In March of 2009, during the same week, I learned that my first book of poetry would be published and I learned that my contract at CBC would not be renewed. Amazingly, 13 months later, I appear to be still unemployed, or rather, writing-and-not-getting-paid-for-it (and I would like to thank Employment Insurance Canada, my spouse, and my father for their respective assistance in keeping me solvent), however, I am about to leave on my very first book tour (eeek!) and as such have been reflecting on the business of publishing in the year 2010, obsessed as I am with business and poetry, and poetry about business, and the business of being a poet.
Surely publishing in 2010 is vastly different from publishing in 2000, or 2015? What with the digital revolution and all. It’s changing our brains, you know.
The April 75th Anniversary Issue of Quill & Quire
has an article titled “7.5 Ideas for Fixing Canadian Publishing.” Even though these ideas have been written from a publishing perspective, I was curious to know what a poet could take from them. (Note that I’ve just grabbed the highlights, and I recommend you find the article for an in-depth discussion of each point.)
(Also, No, I don’t want to be one of those intensely irritating, continually self-promoting poets, and Yes, I do keep the writing entirely separate from the promotional aspect in my mind, but as an unknown first-timer, it surely behooves the poet to at least know what’s what, does it not? Further, although writing is an art, a craft, an obsession and a way of life, publishing is a business, and I do think it is important for writers to have a sense of how it works and where it might be going.)
1. Less is more. More thought should be given to the all-important decision to publish. By which Q&Q means publishers need to put out less mediocre books, but this could be extended to say that poets should put out less mediocre poems.
2. Choice is king. Booksellers shouldn’t cling to their preference for physical books. I do love the book as object, so I’m pleased that I get to have my first book be a physical book; who’s to say whether the physical book will still exist in 10 years? But, unlike friends who first published in the early part of this decade, my book will also exist in downloadable form, for all the Kindle-owning poetry fiends out there. And if you know any, let me know, because like the unicorn, I’m just not certain they exist till I see them with my own eyes.
3. Diversify the workforce. The industry must hire from a wider talent pool. Makes sense to me. I’d love to work in publishing. But there ain’t many jobs outside of Toronna, especially for a 30 year old who’s never worked in a bookstore.
4. Making more efficient blockbusters. Blessedly not my problem, nor poetry’s. Let’s keep it that way.
5. The Web is where it’s at. Social networking doesn’t have to be a full-time job, but it’s essential that authors put in an appearance.
This section, drafted by Seen Reading
‘s Julie Wilson, is most relevant for the poets of 2010.
In the past 13 months alone, I have embarked on a website/blog, Twitter, a FB fan page (which at the time seemed like a way to separate personal stuff from literary beings/doings, but in reality only a few already-friends are fans, and it starts to feel/looks like an exercise in narcissism), an Amazon author profile and a GoodReads author profile, with a LibraryThing profile forthcoming. Sure, the social networking (or as the kids are calling it, “social”) doesn’t have to be a full-time job, but when the writer in question doesn’t have
a full-time job, it’s all too easy to get sucked in to constant pruning and tweaking, adjusting the bio, reading and re-posting everyone else’s blogs. But I can rest assured that I am building my public profile as an author, generating interest for my poetry. On the other hand….
6. Needle in a (virtual) haystack. Better metadata will ensure that Canadian books don’t get lost online. I did a bit of googling to figure out what metadata is, but my eyes glazed over and I started drooling. Think we’ll leave this one to the publishers.
7. In it for the long haul. Publishers need to break the bad habit of short-term thinking. I know I’m in it for the long haul! Are you?
7.5. Don’t be a buzz-kill. It’s a little thing, but publishers shouldn’t make it difficult for the media to cover their books. i.e., Keep giving the love to traditional media. Cool. As long as trad media keeps giving the love back.