5.19.2005

Gary Sullivan's got this on his site:

Reading between the lines: Please don't publish chapbooks, because they don't sell. Or at any rate, don't bother sending them to us. We can't sell them, and we'll charge you for warehousing them.

Here is more from the same SPD e-mail: "The options are to donate one or more of the books to SPD (that allows them to continue to be for sale [Gary's note: "for sale"? you mean you'll actually make them visible in that case?]), to withdraw them and end the relationship, to find another SPD publisher to take on the book or books that you want to continue with us."

In other words: Please pay us the annual fee (which you can't afford), or publish two perfectbound books a year (which only the independently wealthy can afford, or those publishing books with an eye to the academic market), or give the books to us (e.g., cease being a publisher) or give them to another publisher (e.g., lose your autonomy), or end the relationship (e.g., give up any hope of distributing anything you ever publish in the future).

SPD can't sell chapbooks not only because bookstores won't carry them (some do, actually), but because no college courses ever seem to use them, either.

There is simply no distribution mechanism for chapbooks beyond sending them out to people or handing them to people. Which is fine. But, as a publisher, it's probably a good idea to know that in advance.

Note this -- Gary's reading of SPD -- is almost exactly how I feel about chaps -- publish them to give them away, sell them at readings. Don't claim they're books -- they're NOT -- and don't expect to sell them at bookshops, except zine stores & specialty places, don't expect them to be assigned to classes, etc. -- i.e. to be treated as long, serious works of art, because they're not, because bookshops don't stock them, and people buy them mostly at readings, etc.

A chapbook is mostly a vanity or learning excerise, like producing most printed ephemera. The large exception is fine letterpress, but note that no one is buying this stuff at your average bookstore, either.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Catherine, are you being serious about chapbooks here?

you say "...publish them to give them away, sell them at readings. Don't claim they're books -- they're NOT -- and don't expect to sell them at bookshops, except zine stores & specialty places, don't expect them to be assigned to classes, etc. -- i.e. to be treated as long, serious works of art, because they're not, because bookshops don't stock them, and people buy them mostly at readings, etc.

A chapbook is mostly a vanity or learning excerise, like producing most printed ephemera. The large exception is fine letterpress, but note that no one is buying this stuff at your average bookstore, either."

You are quite wrong here Catherine. You are talking about a production value that doesn't have anything to do with the work therein. Chapbooks in fact preempt those glossy glue-bound books. So why should they be taken any less seriously?

So just because a chapbook is not perfect bound it is about vanity or a learning exercise? Why? because it lacks a spine? Why are you buying into what "your average bookstore" says? Of course they don't want to sell them, usually one cannot read the spine of a chapbook, thus making it less visible, i.e. less sellable to someone browsing. Does that make them any less important? Of course not.

Some of the most important literature on the earth was first published as a chapbook. Historically the format goes back well beyond the perfect bound books that you champion.

And what are you saying about chapbook publishers? I can assure you I do not edit, print, bind, and distribute chapbooks because of someone else's vanity.

And college courses do not often use chapbooks, true, but that's not the fault of the format. Though I am happy to tell you that at least one of the effing chapbooks will be used in a grad workshop at Brown U this year and there have been queries from universities about others.

It's not ephemera. it's not just playing around with printing.

You are stuck on production values and spitting in the face of a lot of micropresses that take the format seriously.

But again, it's not about the format. It's about the work, the poetry.

And by the way, SPD is not necessary for all micropresses. And also, chapbooks do sell. They sell quite well.

Scott Pierce

Farid Matuk said...

Let's be generous to Catherine and allow her the sloppy thinking risked by quick-to-type bloggers (that art only comes in "long, serious works").

Though one of Catherine's books weighs in at 200+ pages (watch out Maximus) 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").

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. I don't think I need to lose sleep b/c my poems weren't available next to Jewel's or b/c they won't be suffered in this season's weddings.

Universities and their faculties deserve far more suspicion than Barnes & Noble. Before someone asks to teach my humble work in their seminar I'd like to review their scholarship. I've limited respect for a doctoral degree in literature but a ton of respect for rigorous and imaginative critics.

As Scott says, it's about the work and the conversation around it.

After White Teeth was published Charlie Rose asked Zadie Smith what she thought of critics who said her work was so unique and so importnat that she'd succeeded in re-inventing the genre of the novel. She cooly responded that nearly 98% of all Victorian literature is out of print and lost forever.

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

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