I went to a “round-table” discussion held by Poets and Writers recently. It was meant to be a discussion among small presses. I had high hopes of doing some networking and finding out if there was anyway that a small (possibly micro) press such as Lummox could get funding. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the networking or answers to my funding needs. In fact, I found the whole affair rather depressing.
It was held at the offices of Red Hen Press (hardly a small press, and not really a poetry press like most of the rest of the participants…which sort of defeated the purpose of the meeting) in Pasadena. There were about 19 people present, of which 4 were from Red Hen; 2 were from Poets & Writers; 4 were writers (presumably looking for a publisher); 2 were interested parties; which left 7 of us as small presses: Red Hen Press, Tia Chuchas Press, Les Figues, Lummox Press, Write Bloody Press and a few others that I didn’t catch their names. About half the presses were non-profits, which meant they received funding via grants and donations. There are LOTS of grants for non-profits. If it weren’t for several obstacles, I’d go after non-profit status, too. But it costs nearly $1000 to get a 501-C Non Profit assignment. That’s a BIG obstacle. And you then have to have a board of directors (who can find and get grants to keep the operation going). That’s the second obstacle.
A lot of the time was spent focusing on the idea that in order to be successful, you had to publish poets/writers that were going to be “Rock Stars” — who would become “promotional machines” and book themselves into venues that were “fun” and “exciting” — these concepts were put forth primarily by Derrick Brown of Write Bloody Press and by a representative from Red Hen Press. The ramifications of these ideas was that you had to “put on a show” to sell your product (books, T-shirts, whatever else you could come up with to promote yourself). Write Bloody expects its authors to go on tour and read with indie rock bands to the tune of 20 dates or more!
Sounds pretty exciting.
But what happens if you run a small press that wants to publish books because the work is solid (sometimes serious, sometimes funny) even if it is written by an unknown poet? According to this plan, you can’t do that. You can only publish a poet if they have a track record of selling books, a lot of books, and if they are “known”. Otherwise, it’s pointless.
Well, that idea made me depressed. That and the fact that no one was interested in any of my books, not even after I mentioned the awards that two of my titles had garnered…winning Best Poetry Book of the Year and second Best Poetry Book of the year. It was a big letdown.
But a funny thing happened on the way home, as I was sitting in traffic. I started to think about how I was a micro press (or possibly a sub atomic press, assuming that, that is the next level down from ‘micro’), scurrying along trying to not get stepped on by these bigger presses with their big dreams, and I realized that I could do pretty well if I modeled myself after a “micro brewery”…
A micro brewery creates a product for a specific group…special beers for a select audience…so why not tailor the books I publish to a certain audience? That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do anyway, all these years. I’m close to achieving that goal now, I just need to refine my methods of contacting and holding an audience.
One of the presses, Les Figues, use subscriptions to maintain an audience, but their books are more arty. I like the idea of having a core group that kind of holds the show together, with sales covering the peripheral expenses. The question is, how do you achieve that? I’m still looking for an answer to that age-old question.
I’m open to suggestions…