The View from Down Here
by RD Armstrong
A lot has happened since the last issue came out. For one thing, I've started publishing books from my four book set, the Essential Raindog Reader, which consists of a two volume poetry collection called Fire and Rain - Selected Poems 1993-2007, my trilogy of road epics: On/Off the Beaten Path and finally, El Pagano and Other Twisted Tales. The only volume left to publish is the second book of Fire and Rain. Sales have been slow, but at least the work is out there.
What makes this possible is a process known as Print On Demand or POD. It allows you the ability to publish in quantities from one book to one thousand books. For small-time publishers like Lummox Press, this is a god-send because it's nearly impossible to come up with the thousands of dollars needed to publish a book in any reasonable quantity in the conventional way. I've never been able to publish more than 300 copies at a time, and 300 copies isn't even a "blip" on the book publishing radar (as I have been reminded over and over by well-intentioned, yet tight-assed friends). If only I was living on a trust-fund and able to do what I wanted with my do-re-mi, but alas, I'm just another working-stiff & literary stumblebum. So I must lumber on, trying to make ends meet, and still be true to the craft.
Which brings me to another point: what's so bad about self-publishing? Nobody even blinks when a band produces their own album. These days it's almost the rule that it be DIY (Do It Yourself), and yet, in the book world / publishing game if you do it yourself, you are seen as a lesser being. It's as if the technology of book-making is still seen as some arcane knowledge that is protected by some secret society. From where I'm sitting, it looks as if the big publishing houses are teetering under their own bloated weight and could come crashing down at any moment. Same with the other purveyors of "entertainment" - music, movies, video - they're all stumbling around like punch-drunk, used-to-be's; too proud to admit that they've lost their way. The explanation that you usually hear in regards to the benefits of self-publishing (or at least using the services of some POD company) is that most presses have to take salability into consideration, so they cannot take many chances on unknown writers or writers who don't sell as well as they used to. It always comes down to money. The bigger the company, the more money it takes to turn a profit. Duh. That's true universally.
The sad thing is that authors/writers/poets (whatever you want to call us) want to be published so badly that we'll be suckered every time. I read recently that most fiction writers make about 8% from the profit of their book(s). 8%?! WTF? That's insane. But wait, it gets better and/or worse. There's a whole industry centered around getting between you and your hard-earned cash. It starts at the college level, where you have MFA programs that, for the most part, are spawning writer-teachers to continue the program who are in turn spawning "editors" who, for a fee, will "tweak" your book so it is marketable. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of these guys out there, all vying for your hard won money and all gambling on your gullibility.
Many POD companies are equally guilty of this as well. They charge anywhere from $300 to over $12,000 to help you promote your book! Basically, you are paying them to tell you what to do. You still have to do most if not all of the work, too. Does that make sense? Writing isn't some game where you get to sit around and eat Bon-Bons -- well maybe poetry is more like that than I would care to admit to -- but no, writing is hard work, but it pales to the work of promoting it. Unless you've got a BIG following (I wonder what that's like), promoting your book can become a full-time job, except there's very little pay. You still have to work the "day job". Sorry.
Fifteen years in this tiny pond has taught me that it's all about self-promotion (yes, I've heard it's unseemly to do that -- but who will if I don't?) and trying not to miss any opportunities to get the word(s) out. I'm hoping that there will be enough interest in The Raindog Reader series to generate some sales, but I know it won't happen unless I get out there and bang the drum loudly. So, i hope you don't mind if I get back to it: Boom! Boom! Boom!
As to this issue, both of the interviews are very interesting. I met Nila earlier this year and immediately took a liking to her. She has a Blog and you can sample her wares (poetry) there. Patricia and I have been corresponding ever since I read her chapbook Don't Turn Away (about surviving Breast cancer). I think I called her a "healing" poet when I reviewed that book. Read her interview to see how she incorporates that healing into her job working with cancer patients.
I feel I must mention an affinity to the article by Chris Harter regarding the Mimeo Revolution (see Essays). When I was in High School (lo those many years ago), "underground" newspapers were just beginning to pop up. I seem to recall during my junior year there was one called La Otra Vista (The Other View) in reaction to the school sanctioned one - La Vista. Then in my senior year, I published a short lived (3 issues as I recall) one called The Scarlet Lizard with a couple of my chums. It ended with my being expelled for being a royal pain in the butt for the school. But a year later (after I had graduated) I published Up Against the Wall for almost a whole year with my girlfriend. I think that's where I first caught the 'bug'. So, read the article, it's fascinating, especially if you remember the smells and sounds of mimeographing!
Another poet/friend, H. Lamar Thomas, starts a new column with the LJ this issue. He's a Chef at the East/West Bistro in Athens, GA, and writes a monthly cooking article for Southern Distinction Magazine. He's also a poet whom I've had the pleasure of publishing over the years. Since it's BBQ weather, it seemed only appropriate to run his piece on the almighty burger. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.
I've added new links, many of which deal with the wonders of POD. Check them out. But buyer beware...ok?
New Little Red Books are coming soon. Check them out as they join the ever-growing list of titles: I Saw It on TV by Terry McCarty; Sushi and Whipped Cream by Nila NorthSun, The Mysterious Woman Next Door by W. S. Gainer, and Hesitant Commitments by Pris Campbell. Reserve your copies now. As always the LRBs are just $6 each (ppd). And coming next year, The Best O' the Little Red Books - A Decade Passes. Watch for more books to follow.
In This Issue...
Essays: Passion and Danger The Renaissance of Literary Publishing During the Mimeograph Revolution by Christopher Harter; The POD Wars (a collaborative article) and Wired Wash Readers Search For a New Home by Ellaraine Lockie.
The Savory Feast - a new feature by chef & poet H. Lamar Thomas...timely recipes to sooth your tummy and soul.
Poetry by Marie Lecrivian, Pris Campbell, Lyn lifshin, Darryl Salach, Jason Hardung, Karina Klesko, Scott Wannberg, Ray Freed and A. D. Winans
Reviews of RELENTLESS and TELL THE CORPSE A STORY by Todd Moore and Love at Gunpoint by Nila NorthSun.
Links to everything a poet and/or fledgling hipster might need to succeed.
Raindog muses on the state of POD or publish/print on demand.
Contact the Lummox Journal at firstname.lastname@example.org