Vol 2, No. 1 ISSN 1442-0023
From the Director's Desk
I've just returned from a tour of Spain and a sidetrip to Paris and am delighted to announce that IP has laid the foundation for distributing work in Spain and France.
The first major event I attended was a very successful conference, Changing Geographies: Australia in the New Millennium at the University of Barcelona. Sponsored by the University, the Australian Embassy in Spain and the Australia Council, the conference brought together a number of academics from Europe as well as a large contingent from Australia, particularly La Trobe University, which has a special relationship with the University of Barcelona in trying to forge closer ties between our two countries.
I was impressed by the number of disciplines represented at the conference. For my part I read selections from Hemingway in Spain and Selected Poems, which probably was my ticket for getting there in the first place. But Sue Ballyn, the convenor, had also asked me to speak about IP's digital publishing program, which found a great deal of interest among participants.
From Barcelona I travelled to Madrid, where I had a reading with Merrill Findley (Republic of Women, UQP, 1999) at the Australian Embassy. The reading was organised by Silvia Cuevas, one of the directors of Aconcagua Publishing in Madrid, who also participated in the Barcelona conference. Silvia and I will be working closely to develop markets in our respective countries for our publications, and IP titles are now available for order from Aconcagua.
Later in my tour I lectured to classes at universities in Tarragona and Lleida, and I was pleased to see such enthusiasm and interest in the students there in contemporary literature Down Under. The Universitat de Lleida edits a series of interviews entitled Multi-cultural Voices, the most recent issue of which contains interviews with Venero Armanno, Peter Goldsworthy and John Kinsella. For further information, contact Brian Worsfold, the Series Editor.
While the Internet has done much to shorten the distances between us, there's still no substitution for visiting people in their own cultures and exchanging views and work in person. But now the stage has been set for collaboration, so I'm sure I'll have more to report from Spain in future issues.
I had intended to come back to Australia after Spain, but Elaine Lewis, owner of the Australian Bookshop, convinced me to come up to Paris. Since I'd never been to France, let alone Paris, it didn't take much arm-twisting. Again, I'm grateful to the Australia Council, for their assistance in getting me there, as well as several other Australian authors who were in the vicinity. The event there was Expolangue, a major convention that sees more than 20,000 people come to Paris each year to see the latest developments in language training. Australia was the host country this year, so our readings were a cultural infusion into the program.
A highlight was being invited to a reception at the Embassy for visiting authors hosted by John Spender, Australia's Ambassador to France. You couldn't ask for a better view of the Eiffel Tower, which put on a display almost as good as on 2000 Today, the television program that covered the global celebrations ushering in the new year.
It's taken Elaine several years to make her mark in France, where things Australian are still unfamiliar, but she's developed many contacts across Europe. She's determined to help IP develop more distribution channels, and more of our titles are now available for order directly from The Australian Bookshop. European readers please take note!
By the time you read this, IP will already have had the launch of its Autumn season. I invite those of you who were unable to make it to the launch to read more about the titles below and to place your orders for them in the very near future - certainly before the GST applies!
The bad news is that with the release of the print version of Letters We Never Sent our offer to view the hypertextual version, "The Gallery", has now expired. The good news is that The Gallery, which always was a "beta version", will soon be replaced by a multimedia version of Letters, which is even now under construction, thanks to a grant from Arts Queensland and an invitation from the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada to assume a residency there in April. This will give me access to their New Media facilities, which should ensure an excellent final product. More good news is that those of you who purchase the print version will be entitled to a discount on the multimedia version, so keep your receipt!!
Recently, The Sydney Morning Herald, which almost never publishes poetry or reviews of Australian poetry books any more, published two articles on the state of the genre here and overseas. The misleading title seemed to suggest that Americans are more interested in our verse than we are ourselves. The evidence was that The Atlanta Review, billed as one of the top five poetry magazines in the world (!) has decided to publish a special issue on Australia's "best" poets. The editor, Dan Veach, asked John Tranter to submit a long list of poets and their work. The final list of 30 missed out notables like Les Murray not because John didn't ask him, but... The final list may also say more about the galvanised state of Australian poetry, and the mistake of inviting only one commentator of note to assemble a list of the worthy. The temptation to weight acceptances to those whose work conforms to one's own sense of what good poetry "is" is always a danger, however respected the editor may be.
While any attention to Australian poetry abroad is welcome, the truth of matter is that poetry is just as marginalised in the United States. On a proportional basis, the print runs are just as slim, if not more so, than they are here. While a few mainstream publishers still maintain their poetry lists, it's only because economies-of-scale (and sales of cookbooks?) allow it. Talk to the owners of the "literary" bookshops to get the true story - poetry's a hard sell there, too, and audiences for it are hard to come by. True, major outlets like Borders maintain stocks of poetry that would make Gleebooks blush, but where are the Australian authors? None to be seen in the recent sample I took, not even the "Big Fella" of Aussie poetry himself. And as a percentage of total stock in Borders, American poetry is barely a blip on the balance sheet.
Admirable as Dan Veach's aim is to "introduce Australian poetry to a wider American audience", he'll have his work cut out for him, even at the Adelaide Festival and Gleebooks. But we wish him well. And perhaps John Tranter would like to return the favour by inviting a prominent American poet to edit a special issue on American poetry, perhaps in Jacket, for a wider Australian audience. After all, it has been said that Australians buy more books per capita than Americans.
In the pursuit of larger markets, every little bit helps.
You only have to pick up a copy of your latest Writers' Centre newsletter to see them - flocks of companies advertising for "self-publishers" to come to them for support services. Gone with the wind are the ghost writers who would polish slack prose into something more attractive for the mainstream publishing houses. They've been upgraded by people offering assessment, editing, pre-press, print management, etc - everything to do with getting your book out there and in the hands of readers eagerly awaiting it.
Lately, the ranks have been swollen with individuals and companies offering digital publication, on the Internet and on portable media such as CDs. Have computer, can publish on the Net, and for much less than doing it in print form, or so the story goes.
Problem is, there's no regulation of this new industry. Anyone can post an ad or upload a web site. But what are their qualifications for providing the services they offer? What quality standards do they impose on the work they perform?
If self-publishers only look at the bottom line they could be in for a rude - and costly - wakeup call.
It's time that groups like the ASA and the various writers' centres did some pointed research on behalf of their members. For example, the NSW Writers' Centre recently sent us a survey asking about Glass House Books, our self-publishers' imprint. Beyond the usual contact address details, there were no questions about quality control. For example, who are the key staff involved in project work? What are their formal qualifications to assess, edit, print manage and so forth? Do they have a quality assurance process in place? Exactly what will a self-publisher get for their money and what control do they have over the process?
Vanity publishing by any other name is still vanity publishing. If these companies do not offer a comprehensive editing service, and strongly encourage clients to use it, they are doing them a disservice. How many New Publishers would be prepared to recommend against publication of a work they know is bound to fail, even if they miss out on their fee? Publishing a book in whatever medium without regard to its merits or its refinement is commercial opportunism, and writers' organisations have a responsibility to protect their members against such exploitation.
These standards should also apply to companies offering assessment services. I often get submissions that include "professional" assessment reports, for which the authors have paid good money. Without naming any names, the quality of these assessments varies considerably. Sometimes the report is nothing more than a whitewash, praising the author and boldly commending the work to whatever publisher is lucky enough to receive it. The author is worse off for paying the assessment fee, for now she will be all the more convinced, when her manuscript is rejected, that the publisher has been unfair.
Anyone at all familiar with the publishing industry knows that producing a book is the easy part - getting it out there and sold is the important thing. Many self-publishers need to be educated about the risks and responsibilities that go along with publishing their work. How essential it is for them to get out there and actively promote their work once it appears. With their local radio stations and newspapers, as well as with the big name media outlets. New Publishers need to be surveyed about how they approach these issues - if they bother with them at all. How do they promote the work? What methods of distribution do they employ? What fees do they charge for these services? Writers' organisations need to more strongly encourage self-publishers to attend workshops that will prepare them to deal with these matters.
The risks are even greater with digital publication, especially on the Internet. It's easier for companies to publish and forget. At least boxes of books have a way of reminding publishers that there's work to be done. Digital publishers should be able to show that their method of publishing has reasonable exposure on the Web. How do they inform the market when new work is published? Is there an online promotional strategy that enourages prospective buyers to have a look at new work when it comes out? What links do the publishers have with other literary sites, and how frequently are these updated? Do they work with online bookshops and distributors? And encourage partnerships with conventional bookshops (since many people still use the Net just for browsing). Self-publishers and writers' organisations should explore the publishers' web site to determine the effectiveness of the strategies as applied to existing works.
The revolution in technologies has made it possible for individuals to elude the conventional gate-keepers. With the right hardware and software, anyone can publish. But the key task remains to publish well. As more and more gets published, it's even more incumbent on authors and publishers to be rigorous about quality standards; otherwise the work they publish will disappear without a trace. And that will not do them or the future of literary publishing any good.
For authors the best advice is to know thy publisher and to make an informed decision in which cost is only one factor.
Will the copyright lawyers ever catch up with the digital world? Probably not.
For most authors, the greatest fear is having someone steal their work once it's been published online. This, despite the advice of some specialists that there's actually more protection in publishing your work on the Net, where access to it is no longer an issue. (Access can be hard to prove if an alleged infringer of a conventional work denies having a copy of the original).
But one issue that hasn't been discussed much is how long the relationship between publisher and author should continue after the work appears online. Conventional contracts rely on a use-by-date, usually two years or around the date on which a book is declared "out-of-print", as the time at which rights revert to the author. This allows him to sell the work to someone else, self-publish a new edition himself, or adapt the work into a different form without having to pay the original publisher.
Digital publishing allows for work in theory at least to be available for sale indefinitely. Once uploaded to a web site, or produced on a master CD, there is no use-by-date. So the commercial relationship between author and publisher can continue indefinitely. But what if the author's work "breaks out" and suddenly becomes a commercial success? Or the opposite - it languishes on a web site that produces little or no income?
Publishers have already recognised that the royalty relationship between them and their authors should be different online. Since publishers are only up for the cost of producing the digital master and uploading it, in the case of the Net, or runnng off sufficient CDs to meet demand, they are prepared to offer the author higher royalties. But 40% of nothing is still nothing, and the author's right to terminate an unsatisfactory relationship needs to be protected.
It would seem that online publishers could include a clause in their contracts that imposes a right of review on them after a reasonable period of time, say two years, has elapsed. At that time the author should have the right to review the publisher's success in selling the work. Where he deems sales to be unsatisfactory, he could declare that particular "edition" of the work out of print, opening up the possibility of selling it on elsewhere. Periodic review periods could be specified thereafter.
What's in it for online publishers? Such reviews would allow them to purge their sites of work that isn't selling, simplifying administration and the access to more popular work by prospective buyers.
IP is reviewing its contract provisions for online work at present and would welcome your comments. In the next issue, we'll publish any we feel would add to the debate, so please have your say.
IP has published three new titles so far in 2000, two of which were launched at our Autumn Season Celebration at the Queensland Art Gallery on 12 March. And we now offer audio clips of the authors reading selections from their work.
For further information, including ordering details, click on the cover of the title.
Letters We Never Sent is David P Reiter's fifth poetry work. It melds the poetic 'voices' of Paul Gauguin, in his self-imposed exile on Tahiti, writing back to his wife Mette, agonising over his life as an artist, his role as a father, and his tortuous relationship with Vincent Van Gogh. Interweaved with Gauguin's narratives are those of Ronald Symes, a British journalist who similarly turned his back on England to look for...what? A contemporary persona travels between Tahiti and the Cook Islands and other ports of call to reflect on related themes, establishing that Gauguin and Symes' concerns are timeless.
Just when you're getting comfortable with the flow of things, Reiter introduces 'Internet' sections, written during the process of composing the work. Just as the click of a mouse can send you instantly into uncharted waters, these sections play, like jazz improvisations, on the main themes of the work.
Letters is the first IP work to have its initial launch overseas: in Spain at the Changing Geographies: Australia in the New Millennium at the University of Barcelona, then at Expolangue in Paris.
Not that we plan to make a habit of this. The author was there at the time, and had advance copies with him, so...
Also launched on 12 March at the Queensland Art Gallery was Sara Moss' debut poetry collection, A Deep Fear of Trains. This also is the first in IP's Emerging Authors' Series, which showcases the brightest young talent on the Australian literary scene.
A Brisbane author, Moss delves right in to subjects other authors avoid: the isolation of children confined to hospital, the compassion of a woman toward the children she can never have, the nightmare of trains faced by a mother who lost her son to one in an accident. But there are also pieces that go beyond the personal, such as the magic realism of the sequence "Losing the Kingdom".
Sara Moss is a talent to read and enjoy now, and watch in the future.
Read more about Sara in the Focus below.
Recently released from Glass House Books is the first adult novel by Sydney author R. D. Morrison. A courageous book, it tackles some of the hard issues about life in Sydney, Australia. But its themes are universal and timely as we enter a new millennium in which we will hopefully be energised by a sense of greater social responsibility.
R. D. Morrison, already recognised as an accomplished novelist for older teenagers, extends his range in this intriguing and unusual adult novel. Showing sensitivity and concern for a sector of our young people often shunned by society, he explores pressing questions such as whether we can really choose our own destiny, and whether the struggle between good and evil can ultimately be won.
Deep Fear of Trains is a very personal journey for me, a journey
with no defined beginning, middle or end. In the early 1990's I began writing
poetry both for performance and the page but the nucleus of the collection
really started to form in 1997, following a poetry master class with David
Reiter. This prompted me to take a closer look at my work. Up until then,
I had written short visual poems on a diverse range of subjects but was
less aware of any dominant themes or undercurrents.
I wrote the title poem "A Deep Fear of Trains" when I was going through a particularly difficult time, working through the feelings of grief and depression that come with living with a chronic illness. On reflection, the loss and subsequent fear experienced by the mother in the poem, echoed facets of my own life on which I was only just beginning to touch in my work. This thread of fear and angst and the determination to work through it, to move "through the carriages" comprises the core of the collection.
The subjects of my poetry are not drawn solely from personal experiences. In her review for the back cover, Jennifer Strauss noted a focus on 'the violence of public and private life and the anger that women direct at each other as well as men'. Growing up in Australia and attending a local public high school, I was deeply affected by the horrendous abuse suffered by some of my close friends at the hands of male relatives. Poems like "Lies" and "Rocking Horse" give voice to this theft of innocence. There are other important gender aspects to my poetry, I am interested in the differing experiences of men and women and how these are manifested in art. The poems "Different Perspectives" and "Bodies" are good examples of this.
I don't shy away from political comment. In poems such as "Correspondent" and "Mr Violence", I tackle subjects which profoundly moved me. "Mr Violence" was written following Prime Minister John Howard's failure to say sorry for The Stolen Generation but it galvanised my thinking on the subject of genocide. The Twentieth Century has been the century of genocide, and those of us living and writing in it have been shaped to one degree or another by this history.
A Deep Fear of Trains negotiates the difficult territory between personal experiences and the wider world. These two worlds face off in the poem "In This Space". The speaker struggles to assert her own truth in the face of a deceptive reality from popular culture and organised religion. It is a poem about identity, fear, powerlessness and ultimately survival.
For me, poetry is only ever therapeutic in hindsight. The practice of writing it is intellectual, challenging me to move beyond catharsis to a deeper awareness and understanding of my own experiences. The function of my performance poetry is similar but there is more emphasis on the communicative, entertaining and humorous elements.
[Editor's Note: Sara's debut collection, A Deep Fear of Trains, was launched at the Queensland Art Gallery on 12 March]
Everyone's offering them, so who are we not to join in?
From 1 July, our titles will cost you at least 10% more. We say at least because we will have to pass on any increases we have to pay our printers, etc. Unlike some, we're doing the right thing by you by not jumping the gun and anticipating cost increases. Perhaps we're naive, but we're hoping the Government's right in asserting that costs should stay the same or even drop as a result of the GST and the removal of the old taxes.
That said, we'd like to offer our loyal IP eNews readers a special "not to be repeated". Place an order to us by email by 23 June and we'll pay the postage and handling costs to fill your order and take 10% off the cover price of any book you order.
There's more. Order a second book - other than our new releases listed above - and get 20% off the cover price.
The insanity continues. Order a third book and get 30% off the cover price of that book.
How low can we go? To 40%, actually. Order a fourth book and get 40% off that one. And 40% off every subsequent title ordered in the same shipment.
The deal applies to different titles, or multiple copies of the same one. Or a combination of different titles.
Be sneaky. Order for friends. Relatives. Writers' or readers' groups. Anyone you want to reward with good literature.
When you think of how much you'll save off the price with GST, postage and handling, plus the discount, how can you pass it up?
There's no better way to show you care about independent Australian publishing. You might even have enough titles to keep you going until the Government realises the mistake they've made and removes the GST from books!
This offer is for individuals and libraries. But you must order from us directly and mention our Millennium Special.