Vol 1, No. 1 ISSN 1442-0023
From the Director's Desk
Interactive Press has been publishing for just over a year, and we already have three titles. Our first, Hemingway in Spain and Selected Poems, was shortlisted for the 1998 Adelaide Festival Literary Awards, which gave us instant credibility. Since then, Old Time Religion and Other Poems by Andrew Leggett, and Bermuda and the Other Islands by Juliana Burgesen-Bednareck followed. Interest in IP and its activities has increased dramatically, but most authors contacting us for the first time expect to find just another traditional publisher, which we are not.
IP's reason for being is to publish Australian work of merit in electronic as well as print media, but the Press must also be a business. Small presses world-wide have no problem publishing work of the quality of "mainstream" publishers; the problem comes with getting the word out about their list and distributing enough to make a sufficient profit. Recent advances in technology make it feasible for small publishers to close the gap on their larger counterparts. For example, the Internet is a channel of communication that offers us instant access to global markets. You can literally be anywhere in the world and sell your publications as long as people know you're there.
That's the purpose of IP eNews. To get out the word about IP to people we hope will be interested in what we can offer.
There are other things we do to ensure IP will be a viable business. Infrastructure is kept to a minimum. As we expand, staff will for the most part work remotely, coming into the office only for special meetings. We'll do as much possible online, making it easier to put publications together. Staff will work in teams on specific projects, doing their own thing as freelancers when not required by IP.
IP will do everything possible to direct resources where they matter into the production of publications of the highest quality. This will allow us to invest in our most important asset authors. This, at a time when many "mainstream" publishers are reducing the time spent on refining work before it's published and treating authors more as commodities than as people.
People also ask why IP focuses primarily on short fiction and poetry. As a "niche publisher" specialising in small print run projects, we want to maintain control over most stages of the process, from editing and refinement of manuscripts through to production management, promotion and distribution. We're not equipped to support authors whose projects demand larger print runs because of the expense of producing, marketing and distributing those projects, i.e. longer novels and non-fictional works, illustrated children's books, etc. Besides, the needs of those authors are already looked after by existing publishers. If anything, there's a surplus of such work in the marketplace.
This isn't the case for poets and short story authors, who are mostly being ignored by mainstream publishing houses. And for very good reason. Most big houses cannot support small print run projects because it costs them so much more to get these works into print. If they publish poetry and short fiction at all, they regard it as altruism, which, in terms of the "bottom line", it likely is. And they often promote these works accordingly.
To make literary publishing viable, we must embrace new technology. This is easier said than done in the case of older publishing houses. Many are intimidated by the new technologies and reluctant to risk change where their margins are already very thin. Which leaves the field wide-open to new publishers like IP who can start from scratch and remain poised to take advantage of changes in technology.
While I believe technology is perhaps ahead of readers and most publishers in Australia, change is certainly in the air. Amazon.com realises hundreds of millions of dollars in electronic sales every year. Electronic books are no longer a futuristic dream. Take a train into Tokyo at peak hour and you'll see commuters with their noses in e-books that can be bought in vending machines. While that vision may not appeal to Australian tastes, more sophisticated electronic (even leather-bound!) "books" can be bought for downloading text from the Internet or "reading" portable media like CD-ROMs. Some Australians are already using them and our children certainly will embrace these new media.
This is why I designed IP to be an electronic as well as a print publishing house. The new millenium will see radical change in the tastes and habits of the average reader, and we want to be a pioneer in that new era. Writers will take advantage of multimedia options for producing their work, which in turn will make literature more appealing to audiences that prefer sound, vision and movement as enhancements of the written word. And I hope that IP will be producing much of that work, for a global audience.
We're pleased to announce that we'll be launching two new books in late March. Michael Sariban's much-awaited Facing the Pacific will be our fourth volume of poems in the Literature Series. Though Michael's work is well-known and respected in Queensland poetic circles, this is his first book since his 1987 volume A Formula for Glass (UQP). It had originally been accepted by Penguin Books, Australia (in an earlier version), but he came to us after Penguin decided to axe their Poetry Series.
Michael is a craftsperson in the classical sense, and every line he writes is carefully considered and refined. His eye for detail in the natural landscape is enviable. But he also shows he's willing to take risks in subject matter and technique. At one point he had been thinking of calling the book Satellite Dreaming (now the title of one of the sections) because of his interest in celestial themes but ultimately he opted for a more earthy title. These are poems of relationship, of experimentation with other artforms, as well as tributes to his obsession with exploring place.
IP's first fiction title, to be launched with Facing the Pacific, will be David P Reiter's Triangles. While David has already established a strong reputation as a fine and challenging poet, he's been writing fiction longer than poetry. In fact he came to poetry quite by chance when he was forced to take a graduate seminar in it during his Ph.D studies at the University of Denver. So he's been quietly writing, publishing and winning awards with his short fiction for many years. Recently, he was featured to read his fiction, with David Malouf, at the American Association of Literary Studies Conference in Arcata, California.
As in his poetry, David tests the limits of form in Triangles, employing elements like magical realism, post-modernism and satire to great effect. As the title suggests, these are stories of relationships straining against the norm on the verge of breakdown, or struggling to reconstruct a sense of order from the chaos. But always with at least a touch of humour to counter-balance any sense of the tragic.
We're pleased to announce an association with El Kumanand Press, a quality press operating out of North Queensland. EKP has been publishing books for seven years and is interested in work that focuses primarily on tropical North Queensland. EKP has its own minisite, where you'll find news of upcoming titles and further information on recent releases. EKP titles will be listed on IP's online catalogue and can be ordered through IP.
For a sample of what to expect from EKP, have a look at its most recent publication, Scorpion Tails.
Literary publishing in Queensland is in crisis. But of course we're not alone. Across Australia, publishers are finding it tough , with margins and subsidies from government arts bodies shrinking. No wonder that few new authors are being accepted, as publishers increasingly rely on authors they know. In such a climate, there's very little room for experimentation and risk.
Queensland authors without a proven commercial track record are doubly damned. They don't have the access to publishers that authors living in Sydney or Melbourne do. Southern agents are reluctant to take on clients from "the provinces". Yet this is at a time when more and more quality Queensland writers are putting up their hands hoping for notice.
It's telling that when Penguin Australia decided to cut its Poetry Series over a year ago, leaving 12 poets high and dry, eight of them were from Queensland. There's a case for seeing a shift away from the magnetic cultural poles of Sydney and Melbourne in this. Yet these developments have gone largely ignored by the Literature Board of the Australia Council in terms of funding to Queensland authors.
To the credit of the current Labour Government and its funding body, Arts Queensland, a review of publishing in the State is now underway. AQ, which presently operates a peer review scheme in its grants rounds, will consider other possible models for dealing with the special needs of small publishing houses like IP.
Beyond the issue of simply funding publishers to produce new titles, AQ will consider strategies for developing new authors to the point where their work is more publishable when it arrives on the publisher's desk. This may involve a coordinated system of writing workshops, mentorships, and assessment services.
AQ will also look at better means of promoting and marketing the work of Queensland authors. Too often, Queenslanders are overlooked when festival committees meet to decide who to invite as featured readers. This is partly due to their not knowing how much Queensland authors have to offer to the fabric of Australian writing. There may also be ideas put forth that will enable publishers to pool their efforts in support of their programs.
AQ hopes to forward recommendations to Treasury before the end of this year. IP certainly wishes them well!
IP is pleased to announce that Arts Queensland has awarded its Director, David Reiter, a Special Initiatives Grant to produce a multimedia version of his fifth book of poems, Letters We Never Sent. The work will be published on IP's new website, as well as on CD-ROM.
The history of the project dates back two years to David's contact with Mike Ladd, Producer of ABC Radio National's PoeticA program who reacted favourably to a sample from Letters containing a narrative exchange between Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh, two of the "voices" used in the book. Mike suggested that David consider dramatising the sections into a 30-minute radio play. Paul and Vincent was the result. ABC Sydney produced the script, and it was broadcast for the first time in 1997. The response was so good to the program that the play was rebroadcast last April.
This gave David the idea of producing a multimedia version of the full book, featuring the radio play. While negotiations are still underway with ABC Enterprises regarding a possible joint venture, AQ support has ensured that the project will go ahead, for release by the end of the year. IP will be assisted by Distributed Systems Technology Centre, a web research organisation at the Queensland University of Technology, who are interested in digital applications such as this project. IP hopes that this will serve as a pilot for other projects in partnership with DSTC.