Attached please find the notes from the Los Angeles Literary Roundtable Meeting held on 3/20/12 at Red Hen Press. The notes are meant to provide a rough outline of the conversation and are not a verbatim transcription or journalistic document. In that spirit, we apologize for any inadvertent errors. Please note that the views expressed by meeting attendees are not necessarily those of Poets & Writers, Inc.
Thanks to all the small presses, writers, and presenters who attended. Special thanks goes out to Kate Gale and the staff at Red Hen Press for hosting the meeting.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact Cheryl Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me.
(Small Press Focus)
at Red Hen Press
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
RD Armstrong, Lummox Press, email@example.com
Derrick Brown, Write Bloody and Write Fuzzy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Bucci Bush, CSU LA, email@example.com
Teresa Carmody, Les Figues Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie FitzGerald, Poets & Writers, email@example.com
Michael C. Ford, Brain Picnic Productions, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Gale, Red Hen Press, email@example.com
William Goldstein, Red Hen Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Haake, What Books Press, whatbookspress.com
Mona Haughton, What Books Press, whatbookspress.com
Roz Helfand, Literary Programs Consultant, email@example.com
Naomi Hirahara, SoCal Mystery Writers of America, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elijah Imlay, CPITS, Veterans, email@example.com
Cheryl Klein, Poets & Writers, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Konish, Red Hen Press, email@example.com
Sunyoung Lee, Kaya Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Lipman, Caza de Poesia, email@example.com
Deanna Plummer, Red Hen Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shelley Savren, CPITS, Oxnard College, email@example.com
Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye, Kaya Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
Luis Rodriguez, Tia Chucha Press, email@example.com
Sally Shore, New Short Fiction Series, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheryl Klein, Poets & Writers
Kate Gale, Red Hen Press
MAJOR DISCUSSION POINTS
The writer as modern marketing machine
Kate G: The performance itself can be an experience. We do have to get writers to go on the road to read. If writers don’t move from their hometown to read, they’re not going to sell books. That’s how you make a splash and eventually get paid to do readings.
Derrick: I run the press like a rock-n-roll label, each author has to get in a van and do 20 tours dates per year, often with bands. A neat thing happens when a writer does hit the road. Making them all go out there, even if they sold just 12 books at the show, their book sales through distribution will go up a bunch. If you can get someone to blow up Twitter for you, the distribution numbers go up. Tell them, you may not feel that comfortable on stage, but if you can find a way to make it interesting or a blast, you’ll see those numbers increase.
Luis: Tia Chucha came out of the Chicago performance poetry scene. I started publishing the best of those poets. You’re gonna have to go out and make this work. You have to be good at getting out there. Patricia Smith. Elizabeth Alexander. Terrance Hayes. They came out of that scene. I got the ones who were good on the page as well as performers. The page doesn’t perform, so the words have to be powerful. But when they’re out there, they’re speaking. Tia Chucha doesn’t just publish Chicanos, we publish everybody. I pick the 2-3 best and then we just hit it. It’s not easy.
Kate G: We’re not paying the authors to go around. If the author is willing to book, then I’m willing to as well. Writers need to invest in themselves. Sometimes writers do get a fee, for instance, from P&W.
RD: I’m a shoestring operation. I will work diligently with my writers to go out and do readings. I publish people all over the place. I’ve had a couple of writers who’ve been successful because they get out there and push their books. It’s hard for some of them to get out there.
Mary: I’m ready to go out and do readings. Every day, I try to find places to set up readings and reviews of my novel. You get lost in the internet. I’m ready to get on the bus and spend my own money to travel. It’s hard if you’ve never done it before. Sounds like some of the presses have reading series in place.
Derrick: After 17 years of touring you learn things about different places and venues. We built a database of our touring authors. A-level shows. B-level shows. A-level places are friendly to your press. Venues that like booking bands are more likely to book a poet. More types of merchandise increase dollars. Go through NACA (National Association for Campus Activities), send your best performers there, and then they hit the circuit.
Shelley: I went on a 50-venue reading tour over 5 months, spent a lot of time researching. Colleges and universities will pay. Sometimes not a lot. If I went to a city and had a couple of college gigs, I could do a free bookstore and the like. I wanted to go back to my hometown, NY and Wash DC. I put some money out, but in the end it was kind of a wash, certainly worth it, and I sold a lot of books collectively.
Naomi: Writers have to be strategic. You can’t cover the whole nation. Know who your audience may be. Target the most likely. Work in conjunction of other writers. Is there a writer in your circle who is more established. Do a joint event (especially if it’s your first book). When I was in Toronto, I looked up the Japanese American Community Center in Toronto. When I’m out of my comfort zone, I look for organizations to team up with.
Luis: A lot of the publishers, even the big ones, do not book book tours anymore. You have to do them on your own. I found the opposite experience as Naomi. I’d rather talk to people who have no idea who I am. I will go anywhere, anytime to read. I’ll piggy back juvenile lock-ups, prisons, where most people don’t go. In W. Virginia many years ago when there were no Mexicans there and I’m talking to all these people, these KKK kids came up to me and wanted to meet with me. I’ll meet with them. They thought I was Chinese. They liked what I was reading about. They told me, nobody talks to us but the Klan. We really like what you had to say. Nobody speaks to these communities. Consider some of your authors who are willing to go places where no one is willing to go. Poor white areas are completely abandoned. They are really important, too. They are hungry for poetry, literature, ideas.
RD: Anytime I do a reading, I bring books from my press, as well as my own books. We read in Norwalk, CO, a town of 500 people. 20 people showed up. I talk to friends and they set it up in their town.
It would be great if there could be a networked list, so when you want to set up a tour, collectively, we have a list of places.
Cheryl: P&W just launched Literary Places, http://www.pw.org/literary_places, which includes a lot of reading venues, also historical sites, which could be useful in some capacity. We’re continuing to add places, and there is an option to suggest places.
Funding for small presses–for profit and nonprofit
Kate G: If you want to be for-profit, Other Press and Akashic are doing this the best. Selling foreign rights creates a revenue stream for them. Difficult to do with poetry. Selling prose is necessary.
Luis: One of my books has sold a half million copies. I do book tours, talks, readings, which allows me to come home and do nonprofit stuff. When it came to LA, we didn’t have any connections, so we started our own literary fest, Celebrating Words, May 19. It allows my wife to run the bookstore without pay. She has an MA, but works for free to do this work. We can’t depend on donations. It’s dependent on our energy.
Mark: I’ve made money on every book I’ve published. Like Luis, we’re very selective about who we publish. I don’t have money to lose on books. One guy keeps coming to me, his book is in its 4th printing, and he needs more books. Runs of 250. Primarily hand-bound, very high quality. Getting more into machine bound. More demand for books makes this necessary. Anthologies are fantastic for making money. Each poet orders books and promotes it. We got a grant for the Poet’s Brigade anthology and sold out. It’s not our main income, but it at least covers its own expense.
Funding outside of applying for grants
Chris: We fundraise. We operate off grants, book sales, ticket sales, ebooks. The books support themselves, but they don’t support office or staff. Distributed by U of Chicago.
Luis: We have a multi-arts culture space. We all help each other. The bookstore, grants, donations make sure the press keeps going. I can’t get grants for book publishing. We’re all working to make sure the press keeps going – the culture space does that.
Kate G: We’re not getting money for publishing books–for other things, but not that. If you did a great job of publicizing, people are brought into what you’re doing. If you’re in love with Les Figues Books, you like that particular thing.
P&W’s Readings/Workshops program
just for writers fees for literary events, very quick to apply for
only get to keep money if you make the goal
they use Amazon, there’s a fee
you get to keep money you make even if you don’t make goal
uses Paypal to process payments
Luis raised $10K on IndieGoGo for next book.
Kate G: Do you think the subscriber model is dependent on some sort of peculiarity or specialness of what you’re doing?
Teresa: We publish 4 books a year. It’s a conversation between them–like a gallery show–here’s the show for this year. A lot of international authors or first books. People buy into the conversation. We think of them as art objects which enables us to partner with art orgs. We’ve done wall installations. Ugly Duckling in NY has a subscription model. Handmade books. It’s related to wanting the object, only a certain amount of them. Wave Books in Seattle does it. Paperbacks and limited hardback editions, often expensive. More art object oriented. We also have a lot of visual artists that support us. $60 for five books.
Kate H: We operate on the collective model. We pay for it. It happened as a result of members talking for many years about doing a press. The transformation in technology made it possible for us to more easily make beautiful books, and we had a great artist. Decided to do it. Funding is being worked out. It doesn’t cost that much to make books using POD. We each put in dues to startup. Amazon, Ingram, and SPD distribute.
Mark: Problem I have with SPD is they want 40%.
Kate G: They have hundreds of presses. They are the big distributor. If you’re not getting grants you can’t do the SPD model. The model of distribution beyond SPD is 3rd party distribution, working with folks already getting books out there.
RD: I just started using SPD. They do get into places I can’t get into. I don’t make money off the deal, but I get this author’s book into Elliot Bay.
Kate G: SPD has a new ebook program which is pretty nice. It’s cheap. They produce it for you.
RD: Smashwords is a good ebook producer. They’re cheaper than SPD.
Teresa: I like SPD because I feel like so much of our audience is other poets. I feel like they do a good job. They’re a nonprofit, too. There are other reasons in terms of connecting with poetry communities around the country. And they’re a major doorway for that. They support poetry. I want to be there and support them.
Kate G: If we had only been publishing poetry we’d still be with SPD now.
Luis: We are connected to the community in the NE San Fernando Valley that has nothing. They are hungry. You’re going to find our books in places where you never find books. I have to find the communities where there’s a vacuum and fill out that space. I don’t need to compete. We can work with these communities and have a space. We make the most of it. We are internationally known. At the Mexico City book festival they replicated the Tia Chucha bookstore. We brought lowriders to the Guadalajara Book Festival. People pay attention.
Creating a community of presses
Luis: We should talk about how we can help each other out. We’re great in our community we serve, but we are isolated. How do we get our books out to other areas? The Celebrating Words Festival–you’re welcome to be part of it. I was living in Chicago where everything is compact. Here, it’s another world. We have to do a little extra.
Sunyoung: For the LA Time Festival of Books at USC, we want to publicize indie publishing, up-end the idea of what it means to be at the book fair–not just to sell books. We’re thinking of a place where the public could walk through and participate in making the book. We could have people who come by the booth who would create an anthology of small press books, edit and bind their own books. More a performance/installation.
Kate G: At the West Hollywood Book Fair, you can get a sense of the community.
Roz: For the West Hollywood Book Fair, encouraging exhibitors to host interactive programming worked well. Some presses created lounges. People loved that.
Kate: Publishing is very isolated in LA. We live five miles from where you [Luis] are and we haven’t seen you since Guadalajara. One thing I hope comes out of this: We’ll all have each other’s contact info. Creating community is important.
Teresa: Can we do this again?
Cheryl: I think we can make that happen.