored to have received your submission and thank you for sending your poems in.

More later, and again, thanks so much to everyone who sent work in.

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.

‘Handmade Boats’ now in e-book and print

The very first Whale Sound Audio Chapbook was Heather Hummel’s Handmade Boats, published way back in November 2010 (you can read Heather’s and my process notes here).

At that time, I was focused setting up a publication as a website-with-text-and-audio. Adding free PDF download and free audio download seemed to make perfect sense and was easy to do. But it wasn’t until a couple of chapbooks later that I was comfortable enough with Lulu’s POD site to offer a print version and a CD version. We also offered a Lulu e-book version, but that was really just a fancy PDF download. It wasn’t until the 5th and 6th chapbooks that I was comfortable enough with Smashwords e-book publishing to offer an honest-to-God genuine ePUB download. (The Kindle – aka MOBI – version at Smashwords is still sub-par, unfortunately – it’s those hanging indents you can’t do, Kindle!)

We’ve come all that way since Handmade Boats was first published as website-text-audio-PDF-download, and, what with one thing and another, it’s only now that Heather and I have focused on packaging Handmade Boats as an as ePUB file and as a print edition. As usual, the e-version is free, and the print edition available at cost-price from Lulu ($4.98 plus shipping in this instance).

We had to look for new artwork for the e-book and print versions, since the website cover art had limited permission on it. We were thrilled when U.K. photographer Paul Hurst gave us permission to use his lovely work as cover art.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out this awesomely eerie video by Swoon. It’s made from ‘On Edward Hopper’s Automat‘, one of the Handmade Boats poems.

another advantage of multi-format publishing

Here’s yet another advantage of multi-format publishing, people. As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of multi-format publishing, since it increases potential readership by allowing readers/listeners to choose their preferred method of poetry delivery (including whether to pay for it or not). For me, the backbone of each multi-format publication is a website containing the full text of the published book or chapbook, while additional options include audio, e-book and print book versions.

While I was away on vacation, and to my great delight, five video poems were made and two reviews written about/from either work published by Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks, or my own work. Once stated it is immediately obvious, but I confess I hadn’t articulated to myself the fact that while the e-book, audio and print versions of these different collections are static/one-off publications, the website is not, and may constantly morph to include reactions of readers and listeners and so gain in texture. It seems to me there are advantages to publishing any given work in *both* static and flexible formats.

So, while I am listing these items together below, I have also added them as links to the respective websites of the different publications, where they provide an additional dimension for readers of the websites. Yay for the book-as-website model!

Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks

From Handmade Boats by H.K. Hummel:
video based on the poem On Edward Hopper’s ‘Automat‘, by Marc Swoon Bildos Ney

From Threatening Weather by Howie Good:
video based on the poem An Armed Man Lurks In Ambush, by Marc Swoon Bildos Ney
video based on the poem The Stockholm Syndrome, by Marc Swoon Bildos Ney

Nic’s work

From Dark And Like A Web:
review of the chapbook by Nancy Devine, blogging at Nancy Devine.
review of the chapbook by Rachel Barenblat, blogging at Velveteen Rabbi. (For all reviews of Dark and Like A Web, click here.)
video based on the poem ‘On Being Constantly Civil Towards Death’, by Dave Bonta
video by Swoon on the poem ‘There are howling wolves’

From Forever Will End On Thursday:
video based on the poem homesteader, by Dave Bonta
video based on the poem the wanderers’ blessing, by Dave Bonta

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)

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.

‘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 – an inherently non-profit activity?

Back in May I wrote a post called want poetry readers? publish in multiple formats, some free. I noted that my small experience of publishing in this way has shown that 90% of the copies of books/chapbooks obtained by potential readers/listeners are the free formats, while the formats for sale only represent 5% to 10% of total copies obtained. I also noted that publications such as Poetry magazine have now adopted the model of providing their complete content free online while still selling print editions.

The fact is that selling poems is just not good business. Packaging poems ‘for sale only’ doesn’t make money and cuts down on potential readership. Do we want to sell poems, or get them read? The two objectives are, in my view, mutually exclusive to a high degree. Sell, ok – but don’t only sell.

Isn’t ‘free’ a dirty word?

I’ve discussed this elsewhere, but wanted to get a post up on this blog up, to include some additional more recent thoughts. Some ask: If you offer something free, doesn’t that mean you are devaluing it? Shouldn’t you charge at least some money to indicate the value you place on your offering?

We tend to be suspicious of free – ‘free’ must have a catch or somehow indicate a lack of quality.

I’ve argued elsewhere that poetry is priceless and therefore inherently fits best into a non-profit – not a commercial – paradigm. Civilizations through the ages have recognized a] that poetry nourishes human spirit and enterprise in a way nothing else does (and certainly nothing that is for sale) and b] that it requires subsidizing. Rulers, cities & villages used to employ/fund bards and poets for this reason. In the US (they do a bit better in Europe) we seem to have largely forgotten this.** As a society, we tend to undervalue the poet’s skills & contributions, and no longer subsidize poets in any broadly meaningful way. But does that mean that the poet should forget too and undervalue too, and try to force poetry into the channels of commerce, where it has never sat comfortably?

One thing that is certain is that – rightly – poets are not put off by “free” poetry, in the way that most of us are instinctively suspicious of anything free. We are used to seeing fine poetry free all over the web. The number of reputable, discerning poetry journals offering free content is huge and growing (as I mentioned above, even Poetry magazine now offers its complete contents free online). Poets look for evidence of quality control (who is the editor?), but they know that the absence of dollar signs is no indicator of poetry quality.

(As I have also said elsewhere, this is not about knocking small hard-working poetry presses attempting to work within the commercial paradigm, or poets currently operating under the commercial paradigm. This is simply about presenting another paradigm for consideration.)

So how are poetry publishers who provide free content supposed to pay their expenses?

Well, a lot of that expense is simply time (a chunk of which is spent acquiring technical expertise of all kinds). If we accept that poetry is an inherently non-profit activity, we necessarily accept that it also requires huge amounts of volunteer (ie unpaid) time and effort.

What about the poetry publishing tools that really have to be bought and paid for with cash?

How about raising funds through mechanisms other than simply selling poems? A donate button on your website? Grant applications? Or use Kickstarter – an amazing fund-raising platform just made for poetry publishers. A search for ‘poetry’ brings up a fascinating list and variety of Kickstarter poetry-related projects currently seeking funding.

Here is an example of a poetry project (seeking funds to support a free digital magazine) that didn’t meet its goal of raising $1,000 in the project’s allotted fundraising time. Here’s an example of another poetry-related publishing project that exceeded its goal of raising $15,000.

Lastly, here’s a link to an article entitled The author as entrepreneur, and the dangers this poses, which in turn discusses the British company Unbound, which “is basically a subscription model for the creation of art – something that was popular in previous centuries. It is somewhat like the U.S.-based site Kickstarter, which supports investment drives for all kinds of art forms, including movies; Unbound is purely for written works.” (Hat tip: Michael Wells.)

The writer makes some excellent points, which are tangentially relevant to what I’ve said here. I don’t agree with all his conclusions (although I do share his reservations about the nature and likely impact of ‘Unbound’) but what he says is worth thinking about.

(** Wait. Is this true? Is the ratio of national wealth devoted to subsidizing poetry to number of poets wanting some of that wealth significantly different now from what it was in the Middle Ages? If in fact, the ratio has not greatly changed, all the more reason to get more creative about how we publish and distribute poetry…)


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

Other Very Like A Whale posts on poetry publishing

‘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!