Some Things I Think I Think…
The following items are things that I have been thinking about lately but have not had enough time to write a proper full column about yet. But I want to mention them because they all relate to aspects of the small press publishing business and they are all important.
The VIDA count absolutely matters. If you are an editor and you want to publish more women, please don’t claim the “I would, but I don’t receive enough submissions from women” as the reason why you can’t. That is a weak excuse. If you are not getting enough submissions from women, or any other group of humans for that matter, there are many things you can do. Most importantly being, what you as an editor decide to publish definitely influences who will submit to your publication or press.
Most/many independent small press publishers and editors are doing what they do because it is something that they like to do. Most/many of them have a “real” other job that they do to support their press or publication. Most/many of them just one day decided to do it and did it. There are many great interviews with artists, designers, writers, etc… in The Great Discontent. One such with artist Rebecca Rebouché, sums up two of the most important things that every person looking to start/break into/continue any creative output would be wise to heed, especially in the independent small press world:
What advice would you give to a young person who is starting out? I often find that young people are searching for a benefactor or patron, or some big gig to set their careers in motion—someone to believe in them, to quiet all of their anxieties and polish all of the brilliant, but rough, parts. I’ve found this to almost never be the case.
My best advice comes in two parts: First, bold delusion. It all boils down to that. You have to believe in yourself in an almost crazy way. You have to be bold enough to make something from nothing over and over again. And you have to be delusional enough to think that your ideas are valuable, which is, of course, not delusional at all.
The second: You have to build the ship to sail on. In other words, you can’t tell people about the ship you are thinking about building and expect them to buy tickets for the first ride. Instead you must first put in the work. That often means heavy lifting, isolation, heaps of doubt, and epic failures and setbacks. It’s a lonely place to be when you are building your ship. But when you do it, and you set sail, people will see how beautiful and majestic it is, and there will be a line to buy tickets. This can be applied to any creative endeavor, especially when you consider that the better you build your ship, the longer you can sail before you have to make repairs and improvements.
There are some similarities between independent small press editors/publishers and big time literary agents as per this recent interview at Guernica with literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb. Although the work of independent small press editors/publishers is not only limited to “finding and selling” a writer’s work. And of course, the scale of things is much less for small press than it is for literary agents like Parris-Lamb. But there is much agreement about the state of Amazon and their influence on the publishing world and why they can’t seem to get past books as only a means to an end:
Chris Parris-Lamb: Yeah, that has been a big failure. There are good people in that office, I know some of them, but Amazon’s attitude toward books is data-driven—at the top, they see books as products, just like everything else. That’s true at the transaction level, but it’s not true beyond that. When you’re dealing with art, or even entertainment, all these questions of taste and subjectivity—which can’t be quantified—come into play. Almost no one writes books for economically rational reasons, and yet Amazon insist on trying to squeeze books within a rational economic framework. In a traditional economic model consisting of entirely rational actors, an author should not care more about the epigraph on their book than they do about the list price of their book. But let me tell you, they care more about their epigraphs. All of them do. I saw Amazon delete an epigraph from an author’s book the day before it went to print, because the author was never told he needed permission to use it. He got permission that very day, and yet they wouldn’t restore it in the printed book. To them, it’s just an epigraph, they can get rid of it, who cares? To the author, it’s a different thing. A book is basically irrational—or fiction is, anyway. That’s why we read it. Amazon doesn’t seem to be able to get their heads around that. There is a humanity to good books that data can’t account for.
One really can make money selling books on Amazon for a penny as per this article in the Guardian from yesterday: The price point is partly a result of the market’s downward pressure: at a certain level of supply and demand the race to the lowest price swiftly plummets to the bottom. What remains inflexible is the $3.99 fee Amazon charges the buyer for shipping. From that $4, Amazon takes what they call a “variable closing fee” of $1.35. They also charge the seller 15% of the item’s price – which in the case of a penny book is zero. That leaves $2.64 to cover postage, acquisition cost and overhead. “All told,” Mike Ward concedes, “we only make a few cents on a penny book sale like that.” Now that hardly seems like much, true. “But keep in mind,” he adds, “that last year we sold 11.5m books.”
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