January 12, 2007
Our winter started in earnest late November, with a heavy wet snowfall that broke the limbs off our huge grandfather evergreens, followed by a day of fierce northeasterly winds, and then a day of temperatures in the teens. In the middle of December winds hit down Sound the week before Christmas, and many were without power for a week. Finally on December 21, winter officially began. Today, after another snowfall, temperatures are below freezing, the wind is howling again and it’s as grey, vicious and gloomy as it can get. People have been grieving the sight of many stripped, broken, and uprooted grand trees, as if one of the few things we could count on was missing. The storms did set many people back in their holiday bustle, which may be a good thing. People had an excuse for not decorating to the hilt, or sending out cards “On time.” As if there’s an exclusive period to wish each other peace, cheer and good fortune. I’ve been hearing more about the “Season of Peace,” the 64 days from Jan. 30, the date of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, to April 4, the date of Martin Luther King’s murder. This observance began in 1998 by Gandhi’s grandson, and has been organized by the Association for Global New Thought in Illinois. Sydney Salt, the national coordinator for the Season of Nonviolence said, “It’s not just about honoring those who are working to make peace, but also about actually taking the action in your own hands and doing your part to live a nonviolent life.”
In the spirit of retrospective, I was asked to comment on the best moment in publishing in 2006. There were lots to pick from: reading from The Fisherman’s Quilt at FisherPoets Annual Gathering in Astoria, where I was told my selection held the audience “spellbound and squirming” as they heard the conflicts of a fisherman’s marriage; being approached at Wordstock in Portland with a book publishing prospect that entertained the question ‘what should be done in Iraq?’, a compilation of stories from U.S. military who served there; traveling to Washington D.C. as a Publishers Marketing Association scholarship winner to Pub U and Book Expo; giving a series of lectures on an Alaskan cruise, and feeling myself really rev up as I talked about the challenges and rewards of independent publishing; and talking to people at fairs like the Yakima Folklife Festival in July and the La Conner Quilt Festival in September. Two late-year “successes” were an Orcas Island literary caucus, confabbing with half a dozen folks who came to PNBA from our remote island; and the publication of the first volume of this newsletter (available below). But rather than a time or an event, I decided to comment on the growing acceptance of first-run paperbacks as a highlight of 2006. In 2004, when I was making decisions about publishing the novel, The Fisherman’s Quilt, I thought about my own book-buying habits, and about the demographics of what I saw as Quilt’s readership: Boomer women who’d raised a family. I am reluctant to pay over $20 for a hardcover book, and invariably wait it out until a book is available in paperback – or I rush to the library if I have to read a new hardcover book right away. So I decided to go with a paperback or softcover for the first printing of The Fisherman’s Quilt. It was uncomfortable therefore to read Stephen Rea’s column in Pacific NW Booksellers’ January 2006 newsletter, disdaining first edition paperbacks, with his comments: “None of us are fooled by the phrase “paperback original.” We all read that as “ See, we paid this author a pretty good amount of money in the form of an advance, and the book wasn’t very good, so we knew we’d never recoup that cash by throwing more of it into a hard cover edition.” Maybe his assumption should be questioned. I want Port Gamble Publishing’s books to be read by as wide an audience as possible. Now that I know more, I will price PG Pub’s books at even lower prices than Quilt, ($18.95 for 289 pages) and continue to issue them in paperback to keep the price affordable to the reader . The New York Times reported on March 22, 2006 in “Straight to Paperback: Literary Novels” by Edward Wyatt, that “a growing number of publishing companies, from smaller houses like Grove/Atlantic to giants like Random House, [are] adopting a different business model, offering books by lesser-known authors only as “paperback originals,” forgoing the higher profits afforded by publishing a book in hardcover for a chance at attracting more buyers and a more sustained shelf life. “Other publishers, like HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Random House, have also been ramping up their efforts. “It has been more of an evolution than a big jump,” said Jane von Mehren, publisher of trade paperbacks at Random House. “Getting somebody to spend $22 on a book by an author who they’ve never heard of is hard, but getting them to spend $13.95 on a paperback is much easier.” “The paperback original is not an entirely new concept, of course. European publishing companies have been doing it for years; in the United States, Beat writers were often published only in paperback in the 1960’s. Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” the seminal novel of the 1980’s, was first released as a paperback in 1984 by Vintage Contemporaries, a Random House imprint. … In response to this article, one NY Times reader, Tobin O’Donnell of San Francisco wrote back: “Where’s the incentive to pay more? I buy a hardcover only if it’s a book I can’t live without, which usually means I’ve read the paperback.” Then, in the magazine Pages Sept/Oct 2006 issue, readers voted 47% in favor of printing literary fiction in trade paperback only. Pages quotes them as saying “It will spark sales and more people will read these books.” I always strive to make Port Gamble’s books absolutely flawless in text, rights, and design. And I respect the budgets of my readers, not asking them to do something I’m reluctant to do, namely spend more than $20 for a new book. Books are physical objects: they should be as beautiful and representative of the work inside as possible, but hardback issue for inflated profit and vanity is not as important as making the book accessible to the reader who, we hope, will curl up with our books on their living room sofa, or throw them in a bag or on the car seat as they start on a trip, for the pleasure of reading.
It is fun to make predictions and see how they play out. Another trend that I detect is the growing popularity of “little books.” Years ago, when I visited the Jack London museum in Oakland, I was surprised at how much of his writing was in pamphlet form, essay booklets. In 2005, the 112-page Dinner with a Perfect Stranger made news when 175,000 copies were printed in its first run, a marketing gamble by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. The “Perfect Stranger” is Jesus Christ and the book won Publishers’ Weekly religious book of the year. In 2005, at Book Expo in New York City, my daughter and I walked from the Javits Center midtown to Ground Zero at the lower tip of Manhattan. We stopped only to browse two bookstores nearby Greenwich Village. In one of them, I was captivated by the Dover Thrift editions display, where I bought four books for $2.00 each, less than the price of most magazines, and all classic good reads. As a Christmas gift, I received a subscription to “Lunch Hour Stories” a clever little book proposition. This is a new enterprise started by Nina Bayer, and publishes short fiction from international writers. The first was a story about an Irish terrorist. In these days, it’s important to remember that terrorism is a voice of anger and desperation expressed by others as well as by Muslim jihadists. Lunch Hour Stories welcomes submissions, and conducts a short-story contest. See www.lunchhourstories.com. I also got a pretty-looking little (4” x 6” matte gold cover) book On Truth by Harry Frankfurt, who previously had written On Bullshit. Actually I find On Truth more like Frankfurt’s former title and he writes Truth as a tedious and pedantic lecture. And I really tried, reading page seven four times (one paragraph), and then reading it out loud to others, then reading it with subordinate clauses left out, and it still makes no sense. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m as harried as the next person, that I don’t have, or take, time to curl up for an hour or more with a book, to devour it . Then I think of Dickens, whose Pickwick Papers was first published in serial form, and who was as much a workaholic as our contemporaries, writing, campaigning for social betterment, and fathering how many children? Then I feel better, and am encouraged to publish smaller books, and consider serial work as well.
On the other hand, recently I was able to re-read The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, a lovely, timeless, authentic story of human nature, pride and greed. I also was fully absorbed in reading the charming Twelve Little Cakes, by Dominika Dery. “Cakes” is the story of a trusting and big-hearted little girl, nicknamed Trumpet for her “carrying” voice, who grew up in a Czech town 30 years ago, when Communism still had a controlling grip on people. So I’m pleased that I still can find time to “devour” good books, old and new.
Since the new year, I’ve enjoyed two dinner parties at a friend’s home. These small gatherings where we enjoy each others’ experiences and observations over a relaxing dinner are little bits of heaven to me. I hope and plan to enjoy more of them this year. I hope you find the tone of this newsletter similarly conversational and thoughtful. As I post them to the website, www.PortGamblePublishing.com , I would welcome your comments and responses as well, by emailing the website contact, or by meeting you personally whenever possible. If you’d like a copy of first volume of Port Gamble Publishing Newsletter September 2005-September 2006, which has all the first year’s newsletters together in one spiral-bound book, please order by email or send $18 which includes tax and shipping, to Port Gamble Publishing, PO Box 582, Eastsound WA 98245.
May 2007 bring us all great strides in peace, cooperation and fun.
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Port Gamble Publishing PO Box 582 Eastsound WA 98245 360-317-7518 The Fisherman’s Quilt ISBN 0976 109 905 www.FishermansQuilt.com Pub@FishermansQuilt.com www.PortGamblePublishing.com Pub@PortGamblePublishing.com