Chapbook Festival at CUNY

I spent the last two days selling books at the Chapbook Festival held at CUNY, and had a blast. So many poets and writers interested in the crafting of these small, intimate objects of varying sizes and shapes and textures. I have a book from the Flying Guillotine Press with gauze webbing hanging from the edges. Lots of saddle-stitched and stapled books, some perfect bound (like mine), and others bound in the most imaginative ways (I’m thinking of Small Fires Press’ matchbooks). I sat next to Robert Snyderman of The Corresponding Society and Kate Angus of Augury Books and had a great time talking with them. Because the event was so small, roughly 50 independent houses, I was able to walk around and speak to most of the other vendors, and was pleased to make some new friends from my fellow bookmakers. I also enjoyed talking to people about the future of ebook technology, and what that may mean for chapbooks.

I also did a bit of swapping and shopping. Here’s what I picked up:

The Blacksmith by Robert Snyderman (The Corresponding Society)
Leaving the Atocha Station (IHP Pamphlet #3) by Ben Lerner (The Physiocrats)
Abu Ghraib Arias by Philip Metres (Flying Guillotine Press)
To Mend Small Children by B.C. Edwards (Augury Books)
Mass of the Phoenix by David Brazil (Trafficker Press)
Fossil by BJ Love, Friedrich Kerksieck, & Cherie Weaver (Dusie Kollektiv)
Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me by Mark Leidner (Factory Hollow Press)
Parents by Farrah Field (Immaculate Disciples Press)
Szent Laszlo Hotel by G.C. Waldrep (Projective Industries)
Wichman Cometh by Ben Pease (Monk Books)
Deformation Zone by Johannes Goransson & Joyelle McSweeney (UDP)
Matchbook Volume #3 (Small Fires Press)
Evelyn Evelyn Evelyn Ballard by Brian McDonald (Charlton Publication)
The Sea in Me by Popahna Brandes (The Corresponding Society)
Into by Christopher Sweeny, Robert Snyderman, Lonely Christopher (TCS)
Why I Like Chapbooks by James Haug (Factory Hollow Press)
Badger, Apocrypha by Adam Day (The Poetry Society of America)
In Search of Mariachis by David Shumate (Epiphany Editions)
Talking Doll by J. Hope Stein (Dancing Girl Press)
Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit (Birds, LLC)
List by Deb Olin Unferth (New Herring Press)
31 Poems by Dean Young (Forklift, Ink.)

Can’t wait to do it again next year. A special thanks to Sampson Starkweather, who put together the book fair and who is awesome.

Wall Street Journal Interviews Joe Pan and Brooklyn Arts Press

So Lizzie Simon from the Wall Street Journal interviewed me about BAP (click to see), which was a strangely stress-free experience. I met her at El Beit cafe and she told me how beautiful our books were and we talked and she scribbled down notes and I made her laugh a few times and when that happens you know everything is going to work out. Prior to the interview, she asked me to come up with some fun numbers for a graphic that would accompany the interview. Well, I provided a lot of numbers and they used the more business-y ones, which makes sense. Below you’ll find the entire list I provided. All in all, a great experience. I love that they used the trees quote. I wish there had been enough space to include more of the interview. Here’s a longer quote in regards to being an editor: “I’m an old-school editor, versus the modern day poetry curator employed by literary journals. Once it hits my desk I am going to edit it. If something’s not working, I am going to tell them.” Lizzie was a total sweetheart and somehow boiled half an hour of conversation down to a few informative paragraphs, so I’m thrilled, and what a great thing for Brooklyn Arts Press!

WSJ Numbers from Brooklyn Arts Press

3: Poets whose books have been used to successfully woo
38: Average number of emails between a BAP editor and author
45: Percentage of books thanking or dedicated to, in part, a significant other
27: Percentage thanking or dedicated to a parent
100: Percentage of book cover art referencing trees or vegetation
6: Average monthly free coffees awarded publisher by El Beit baristas
26: Known BAP acronym nemeses in the publishing world
3: Pages it normally takes to know if a manuscript is any good
4: Known people who’ve lied to our authors about purchasing a book directly from our website
1: Percentage of manuscript submitters who unsubscribe from our mailing list after rejection
1: Neighborhood whiskey-store owners amazed poets still exist
10: Most hominids referenced by cover art of a book (Barry Bonds, Jesus, Mary, Os Gomeos character, scary model face, dancer hand, author, author’s brother eating a Whopper, Toulouse Lautrec drunk)
93,553: Total words in BAP’s entire catalogue
5.77: Average number of letters per word in BAP catalogue
26: Number of characters in longest title (Autobiomythography & Gallery)
5: Number of letters in shortest title (state)
250: Number of books normally printed in a first run
4: Digital printers, out of 434 contacted, whose production value rivaled that of an offset printer
7: Proofs rejected for printer errors (1 was printed backwards)
340: Pounds of BAP books currently in my office
136: Rejection letters sent out in February
0: Acceptance letters sent out in February
488: Steps from my office to the nearest bookstore carrying BAP titles (Spoonbill & Sugartown)

 

******************

 

By LIZZIE SIMON  (From The Wall Street Journal)

When we asked Joe Pan, publisher and editor of the Williamsburg-based Brooklyn Arts Press, to assemble numbers related to his art monograph and poetry chapbook operation, he discovered that all of his books had images of nature on them.

“I had no idea I was so earthly,” he said. “Trees on everything.”

Brooklyn Arts Press, which allocates between $600-$2,000 to produce each volume, will have a table this weekend at the fourth annual City University of New York Chapbook Festival at the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Ave., in Manhattan. While the recession halted production in 2008 and 2009, in 2010, “we broke the barrier where each book pays for the next.”

NYCOUNT_0326

The audience for poetry is “mostly poets,” he said. “MFA programs abound.”

To market to them, he frequently pushes his authors to promote themselves on social networking sites. “They spend so much time in the writerly dark, but you’d be surprised: some of them have business acumen.”

Mr. Pan is always on the look out for “range and sensitivity, accuracy, style and depth.” Most of the poetry he reads he rejects by page three, but work that passes muster provides his job’s greatest gratification.

“You’re chasing the tail and chasing the tail and then suddenly the thing turns around and looks at you,” he said.

An “old-school editor”, Mr. Pan, also a poet, regularly puts himself on the inside of his poets’ stanzas: “Once it hits my desk I am going to edit it. If something’s not working, I am going to tell them.”

—Lizzie Simon

A version of this article appeared March 26, 2012, on page A24 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Pressing for Good Poetry.

 

Interview with Best American Poetry blog

 

Today the Best American Poetry blog published an interview I did with Nin Andrews.

It’s good to have so much to talk about with regards to BAP and my own work now. So much of my time is spent plodding along in the writerly dark, so to speak, keeping things moving, pushing myself in new areas, that to have a little bit of light shed on it feels strange but exciting. I hope in some way it leads people to read more BAP writers.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Reading at Boston UMass Bookstore

 

 

Have I mentioned how excited and proud I am that Christopher Hennessy was named a Finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for best gay poetry book of the year? Well, I am, and he deserves it.

We’ll be doing a reading together in Boston on Monday:

“BAP poets Christopher Hennessy (Finalist for the Thom Gunn Award) and Joe Pan (BAP founder) will be reading and signing books at the Boston UMass Bookstore next Monday, March 19th, from 1 pm to 1:30 pm. Directions: Take the Red Line to JFK/UMASS. Hop on the free shuttle bus to the bookstore. Drivers can park in one of the two main parking lots nearby.

Then, on the evening of March 19th, you can hear Christopher Hennessy read as part of the esteemed Blacksmith House Poetry Series, at 8PM. Tickets are $3, and take place at 56 Brattle Street.”

The Blacksmith House really is the icing on the cake.

The Fountain vs the Pier 92 and 94 Armory Shows

(Joe Pan, Heather Morgan, Michael X Rose: setting up for the Fountain, 2012.)

Last Thursday evening I helped Michael X. Rose set up his wall at the Fountain Art Fair. It took about 5 hours, and we were dealt our fair share of those happy mishaps that somehow make the effort more worthwhile, such as: the electricity in our part of the Armory at 25th & Lexington was out (No problem, our film-worker guardian angel Romaine from the next booth over lent us his power for our own, brighter lights); our wall hadn’t been painted (No problem, Mike brought fabric for the walls); the overhead light trellis we could use could not be extended over the wall, therefore we would have suspended the trellis using guide wires overhead (Which worked wonderfully. If you look at the picture above, you can see that because of the trellis, we were able to use leftover fabric to create a space even more maudlin and caravan-esque and therefore more unique and inviting than it would have been originally); and we were paired with two urban artists who took the wall directly across from us, and whose photoshopped street vision seemed to clash with Mike’s outsider-art-cum-Rueben style and his paintings of ritualistic murder, myth, lightning strikes, rape, Nazis being attacked by gun-toting Amazonians, and the like (The two ladies turned out to be terrific, in conversation, technique, and artistic temper, and we got along splendidly. One of the artists, noting the lone empowered stance taken by one of Mike’s heroines in a field struck by lightning, decided to buy the piece for herself).

Mike had used Kickstarter to fund the booth. Above that, he was able to sell six paintings and a bunch of limited edition books. Walking around after Fountain ended, I learned that not too many people had sold as much work as Mike, although if I had to compare the Fountain show with the Armory show on Pier 92 and 94, there was much more exciting and profound art per square inch in the 25th St Armory than on the Hudson.

Take for example this enormous, beautifully twinned Swoon (Thalassa) in the background and the decidedly more naturalist 70s piece at the fore, being sold by the Kesting Ray gallery off Grand Street. Their booth, piece for piece, which included the mesmerizing resin sculptures of Stephanie Dotson, was better stocked than 80% of the booths viewable in the Contemporary section at Pier 94.

Across from them stood the Cheap & Plastique tribe, whose artist Heather Morgan I know personally and whose work I’ve always very much admired. Heads up, I just received word Artnet posted a few pics of Heather and her work as part of their review on Fountain, part of which reads as follows: Among the fair’s 60 exhibitors were plenty of independent artists, many of them of the Street Art variety, as well as several scrappy Brooklyn galleries, giving the goings-on a distinct DIY feel.

The Fountain was filled with bad art, too, don’t get me wrong, but at least it didn’t reek of the utter banality, complacency, and the thinly veiled nostalgia of a rougher, smarter time most of the Pier 94 stuff I waded through last Sunday did. It was as if the dilemma of art has shifted from the metaphysical to the melodramatic, and from interior space to exterior composition. Surface reigned at the Piers. I’m surprised they served the Diet Cokes with actual diet coke inside. (What a waste of marketing potential, right?) There were very few objects and installations of any substance, and the most interesting pieces were totally baroque and resisted the rushed, flea market feel of the presentation, like the works of Simmons and Burke from the Michael Kohn Gallery in LA, with their collages of hundreds of ripped-off internet images, which asked of the viewer, if nothing else, to slow the fuck down for a second and do a little investigating. Here’s one of their pieces:

Speaking of the metaphysical, have you ever seen the golden mean (or fibonacci spiral) better represented by blue shower tiles? No, you haven’t. I’m not even sure that this is what the artist was going for, but somehow this was the most comforting piece of all the shows, and it was at Fountain.

I guess what I’m saying is, next year I won’t spend $30 on the Big Armory festival, and will instead spend a little more money (or hawk my way in for free) visiting several smaller venues, which makes me a little distressed and sad, given that I may miss the works of some great new artists like Yoshiyanu Tamura, whom I was told was is apprenticing with T. Murakami, whose work (and mind, and essays) I adore.

Unfortunately Tamura can only be viewed at the Big Armory. If only Tamura lived in Brooklyn…

A Quick Email Correspondence Regarding Small Publishers, University Presses, Their Authors, Shared Responsibilities, and the Future

 

The other day I received a nice email from Allen, who is security services & systems engineer, and also a poetry reader, regarding how well he liked the look of one of our poetry books. The email exchange kept up for a while, and in the end I felt like I had remarked upon a few things I felt were important to understanding how a small press operates, so I wanted to share them. Allen confirmed it was okay to share the exchange, though I have changed a few specific names in order to make the emails available to the public, without drawing any unwanted attention to third-parties.

***

Dear BAP:

I bought your “Already It Is Dusk” by Joe Fletcher (from SPD) and want to tell you that the layout, cover and binding are all nicely done. Very simple, very clean.

Nice job.

Allen
Senior Systems Engineer
Safety and Information Security Services Division

***

Allen,

Thanks so much. We just started making chapbooks at the end of last year and wanted to create books people also valued as objects. That said, we think the poetry inside outshines the covers.

Cheers,
Joe Pan
BAP

***

Dear Joe:

Perhaps poetry will outshine the covers, but lacking SPD’s write-up, it’s the cover that will make folks pick the book off a shelf. And your cover would do that for me. Do you stripe the spine on your other chapbooks?

I poked around your web site a bit – you use volunteer (unpaid) editors to screen submissions? Great idea of course.

Al

***

Allen,

We do stripe the spine on the other chapbooks, all except Lauren Russell’s, which was too thin to perfect bind, or it would have had a blue stripe.

I wish I could pay my readers and editors in something other than copies. I don’t even pay myself anything. The money we make from books gets poured into other books. Such is the world of poetry publishing.

Joe

***

Ha! You must have a trust fund!

I am not a poet or other kind of author but have several friends who are both authors of the academic variety as well as poets in their own right. They have shared some of their stories about trying to find a publisher and then, once they do, how tough it is sometimes to get the books published and even tougher sometimes to get the publisher to do any advertising. Several of my friends write on Robinson Jeffers and are published by **A LARGE UNIVERSITY PRESS**. The authors have expressed frustration about **THIS PRESS** not doing enough to advertise their work, which is understandable, but what strikes me the hardest each time is the fact that academic press runs are so small. I’m talking about people who have put years into developing and researching a book, only to have a press run of 500 or so copies. Makes me shudder.

A friend of mine (with some help from me) has started the arduous process of shopping for a publisher for a new bibliography of Robinson Jeffers. Initial responses have been tepid and have included the need for us to fund the book ourselves. We will eventually find a publisher but, as with you and BAP, our work will forever be on our dime.

Al

***

Allen,

I don’t have a trust fund. I just choose great writers and great cover designs and push my authors toward self-promotion.

I’ve known many writers over the years who have had, like myself at one point, the expectation that once you finish writing a book and ship the final proof to a publisher, your work is done. From there, the publisher’s marketing dept. would immediately get on the horn with the top newspaper editors and radio shows and heavily push the book. I actually had no idea how books got promoted before, so my expectation was the product of magical, or rather “unrealistic,” thinking: drop book in publisher box, rub box, open box, money and fame inside.

Promotion differs between large and small presses, just as it differs from between what genre you’re pushing. A 500 book print run for an academic book on a California poet beloved by the 60s-70s generation but relatively unread now doesn’t seem too low to me (I’m assuming it was printed in hardback). Your friends, unfortunately, and I hope not to sound rude, might have managed their expectations better. Their type of book may sell to libraries and lovers of Jeffers work, and to friends and family, but beyond that, its popularity is limited. A first run of 500 also signals to me the publisher was testing the waters–if the book sold out quickly, they could have a larger second one printed out in a few weeks at a greater cost-per-book but without sinking too much money into what is essentially a crapshoot.

When a publisher “pushes” or “gets behind” a book, that means advertising money spent, and it doesn’t necessarily translate into big sales. What generates big sales is word of mouth, popularity of the subject, the artist’s popularity, and a full combination of other things. Academic presses like the one publishing your friends’ book don’t receive a lot of funding, meaning they probably can’t afford to shell out $6k-$12k for a New York publicist to hound large newspaper reviewers and radio and TV talk shows to give you some space/time to promote your book. At most they may take an ad out in Poets&Writers or some such magazine, and do what we all do, which is send review copies out with nice notes and hope for the best.

What I didn’t realize until I started publishing books is that self-promotion is a writers’ greatest asset. Blogging and new media development, personal contacts, personal emails sent to potential reviewers asking for consideration, setting up readings, searching out places to advertise freely, etc. That’s what gets people’s attention and that’s what sells books. A small publisher is already busy reading other manuscripts, laying out other books, contacting printers, contacting distributers, contacting bookstores, mailing out books, setting up book fair tables, answering emails, traveling, updating calendars and websites, and trying to publicize both itself and its many authors to throw itself fully into the sink-or-swim effort of a sole title. We just can’t do it. We rely on our reputations, our author’s reputations, and a singular book’s inherent meaningfulness **and salability** for any press we may receive.

Also, cover art? If you don’t have friends doing it, that’s $1k-$2k in “advertising” money right there. Book setup? $500 to $2k to a graphic designer using InDesign. Editorial and proofreading work: $1k-$3k, depending on workload. Cost of offset-printing a 300 pg hardback with dustjacket at 500 books? $6k. Advance to author on royalties? Probably nothing, but let’s be generous with $3k-$5k **if you’re looking to nail down a big name**. What should we spend on advertising, now that we’ve already spent upwards of $18k on a book that will now have to priced at $50-$60 a piece to turn a minor profit? Probably not much.

To be fair, this was the old way of doing things, but many academic presses still stick to it, which is how we get academic books with a $60 price tag. If they switched to digital printing or POD, they could raise their profit margins and possibly spend more on advertising, but again, no amount of monetary “push” can help force-feed a reading public any book or author. And any book on Jeffers should be viewed as a labor of love, with the hope of garnering more interest in his poetry and lifestyle and “inhumanism.”

If you are going to self-publish a book, I suggest starting a small press and printing it digitally through CreateSpace, selling it on Amazon and in ebook form through the many outlets, and spending the majority of your time contacting Jeffers devotees directly with a free copy and inviting them to blog about the book.

Damn, I’m sorry that was so long, I think I just needed to get that out.

Cheers,
Joe Pan

***

Hi Joe:

Your email reply makes eminent good sense and makes me doubly glad to be an engineer with a 9-5 type job – or in my case a 0630-1500 type.

Warm regards and keep doing what you’re doing,

Al

***

Allen,

Both of my grandfathers were engineers–Martin-Marietta, Pan Am, NASA. We lived on the Space Coast in Florida. The closest I ever got to engineering was research for a 12-page poem about the MQ-9 Reaper Drone.

Cheers,
Joe

***

There’s hope for you yet.

Al

***

Ha!

And for you, SPD buyer of poetry.

Stay well,
J

***

So that was the exchange. Reading back through it, there are lots of little things I would like to change or tack on, like saying that “any book of Jeffers should be viewed as a labor of love,” which discounts the possibility of an “Hours”-like novel resurrecting Jeffers in his primacy and element, which could sell a ton of books, etc. Also, certain academic presses absolutely do receive good funding, just not many of them, and not necessarily from their namesake institutions. Most university presses are non-profits that rely on outside grants and a great deal more outside funding just to say alive. Very few, if any, live off their sales entirely.

Check out this TERRIFIC SLIDESHOW by Darrin Pratt of the University of Press of Colorado. To quote his findings: “No university press in the country generates an excess from its book publishing operations alone.” The University of California’s publishing unit may lead the field with $6 million in sales, but that isn’t all coming from sales, apparently. And only 30% or thereabouts is coming from the university itself.

Here’s another quote: “Over the past 30-40 years, average unit sales of scholarly monographs have declined precipitously,” going from 2000-3000 typical print run copies to 300-500 copies, just as Allen had said, with a 75%-95% decline in sales.
Ouch.

Also, my $18k figure pales to their $31k figure for a monograph! I can only assume this was for a larger print run, but maybe not.

So what’s the future for university/academic presses? How are they planning to make sales? Are they planning on making sales, or just procuring grants and monies from fund-raising? Is the book-buying business not really about book-buying any longer? I’m not trying to be a dick, I’m seriously interested in understanding how these presses hope to survive in the new decade, and whether or not they plan to phase out old methods and what new methods they plan to adopt.

Chime in if you have any personally relevant information.

Response to the AWP blog / site under construction

I’m receiving a bunch of questions from the substantial amount of readers/traffic the AWP blog has brought to my site.

1) Thanks for all the well-wishes! I enjoyed the AWP conference tremendously and we will be back next year in Boston, no doubt.

2) All books can be purchased by going to www.BrooklynArtsPress.com. For interview or review copy requests, email us at info(at)brooklynartspress.com. You will find the Submissions page on the website as well.

3) My own personal website remains unfinished as I’m adding new tabs and tweaking it. There are some stories available here and some poems and of course my poetry book, but I won’t have everything up until mid-March. I’m just super busy with BAP and my own writing.

AWP – The Food, the BAP, & the Ugly (Duckling Presse)

 

(Above, left to right: Christopher Hennessy, Wendy Millar, Matt Shears, Lauren Russell)

I now realize that there’s no way to write about AWP without name-dropping, so let it rain!

We took Brooklyn Arts Press to the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference for the first time this year. It was held in Chicago, a city I love, a chilly city, a city with dense little clusters of Williamsburg-esque neighborhoods – bars with 80’s dance beats, indy bookstores, vinyl music shops, and well-lit cafes where feverish writers tap-tap-tap and slurp chai lattes and mine their inner-space to the tunes of the New Pornographers or beam their minds to outer- with Skrillex while keeping their Twitter accounts working overtime.

We didn’t quite know what to bring along, having never done this before, so we decided on shipping 30 copies of each book from our catalogue to the Congress Plaza Hotel, where we were staying, along with 400 handmade books (print, cut, whiskey, staple) containing a few samples of each writer’s work, which we intended to hand out to attendees who signed up for our mailing list. (This paid off: we left with 220 emails and lots of business cards.)

But the trip didn’t start off so smoothly. Arriving at the airport, we found our bags had been placed on a later flight, which we were assured would arrive in 15 minutes. We were given a choice to have the bags delivered or to wait, so we waited. Though a $12 Starbucks coupon may be tempting, I’d encourage anyone in this position to go ahead and leave for your hotel, as your bag may not actually be on the next flight, and the time you spend playing computer chess (while the TV in the common area blares a grisly interview with the parents of a child shot to death by his schoolmate) might have been better spent nodding off in a cab.

Upon arriving at the Congress, I found that the shipped box carrying the 400 pocket-sized books had been squashed, with the small books emptying out the side. No worries, though, not too many damaged (did they not have tape at the hotel?), but then our room brought a bit more distress – the internet ethernet cord was broken and I locked my laptop into a safe that refused to prompt me for a security code, for which I had to call hotel security. After taking a deep breath, washing up, and settling in, Wendy and I took a stroll down to Buddy Guy’s Legends, a blues joint downtown. The food was amazing raging cajun (I ordered the catfish smothered in crawdad gumbo) and served in large portions; the band onstage was adequately bluesy. After a bit I wandered to the bar to grab a local pale ale and watch the Bulls game. Next to me sat an elderly gentleman in a workman’s lined blue shirt and brown Stetson hat and we watched the game together and made the appropriate oohs and aahs and eyeballs for great shots. Pretty soon an entourage of musicians showed up and accosted the old man and after two cognacs he stood up and said Fuck It and walk up to the stage to great applause and sang some of the best old school blues I’ve ever heard live. This was Buddy Guy.

 

That’s him in the photo signing a CD for Wendy.

After we left, we closed down the hotel bar playing darts with poet Michael Vizsolyi, who lives in our Brooklyn neighborhood but who we had to fly all the way to Chicago to meet. Michael won the National Poetry Series in 2010 and had his book put out late last year, and was psyched to see it on display. The bartender at the Congress is also named Mike, I believe, and he was a great bartender – good service, blind pours, quick with his jokes and a busybody of sorts with anecdotes of amusing local scandals on reserve.

The next day I spent selling books to a substantial portion of the roughly 10,000 attendees.

At AWP I learned that if I ever lose the taste for writing and publishing, I can always make it as a carney barker. I become somehow actively more socially adept than most when I have little to lose and much to gain. Nobody got by the BAP table without some offering of my interest in them: a smile, a wave, a slatternly wink. Before arriving, I’d read an account by a blogger who credited his ability to sell more books at AWP than his rival presses by simply being prepared to engage people on all manner of subject (much like my bartender, whom I tipped generously). If our book covers didn’t catch their eye, I called out to people, pulling them back and engaging them in conversation about poetry or Brooklyn or our decision to make our chapbooks using felt 80lb paper because we admired the look and feel of it. I sold poetry to fiction writers who didn’t normally read poetry, to small press owners, to avid poetry readers, and to writers who – and this is always exciting – people who already knew of BAP, who followed the press or our writers or had read a review of one of our books. Some people actually wandered over just to talk about Brooklyn, and I sold them books, too (there were lots of Williamsburgians and Park Slopers in attendance). This back-and-forth is the great pleasure of attending AWP as the representative of an independent press. I carried on a fifteen minute conversation with one woman comparing the subtle differences between lyrical short fiction (in the case of Carol Guess’ book, Darling Endangered) and prose poetry. I spoke with a poet whose publisher had told her it was impossible to put out any poetry book as an eBook, which is simply not true, it’s just difficult, and only truly difficult if the poet uses tabs and realizes the full usage of the blank page as a spatial reality. A person from Poets & Writers stopped by to say she loved our press, and Clay from Small Press Distribution paid us a visit and tried to make us feel like rock stars. Over and over, we received the same praise – for our choice of authors and the quality of our books. It was overwhelming. If you have a small press with over 5 solid books and are wondering if the $450 table fee is worth it, I’d reply with this: $450 can get you a quarter to half-page ad in a decent-sized lit journal, or it can get you a seat at a sold-out conference full of core potential buyers, writers, supporters, reviewers, bloggers, etc who share your general if not specific interests. Now, when your press begins pulling in a little more money, you may consider seeking larger avenues of advertisement (especially in terms of supporting great literary journals), but for sheer publicity, the AWP has a lot to offer the small publisher on a budget.

We sold 75 books and gave away 5 to potential reviewers for big-name journals, which means we made back the money we put into renting the table BAP, including my pass, and the books’ shipping costs. Hotel and meals were monetary losses, but worth every minute of face-time with writers and publishers and panelists. Plus, you get invited to after-parties and off-site readings, and famous writers and writers you’ve admired over the years will simply walk up to the table and start conversing with you, as if fame were an illusory stoplight at the crossroads of Fear and Celebration replaced this day by a Yield sign where you, a lonely tinker, can peddle his wares without concern that the sheriff….The AWP will not make you better at off-the-cuff elliptical metaphors. The point is, it was worth the time and money to attend.

I also finally met the wonderful Bryan Borland from Sibling Rivalry Press and Assaracus, who did Christopher Hennessy and myself such a kindness by placing postcards of ours in his books, and Martin Ott, whose book BAP will publish this summer. Matthew Hittinger stopped by and showed us his forthcoming book Skin Shift (the cover is beautiful; it looks like something from a Hayao Miyazaki film) and we ran into Eduardo C. Corral (an old friend from Iowa who won the Yale Prize last year) several times as he wandered around promoting his first book, which is due out on March 11th (got my copy). I was so busy that first day that I actually forgot to eat. I did, however, get the opportunity to check out the books at the Ugly Duckling Presse table, which is my favorite small press on the planet. Their books are beautifully rendered and perfect little example of how far care, book arts craftsmanship, and strict editorial curating can carry a small publisher. UDP is the oft-overlooked cousin to the premier-level platypuses, publishers now referred to as the Big Six. If I were a dirt-flecked, mild-mannered boy with a bowlcut at a prom I would stare down Ugly Duckling all night long wondering what rash bit of daring I might enact to get her to notice me. I would imagine building an empire out of thought-provoking hand-sewn limited-editions of 19th Cent. Russian translations, which I would use to woo her, and together we would adopt and nurture little Factory Hollow Presses and Milkweed Editions and Coffee House Presses and grow them into the Groves and Eccos and New Directions of their time, and buy several islands in the Keys or Everglades and pronounce them Poetry Cities on the Swamp and defend them against pirates and gatormen and rabid critics all. But as that child I’d probably just end up trying to introduce myself and spilling punch all over the front of my jeans. The rage comic I’d go home and make afterwards would be badass, though. Shit would get mad upvotes on Reddit.

Blogging is an artform of economy and grace.

After the end of the first day, trekking back to our hotel, Wendy and I ran into Steve Marlowe of Foxhead Books and Paul Kerschen. We sat with them for a drink and I noticed across the way Nikki Giovanni (whom I’d met a long time ago in Virginia) and NBA-winner Nikky Finney. Famous people everywhere. Later I rolled out with Spencer Short, who has been a big supporter of BAP and my own writing, to meet Amy Lingafelter and listen to Tanya Larkin and Debbie Kuan read their work for Saturnalia with Campbell McGrath at a tater-tot-serving bar. Later still, we migrated to the Hilton for some drinks and oysters and deep poetry talk and ran into Megan Levad, Stephanie Soileau, and Jorge Sanchez (friends I rarely get to see, being in different cities) and was introduced to Steph’s old roommate, Jesmyn Ward, who just won the National Book Award for her novel, Salvage the Bones. We had some drinks and laughs and then Spencer and Tanya and I headed out to another reading/karaoke thing, where we lost Tanya but picked up Heather Gibbons, who has a wonderful chapbook out, and headed down to a local townie bar for a nightcap and some dancing. I remembered to rehydrate before grabbing a cab.

And that’s a pretty typical night for AWP, from what I understand.

 

AWP is a mixer, really. It’s a place to make connections, talk about writing and publishing, get feedback and, truthfully, let loose a bit. The experience can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve seen plenty of people retreat into the corner, overcome, each with that thousand-yard stare. I’ve seen people drink their drinks too quickly out of sheer nervousness and lose balance quickly. There are definitely social butterflies in attendance, but most of us get carried along for the ride, because there are lots of panels to attend, plenty of readings to catch, plenty of book tables to sort through, new people to meet, and all of the bars and restaurants of a city to explore, that to stay still isn’t much of an option unless you choose to disappear into your hotel room, which you should probably do one night or risk getting Vegas-legs and Times-Square-eyes.

The best part of AWP, for myself as a writer, is to go around thumbing through and purchasing books published by different presses and literary magazines in the hope that I might locate a few seemingly specifically tailored to my interests, aesthetics, and writing style – places I can send my work to.

The best part of AWP, as a publisher, is to sit down with your writers at the table and explain to passersby just how awesome they are.

We were joined first by Matt Shears, and later by Christopher Hennessy, Joe Fletcher, and Lauren Russell, each of whom took time to sit with us and sign books. Over the course of several days I had developed a shorthand way of selling each of their poetry books. I’d ask the customer what sort of poetry most interested her/him: “lyric, narrative, experimental, mythic, urban, language-y, a mixture?” For each answer, I had a book in mind. And I sold a lot of books with that simple formula in mind. If it was obvious they weren’t going to purchase a book, I pointed out the rows of handmade samplers: “Well, we’re giving away free samplers in exchange for an email address…”

Christopher was having a particularly busy day when he sat down: he’d just hosted a panel that included Mark Doty, David Trinidad, Kevin Killian and Stephen Motika called “Recovery/Discovery: The Art of Bringing Queer Literary Heroes Back into Print.” And it was by some stroke of cosmic fortune that his poem “Carriers,” which we’d published in his book Love-In-Idleness, was up on the Poetry Daily website as their poem-of-the-day during the conference!

Unfortunately, Carol Guess was one of the many writers locked out of the conference by limited ticket sales, and we missed her dearly (I still have yet to meet her and was looking forward to it) but we sold more copies of her book, Darling Endangeredthan any other. Carol has quite the following, and fiction writers especially seem drawn to her wonderfully sonic, tightly crafted narratives. We also sold a good number of Broc Rossell’s new chapbook, even though Broc was up in Vancouver and couldn’t attend. AWP is for writers, but we brought along the art books of Jonathan Allen, Anne Beck, and Greg Slick anyhow, and those books sold as well.

 

I could go on describing each day, but I think I’ve written enough to give you, reader, a taste of AWP as seen from the viewpoint of a small press owner attendee. The only panel I was able to attend was friend Seth Harwood‘s, as my main mission in Chicago was to stick close to the table and sell books.

I would also like to take a moment to point out two small presses, started by friends, which I think you may enjoy: Nate Hoks’ press Convulsive Editions and Genevieve Kaplan’s Toad Press. Enjoy these cared-for editions to literature.

I also have to say, even though you have to wait in line out in the cold for half an hour, the tacos and margaritas at Big Star in Wicker Park are to die for. My friend Johnny Schmidt, who drove up from Knoxville for the event, concurs.

Shout outs to Vu Tran, Nick Arvin, the cigar-smoking Tim Liu, and Brendan Kiely from the Coffin Factory.

In the end gatherings like the AWP are important because they carry forth the necessary torch of writing and reading into this new century in an open and involved way. Some day the AWP, or some conference like it, might be relegated to a Skype-systematized chatroom of sorts where we can peruse panels without concern for slow elevators or alarm clocks or crowded lobbies, but I hope it never comes to that entirely. I enjoy ebooks and I’m an internet junkie, but there’s nothing like handing a printed art object to a reader and having them observe the quality of the thing right in front of you. It’s like magic. Here, have some magic. I worked for months designing this. I read through boxes of manuscripts and edited this line for line because I am a old-school like that and I sent it to a printer who tried their damndest to print it funny but it survived its birth and now it’s here and in your hands and if that isn’t magic then what the hell is?