Vol 1, No. 3 ISSN 1442-0023
From the Director's Desk
I've just returned from New South Wales, where I had a fellowship at Booranga Writers' Centre for three weeks. Booranga is associated with Charles Sturt University, which has several campuses through the Riverina region. My host, David Gilbey, a lecturer at CSU and President of Wagga Wagga Writers Writers (that's right, you're not seeing double!), helped book me for events at Albury and Bathurst as well as at the Wagga campus. At Wagga I gave a workshop on online publishing for authors, and a seminar on the same subject to faculty from Humanities and Social Sciences, using the Letters We Never Sent Project as a case study of IP's work in electronic publishing. I'm not sure how many authors were ready to sign up for digital projects at the end of the workshop, but they certainly felt better informed about the issues involved!
In the readings around the region, I got to spread the word about IP and our new titles. The reception I received was very enthusiastic. Book sales were brisk, which is of course the name of the game for small publishers. And we now have added several new bookshops to our partnership program.
At the Wagga reading I was happy to launch a new double audio CD of authors from NSW reading their work. Big name authors such as David Malouf and Michael Wilding are on it of course, but so are many lesser known and emerging authors connected with the network of writers' centres in NSW, which sponsored the recording and production of the work. Impressive work, which bodes well for future digital projects.
While I was away, the third Queensland Poetry Festival took place in Fortitude Valley, a change of venue from the Sailing Club at West End. Organisers were disappointed that the Australia Council failed to provide funding this year, with admittedly scarce resources being diverted to southern festivals. I share the organisers' disappointment, especially in the light of the great leap forward the second festival took from the first. And this in the hands of an entirely voluntary committee. We must continue to lobby strongly for more support from government funding bodies, particularly given the growth of quality writing in this State.
However I do feel we might do more to sell the QPF as a distinctly Queensland event. The organisers need to do more to seek out emerging talent from across the State and to involve that talent in a substantial way rather than merely inviting big names from elsewhere. The latter strategy only reinforces this State's "cultural cringe" and inhibits the development of talent here. Perhaps if the Australia Council saw that the Queensland event is something more than yet another stop on the circuit for high-profile authors, we would be more successful in locking in support.
I'm pleased to see that IP authors are being invited as featured readers at major Festivals interstate as well as in Queensland. This shows that IP is becoming a major player on the national publishing scene. Our first short fiction title, Triangles has had a positive review in The Australian, and its cover design was chosen for the cover of August's Australian Book Review. Of course, a publishing house is only as good as its authors, so much of the credit is due to Juliana, Andrew and Michael, who have recognised the importance of taking their work to their readers.
A special treat for subscribers is a first view of Letters We Never Sent, my poetic hypertext work, now available online for a limited time. It's a beta version to be polished shortly for release in Adobe Acrobat format for downloading from the site or you can order a copy on CD. In our next issue, we'll have a preview of our Spring Season. In the meantime, happy browsing!
Publishers cannot live on grants alone. Nor can authors survive on mere recognition at Festival readings and the like. Books need to be sold, but where are the buyers?
Certainly not the bookshops. A recent IP survey found that very few shops in NSW stock contemporary poetry, even fewer have a separate poetry section to attract buyers. Even in Sydney, Gleebooks is the only shop with a comprehensive selection of poetry from interstate as well as from local authors. And sales there are hardly brisk. One regional bookseller went so far as to say that sales of "literary" titles - and that includes fiction - represent less than one percent of his total sales.
The situation is not much better with libraries. Certain libraries have a commitment to poetry's place in their collection, whether or not it can be demonstrated that their clients borrow such books. Generally, if a book is short-listed for a major prize, that will improve its sales to libraries. But for authors of merit, whose work is not acknowledged with a prize (and there are many!), the road is much more difficult.
IP's experience is that at least 75% of its titles are sold at Festivals, readings and other personal contacts between authors and readers. This means that authors need to get out there and perform, whether or not they like doing it. From the publisher's perspective, an author's willingness to promote his/her work - and his/her ability to do so well - must become an important factor in the decision about the work's commercial viability.
Polished performance is an essential factor in the promotion of a new title. Yet few Festivals and writers' groups feature workshops intended to improve an author's ability to present work. This includes developing a sense of the kind of work that is suited to performance. Do we assume that excellent work will sell no matter how poorly it's read? And what about work that cannot stand on its own? We need more master classes in performance - and not just in "performance poetry" - where authors learn how to read for their audiences in ways that enhance their work.
Libraries and bookshops need to take a more active role in promoting literary work. By sponsoring readings and workshops that feature poets and other literary authors, they improve book circulation and sales, which should help enlarge the audience for poetry. Hearing work performed well often tips the balance in the mind of prospective buyers for work they might not otherwise have the patience to sit down and read. For libraries this can mean a spill-over of interest to other contemporary authors. For bookshops, the benefits beyond immediate sales should be obvious.
That poetry deserves to be supported is not in dispute. But all of us need to work harder at it.
The ABC's National Poetry Day is a good first step. But it's over far too quickly, and easily missed. In the United States, there's a National Poetry Month that puts the work living authors before the public in for a sustained time. The well-respected publisher Knopf sponsored a free email circular that sent a poem a day to subscribers anywhere in the world. Besides the poem, there was a short artistic bio of the author and a list of his/her other works, with links to other sites where readers could see more work and order it online. No excuses - we can and should do more to promote the work of our authors.
There is too much lip service and altruism about literary work these days and not enough commitment to getting it out there to people who would enjoy it if only they knew about it.
Publishers need to actively promote their literary titles. They must keep the pressure on the media to give poetry a wider exposure, so that people will see reviews of new books and know about launches and readings. If literary work had a tenth of the exposure on air that sports receives, sales would improve dramatically.
Authors need to consider other modes of presentation of poetic work that will appeal to wider audiences. They need to embrace the new technologies and collaborate across artforms to ensure poetry takes its rightful place in the new Millenium.
Festival organisers need to work harder at inviting a cross-section of talent from across the country, not just proven established authors. They need to try new locations that will bring literary work to new audiences rather than waiting for the audiences to come to them. For example, when the recent Queensland Poetry Festival shifted from the Sailing Club at West End to Fortitude Valley, a mix of the rough-and-tumble and the trendy, many people who had never been to a poetry reading found themselves enjoying it.
Writers' Centres need to actively develop networks of all of the above to ensure greater exposure for literary authors. They need to collaborate with universities, schools and business to attract money for residencies to bring authors to their community for extended periods of time that allow the author time to work on a project and give community groups the benefit of workshops and readings, which are also excellent opportunities for book sales.
Above all, we need to buy more literary work. How many times have we been to readings where the author is thanked with generous applause but only a few sales? We should hold the applause and reach for our wallets. And consider buying a book for someone who would enjoy it all the more for having you give it to them. Maybe they'll buy their own copy next time, or even return the favour. If we all bought just six books a year, literary publishing would flourish, and pep talks like this would be unnecessary.
Maybe we need a National Poetry Year to get it all started.
As a subscriber to IP eNews, we're pleased to offer you a free view of the beta version of Letters We Never Sent, David Reiter's poetic hypertextual work, the fifth work of poetry from this multi-award winning author.
In brief, the project began as a traditional book of poems by the same name. A sustained dramatic piece, it employs the use of voices, real and metaphorical. There is Paul Gauguin, writing back to his wife Mette from his retreat on Tahiti; Ronald Symes, an English journalist trying to make sense of his new life on the Cook Islands; and various contemporary speakers who move between islands and time zones. Transposing the work into html and then hypertext has made it easier to be read spatially and associatively rather than a traditional linear fashion.
The html version is essentially the print version online, with hyperlinks to various sections of the work, coded to the work's main speakers. You can order final version online in Adobe Acrobat. On the CD we send you, you'll also receive The Gallery, the hypertexual version, combining text and graphics.
The Project has been supported by a Special Initiatives Grant from Arts Queensland, for which IP is grateful.
In 2000, David plans to extend Letters into a full hypermedia version, to include sound and perhaps video, depending on the outcome of a grant application currently before Arts Queensland. He plans to work in residence at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where they have excellent New Media studios and expertise in hypermedia work.
But more on that later. For the moment we invite you to visit the Letters We Never Sent site and to let us know what you think. Or you can start with The Gallery and flit back and forth between it and the html version - the choice is yours.
We're pleased to announce that IP authors will be participating in several events over the coming months.
Juliana Burgensen-Bednareck was featured at the recent Queensland Poetry Festival and the Australian Poetry Festival in Sydney. She'll also be featured at the Melbourne Poetry Festival at Chapel Off Chapel, from 3 September. She is slated for a reading at Parliament House at the Brisbane Writers' Festival on 16 October at 12:30 p.m. Her most recent work is Bermuda and the Other Islands.
Michael Sariban, who also read at the Queensland Poetry Festival, will have his new book, Facing the Pacific launched by Judith Rodriguez at the Melbourne Poetry Festival. He'll share the bill with Juliana, Dorothy Porter and Shiela Murphy at the BWF's Parliament House reading.
David Reiter at Booranga (photo courtesy of The Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser)
David Reiter was in residence at Booranga Writers' Centre (Charles Sturt University) during much of July and August and had readings in Wagga Wagga, Albury, Bathurst and Canberra before undertaking a promotional tour for IP in Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and other stops on his way back to Brisbane. He'll appear at the Melbourne Poetry Festival to talk about publishing, as well as reading from Triangles and Hemingway in Spain. Then it's on to North America, for readings, workshops, conferences, and contacts with American independent publishers and distributors, with an eye to extending IP's market to North America. The latter trip is being sponsored by a Professional Development Grant from Arts Queensland. Early in the new year, David will read and speak at a conference at the University of Barcelona, along with other notable authors such as David Malouf and Venero Armanno, the theme being Australia in the New Millennium. The conference and his subsequent reading tour at several stops in Spain are being supported by grants from the Australia Council, the University of Barcelona and other sponsors in Spain.
While at Booranga, David led seminars on authoring and publishing online for faculty at CSU and members of the Wagga Wagga Writers Writers. Similar sessions are planned for next year at the NSW Writers' Centre and South Coast Writers' Centre (Wollongong).
IP is happy to arrange activities for its authors at festivals, writers' centres, bookshops and libraries. Please contact us for further information.
Welcome to Sara Moss, who will act as first point of contact at IP while David is away, and who will then help out with editorial and other tasks upon his return. Sara brings a love of poetry to her post as well as years of experience in editing and publishing.
Sara has a special interest in online publishing, and her experience will be a valuable addition, given IP's planned expansion into that area in 2000.
We'll provide a more complete profile on Sara in the next issue of IP eNews.
It's a rare event in poetry publishing these days, but our first title Hemingway in Spain and Selected Poems will shortly be reprinted. Following its success at the 1998 Adelaide Festival and several very positive reviews in The Australian, The Australian Book Review and elsewhere, the book has sold well across the country, due in substantial part to reading tours David has undertaken since its publication. Demand is expected to be high during his upcoming reading tour in the United States, where there's renewed interest in Hemingway, this year being the 100th anniversary of the controversial author's birth. An American co-publication is a distinct possibility.
Another exciting prospect is David's reading tour of Spain that is scheduled for early next year (see above). David is already working on an adaptation of the book into theatrical script. Next step, a translation into Spanish?
For those of you who haven't ordered a copy of Hemingway there's still time to do so before the first print run dries up, but to avoid back-ordering don't delay!
That's right; you read it here first. IP will publish an anthology of literary work by Queensland authors or about Queensland by non-residents in time for the Olympics. Tentative title: Writers on the Verge A Tropical Celebration of Y2K. Got a better idea for a title? Let us know!
Here's the shape of it. It will have a life in print, but we, depending on logistics and funding, we will aim to produce a digital version. At the very least, a selection will be published on the web site, with audio as well as text, possibly video.
The theme should be obvious from the title. But the work should be thought-provoking, providing a snapshot of Queensland, its people and its mores, as we enter Y2K.
We plan to award prizes for the following:
The work will be shamelessly launched, promoted and sold at whatever venues present themselves.
Conditions of entry:
If your entry is chosen for publication, you will receive one free copy of the print publication. If a digital version is produced, all entrants will be offered the chance to purchase it at a 25% discount, postage included.
Cheques or money orders payable to Interactive Publications, 9 Kuhler Court, Carindale 4152.
Your Name (please print):
Title(s) of Work(s):
Your artistic bio (no more than 100 words):
I have read and accept the conditions of entry above and enclose the appropriate entry fee and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Included in the fee, please find an additional amount for ___ copies of the print publication at the special pre-release price of $15 (postage included).