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The CLMP Newswire
Table of Contents for December 15, 2001 (Volume 1, Number 19)
Note: As the year nears its end, we thought it was the perfect time to take an in-depth look at a sample of independent presses. We selected three member presses, based on size, and asked them both how they fared in 2001 and what they hope to accomplish in 2002. First, we interviewed a small press--one that publishes fewer than five books a year. We also queried a medium-sized press that publishes between five and 10 books each year. And finally, we spoke to a larger press publishing well over ten books per year. Each has managed to stay afloat for over twenty years publishing fine literature.
We will return the first of January with a special double issue. Until then, we hope you enjoy this special issue and wish you all a healthy, happy, and warm holiday.
YEAR-END RUMINATIONS: A PROFILE OF THREE CLMP PRESSES
Eugene, Oregon-based Silverfish Press might be small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in longevity. Founder and Editor Roger Moody has kept the non-profit press alive, and continued to publish a maximum of three books a year, for 23 years. "This has been completely a labor of love," says Moody. "For the first 19 years, I didn't make any money at all." Now, he manages to make a small honorarium--about $200 a month--which he usually donates back to his press.
But Moody has never counted success in dollars. Instead, he is happy that the press has continued to simply stay alive. And he is proud of his record for publishing quality poetry. Between 1978 and 1995 he published 20 poetry chapbooks. Beginning in 1996, he started publishing full-length perfect-bound books, mostly to satisfy the needs of bookstores put off by the short format and odd sizes of chapbooks. And every year, Moody has been publishing the Gerald Cable Book Award, named after a poet he met at the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference who donated his inheritance to the press.
This past year, Moody was forced to shut down the Silverfish Review for lack of funds and time. But his press continues, and continues to succeed. He published three books as usual, and in September Red Town by Judy Skillman won the "Most Adventurous Publication" award at the annual Bumpershoot literary festival in Seattle. Also, the press received a grant from Literary Arts, Inc. in Portland to reprint Dime Store Erotics by Anne Townsend. And though it may not seem like much to larger non-profits, a Silverfish book by Nin Andrews, Why They Grow Wings, recently received a rave review in Booklist. On the marketing front, Moody wrote a successful proposal for Silverfish author events at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle.
In the coming year, Moody wants to spend more time on fundraising, marketing, and promotions. He says he's willing to apply for grants, though he knows it takes time. Also, he wants to raise the profile of the press in 2002 and make it easier for his authors to gain exposure. But Moody's first priority is updating the website. It's so old, he says, people call him to find out whether the press still exists, let alone if the deadline dates for contests are still good. "I'm so disgusted by it, I don't even refer to it," says Moody. But for those interested in defying Moody's disgust, you can log on at http://www.qhome.com/silvervish.
While Silverfish continues to eke out an existence, mid-sized indie press FC2 (http://fc2.org), publisher of cutting-edge literature, has been keeping pace with its schedule of six books per year in spite of the usual money woes and distribution snafus. But Publisher R.M. Berry remembers the Reagan era, when slashing funding for the arts was common. At that time Berry says FC2 was lucky to publish one book a year. "Still," he says, "we've always managed to be very fortunate with review coverage." In fact, back in 1974 and 1975, the first two series of books ever published by the press garnered 50-60 reviews each, according to Berry. Since then, the press has been able to trade on its reputation and allow its authors greater control of the destiny of their books.
This has been the philosophy all along for FC2, and 2001 was no different. The press prides itself on heralding its authors and not worshipping the bottom line. This past year, two books were nominated for prizes, and Fast Red Road by Stephen Graham Jones won the Independent Publishers Award for Multi-Cultural Fiction. In addition, the press managed to secure two new sources of private, anonymous funding from small family foundations to help it continue building resources for publicity.
According to Editor-in-Chief Brenda Mills, the distribution has posed the biggest difficulty this past year. Though both she and Berry are quick to point out that they have a strong and increasingly productive relationship with their distributor, Northwestern University Press, it took work. "They were going through a major transition," says Mills. "It was a very tough time but they sort of settled down." Now both she and Berry have stronger, more personal relationship with their distributor's reps, and both are satisfied that Northwestern is working hard for them. "The problem is that the market is so complicated and diversified," says Berry. "As far as distribution goes, one thing that hurts all the small presses is that we are highly different from one another and as alien from each other's missions as we would be from a huge trade publisher like Knopf."
In addition to distribution issues and its twin problem of returns, Mills also says that the events of September 11 have had a large impact on the press. Sales were up last year, but immediately following the attack they plunged. "We had no sales in September, even though we released two books," says Mills. "But by the middle of October things started picking up." Which means that for Berry, a stronger year-end makes it easier to establish goals for the coming year.
According to Berry, there are three areas the press needs to focus on. First, Berry hopes to spend more time in 2002 developing a marketing strategy. A lack of funds makes it difficult, but Mills--who joined the press last year--has put together a vast array of resources for FC2 authors to work on maximizing their own exposure. Secondly, Berry hopes to see the press improve at what he calls "the general rubric of networking." "We want to get out to more book fairs and do a better job of becoming a conspicuous presence in small press publishing," he says. Finally--and for Berry, most importantly--he wants to use the press to foster discussion among writers. By bringing more writers into the FC2 collective, Berry hopes to keep the conversations about the avant-garde in writing alive and well. "I want to talk about why the avant-garde continues to be a social force even if the audience is small," he says.
For Nicolas Kanellos, Director of Arte Publico Press and Professor of Hispanic Literature at the University of Houston, the issue is not about small audiences at all. In fact, the audience has grown so large for Hispanic literature that in some ways it's hurt the not-for-profit press. "Now that the major houses have suddenly discovered the value of Hispanic literature, we are getting much more competition," he says. The result? Arte Publico has cut back on the publication of literary fiction and branched out to Young Adult fiction and non-fiction.
This has generated new income for the press. "Though many of the books are being condemned to the category of 'Books for Reluctant Readers,' our Young Adult books are making the New York Public Library's 'Books for Teens,'" says Kanellos. In addition, up to 15% of the press's income comes from YA subsidiary rights and the sales of excerpted work for textbooks. What's even more amazing, through, is that through its YA collection the press has found its way to the mainstream. The YA books are distributed to supermarkets with a 66% sell-through rate. But according to Kanellos, the distributor can't keep the books on the shelves, and the press is currently trying to maintain supermarket sales without necessarily expanding them, while at the same time branching out to Wal-Mart.
Kanellos hopes that Arte Publico's seemingly odd expansion into such mainstream venues will allow the press to continue publishing more academic titles. This includes an upcoming publication in partnership with Oxford University Press, Herencia, a 655 page anthology of Hispanic Literature in the United States, and Kanellos' pet project, "Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage." Launched by the press in 1992, the 10-year Recovery project represents the first nationally coordinated attempt to recover, index, and publish lost Latino writings. Since the project's inception, Arte Publico has published 20 titles of recovered literature, and Kanellos hopes that by project's end over one million literary items will be digitized and stored on the website.
Though Kanellos says this past year the press has experienced a 16% growth rate, it's not enough. "We have a thousand wishes for next year, and one of them is to increase our marketing presence," he says. Kanellos wants to expand the role of the press's website in furthering sales and exposure for its authors. With an upcoming movie on the life of Miguel Pinero slated for January release, he also hopes to publish a best-of collection of the popular playwright's works. "We have previously published all of his works except one play, and we hope to publish a fresh collection to coincide with the release of the movie," says Kanellos.
The press also hopes to expand its subsidiary rights sales and increase its nonfiction titles next year as well as continue its relentless pace of publishing 30 titles per year. And finally, Kanellos hopes that 2002 will be a banner year for fundraising. He wants to continue to continue to do aggressive fundraising, which has landed the press grants from such heavyweights as the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation.
For information about Arte Publico Press and to view its backlist and new publications, log on at http://www.arte.uh.edu.
Graywolf Press, the venerable nonprofit press based in Minnesota, has formally announced that it will be leaving its current distributor, Consortium Books, and moving its titles to Farrar, Straus and Giroux beginning June 1, 2002. In a recent press release, Graywolf execs attribute the press's growth and success to Consortium and, according to Publisher Fiona McCrae, "only this historic opportunity to work closely with FSG is cause to leave."
In the November 15 newswire, a story regarding the first-ever Twin Cities Book Festival failed to mention that along with Eric Lorberer of Rain Taxi, the festival was co-organized by Jana Robbins and Tim Schwarz. The CLMP Newswire regrets the omission.
The CCS Reading Series at Civic Center Synagogue in New York, under the sponsorship of Four Way Books, is closing after ten years, but will re-open as READINGS ON THE BOWERY in February. Bob Holman's Bowery Poetry Club, located on The Bowery between Bleecker and Houston (at First St.), will be the new home for the series. The Bowery Poetry Club will open in January and will house poetry events day and night. The first READINGS ON THE BOWERY event will take place on February 3rd at 2:00 and feature Elizabeth Tucker, Cleopatra Mathis, Andrea Barrett, and Ellen Bryant Voigt. Admission is $5.00. Call Four Way Books at (212) 619-1105 for further details.
© Council of Literary Magazines and Presses
Generous funding for the 2001 editions of the CLMP Newswire has been provided by the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds.
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