What is the publisher’s cycle of need? Some evolving thoughts on poetry publication, springing from the nanopress experience:
Poetry publication is a difficult field – more difficult than any other kind of publication, I’d submit – because publishers so rarely make money at it. There really is no money in poetry.
I believe that where we (the poetry community writ large) go wrong is that we persist in trying to make poetry fit the traditional publishing paradigm. We look primarily to publishers who are trying to make money to publish our work.
And there is of course nothing at all wrong with trying to make an honest buck. But, again, there is no money in poetry. (Per the Mastercard ad concept, it’s priceless.) Poetry publishers, large and small alike, rarely recoup expenses, let alone make a profit.
The weakness in the system, in my view, is that (despite the hopelessness of trying to make money from poetry) the publishers — whether through contracts or through a sense of moral obligation — hook the published poet into their cycle of need: must make money to recoup expenses and/or make a profit; therefore must carefully prevent these poems from getting into any hands except those that shell out bucks for them in book form; therefore must pressure the poet to help sell, sell, sell books.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but is there really any poet out there (the very few Mary Olivers & Billy Collinses of the world aside) who seriously pays or hopes to pay bills using poetry royalties?
What most poets want is to be read (or heard, as the case may be).
Poets should not have to be in the business of selling their book. Poets should be in the business of getting their poems read.
Offering a collection of poems to readers in a single limited form with a price tag on it is so antithetical to the larger objective of getting your poems read that it blows me away just to contemplate the staggering disconnect. You have an overall objective (get my poems read) and a tactical action purportedly taken to attain it (sell them in a single tightly-controlled format) that could not be more at odds with each other.
As I said, I don’t blame poetry publishers for trying to recoup expenses and make an honest buck. Most poetry publishers, especially small and indie presses, work extremely hard and are deeply passionate in their commitment to poetry.
I’m just not sure it’s in the best interest of poets to buy into the publisher’s cycle of need.
Look at the stats here. So far 50 people have obtained this collection, presumably with the intention of reading it/listening to it. If it had been published and offered in single form – the conventional print-book-for-sale-only way – that number would be 6.
So what do I think is the best publication answer for poets who just want to get their poems read?
a) Find a publisher who will publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.
b) Become your own publisher, with an outside editor, under the nanopress model and publish your complete collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free.