Archive | June, 2007

Independent Publishing’s Crisis – The AMS / PGW Bankruptcy

“The independents got fucked by the Enron of publishing.” — Richard Nash, Soft Skull

Enron of PublishingAlthough there has always been a certain amount of attrition in the small press world, the recent bankruptcy of Advanced Marketing Services, the parent company of Publishers Group West, which distributed books for more than 130 independent book publishers, has caused a mass kill off ofsmall press literary magazines and independent books publishers. Indie-credo aside, small presses depend on at least one corporate middleman, a distributor or wholesaler, who takes the book from the publisher and delivers them to book retailers, even independent book retailers like the Elliott Bay Book Company or Powell’s World of Books.

There has long been an effort to create a small-press-friendly distributor. Some of them exist, such as the great SPD in San Francisco. Sadly, SPD Books are often difficult for independent book retailers to find. My theory is that it is the reliance on the BookSense Database instead of the more comprehensive Books-in-Print Database. This is probably due to the fact that the BookSense Database comes from the giant wholesaler Ingram.

To add insult to injury, Time Warner recently, successfully lobbied to have the bulk postal rates increased in a postal service policy that dramatically increase the rates of small-time mailers (i.e., the indie media).

Some of these publishers, such as McSweeney’s, although they are taking on water, will probably figure out something. Other publishers such as Soft Skull Press have found arrangements by getting bought by larger publishers. But for many publishers this is it. Salon has a comprehensive analysis of the story. Punk Planet recently announced it closing. It also posted Eulogies of the dead presses.

This naturally affects writers. Editors of the surviving presses (who weren’t associated with the collapse) are most likely inundated with both queries from writers who have lost their publishers, and the sudden restriction in places for new writers to send their work. Unlike large, commercial houses small presses depend on unagented writers sending them their work. To say depends is kind of funny because they generally receive hundreds of manuscripts a week already. Now they are likely to receive even more. But they still need these to select something, even if they are is a lot of something to select from. All of this leads to a restriction of traditional publishing options for writers and put more pressure on figuring out other ways of making it work (such as print-on-demand, short run printing, xeroxing books, and selling them on the street.)

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Paul Hunter on NewsHour

WoodWorks Press proprietor, long-time Red Sky host, and Washington State poet, Paul Hunter will be profiled on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Past poets have included the likes of Lucille Clifton, Donald Hall, and Galway Kinnell.

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Reading Not At Risk: Reading is a Rare, and Valuable Skill

Reading at Risk NEABeginning as of, well, now, more people are writers than readers. Some 80% of Americans report they would like to write a novel someday, and according to the NEA report Reading at Risk less than 50% of American have read any kind of book within the last year. When you consider the ubiquity of written communication what with e-mail and texting and even blogging, more people are producing text than reading text.

This is often a reason to sound the alarm. People want to be published, They want to be read, but they don’t want to read. They don’t care about books! I’m not being alarmist. I’m being a realist. Nine out of ten books sell fewer than a hundred copies. So what if more people write novels than read novels? At least they are still thinking about novels. 30% of Americans know what a novel looks like well enough to want to have written one even if they haven’t opened one in who knows how many years.

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Inept Comix

Good For What Ails Yah

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A Response to Corrina Wycoff on The American Dream

Corrina Wycoff O Street
Corrina Wycoff posted an interesting essay about her experience as a single mother and writer. Wycoff wasn’t born into a middle-class family, and she still managed to begin writing, attended college, grad school, and finally started teaching around Seattle and publishing work, including this year’s O Street. She also raised her son. She notes as a teacher at a community college, she encounters single mothers who are managing to make it. At the root of the Wycoff’s post is a validation of the American Dream. I’ve posted one of these stories as well, “The Age of Uniforms”, about my mother’s jobs in uniform: a waitress. Her escape, too, from bad jobs was through community college.

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The Nonprofit Motive by Matthew Richter

I recently reread Matthew Richter’s great essay “The Nonprofit Motive” published in The Stranger a while ago. Richter has been the director at Consolidated Works, a performance and gallery space located in a warehouse in Seattle’s South Lake Union area. After an altercation with the board, he was let go.

In the essay, Richter points to why most nonprofits fail and questions if nonprofits are actually beneficial to a city. Seattle has a very high ratio of nonprofits per capita, and finally how ALL nonprofits are in competition for essentially a single pot of money:

“The influence this money exerts is often very positive, but can also be negative, sometimes pulling the organization away from its mission in favor of what the grantors want to see happen.”

The NonProfit Motive by Matthew Richter

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Richard Hugo House: Break It Down

Here is Frances McCue, a founder and long-time executive, talking about Richard Hugo House’s community function — why it might lack definition because to define it clearly might “fix it.” Richard Hugo House was a community writing center in Seattle from 1997 – 2006. My interpretation of this was that Hugo House was more of a vector for people who wanted to write in Seattle, i.e., infrastructure, in the way a network or alphabet or blank paper enables voices in the community to express themselves in tangible form. As you can see the concept of ownership and awarding something like space or money doesn’t really mix with the idea of Hugo House as an extension of the community since really it already belongs to them:

Some innovative foundations and nonprofit programs are looking at communities with an attitude of appreciative inquiry rather than an expertise based on a “we’ve-identified-the-problem” approach. They look for assets that already exist in a community, and work from there. For example, in her book “The Life and Death of American Cities,”Jane Jacobs describes the little old ladies who used to sit in lawn chairs outside their row houses in Boston’s North End. On the surface, they seem like ladies sitting outside and conversing, but, because there is a group of them, they prevent robberies on their blocks. Their watchfulness is an asset.

From Making Things and Making Things Better, at the Community Arts Forum in 2004.

When I worked at Hugo House in 2005, several homeless men spent much of their abundant time hanging out and reading books and old copies of literary magazines. They kind of knew everything that had happened around the neighborhood, and when worse came to worse, there was always somebody in the audience. Their presence to me indicated an underlying vitality to the organization — a striving toward an ideal where the permutation of “house” might just include for some people, a dry place to sit and read. Late last year around the time Hugo House was kicking out SubText, the homeless men disappeared. Someone sent me a flyer they found in the copy machine. It was a list of rules. One of the rules was “No B.O.” A rule like this, most likely someone’s idea of a joke (ha ha), also indicated that the days of embracing the old ladies on the blocks, the homeless man in his baseball cap, the experimental writer in with his tiny round glasses and goatee, was over. The place as a social experiment, then was over. The place was an experiment was over. It was fixed.


Richard Hugo House Evicts The Raven Chronicles and Floating Bridge
The executive director recently evicted the last of the small presses and literary magazines renting space at Hugo House.

Open Office Hours
I saw about three writers a week while at Richard Hugo House. In the two years I saw just over a hundred and fifty writers.

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Shoot the Buffalo, Steal This Book

Last week, Clear Cut Press let me know that the second printing of Shoot the Buffalo will be back from the printer at the end of July.

Not only is the first time (and I hope not last time) any of my books has had a second printing, but it is the first time this has happened:

Dude, I’ve been reading your novel, which I think is DYNAMITE — I could go on and on about that. But it’s funny… I stole the book from the library at a senior living apartment building on this big Christian compound. A radio station Spirit 106 or whatever comes out of that place, and another station too. I was doing temp work there a couple of weeks ago. On my lunch break I was looking around in their little library room thing and I saw your book. I’d been meaning to read it since I’d read the ad for it in the flap of C. Ambrosio’s Orphans. It was so weird to find it there. They have all the employees pray together every Thursday morning, it’s a pretty conservative place. The day I stole the book I quit the job. Anyway, I was just thinking, maybe you donated the book to that library because you have family that lives there or something. If that’s the case sorry, let me know and I’ll mail the book back, I’m almost done with it.

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Anthony Doerr at Elliott Bay reading from Four Seasons in Rome

Anthony Doerr at Elliott Bay Book Company
I saw Anthony Doerr at the Elliott Bay Book Company last week. He is from Idaho and he has written a book about the year he spent his Rome his wife and just born twin sons courtesy of the Rome Prize. The book is a well written travelogue that shows the mundane life of a writer in a foreign city trying to write while he is also trying to be a dad and a husband. In short, the book is essentially a printed blog. He writes: “A good journal entry should be a love letter to the world.” As a winner of prestigious prizes (including the Rome Prize) and “One of American’s Best Novelists Under 35” Doerr delivered a reading that I can only describe as writer’s porn — not sex — but the graphic and glossy reproduction of the nitty gritty aspects of a writer’s life. He writes about his writing of short stories. He writes about his reading of Pliny the Elder. I’m sure for Mr. Doerr his writing life is not easy. After all he actually moved to Rome courtesy of the prize in order to write. If his at-home writing life was straight forward I’m sure he could only regard this as a disruption. In turn, Mr. Doerr seemed eager to get the most what is generally the most painful portion of the reading — the Elliott Bay Question and Answer section. Unlike just about any other writer I’ve seen read in the bookstore basement, Mr. Doerr wanted to talk about writing. He wanted to talk about writing a lot. I had to shuffle out the basement, because while I enjoyed Mr Doerr’s writer’s porn, I didn’t want to talk about it afterwards.

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Will Allison on STORY magazine

Will Allison Rejection from STORYWill Allison, who has just published a book, and used to be a fiction editor at STORY in the 1990s has an interesting piece at MaudeNewton on his days as an editor at the magazine and working with Laurie Henry and Lois Rosenthal. He has this to say about reading a slush pile:

I did have some trouble getting up to speed, though. Having only recently left the world of MFA creative-writing workshops, I was used to dutifully, painstakingly giving each and every manuscript its full due. Lois didn’t play that. If a story failed to hook her by the first page or two, she was on to the next. I was struck by her ability (and Laurie’s) to plow through a bin of manuscripts in a couple of hours, emerging with only a handful of stories requiring closer attention. It wasn’t just that she read with great confidence — in her taste, in her ability to recognize quality — but also with great impatience. How dare an unworthy story waste her time!

In 1991, I won 7th prize in their first college fiction competition. I was a college freshman. Many of the people who placed where in MFA programs. I thought that was it. I had it made. I kept sending stories and STORY, including Will Allison kept writing rejection slips. I have a little stack of notes. Eight years later, still not in. I never got into the magazine. In fact, they stopped the contest several years later because of a lack of wonderful material. STORY closed in 1999, and Will Allison talks about why it closed in his piece.

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