Monday, August 13, 2007

On publishing a book of poetry

My new poetry collection is almost complete, and I’m considering different options for publishing it. I had the benefit of a traditional publisher with my last two books.

But copyright developments in the marketplace as well as thoughts about profitability are leading me to take a hard look at self-publishing.

If you’ve been following the columns I’ve written about the Faulkner vs. National Geographic case, you’ll see how cloudy copyright issues can be. It’s my opinion Judge Lewis Kaplan erred in his decision on that case.

I actually read his decision, all of it.

I also read reviews posted by those who purchased the Complete National Geographic collection. Everything I read there drives home my position—the CNG was not an archival collection of the original issues. I love the reader’s comment exclaiming, “I have to watch a damn Kodak commercial?”

I seriously doubt the judge had the foresight to experience sample CDs from the collection, but I could be wrong about that. You’d think they’d have demonstrated the product in a courtroom where such a sweeping decision would take place.

My point is that some of these photographers, whose heirs actually sided with Faulkner, signed a contract before technology made such a collection possible. There would have been no way for them to foresee the creation of this product. As a consequence, their beautiful photographs are rendered to pathetic images in many cases, according to reader reviews. That would make any artist feel pretty lousy because this distorts, possibly even damages, the integrity of the original artwork. After all, you hear the name ‘Geographic’ you automatically think pictures.

At this point in my career, I see contracts that ask for everything but the kitchen sink. That’s one reason I don’t submit poetry anymore to online magazines. Most lit zines can’t pay a writer—they just don’t have the budget. But at least if I have my poetry in a collection that I own, I will have some control over where it’s published.

The downside is the time necessary for making sure the book gets distributed, possibly by placing it with a distribution channel who has arrangements with a major wholesaler.

I actively participated in the marketing of both my other books, so I figure I’d have to do the same if I were to invest my own money in publishing my work.

I saw on the National Writers Union site there’s a report for members about this subject. I haven’t read it yet, but the gist of the report focuses on comparable benefits for self-publishing if your books are done through a small traditional press as mine are rather than a big house.

Publishing is changing drastically, in no small part because of technology. It pays to weigh any decision beforehand, for we learn much at the expense, often unfairly assessed as in the National Geographic case, to others.

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