Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Confessions

Here is a horrifying story about a poet working to get her book (not) published with Cider House Press. I wonder what other presses are as disreputable?

Here is a full disclosure post about Publishing Genius Press that I probably shouldn't write. But I know that the only people who read this blog pretty much already like PG, so what the heck.

It's scary. Running Publishing Genius, I know I make a lot of mistakes. I know that PG is just a little guy in the tiny world of small presses, not even as big as Cider House, but I also know I do way more than I can handle. This is the source of most of my mistakes. Between running the PDF Chapbook series, publishing print books, and editing Baltimore Is Reads, I don't have as much time as I'd like to spend on each project. Probably the best of these three publishing projects is Baltimore Is Reads; the outdoor journal model is unparalleled. It makes a lot of sense to me to hang poems around a city for passersby to appreciate with a glance, and then to document this on the Internet using the web journal format. It's what good businesses are supposed to do -- find a new and creative way to provide something that everyone else is doing. I just don't get enough time to spend hanging up the poems and then I start to feel guilty. I don't know why I can't manage a publication that runs 10-15 poets twice a year. I figure I spend about 30% of my time budgeted for BIR feeling guilty.

I think I haven't even told some of the people who are in the summer issue that their work has been accepted and published. That's pretty ridiculous. I think it's just Kathy Cottle I haven't told. I'll tell her tonight.

The biggest mistake I have made is with an author who's work I accepted for a print chapbook. It was a really nice MS that I conceived and approached him for. He had submitted some work for BIR and I liked it a lot and asked him if he could put a chapbook together. He did, quickly. It was great -- smart, fun material. But I didn't have a sense that he and I were lining up conceptually in terms of "the business" (his sales expectations far exceeded mine), and I got sort of turned off by the project. I kept putting it off. I put it off for a ridiculous amount of time. In fact, I had completed the layout of the book and secured the artist we had agreed on for the cover. It was always practically done. For some reason I couldn't muster up the energy to print them out and put them together (this was in the staple-stitch days of PG). Something else always came up, people dying and stuff, and I felt bad for not communicating with the author. Finally, he pulled the book. I don't blame him. I was happy for him, because he ended up getting a deal with a bigger, student-operated house where he'll probably get some good attention.

One of the problems here was that I didn't provide a "contract" to him up front. "Contract" schmontract -- there's no real contract in the PG universe. I can barely envision a scenario wherein I'd have to engage lawyers to prosecute any sort of breach of contract. I mean, isn't one of the best elements of the small press world that its inhabitants are reasonable, down to earth people who can work out problems amicably? So I don't do contracts, but after dealing with this author I realized that certain terms need to be agreed upon from the start. These terms include publication runs, the author's responsibilities/privileges in terms of art and design, payment details, and a timeline (among other things). Working out these factors are helpful for both parties, publisher and author. With PG's most recently completed project there was no discussion of money from the start, which made it really difficult for me to figure out how many contributor copies to provide. I'm certain I gave him too many, but then he turned around and made a huge purchase that really bolstered the P&L. That's the best thing that could have happened, and it happened because he's an awesome guy. I just got really lucky, especially because every press runs with a lot of differences. I recently learned that a pretty major poetry press, with titles by some impressive names, actually charges the poets to publish their book. And I was surprised to learn that BlazeVOX runs POD. These things are inconceivable to me, but it typifies the array of back-end models that authors have no way of knowing or thinking about when they sign on with a press. These are reasons that "contracts" are indispensible.

Anyway, back to all my problems.

Having the book withdrawn was bad enough. Even worse is that I still haven't removed it from the website's catalog. This isn't just because I'm a bad manager, though, it's because I'm a bad web master. Somehow it was easier for me to learn HTML coding than it was to figure out how to pirate and use a design program that would allow me to make a unified website. Crap, I really need to get on that. I'd like to hire someone to manage the website for me -- I'd love a professional and concise page like the one at Hawthorne Books -- but I don't want to relinquish control. That's the stupidest thing, because obviously, as with the case of the un-updated catalog, I'm not controlling it myself.

Marketing? What's that? And I'm lousy with distribution, too, but I'm starting to work up a deal with SPD. In this regard, I'm great at hating Amazon. Amazon is the reason you pay a lot for books.

I have an impressive system for handling PG's finances, but my submission database leaves a submission database to be desired. It's a miracle anything gets published at all.

I've wasted some money buying ISBNs individually. This is because I didn't used to think that PG was going to be a big thing. Now I want it to be a big thing because I feel I owe that to the authors I've published. I can't let Stephanie Barber's book fade away. I need people to start respecting the artwork of David NeSmith, please. David Daniel's published so many books with St. Martin's I'd feel like an idiot if I can't make his book work for me for several years. And what good will it do any of these people if PG goes belly up? But in order to keep the press on the right tracks, I have to shell out large sums of money. I'm not even close to rich, so this is sometimes a challenge. It made sense to pay $50 for one ISBN and barcode rather than spending a few hundred for a batch of 10. I've since learned all the reasons not to do that. I mean, I was informed of the reasons previously, but I didn't know in a practical sense why I'd regret it.

Ultimately, here's the main thing: right now I shouldn't be writing this. I should be finishing my long letter to Shane Jones about his manuscript so he can get to work shining his book for its February release. It took me two weeks longer than I expected to finish my suggested edits because "crap came up." I think part of this is because I procrastinate, but I think it's more actual that I set unreasonable expectations. Like, I intended to work on Shane's MS while I was camping with my family. That would have worked great on our trip three years ago when my nieces and nephews were boring babies, but this year they kept wanting to swim and ride bikes. So I started to feel really guilty that I fell behind schedule and then the task became a stressor rather than the exciting fun it had been. So I'm going to finish this post, since I've come so far, and then I'm going to get my letter off to Shane, who is awesome.

Some people in the past couple weeks have mentioned an interest in being on the Publishing Genius board of directors. I wonder if they were serious? I'm starting to understand the reasons why these formalities are necessary. I'm going to start taking applications for executive positions in my company. I just heard on NPR that in three hours CEOs make as much money as minimum wage laborers make in a year.

I welcome you to share your grievances with PG or any other press in the comments. I'm also interested in hearing about whatever business details you've brokered yourself, be you publisher or author.

8 comments:

BlogSloth said...

That Cider story is going to get some run.

S

Matt Bell said...

Adam,

I just wanted to say how impressed I am with your openness, and the willingness to show that yes, you do make mistakes, and yes, you're working on them. That's all it really takes, I think.

Shane Jones said...

I am awesome

Michael Kimball said...

Adam, You are great and we all love you. We can't wait to see what you're going to do next because we love everything you do. Koi story is great. Sorry we missed your call yesterday. We were out at the shore.

Adam R. said...

And thank you everybody. I felt really good after I confessed. A burden was lifted. Now I am feeling light.

I support your continued appreciation.

China said...

well, I got lucky because my first book came out with an independent bookstore in my neighborhood, two blocks from my house.

by already knowing them as a neighbor and a zinester ...I felt that we both had a reputation and accountability to each other, it was the way that is pretty awesome to get involved in this next (big) (little) (huge) step from self publishing into small press, which I hope to keep stepping that way cuz zeroxing is too expensive and I dont' have scams like the old days...

anyway, I disgress.

So, I trusted them. We shook hands, they bought me a drink, discussed the deal at the bar. friendship and honor played into the whole thing, I believe and also the idea it was "for love not money" but the fact that atomic books is a pretty good bussiness too, that its about substainability, that obviously they (at least, not me) have a good bussiness head on their shoulders, that was useful.

so far, so good! Apparently I did sign a contract, (I forgot - didn't remember - just remembered them buying me a drink at the bar! and us having a verbal agreement), and I am going to be getting some money ...which is awesome.

It sounds like a recepe for disaster. but I trusted in them, and also they care about the artist, and it was a very good relationship.

I'm not that together and would have had to get info to understand the whole thing if it was with a bigger press ...and really, the small press, established relationships, zine to book world...

it feels pretty good to build on that!

I agree though, as you progress, having clear ideas and contracts and expectations ... it can help. sometimes we learn that is easier than our own chaotic seems more free but not more free way of being.

You could always talk to those guys about small press experiences!

p.s.
rupert told me about y'all

best wishes
china martens
the future generation: a zine-book for subculture parents, kids, friends & others (atomic book company)

China said...

p.s. I *really* hope I didn't post this a thousand times...I was trying to remember my blogger password and I kept submitting different ways like 5 times and now I look up and see that it says "my comment has been saved waiting something-something"

ooops!

Adam R. said...

this comment only posted once. So.

So Atomic Books publishes stuff, too? That's interesting. I did not know that. I will look for your book.

Thanks.

The blog of Adam Robinson and Publishing Genius Press