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Books and Hierarchical Mammals
By Robin Wyatt Dunn
Publishing, the lifeblood of democracy. At root it simply means making your writing public; your Facebook page is a form of it.
But as all public things are political things, it matters in publishing who has your back. Who stands next to you and says, “I like this guy or gal! Check out the thing he wrote!”?
Since we are helplessly hierarchical mammals, it matters even more if that person having your back is the king. When the king says, “This bold writer has my support!” and claps you on the back, we all sit up and take notice.
Even as George the III went mad and we left him in the dust, so too our American king of publishing, New York City, and its ultimate shareholder, Wall Street, now mad, may one day be left behind us.
But not yet. We are hierarchical mammals, God bless our hearts, and so my modest foray into publishing like most, does not enjoy the support of our king, merely two of the king’s remoter adjutants, our friends createspace, smashwords, and lulu.
Still, we know that in the end it is the words that matter. Whether you have scribbled them on to a patch of lead and shoved them in to a Roman wall to curse the usurper of your house, or bound your poetry in the finest vellum to rest in a royal library, the words are what matter in the end.
But, you’re interested in the nitty gritty! In my latest forays into the Byzantine Republic of Letters, which courtiers did I encounter and what deals did I make?
My most recently published book is a poetry chapbook, A Picnic in England.
I’d grown accustomed to scouring various databases of publishers; when it comes to poetry, PW.org, the Poets & Writers web site, is probably the best. Although pw.org quietly censors publications they consider to be scandalous (like my own Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, an underground 'zine they’ve repeatedly refused to list), they’re still generally helpful and have a good variety of publishers.
A simple Google search never hurts either; in fact I may have found Gypsy Daughter press that way.
Small press publishers are people like you and me; overworked writers with day jobs who want to contribute to the community and offer their own imprimatur in our perverse, delicate and rich republic of letters. So I was simply lucky that Gypsy Daughters’ owner/editor had recently completed another project, and that I happened to contact her before the academic school year began when she had a bit of peace of mind to devote to publishing another writer’s work.
Chapbooks are somewhat offensive in how they’re dealt with in the U.S.A.: the vast majority of publishers will only read manuscripts accompanied by reading fees. Since I categorically refuse to participate in such anti-democratic nonsense, this severely limits which poetry publishers I can send work to, but at least it means that I know when my work is chosen, it’s chosen on its merits, not because I cut them a check.
Again, it is still worth noting that we are still engaged, here in 2014, most ferociously in throwing off the weight of royal families who oppressed your ancestors and mine. Reading fees, and the royal prerogative they represent (of literature being the property of only the monied classes), are only one example of this monarchist legacy in publishing.
In any event! I was lucky to find a publisher and I’m proud it’s now publicly available. Amy Lynn Hess is not the King of England (she’s much nicer!), but she serves the same ultimate purpose, of having someone to stand by your work to say “this is some good stuff.” God bless Amy for giving her imprimatur to my work.
Amy through her press Gypsy Daughter uses Lulu, which offers hardback, paperback and ebook formats.
My forthcoming novel, A Map of Kex’s Face, took a slightly different route to the presses.
In the tradition of Bloomsbury Circle that included Virginia Woolf, this novel’s imprimatur, John Ott, is a friend of the family who lent his good name to my efforts. When no one else cares, your family still does (hopefully!). And their good name is a valuable commodity in the marketplace of ideas. (Use it well, if they let you!).
I’m proud to again have the services of the inimitable Barbara Sobczyńska of Krakow, Poland for cover art for Kex. She did a real doozie for this time around.
Incidentally, I did also hunt for other publishers for Kex, and did get one offer from a New York ebook publisher. But when I asked them to pay Barbara her (incredibly modest) fee for the cover art, they balked. It’s the rare publisher these days who is willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Yes, we in our republic of letters do suffer a sea change these days, ladies and gents, and we do grow rich and strange! And as Ariel gazes down at us where we lie, full fathom five, we can rest secure in the knowledge that some decade soon, an intrepid treasure hunter will swim down and grab hold of us, and lift our shining letters into the light of day!
Caveat scriptor...but don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.
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