two titans of DIY industry, derek of calamari and adam of publishing genius, recently posted about the nature of small press economies here and here. thinking about accounting may be my least favorite activity, but one’s relationship to the means (and costs) of production are — if these accounts are typical examples — never far from a small publisher’s mind:
i guess i’m just TIREd of THinking about all these businessy things | at some point you just have to do what you do naturally & if people buy it great & if they don’t fuck ’em | as a consumer you can spend all the time in the world contemplating the footprint of every piece of fruit you buy at your local market but at the end of the day what sells it [for repeat customers anyway] & makes it all worth it is the TASTE of the fruit itself | i’d rather concentrate my efforts on making tasty book & art objects that are true to their nature [with no additives or artIFIcial flavors] & not worry about the ugly business of marketing & selling the fruit | maybe that makes me a bad «publisher» i don’t know | this whole circle-jerk business of people promoting & selling themselves or their wares or their «friends» is what really gets me down about this book business | it’d behoove me to buy into all it but honestly i don’t see how most people live with themselves | i’d rather fail gracefully than succeed using such tactics | even measuring «success» by the number of BOOKs sold doesn’t make sense to me | Justin Taylor & his HTMLGiant entourage are imploring everyone to buy his new book so it will make the NY Times Bestseller list | that seems about a silly a reason to buy a book as i can think of | they say it will be good for him & the comMunity of independent presses & writers or some such thing but ¿will it really make us better writers? ¿will it really make for better LITerature? it’s a filthy business this trying to wag the dog with it’s tail.
The rest of derek’s post here.
i tend to agree with him but on the other hand, in terms of us versus them or dichotomies of complicity versus subversion — i’ve always taken this wisdom from creeley to heart:
Something lost in trying to kick against the pricks unless the vision, call it, is complete, and secures itself in its own inviolability. Blake says, I am Socrates. John said that in the act of non-adaptation to the demands of an economic system may lie a commitment to the system’s forms far more destructive an involvement than any simple-minded conformity. But such a long and dull sentence it had to seem.
From Creeley’s THE ISLAND.
for what it’s worth, i think ellipsis may look to getting non-profit status some nearfuture day. at least i keep debating that move… even while i dislike the idea of a non-self-sustaining operation and of trying to find handouts, here’s why i think i’ll do it: i don’t necessarily think acts of self-promotion like taylor’s are inherently base (though i admit it turns me off), but i think it’s a tendency or talent (or gluttony) unrelated to that of writing (or if it is related, it seems more negatively correlated than anything else.)
if you are the shepherd of someone else’s book into the world however, some kind of promotion seems to be part of the responsibility. or not. in any case the ellipsis press advertising and distribution plan — such as it is, what a laugh — has been to put up notice in a minimum number of places. enough so that if you were a seeking reader not of an escapist ride but of literary art (of which i estimate there are about 1,000-5,000 such seekers extant in the u s of a), you’d be able to find ellipsis titles. determining that minimum placement hasn’t been easy, might be a higher bar than i realized, and could require more funds than i’m willing to fork over (thus the non-profit deliberating). …which reminds me once again of this quote from Scott Walker formerly of Graywolf (which might seem like self-back-patting but is frankly more like a self-warning) :
Starting a small publishing company takes an angel’s combination of idealism, passion, unreasonableness, innocence, naiveté and blind obedience to an inner voice telling you to go heart- and head-long into something utterly likely to fail. It would in fact be a kindness if the venture failed, because success requires so much time and intellectual and emotional energy that it squeezes to death every last healthy impulse you had to start with.
PS from a profile of greywolf here:
[Graywolf Press director and publisher Fiona McCrae] delights in the opportunity to snatch up books a major publisher might ignore and says a Graywolf book can succeed by selling only a few thousand copies. “When we’re not having to pay enormous overhead or debt for an acquisition or that kind of thing, the numbers we need for a book to do well are much smaller. From Faber I learned, rightly or wrongly, that it’s not that books never make money, but that it takes time. Years after it was published, T.S. Eliot’s [Old Possum’s Book of Practical] Cats was bringing in significant revenue. I saw the way publishing and art intersect. The market goes for something that’s done well before, but the most difficult thing is something that hasn’t done well before. When you’ve got this nonprofit structure, you can stick more with the art side. If it’s working artistically, we’ll make the numbers work.”
read the rest of the greywolf press profile at: http://www.citypages.com/content/printVersion/628801