5.25.2005

Farid Matuk writes:

"I can't believe this is about page count or book binding or art but about legitimacy - legitimacy assigned by the market ("bookshops don't stock them") and by universities ("don't expect them to be assigned to classes")."

Yes, but I am guilty if being quick-to-think, in this case. I think that legitimacy is also assigned by editors and by readers of work slightly outside one's circle of friends and relatives. The trick of DIY publishing to my mind is that a break-out work occasionally leaves that circle -- it is "discovered" by a body of legitimate readers. But I wonder about the wisdom of writing / working / publishing toward this type of happy accident. I think that NO legitimacy can be gained by selling your mom your poetry. Frankly, no legitimacy can be established by giving your mom your poetry, either.

I am also guilty of being incredibly cheap, and being first published in book form *20 solid years* after I began writing poetry seriously and began publishing that poetry in journals, in "e-chapbooks" and myself, in chapbooks, etc. I gave out at readings.

So, I do not like to swap books only to find out that my 200+ page tome is met with a flimsy chapbook the like of which I can readily produce on my home laser printer (I was a desktop publishing manager for YEARS AND YEARS). I do not purchase broadsides, either, and although I have good friends without laser printers who spend money they don't have on laser printing broadsides onto card stock at kinko's, I don't condone that for something other than a holiday card or hostess gift, etc. (you get my drift here) anymore than I condone chapbook publication. I do not like to be asked by my friends for $5. for a broadside or chapbook. I am quite generous with buying drinks, giving little gifts, giving my books, etc. with my friends, and when they (or, worse, students) ask me for money for something 1) I would give them if it were mine, 2) I don't want, I resent it.

I do not like to be in competition for teaching jobs, readings that pay, or even book publication with those who claim that their chapbooks are "books." I do not like to be in competition for jobs with those who include their holiday card poem - broadsides are legitimate publications.

So one problem I have with chapbooks is that they are often viewed as a sort of self-legitimacy. Frankly, poets are self-appointed. Critics of poetry and art -- one of the last bastions of the self-appointed expert. Why else do you think I do it? But self-published writers have *no legitimacy* from the publication. Writers published by a press have *more legitimacy.*

When I sell anything at readings, I sell it at or below my cost. Thus, my Salt book at readings is $12. I've hand-sold about 150 copies, and I've given away or swapped about 125 copies. Guess what, Salt books aren't carried at B&N either (actually, mine was in the system, because I have a pal who worked with Salt to draw it through the system. She also ordered a few for her store (B&N location), but *wasn't allowed to shelve them.* She took them out of the storeroom when I ran a reading there, and put them on the table of upcoming readers' books.

Also, I was the Salt author who fought for Salt to work out distribution with spd, which wasn't really a priority for them, and so they didn't have it when they brought my book out. It was very important to me that spd carry my book, and I volunteered to purchase the copies spd wanted to stock, and I bought & sent in the samples spd required to evaluate the press. I've sold at least 60 copies through spd, and that's a lot for me to sell of my book.

Farid adds:

"The chapbook's market limitations are no reason to dismiss the genre but they are a reason to take at least one step away from distributors. Chapbooks seem to be more about small communities anyway, why not accept that and distribute chaps to the one or two hundred people who'll read with care."

Mark Salerno said something similar to me, "they cared enough to give it a spine." His first book was self-published (luckily for him, at a time when B&N stocked such efforts). He also collects printed ephemera in hopes of building a retirement based on sale of a small press poetry archive (had me sign my free chaps at readings).

and

"Chap or perfect, our shelf life is short... seems a waste to spend it hoping for legitimacy or getting high off the binding glue."

But I maintain that my long-awaited books, selling like cold hotcakes, have conferred some sort of minor legitimacy. Maybe only that Chris Hamilton-Emery likes the book, but hey, he's got a great statement on the Salt site about how they aren't interested in publishing anyone who hasn't established him or herself in a poetry community that cares about the actual poetry.

My chapbook-length poems, many of which are online, have been assigned to classes and reviewed. They were edited, too. And guess what, they're free, and I didn't ask anyone for any money.

Now, I do have a very good friend who established a press, and one he published his first novel, which he bought back from a publisher who'd bought it but then decided not to bring it out (this happens very, very frequently). I did buy a copy. He is / was very involved with the sort of DIY punk publishing etc. -- much of which has gone out of business like 2.13.61, or become "legitimate" like Soft Skull. He "hand sells" most of his books & has no serious distribution. And, frankly, I am not convinced that this was a thing to do. But their band doesn't play at cheesy open mike nights at venues with cover charges, so we know it is not the same as that!

He could have emulated Salt: have that friend's press be a press that his press should be associated with, by virtue of the fine, and complementary, work they publish. Or, worse, had a friend publish it, and published that friend's novel or something: be like Red Hen Press. What he did is sought to publish work he really cared about, and one of those works happened to be his book, and others were neat anthologies, and forgotten writers, etc. The DIY model. I hope he continues to do this, but I know he probably won't, because, as with chapbooks, it is virtually impossible to get distribution for this type of work, and writers have better things to do, like write and seek legitimate publication, than to hand-sell their own books.

His current publisher would like very much for the first book to go away, and I don't think they are allowing him to cross-promote. And they are claiming that his second book is his first book.

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