Vol 4, No. 3 ISSN 1442-0023
Welcome readers. With this fifteenth
issue of eNews, we celebrate
our fifth birthday. Now five is
a good age by anyone's standards. By five, most of us can walk, talk
and chew proper food; we have control over our bodily functions, if
not our emotions and many of us have already started school and are
learning to read.
It's winter DownUnder, even in the Sunshine State, so what better time to start our next publishing cycle? We have four major titles slated for release in October: the much-awaited CD version of my sultry murder mystery, Sharpened Knife, which will feature at the next Brisbane Writers Festival; Bacchanalia, by one of the brightest new stars in the poetic sky, Brett Dionysius; a short novel, Cry Ma, Ma to the Moon by Maleny-based Lesley Singh; and last but not least, a new work by Australian icon David Rowbotham, Poems for America.
It’s our most ambitious season to date, and what better time to announce it than on the occasion of our fifth anniversary. Yes, the time has flown by since IP officially diversified into literary publishing. Later in this newsletter I reflect on how far we’ve come and what the immediate future holds. And you'll find some special deals below on IP titles that will help you share our celebratory mood.
In these times of political and economic uncertainty, it’s easy to neglect the needs of our cultural industries. Literary magazines continue to fold for lack of readership and support from sponsoring agencies, government gets stingier with funding and bookshops with shelf space, media outlets become indifferent to literary work in favour of what-you-see-is-what you get titles. More on that in my editorial.
I also announce the launch of the 2003 IP Picks competition and unveil closer collaboration between IP and Retort Magazine, another Brisbane-based enterprise making waves on the global digital scene. For those of you who see the synergy between fine music and literature there’s an item on 4MBS Classic FM and possible joint ventures with IP over the next year.
In all, it promises to be another stimulating issue. Our subscriber base continues to expand, so we must be doing something right. On to the tenth anniversary!
Dr David Reiter
One of the first questions prospective authors ask me about IP is what we do about promoting our titles. Authors are keen to see their names in bright lights — or at least in bold print. But that’s becoming increasingly the dream rather than the reality.
At a time when our literary artists need the support of bookshops, libraries and the media, the level of indifference among these players has never been higher. There are always good excuses for neglect, but our cultural ecology suffers for it as these gatekeepers take the easy way out, assuming that the responsibility for encouraging diversity belongs to someone else.
Let’s look at one prime example from each of these groups.
It hardly warrants a blip in the media, but the arrival of the American bookshop giant Borders on our shores has the potential to do untold damage to the efforts of independent publishers. Already firmly entrenched in Melbourne and Sydney, Borders has plans to make a splash in Brisbane CBD soon. While the chain has its headquarters in Melbourne, a quick scan of the shelves suggests its purchasing decisions are still made offshore. In fact I found more Australian literary content in a Borders in Kent, Ohio than I found in Melbourne!
This is the downside of globalisation — the assumption that you can become a major player in a new cultural marketspace without bothering to search out the work that sets it apart from home office. Borders has the space and the economies of scale to become a good cultural citizen. It’s about time they put some action behind the glib ads rather than serving as a dumping bin for stock surplus to offshore requirements.
Recently a Brisbane City counsellor complained to the media that people are checking out too many books from our local library system. There are far too many wealthy people abusing their privileges, he said, when they could well afford to go out and buy the books. Was he foreshadowing a means test for obtaining a library card?
While the counsellor’s sentiments might appeal to booksellers and publishers, you have to examine the fine print behind the complaint before siding with him. Yes, the library system’s budget has blown out, but not in the main to support Australian authors. The Brisbane Library system purchases hundreds of copies of bestsellers like the Harry Potter series, and maintains long waiting lists before the title is even released. Good news for offshore publishers but not for Australian independents who are lucky to place more than a few of their titles with the libraries.
Should libraries be viewed as a source for a cheap read of the latest bestsellers, or do they have a higher calling? Authors and publishers deserve to be supported by more than the Public Lending Right scheme. More worrying is the fact that the libraries seem to be purchasing more on perceived demand than out of a responsibility to maintain a culturally diverse collection for their readers. And what happens to all those extra copies of Harry Potter once the fad has passed?
As the chain stores like Borders and their shopping mall local equivalents tighten the noose around independent booksellers, where will people find quality Australian content, if not in their local libraries? Certainly not on Amazon.com!
Libraries are in an excellent position to showcase Australian talent by sponsoring readings, book clubs, and more innovative activities like online book chat rooms and reviews. How often do we hear that poetry isn't popular, so the library can’t afford to put it on the shelves? If that same library has no poetry collection beyond Shakespeare, so how can the demand be ascertained if the collection is so thin?
The media too have a role to play in offering greater exposure to Australian authors. In-depth reviews of literary work are few and far between in our newspapers and in the broadcast media. Is that because journalists might have to work a little harder for copy that doesn’t come pre-mixed by a publicist? And when’s the last time you read an article showcasing the latest emerging literary talent?
There’s more than a bit of hypocrisy among the literary editors of our major newspapers. From time to time they bemoan the poor treatment of poetry, as if merely airing a complaint will change attitudes. But there are few reviews of literary authors in these papers. The Brisbane Courier-Mail is a case in point. Only two IP books have been covered there: a review of our first book, Hemingway in Spain, before the current editor took over, and a brief mention two years ago of carnal knowledge, by an author who has written reviews for the paper over the years. Smaller presses have fared even worse, and even the University of Queensland Press only gets a guernsey when stars like Peter Carey are published.
We're not asking for blanket praise - just some objective coverage and more air-time and shelf space. Imagine the outcry if the media were as blasé about the latest Aussie film releases! If these editors are part of the problem, they shouldn't pretend to be part of the solution.
People are interested in hearing about the work of local talent. It’s time the chain stores, libraries and media across the country took more responsibility for giving Australian writers more exposure. How can people decide what to read when they’re not aware of the diversity of literary talent living just beyond the backyard fence?
[Our Focus for this issue is on Brett
Dionysius, whose upcoming book, Bacchanalia, won the 2002 IP Picks
competition for best unpublished manuscript by a Queenslander. The
book is scheduled for release in early October.]
The inspiration for Bacchanalia came from working with Liz Hall-Downs and Sam Wagan Watson on the Blackfellas, Whitefellas and Wetlands ‘Brisbane Stories’ website project in late 1996 and 1997. This online project opened me up to the idea of writing both historical and contemporary stories about ‘place’.
I wanted to examine the place that I
lived in at the time – the West End/Highgate Hill districts
of Brisbane, but what caught my attention were the more dire, more
downcast, more disturbing aspects of urban existence.
The subjects range from Aboriginal Daniel
Yock’s death in custody in 1993 – to poems about homeless
people, passivity, 7-11 misfits, blue fibro flats, Ragnorak and the
end of the world, murders, suspicion and accidents (mostly in the
evening) attended by lots and lots of crows (they’re everywhere
in West End and symbolise impending doom, don’t they?)
There’s a surreal quality to this
section – time is stagnant, the Twentieth Century winds down
like the legs of a dying beetle. Will the bacchanal ever end?
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[In July, 1997 Interactive Press was founded. Five years later, with two new imprints, over 30 titles notched up and a swag of commendations, Director David Reiter reflects on how and why he did it his way.]
There must be easier ways to break into the publishing business. I didn’t go out of my way to do it the hard way, but at the time it seemed the only way. And the time was right.
I’ve often said that Penguin’s axing of their respected Poetry Series in 1997 was the catalyst for my decision to move from the corporate focus with which I had founded Interactive Publications into the literary arena. Judith Rodriguez had accepted my fourth book, Hemingway in Spain, in the same year (1994) that my Penguin book, The Cave After Saltwater Tide, appeared. Almost three years on, I didn’t fancy bundling it off to another publisher and waiting for another year or two for a result.
I suppose it was the same impulse that drives many authors these days to ‘self-publish’, but I had a hunch that Hemingway would be a winner, and I didn't want to compromise its chances by lessening its credibility. It would have to be published by a publisher, and, if the old guard was fed up with losing money on poetry, it was time for a new approach.
From the outset, the business plan I carried around in my head dictated that simply founding another print publishing house would not suffice. I wanted it to succeed — more than that, I wanted it to serve as a model of how a publishing enterprise could adapt to current trends and actually turn a profit. I never expected to get rich by it, even when Hemingway was short-listed for the 1996 Adelaide Festival Awards. But I swore that IP would have to carry its own weight. If it reached the point where it could not sustain itself, I was prepared to call it a day.
As I said, it hasn’t been easy. In the first two years, IP was me. I applied for grants from the Queensland Government to no avail. But the quality manuscripts were there, and they deserved to be published. Some were rebounds from the ill-fated Penguin list, but others were beginning to turn up.
In cooperation with the Australian Society of Authors, I fashioned a contract for authors that would make it possible to publish at the highest possible standard without sacrificing quality. If we were going to publish, our titles would be as good or better in content and appearance as mainstream titles. This meant that IP authors would have to contribute financially to the publication of their work at a time when anything less than conventional royalty publication was regarded as vanity publication.
But the imperative to publish and not perish is a great motivator, and the cost-profit sharing model we pioneered now has followers, even among high-profile publishing houses who prefer not to be known as expecting investments from their authors.
And who can blame them? The reality is there is no profit in literary publishing if the true costs are acknowledged. Even less so for the larger publishing houses who are geared to larger print-runs.
The other part of the equation contributing to IP’s success has been our exploitation of the new technologies and the Internet. We are streets ahead of most publishers in what we are doing on this site and in our vision for the future.
The difference is one of attitude: as other publishers circle the wagons, expecting literary artforms to be over-run, we take the road of optimism. If the work is good enough to be published and deserves an audience, we will find a better way to reach its audience.
As the new media and literary artforms continue to converge, IP will be there encouraging experimentation but ever-mindful of the need to keep standards high.
The new technologies give us the chance to be more efficient without sacrificing quality. Our success at producing high quality work has been acknowledged by grants for the past three years from Arts Queensland and a grant this year from the Australia Council. The money is never enough to do everything we want, but we are doing much better with it than we could have without it. And the boost to morale is nearly as important as the money!
Where to from here? This year we will publish three books under our Interactive Press imprint. I suspect we will not publish any more than four per year until the market for poetry books improves — if it ever does!
However, I do see opportunities for literary artists to be published in new forms. Chris Mansell’s The Fickle Brat is a good example of one possible direction. Since Chris is an excellent performer of her work as well as an author, we saw an opportunity to package her work in a new way. The resulting audio + text CD will hopefully give her access to audiences who would not normally pick up a poetry book, but who might just buy a CD they can listen to in their car.
Many authors are not good readers of their own work — is this an option for them? One idea I have is to let actors read it for them, giving us a series of literary theatrical works containing ebooks of the text linked to audio anthologies on the same CD, or perhaps DVD. Again the objective is to reach those people who shy away from literary work on sight but who can be drawn into it via dramatic performance or interactive strategies.
To a degree these notions are pie-in-the-sky, but left unarticulated you can be sure they will never happen. The hardest part may be convincing writers that this is a worthy vehicle for their work. Less important to them than us is the question of whether people will buy these new forms.
I think they will. Do you?
[We thought you cyberfiles out there
might be interested in some of the theory behind ‘Slamming the
Sonnet’, which we featured in IP eNews 14. It’s the latest
volume of The Stalking Tongue, Jayne Fenton Keane’s website.
JFK has provided us with the background that follows.]
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Check your local writers centre newsletter, or any of a zillion sites on the web and you’ll find countless variations on the theme of how to sweet-talk a publisher. But recently we had the misfortune to deal with an author who hadn’t bothered to heed the advice and seemed intent on detonating himself before our eyes. His example — and our response to him — may demonstrate that we mean what we say in our guidelines. And I’m sure IP’s attitude is shared by many publishers.
First, the gossip. Our author, who must of course remain nameless, presented himself well in the first instance. He had a decent track record of individual publications and two books under his belt, the most recent with a respected national publisher. He’d obviously read enough of our guidelines to know that we do not read entire unsolicited mss in the first instance, and the sample he sent showed talent, so we asked him to send the entire ms.
It’s worth pausing there for breath. Few new authors get this far, which is why we ask for a sample and synopsis at Stage One. But an invitation to send a complete ms is not a promise of publication. It only means that your work has risen above the ‘slush pile’.
Publishers differ about what happens from this point on. At IP, we circulate the ms internally. If the first reader is positive about it, she passes it to the second reader. The two readers compare their impressions and if there’s any doubt they may choose to re-read the ms. At this point there are four options: offer to publish; offer to publish with revisions; recommend for further assessment; or reject. We then write back to the author with the decision.
If you get an offer to publish, you are nearly there. But that doesn't mean there is no more work to be done. There’s at least one more close reading before the copy editing stage where the microscopic details are picked up: word choices, paring back the style — that sort of thing.
So what happened in the case of this author? Sadly, we felt only lukewarm about the ms. While about a third of the ms delivered on the promise of the sample, there was a certain sameness about the subject of many of the poems and others were rather thin in content.
We discussed at length whether we should accept with revisions or recommend that the author seek a formal assessment. I ultimately leaned to the latter, but I was prepared to change my mind if the author showed a willingness to undertake revisions in light of the concerns we raised.
I wrote back to him, providing excerpts from the first reader’s report, recommending that he consider having the ms assessed by IP or another professional assessment service.
His reply made me sorry I hadn’t simply rejected the ms. Describing himself as a ‘master poet’, he made it quite clear that he had no intention of changing a single word. It was not the editor’s place to even suggest revisions to work that had been etched on Mt Sinai. We at IP were beneath contempt for even suggesting that he consider revisions, and were unworthy of receiving any further correspondence on the matter. Though we did receive further correspondence — at length.
The reason for this article is not to lash out at a single misguided author but rather to offer a reality check for those of you who might be thinking of sending us, or another publisher, your ms. This would not even be an issue in the film or theatre industries where writers very quickly come to accept — and even welcome — the view that the writing process is a collaborative one, and that scripts may take years to get right. Certainly, several drafts before they reach production standard.
For some reason, some fiction and poetry writers cling to the romantic notion that their work is finished once the draft is mailed off to the publisher. And that the publisher is nothing more than a conduit between the Word and the expectant congregation.
At IP that has never been — and never will be — the case. If we reach the point when we give up on our responsibility to ensure that the congregation gets the best possible Word, it will be time to shut up shop.
And, believe me, we will.
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[Only one major event for David during this period but several important events coming up.
He was pleased to be a featured speaker at the second OZeCulture conference: taking the next step in Sydney from 28-30 May. His impressions follow.]
There was a major session on digital rights management, a subject that we all worry about but sense only limited progress is being made. The technology is advancing rapidly to increase security on digital work and to protect copyright in intellectual property. Metadata tags and watermarks are among the most effective tools at present.
There were several practical sessions as well. David Jonas from Securenet spoke on how to organise online transactions, while Dr Linda Leung, from that hotbed of new media activity, the University of Technology, Sydney, gave some examples of how artists can repurpose their content content for digital production. Even closer to the bone, several speakers gave tips on how to manage an artistic website on a small budget. It could have been sub-titled Glitzy Storefront, Exhausted Shopkeeper Inside!
The academics turned out in force to talk about trends in new media art. Lecturers at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, John Colette was as practical as his colleague Anna Munster was theoretical in attempting to get a handle on what’s behind the special effects. Neither mentioned the possibility that much of the artwork is being produced for its own sake, to test the limits of the technology, but I suspect this to be true, if the impressive array of student work that we saw was to be deconstructed. It doesn’t have to be serious to be worthwhile!
My session was Nitty Gritty — current online projects, and it was interesting to see that I and Gus Gollings from Common Ground were the only print publishers on site. The absence of mainstream publishers from the conference speaks for itself.
My overall impression was that new media is a new frontier for the arts, offering exciting avenues for expression and collaboration across many artforms, including literature. I only wish that our funding agencies could see the advantage of supporting literary ventures with more dollars so that we could join the revolution as equal partners rather than as poor cousins.
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Mulligan’s Bookshop, 68 High Street, Toowong, will host a reading on Sunday, 4 August by David Reiter, from his new work Kiss and Tell. David has a soft spot for Mulligan’s, which hosted the launch of his third book, The Cave After Saltwater Tide (Penguin Books). Sadly, The Cave is out of print, but the good news is that Kiss and Tell, which is a selected as well as a collection of new poems, features a generous slab of the best from David’s five collections, including The Cave.
This is the first of what we expect will be an enduring set of IP readings at Mulligan’s, which has a reputation for hosting fine readings with wide community appeal. David will also talk about his plans to expand IP Digital’s list of multimedia and audio titles, so this is an excellent chance to catch up on the latest news and check out some of our digital titles. The event starts at 11 a.m.
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There is life after Subverse, after all. When Brett Dionysius, Melissa Ashley and the Subverse Collective announced their intention to divest themselves of responsibility for the Queensland Poetry Festival, more than a few people must have held their breath. Would the show go on? Would funding from the government agencies evaporate?
Not all the questions have been answered, but most importantly, the vacuum at the top has been filled. Award winning poets Jayne Fenton Keane and Bronwyn Lea lead a new collective, with some of the previous faces. It's pleasing to see the Festival remain in the hands of practitioners rather than administrators — though the Queensland Writers Centre will play a more active role this year.
A feature of previous festivals, the
Arts Queensland Award for Unpublished Poetry, returns this
year renamed in honour of Val Vallis, one of Queensland's distinguished
poets and academics. The prestigious prize, now in its fourth year,
is committed to encouraging emerging authors throughout Australia
and offers total prize money of $4000:
The Festival is on 27-29 of September and IP expects to have a strong presence in what we believe is Australia’s premier poetry event.
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Still on the Brisbane scene, a brief
advance notice for the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, scheduled
for the first week of October.
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We won’t be ignoring our friends down south.
On Wednesday evening, 23 October, David will be the featured reader at Live Poets at the Don Bank Museum, 6 Napier Street, North Sydney. For further info, email Danny Gardner or ring 02 9908 4527.
By popular demand, David returns to the New South Wales Writers’ Centre to offer two more introductory workshops on composing and publishing online on 27 and 28 October. But you’d better be quick: the first workshop was sold out less than three days after the Centre put out the first publicity!
By happy coincidence, the workshops are on during the Centre’s Carnivale Festival, which happens at Rozelle at the same time as the annual Independent Publishers’ Book Fair. IP hopes to have a display there and to launch our Spring Season of titles, which will include Brett Dionysius’ Bacchanalia, Lesley Singh’s Cry Ma, Ma to the Moon, David Rowbotham’s Poems for America, and the CD-ROM version of David’s Sharpened Knife.
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[This issue, we make special mention
of 4MBS Classic FM, a Brisbane community
radio station with whom IP is planning some joint activities, and
also an update on another fine Queensland enterprise Retort
4MBS has been battling it out with the ABC Classic FM for Brisbane marketshare for some time, and of course they’ll never have the resources to match the ABC’s presence in cyberspace. But like the car rental company that made a fortune by painting itself as the underdog with the expression We Try Harder, 4MBS knows its territory and where its strengths lie.
An annual event on the cultural calendar here, the 4MBS Festival of Classical Music is drawing huge crowds, many of whom are doubtlessly closet ABC listeners.
Recently one of the 4MBS people approached us with the idea of a joint venture that made perfect sense. Her son had written a sequence of poems that had been read at a series of concerts in the Festival featuring Beethoven’s sonatas. The poems were so popular that she thought it would be a good idea to publish a book that could be sold at the next Festival. We agreed.
Soon after, David Reiter met with Gary Thorpe, who manages the Station, to discuss other common ground. Perhaps we could sponsor poetry and music events during the Festival. The Station has its own recording studios and an excellent small recital hall that could serve as an excellent venue.
As you can imagine, the wheels started to turn...
Aside from us recommending that you visit the site and consider subscribing, we are offering 4MBS subscribers a 10% discount on all IP stock. It’s a good way to have your music and fine literature in one fell swoop.
Issues come out irregularly but often enough to reassure you that Retort is determined to make a place for itself at the forefront of the zine marketspace. There are a few faces familiar to the Queensland scene but enough new voices to persuade that this isn’t simply about well-worn voices, new venue.
But even digital publishers have to make a living, so we understand why the collective has decided to set up an online shop. IP occupies a bit of storefront in their mall, so those of you who want to buy via secure server transaction at the highest encryption level can now order a selected number of IP titles there. We’ll expand our list of titles there as demand warrants, so let us know if you like the service Retort offers.
But after you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, regain your composure by going back to the mag itself. You’ll find lots to entertain you.
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Announcing the Friends of IP Club
Everywhere you look people are offering you frequent flier points and the like. If you were a Star Alliance member when Ansett Airlines went down for the last time, who can blame you for wanting instant gratification.
Well, IP has such a plan. Sign up for the Friends of IP Club (FIPC) and we guarantee you’ll never be caught without your luggage on our account!
Here’s the deal. You agree to buy a minimum of two titles each year (new or from our backlist) at 10% off the GST-exclusive price and every additional title you order that year will be at a 20% discount! That includes new releases. The only condition is that you must order online either via our order page or by faxing us at 61 7 3324 9319.
You want more? OK. We’ll cover the postage and handling on the first two books and charge a flat fee of $3.30 postage and handling per book thereafter.
It couldn’t be easier to sign up. Email us with Join FIPC as your subject and list your choice of two discounted titles and free ebook. We’ll send back a confirmation with your Membership Number, which you’ll need every time you place an order.
Welcome to an exclusive club!
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A One-off $5 Off Offer
Not ready to sign on the dotted line?
We really want you to celebrate our anniversary with us, OK? So, in the absence of mail-order champagne, here’s your last chance. Order anything, yes, anything from the IP Shop via our order form or fax and we’ll discount it $5.
Order by 31 July, and we’ll cover the postage and handling, too. Do we hear corks popping?
Offer available only to individuals. One order per household, please.