Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Briefs: Bookstores & Book Tours

Word Up bookstore has opened! The Upper Manhattan pop-up bookstore and community space was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd on Friday, June 17, and featured small press books in English, Spanish, Russian, and even Armenian. The grand opening got very nice write-ups in the Manhattan Times and the New York Times.

San Fran small press author Jesus Angel Garcia has embarked on a cross-country tour for his new 21st century pulp novel about sex, cyberspace, alterna-scenes, and evangelist religion in the Dirty South: badbadbad (New Pulp Press, 2011). His LA debut reading was held Friday, June 17 at Skylight Books, a great (indie-press friendly) bookstore in Los Feliz; his next reading date is in Austin on Wednesday, June 22. See his tour schedule (39 shows in 32 cities!) here. Read his first tour blog at Electric Literature here.

Under the Volcano Books will host its first reading this Friday, June 24 in Mexico City. The reading will be Matthew Stadler 's fourth stop on a 12-city "NAFTA Tour"--he'll read in Canada, US, and Mexico from his new book, Chloe Jarren's La Cucaracha. Novelist Stadler is also former lit editor of Nest, and the publisher of Publication Studio, a new indie press (and innovative publishing model in the vein of OR Books and Cursor) that started (in one sense) with a binding machine obtained at a good price from Brooklyn's Vox Pop Bookstore (RIP). The reading event will be in the future location of Under the Volcano Books, an English-language bookstore set to open (once funding allows) in the Roma District of Mexico City. The reading starts at 7:00pm, location address is Cerrada Chiapas 40-C, Colonia Roma Norte. Find more event details on Facebook here. Read an interview about Publication Studio here. Read more on Under the Volcano Books here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Library of Reality

Yesterday I overheard someone say, "This is an interesting time in history to teach in law school, since there are no jobs for these students when they graduate." Her friend replied, "Yes, well, I hear that there is a palpable awareness of that in the classrooms. The students are shaken."

So, why is there no equivalent in library school? The library job market has crashed, with public libraries gaining patrons but losing state revenue; academic libraries losing patrons to Googling undergrads; and many libraries downgrading formerly professional jobs to paraprofessional ones, or replacing MLS positions with IT personnel. Yet library schools continue to accept a flood tide of students--library schools are a cash cow for universities. I watched my own classes triple in size WHILE the economy was crashing. And meanwhile, there is no sense of reality on the campus, no one telling these students that library jobs are sparse and when one opens, a glut of overqualified applicants will apply. Or that most academic library jobs opening up were two or three people's jobs a year or two ago. Or that many retiring librarians are not replaced, or not replaced right away. Or that too many graduates who are volunteering at their local library or otherwise beefing their resume are no closer to a paying full-time job than they were when they graduated two years ago. The MLS continues to be marketed as a "flexible degree."

To my knowledge, no one has written a high profile article to reverse the enthusiasm that "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers" created in 2007 (New York Times, July 8).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Business of Micro Press

Art Noose sells her writing at PIX: Pittsburgh Indy Comics Expo (October 2010).

As a publisher, I am currently seeking viable options for funding future titles on my very-very-small press. Here are the primary options for funding small press projects, as I see it:

1. Out of pocket funding. Fine if you have it (especially if you have it over and above your monthly expenses). Obviously, sometimes very small runs on micro press operations don't have to set you back much--say, $300, or maybe $100 or less. That could be a good run of a zine, or a short run of a chapbook or xeroxed novella, or a POD book, etc. However, I believe that a not-insignificant portion of my credit card debt is made up of such "lo-fi" ventures.

2. Collective out of pocket funding. I have known small presses that were literary collectives, and I assume (though I'm not positive), that some of their (early?) books were funded by everyone chipping in. Still, this theory breaks down, because everyone in the collective eventually wants to do a book of their own, so that really points back to similar expenses of a one-person small press.

3. The pre-order. Recently a friend had a poetry book coming out on a respectable small press, and he wrote to all his friends saying that the book wasn't going to happen until X amount of people ordered it. The order fee was higher than the normal price of the book, but it included a deluxe package of a signed poetry book and an extensive sound recording by the author and a collaborator. The pre-order might be a pretty solid option, but someone involved (either the author or the publisher) has to have a lot of loyal friends, or have made a name for themselves. This method is not necessarily recommended for totally unknowns.

4. The grant. Need I say much more here? Grant money is very handy if you can get it, and I believe that after you've gotten one grant, that greases the wheels for future grants. But if you're not in the grant habit or the grant circuit, it can be a long road: learning how to write a great-looking proposal, researching appropriate grant opportunities, figuring out how to become eligible for a grant (ie 501c status, etc.), waiting and hoping to get a grant. I also know several small presses and authors who don't believe in grants, who think of them as shady tax loopholes where people with money can get more money. The grant option is not for everyone.

5. Subscriptions. I am thinking of one micro-press that publishes quarterly runs of his mini-poetry journal. This journal has a decent subscription base, and in any case the prices seem to be geared to cover the cost of printing (which he does on a good black & white printer out of his home) and postage, but not much more. This seems like an utterly sane equation to me. The poetry journal in question is a labor of love, yet it basically covers its own costs. Over the years, the journal has gained a loyal audience, but it is almost exclusively distributed through the mail; the publisher does not have to deal with other types of distribution; and if he chooses, he can gear his print runs to the number of subscribers.

I think that one question I am posing in this blog post is, In an age of such widespread debt, how long is it before a Labor of Love is no longer loveable?

6. Sales revenue. Whether a book, zine, or other small press project proves to sell as much as it cost to create is still a crapshoot in my experience. The cost of getting a book noticed by and sold to people who will read it is counted not only in material or printing fees, but also in time. We may not pay for advertisements--we of the small press, we of the savvy social media age. But bothering to put out a small press book means bothering to spend massive amounts of time promoting the book on Facebook, posting on blogs, talking it up to reviewers, finding the right distros, making fliers, dropping books off at bookstores, and of course arranging or doing readings. One of the best ways to promote your book is by doing lots of readings, preferably around the country.

In other words, the small press might ask for your whole life: Make sure it's something you enjoy doing. (Small press might be a verb disguised as a noun.)

7. The fundraiser. Hosting a reading with a door fee (at a venue willing to keep their own fee low) comes to mind, but I don't actually know that many presses who have used this method besides:

7a. Kickstarter. Kickstarter, the internet fundraiser site, has some great potential for very small and micro presses. I have seen authors and presses use Kickstarter as a pre-order vehicle, as a publicity vehicle, and as a flat-out donation vehicle. Check out one successful literary project here and one still-fundraising graphic novel project here. You can browse their Writing and Publishing category here.

8. Patrons. Do they exist anymore? Are they common? Are some small presses funded by parents and families of the publisher? And, more importantly, when patronage is involved, is it ever disclosed? For some reason, I feel that the transparency of how the small press is funded is crucial to creating a fertile soil for the free press. Can the greatest number of people get their words, views, and work into the public sphere if the Haves are hoarding and protecting knowledge of the financial side of publishing from the Have Nots? The small press world is still overwhelmingly white and very college educated. Surely this is not because we have that much more to say than other Americans, or because our stories are so much more valuable. The means of production must be transparent, and hopefully made widely accessible as well.

I also feel that we need the freedom to contradict, critique, annoy, and piss off the generations that came before us (if need be), and patronage in publishing could stand, explicitly or subconsciously, as a hinderance to frankness of literary content.


I'm not trying to make the small press all about the bottom line. The small press is not about money. Life in America IS about money, and we get involved in the arts to retain some of our humanity. But, life in America is about money. The cost of living is constantly going up, up, up, while wages are not keeping pace. And if we're always spending more than we earn back on the small press projects we produce, we're going to burn out. I want us to be sustainable.

How do YOU fund your micro press endeavors? What's your perspective on the subject of money and the small press?

If any small press, lit mag, or micro press publishers are reading this and are willing to share their thoughts or experiences on financing literary endeavors, please speak up.

Monday, June 6, 2011

WORD UP Community Bookshop to Grace Upper Manhattan for One Month

Two titles from Fractious Press as spotted on the shelves at Fleeting Pages bookstore (Pittsburgh, May 2011).

Fleeting Pages pop-up bookstore closed its Pittsburgh doors at 9:00pm on June 4th. But close on its heels, small press publisher Veronica Liu, pairing up with the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) and Vantage Properties, will be opening a Manhattan pop-up on June 14th. The new bookstore will be called Word Up, in reference to its uptown location of Washington Heights. Much like Fleeting Pages, Word Up will pop up for one month, and will be dedicated to the output (and reading/writing events) of the small press, the micro press, and self publishers of zines. The store will aim also to showcase a multi-lingual selection of books, to reflect the residents of this diverse neighborhood especially known for its large Dominican population. Inventory and events will focus largely, but not exclusively, on metro New York presses and writers.

Liu, who is managing editor of Seven Stories Press by day, and moonlights as publisher of Fractious Press by night, has been active in the micro press scene for several years. After attending zine fests and other small press fairs with a table full of Fractious wares, and hosting readings to promote the press' subversive and engaging authors, a pop-up bookstore may seem like a logical extension of such events.

But two projects through Seven Stories led equally to the idea of placing a bookstore in Washington Heights. Liu has been working with the Seven Stories Institute (affiliated with the Press, although a separate entity), which acts as a democratic disseminator of Seven Stories books and ideas. Recognizing that their radical, critical nonfiction was being distributed more widely in academic circles than in the communities such books were written to serve, Seven Stories Institute was founded in 2004 to devise ways to reach those underserved populations--whether by offering the books in Spanish, making the books available at a deep discount, or organizing community discussions. (Read more here.) In addition, Liu has been editing a forthcoming book, REBEL BOOKSELLER: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want To Fight for, from Free Speech To Buying Local To Building Communities (written by veteran bookseller Andrew Laties). Due out from Seven Stories in its second edition in July, the book (originally published by Vox Pop in 2005) has been considered a must-read among certain circles of radical and community-minded booksellers.

NoMAA and Vantage Properties have been enthusiastic partners with Liu in making the Word Up project a reality. The assisting realtor from Vantage has been excited at the prospect of both filling an unused space and seeing a bookstore come to Washington Heights. Liu says that the realtor grew up in the neighborhood and can't recall a single bookstore in the immediate area, although nearby Inwood and Harlem/Sugar Hill have had bookstores. Details for the final location of Word Up are still being worked out, but Liu has one back up location "ready to go" should her first-choice storefront fall through. The exact location will be announced later this week. [See UPDATE below.] Though utilities such as electricity and internet will create costs, the overall overhead of the project is expected to be low.

The bookstore will open during NoMAA's Uptown Arts Stroll (aka Paseo de las Artes), an annual festival featuring a month of artist exhibits, dance performances, readings, and other creative events. At this writing, Word Up store hours are set for weekdays 4:00pm-9:00pm, and weekends Noon-4:00pm, with some added hours for events. Currently, Liu is collecting the shop's inventory, which will be sold on consignment. Interested small press publishers and authors should contact her at info@fractiouspress.com to receive a consignment form and shipping address, or to propose a small press reading, workshop, or event.

Find a Facebook event page for Word Up here:

See the Fractious Press events page for an update on the location: http://www.fractiouspress.com/events

Find the new Word Up website here:

...or stay tuned to this blog for additional info.

UPDATE: Veronica Liu has confirmed the bookstore address as 4157 Broadway @ W. 175 Street (a former pharmacy).

SECOND UPDATE: This article has been edited for accuracy since its original version.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A New Kind of Book Blog

Juliet Cook reads with the TypewriterGirls Poetry Cabaret (downtown Pittsburgh), June 25, 2010

Continued thoughts from yesterday's post on small press reading series: What if a city's lit scene hosted a book blog specifically dedicated to reviewing the books of authors coming into town for upcoming readings?

Let me back up. There's two factors that lead me to this idea:

1.) Yesterday I wrote some do's and don'ts of running (or participating in) a reading. I talked about some things that reading series hosts can do to maximize the positive experience of visiting writers (see #2 on this list). Since we can try our best to cultivate a growing audience for our reading series, but can't ultimately control how many people show up or what event is competing with the reading that particular night, I talked about other things we can do to ensure that the out-of-town author gets to meet other cool writers, or gets publicity or feedback for their new book. I mean, you don't want there to be an unusually low turnout that night and then have a dud audience be the visiting writer's entire memory of both your city and your reading series, right?

2.) I am currently engaged in booking readings and hustling reviews for an author I just published. I'm really excited about the book, but it's the poet's debut collection and no one's heard of him. Every pitch I make is an uphill battle, a competition for someone's time, a bookstore's shelf space, a reading series' slots, and the dwindling column inches dedicated to newspapers' book reviews. After booking the author a reading in Baltimore, I wrote to one colleague in that city to ask for suggestions of local reviewers and book bloggers. He wrote me back with a list of people to try, but gave a familiar warning: Most book reviewers are backed up on such requests.

We've all been reading, of course, about book review sections getting cut or drastically reduced from newspapers and magazines. But even with all the talk about print books turning into e-books, and bookstores large and small having serious struggles, the fact remains that more titles are being published each year. So the demand for book reviews should being rising, not diminishing.

So, I'm proposing the following in my current city of Pittsburgh, and suggesting that other cities consider such a model:
A book blog that would be dedicated to publicizing upcoming readings, especially to reviewing the new books by out-of-town authors slated to read in Pittsburgh soon. So that no one person would be taxed for time, I would be interested in setting up such a blog only after I gathered a critical mass of volunteers. Say, 15 or 20 people whom I thought were solid reviewers, who could be called on to review the next writer, with a rotation insuring that no one had to write a review too often. These reviews would be unpaid, which is too bad. Traditionally, newspapers and magazines have paid for book reviews, and I hate to replace a paid writing gig with an unpaid one. Frankly, I think the amount of unpaid work that goes into the small press is a bit shameful. Sure, we love what we do, but it does take enormous amounts of time and labor, and meanwhile, the rent marches on. If anyone has a suggestion of how to generate a fund to pay reviewers even a token amount, please use the comment section.

Further, the reviews would be positive. The idea would be to generate an audience for writers coming to town, so the reviewers should answer the question (among others): Who would like this book? Who is the intended audience for this book? If the reviewer didn't like the assigned book, s/he would have the option to interview the writer instead, or to not review the book. I wouldn't advocate lying or turning into a sycophant just for the blog, but rather trying to generate an audience and letting the audience decide for themselves what they thought of the writer. (Some writers, of course, give a great show but read very differently on the page.)

When time allowed, interviews could run in addition to reviews. Authors would be asked for JPEGs of their book covers and author photos.

Would local authors be reviewed or interviewed? Maybe. I don't mean to prioritize out-of-town authors over Pittsburgh writers, but I would want to avoid reviewers hyping their friends, over-taxing the volunteer reviewers, constant requests from local writers, and the inevitable scenario of disappointing people often. It might be best to just leave out all those scenarios by confining the blog to reviewing writers coming from outside of Pittsburgh. Or, perhaps a compromise could be running interviews with local writers, with questions asked by other local writers.

I think that interaction and dialogue between writers from different cities is crucial to the health of any one city's literary scene: Scenes that get too provincial, without new blood or fresh air, are in danger of becoming stagnant. A blog like this could add to such a dialogue. Maybe in a perfect scenario, Pittsburgh writers could be reviewed or interviewed by out-of-town writers instead of local-on-local. But that aspect would involve a significant addition of work and organization, so it might be better to start with a more simple formula.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Some Thoughts on Small Press Readings

Michelle Tea reads at the Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh) with Sister Spit, April 23, 2010

1. When organizing a reading of out-of-town emerging writers, put one or two well-liked local writers in the lineup.

I learned this one when I organized my own cross-country reading tour a decade ago, with me, me, me-only on every bill. Friends in each city came out, but unless the venue itself hyped the reading, very few strangers showed up. I’ve seen this more recently from both the organizer side and the audience side—advertising a little-known name doesn’t go half as far as people coming out to see a familiar face or support a friend.

2. If you want to be supportive to those out-of-town writers, there’s various ways you can make them feel welcome and want to return to your city and your reading series.

An audience is the best thing you can offer, but there’s other ways to say “thanks” to that author who traveled on his or her own dime to get to your reading series.

*Is it possible to get a review for their book in your city, in advance of the reading? Can you hook them up with the local newspapers, and/or local book bloggers? At the very least you can have them send around some publicity materials (such as author JPEGs, links to reviews & the book’s webpage), to try to get a blurb or recommended event listing.
*Take them to a good (and affordable) restaurant and give them good chat before the reading
*Take them to a great bar and give them good chat after the reading
*Introduce them to local authors (at dinner, at the reading, at the bar)
*Buy their book
*Take photos during the reading
*Record the reading on audio
*Blog about, photo-blog, or post audio of the reading afterwards (for audio, get the writer's permission)
*Post the photos to Flickr (especially if they came out well) and include the author’s name
*Post photos to Facebook and tag the author

3. If you’re invited to be in a group reading in your own city, don’t slack on inviting your friends and fans.

This is one way a reading gets low turnout—each reader expects that a readymade crowd will be there waiting for them. How? Based on the other readers notifying THEIR friends and fan base. I think that some writers get worried about “annoying their friends” by constant self promotion. But often enough, your friends actually want to see you read, and your false modesty isn’t helping you or anyone else. In fact, if you’re in a group reading, some of your friends might come because they see that you AND another person they’ve been wanting to hear are reading together. But how will they know if you don’t tell them? (Don’t forget to list the other readers on the bill.) The reading organizer is counting on you to help get the word out. You don’t have to send out 15 email announcements, but send out at least one or two. Keep fliers on your person for when you run into people who’d want to know about your reading, and make the announcement at one reading about your next reading. Put in the labor and they will come.

4. For group readings, don’t take up more time than the organizer requests. Especially, don’t take up a LOT more time that the organizer requests.

It’s a bad karma move against your fellow authors on the bill, and when you wake up from your ego-stupor, you’ll realize that the audience didn’t want to listen to you for 24 minutes, either. They came for a group reading, and the best way to keep the event entertaining is to keep things moving at a good pace. If you’ve been asked to read for seven minutes, don’t rebel--just make it the best seven minutes the audience has ever heard. In other words, dare to be remembered for your writing and not how much time you commandeered.

5. Speaking of group readings, do they really need to be more than four or five people?

This one is certainly up for debate, and there are definitely circumstances that might warrant long lists of readers (AWP, or sometimes a book release party). But generally, those readings where I’m expected to sit in a chair and listen to 11 or 13 readers in a row make me feel like I’m being held hostage. Judging from the number of people who leave at intermission or after their friend reads, I don’t think I’m the only one. My vote is that excessive writer lineups are usually a nasty situation to subject the last two readers to, not to mention the audience. Among other things, it makes for bad mingling because everyone’s darting away under cloak of dimmed lights to avoid looking like the jerk who left early.

6. When asking out-of-town writers to a group reading, consider (and communicate) how much time you’ll give them to read.

Would YOU want to travel far in order to read for seven minutes? Probably 15 minutes is about the minimum you should ask out-of-towners to read. Again, certain circumstances like writing conferences or festivals may be an exception.

7. Speaking of out-of-town writers, take a moment to de-mystify your city for them.

Is there an affordable hotel you recommend, is there an area you recommend avoiding, is your city a new stop on the Megabus line? Is there a must-see attraction or a great bookstore in your area? Can you send them a link to a local restaurant blog, is there a regional driving idiosyncrasy they should know about? Etc.

8. So you’re running a reading series: How do you get, grow, and keep an audience?

These things can be a bit of a mystery, whether you’re a performer, an author, a reading series: who succeeds and who stagnates, or who explodes like a supernova and then fades quickly? I can’t pretend to have the secret formula, but here’re some thoughts.

*First ingredient: Good readers. Even something this obvious is tricky, because some series with “open door” policies can attract a really interesting mix of readers and performers inbetween duds, and in those cases, you don’t want to over-curate the lineup. But otherwise, I advocate a healthy degree of quality control so the audience you do get believes that every reading they attend will have something they want—even if they haven’t heard of the writers.

*Think of it as creating a community. Who is your series attracting and why do they keep coming back? Do they like certain publishing houses or sub-genres more than others? Do they appreciate a wide variety of writers or do they want all poetry, or strictly fiction? Are you offering a type of “scene” they want to be involved in that they can’t get anywhere else? Is your audience an extended group of your friends who come for the free beer you secured from that brewery sponsor? Are they foodies who come for the amazing pot luck? Do they come for the hip, unique, or well-known venue you’ve chosen, or the monthly music act that follows the readings?

*Advertise widely. Don’t rely on ONE method to notify your audience—just telling your friends, or just making a Facebook event page. Give people from different walks of life and different areas of your city a chance to discover you (to me, this is part of what the small press is about, at its best). Fliers at coffee shops, bookstores, and college English Departments; announcements on radio stations; asking your friends to forward emails to their friends; listings in the weekly paper and any relevant blogs; pushing for local book reviews; getting onto literary event lists; maintaining a good-looking blog or website for the reading series, etc.

*Get good at the technical side of the readings. Nothing kills the mood of a reading like long delays due to technical difficulties. If your reading requires a microphone and lighting, have someone on hand who knows how to adjust these should something mishap. Lighting should let your writers see what they’re reading, and hopefully flatter them, too.

*Offer consistency. The quality of the readers, the “extras” your audience comes to expect (whether food, music, low cover charge, etc), the reliability of the readings (EVERY month, not taking random months off), the general size and tone of the readings—nothing has to be set in stone, but when what you’re offering is virtually unknown writers, there needs to be something consistent for your audience to return to, and for.

Any experienced readers, reading series hosts, or audience members, feel free to comment with your own thoughts and observations.