Working Day Notes: The Publishing Revolution is Here
Introduction by Joshua Furst
We’ll examine the current state of publishing and the massive changes it’s going through. The panel of publishers and authors will describe their experiences, and try to map out a course for our future.
Anna Moschovakis, Ugly Duckling Presse
UDP is a mission driven nonprofit publishing collective, which means we publish what we want not what we think will sell. We are funded by grants, and currently have a quarter million dollar operating budget. We publish paperbacks and smaller edition hand-bound books. We started out as a basement do-it-yourself publisher, officially becoming a nonprofit about 10 years ago. We publish poetry, translations (mostly Eastern European literature), as well as from northern Europe, South America, and Asia. We also publish artists’ books, lost works, and experimental theater.
Publishing is to make public, it may sound like a cliché but it’s very true. We have three ways of getting books to the public:
1. Send the books to a distributor that supports small presses. We only do this with trade books. We make very little profit doing this but it helps to keep the small press culture alive. It’s not very sustainable because there is very small profit in doing it. Also the distributor doesn’t do any of the marketing; UDP does.
2. Subscription (community supported publishing) where subscribers can get access to the whole literary catalogue. There’s also direct online sales.
3. Individual relationships with independent bookstores across the country we take both the trade books and the non-traditional books. These bookstores sometimes will have an Ugly Duckling Presse section in their store.
Our warehouse in Brooklyn is staffed by a lot of interns. The 14 editors in the collective have a non-democratic way of editing. This is the backbone of our survival.
Eugene Ostashevsky, poet
I knew the people in the collective. It was important for me that it was not a business relationship. It gives me control and I have input into what my books look like. With poetry publishing, it involves a lot of performance. People become interested in you through seeing you perform live. I’ve been performing for over 20 years. An online video of me speaking at Berkley drew a lot of attention, and that helps with the book sales. You have to go on tours. Poetry is really dependent on face to face relationships. And even though most old poetry presses try to be objective generally they don’t really know you and you don’t really know the publisher. I find this model easier to work with and much more interesting.
Anna Moschovakis: At UDP the editor works with you all along the way. Typesetting, promotion etc.
Chad Post, Open Letter Books
The University of Rochester wanted to have a program to promote a new process of publishing translations with the students. We created a new publishing model that would be part of the university, but separate. Only about 3 percent of all the books published in the United States are translations, mainly because they face the problem of finding and paying translators, and because translations don’t sell well. There’s a bias in the publishing industry against translations. The core tenet of OLB is to be reader-driven.
We started an international literary blog called Three Percent in July 2007. In about 14 months web site traffic had gone up tremendously and it became very viable and interesting. We then added on a translation database which tracks how many new original translated works are being published. We also set up an award, The Best Translated Book.
We’re conscious of how we brand ourselves, and only publish high-quality, selective books.
Sergio Chefjec, author
I started publishing in Argentina in 1990, but then I moved to Venezuela where I lived for 15 years. So I wasn’t living in Argentina when my books came out. Chad saw a commentary from someone on the blog and became interested in translating my books. It’s been a mix between old and new publishing.
Chad Post: We’ve been careful to make sure that Three Percent isn’t just a marketing thing. Most of our authors aren’t in the US; we depend more on the translators and on the other models to spread the word.
D.W. Gibson, Ledig House International Writers Colony, Mischief + Mayhem
We are a for-profit collective made up of five writers. Our approach is from a writerly perspective. We identified missing aspects in the publishing industry:
1. Editors aren’t editing anymore. Off-the-record editors have admitted to me that they have no time to edit anymore. They are too busy going to meetings or focused on acquisitions. We wanted to reinstall that process of engaging each other in the editing process.
2. There’s a decimation of the old titles of editor, writer, publisher because of the Internet. There’s going to be a symbiotic relationship between e-reading and printed books. Printed books are going to have to become more special to keep their place.
3. There’s no more money for advances. In the world of fiction, large advances can be lived without, I believe, and we can offer a better split overall rather than giving out a large advance. Also this makes everyone work harder to make sure the book sells.
4. The retailer/wholesaler relationship is warped; booksellers return your unsold books. It limits how M+M operates, but we embrace these constraints because we’ve embraced a lean business model.
5. Traditional publishers have a large amount of books coming out at any given time. We avoid that: we’re maxing out at six books a year, for now. This way we can put more resources into each book. We need more publishers putting out fewer books.
6. We sell e-books as well as bound books, and we print in small batches.
David Dephy Gogibedashvili, author
The relationship between readers, publishers, and authors is the same all over the world. Facing today’s problems we’ll make concessions for the book format. We’ll give up the tactile experience books give us.
I work with three publishing houses in Georgia but they don’t deliver my books to the public in a timely manner. I’d like this publishing model to change. Literature is the bridge that connects people globally. It’s not facing extinction, it’s changing its form. Contemporary man wants everything now.