squid scribomania

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buon viaggio signore mari!

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.

Adriane Tomine New Yorker Cover

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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

more sermon for the choir

samuel delany in a nice interview in the latest LOCUS:

“As my agent … says, this is the worst time for American writing in general, that anyone has ever seen. One of the ‘Serious Young Writers’ showed me a rejection letter from a major publisher that said, ‘Your book is much too well-written for us to publish.’ Those were the words! Literary publishing has changed entirely in the last 25 years.”

“When I talk to people with MFAs who are now working as editors for literary publishers, they say, ‘What we learned in college is a kind of writing that our current bosses do not want to let in the door.’ They want nothing to do with ‘good writing.’ These are places like Random House; Harcourt Brace; Knopf; and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who are the epitomes of literary publishing in this country, yet they’re willing to say, ‘I’m sorry. That’s not what we’re interested in anymore. We have a couple of slots a year for novels like that.’

“This is not a healthy situation for writing in general. It’s not healthy for science fiction, not healthy for anyone. I think we have five publishers left in New York, and 25 years ago there were 79! So when we’re talking about ‘commercial’ versus ‘art’ publishing, we’re using a leftover vocabulary. We’re still looking at the world through 1955-colored glasses.”

Read more excerpts from the interview here. Full interview in the March 2010 issue.

NOT BLESSED by harold abramowitz

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a story told twenty-eight times (once each for all the days of february), harold abramowitz’s project of memoir as only one memory infinitely repeating and retold is interesting… but even more interesting, more mysterious — and certainly constructing a delicate and beautiful linguistic hermitage — are each chapter’s introductory flourishes of direct address. these seem to situate the text’s ambitions but end up just dancing (which could amount to the same thing) and demonstrate a rare control somewhat reminiscent of blanchot. here are a few examples:

And it is high time I made myself more clear. Forgive me for having been, thus far, obscure. In fact, I did not mean to lie. In fact, I meant to do the opposite. I mean always to tell the truth. It’s just that your line of questioning has been excellent and has allowed me an opportunity to reflect on the past, to remember that there are many different ways of viewing the past. Indeed, I have come to realize, yet again, that certain principles need constant restating in order to be understood. For instance, in violation of the law. Or how certain acts of indecency were, at first, construed. Hence, the page turns. The story continues. If even only in outline. Why, the mere mention of it causes me to shudder. But if one carefully studies the footnotes. And every word was an act, or rather, a movement towards persuasion. Rather put together, don’t you think? But let me put it to you still more clearly… (p. 36)

And the question quickly came to haunt him. The color of his umbrella against the sky. Or, its outline, so to speak. Or even a potion, or a serum, or some other kind of cure. In fact, a fixation on creating something perfect. A perfect day. The memory of which was just out of reach. It was spring and it was raining. The mockingbird sang. A beautiful day, nonetheless. There was an electricity in the air that reminded him of the time before the war. Flags and banners. The platform. Trucks in the streets with loudspeakers. He had managed to get everything he’d wanted then. And there was a buzz in the air. One question remained, however. And things were very different from that point on… (p. 70).

Eventually every mystery is solved. But without narration. And without a specific voice to guide the reader. However, without noise, without air and sound, there is no one left. No one. Eventually he was able to repeat everything he knew. And every irrelevancy was recorded. And the point was that between irrelevancies various truths could be discovered. The mystery would be solved. He had to get back to his house at some point… (p. 76).

buy it from the publisher or from spd or check it out of your local library.

CHRONIC CITY by jonathan lethem

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for all CHRONIC CITY’s ambition and for all its frantic counterculture name-dropping and for all its borrowed and original wackiness (a giant tiger, love letters from a marooned astronaut fiancée, psychedelic ceramics) lethem’s latest is at heart a comedy of manners, gently lampooning a fundamentally effete manhattan. it’s also more page six than swiftian, the sting and focus of its satire sadly dulled and clouded as if in a solipsistic, self-entertaining mary jane fog.

which is both strange and unfortunate because the author here certainly seems to be going for more, working hard and well for significance and depth. despite its flaws it also seems in many ways a return to form, so one is left with a puzzling ambivalence. what happens? it’s hard to say… but i kept recalling a review for some wes anderson film — one that noted anderson, for all his lavish and cleverly particular art direction couldn’t help but make an airless movie. something similar happens here. all emotion, messiness, pureness and quickness of heart has been photoshopped out in order to make some cooler, shinier but more dead artifact.

i’ll be selling some soft, papery wares at AWP this week.

Should you be attending the AWP conference in Denver, come by the Ellipsis Press table (Exhibit Hall A, A6).
We’re sharing it with the warm and fuzzy New York Tyrant.
Also, some poets from the Harp & Altar Anthology will be reading this Thursday night. More info here.

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