Independent Publishing Retrospective

January 5, 2008

A retrospective and a look forward seem called-for in this issue of the Port Gamble Publishing newsletter. Since last I wrote, I attended several conferences, speaking on self-publishing. Although my trips off-island have been severely curtailed by the time crunch in getting the weekly newspaper that I edit to the newsstands (my days “off” are Sundays and Tuesdays), in September and October, I traveled to the mainland four times to attend five book publishing and/or book selling events: Book Publishers’ NW “Business of Books” conference at Discover University in Seattle The Whatcom Association of Writers monthly meeting in Bellingham Pacific NW Booksellers Association in Bellevue Write on the Sound conference in Edmonds La Conner Quilt Festival At the BPNW Business of Books conference, (where my assigned topic was “Genre: memoir or novel”), I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes – predicting the future. Here’s what I see as upcoming trends in books: Travel morphing into multi-cultural consciousness a la Marty Essen Cool Creatures, Hot Planet, written “to entertain and enlighten my readers and to defend animals who aren’t considered warm and cuddly;” and Small World Productions’ new video series, Richard Bangs’ Adventures with Purpose Little books Animal stories, building on the Marley and Me phenomenon Tom Master, author of Blogging Quick & Easy: A Planned Approach to Blogging Success presented recent innovations in publishing, with strong emphasis on Internet “inventions” such as book trailers, widgets, blogs, RSS feeds, as ways to approach new readers and build an audience. He suggested exploring such sites as Digg (for web content) Lifehacker and Techno Easy (for managing websites), and blogs such as Frank Warren’s postsecret.blogspot.com and grammargirl.com.

Later this fall, I came across two local writers whose work you can follow on their websites, http://deborahsamazingalaskanadventure.blogspot.com/ is Deborah Rhoades, a former Lopez Island resident who’s pulled up stakes to move to a rustic cabin near Homer, Alaska to work with sled dogs; and http://chrysbuckley.blogspot.com/, where Chrys Buckley, who is albino, has written an inspiring and heartbreaking account of her life’s challenges, beginning with remote and unloving parents.

My experiences at PNBA in Bellevue are recounted on the Port Gamble Publishing blog, www.PortGamblePublishing.com.

At the “Write on the Sound” conference, there was a lively discussion in the self-publishing workshop where I presented my experiences and plans, which boiled down to the responsibility of self-published authors to present a book that meets, if not exceeds, the standards of the best publishers in terms of cover art, clean, “comfortable” text and book design, and an author or author’s representative prepared to market and distribute books in a professional and consistent manner. Book author and NY Times columnist Tim Eagan gave the keynote speech, from which I took a discouraging message: write your book when it’s fresh, vital. I was discouraged because there’s been so much time elapsed, and so much “tweaking” since I started working on my memoir. I have a lot of work to do. You can see my progress at my blog, http://capitolhillclick.blogspot.com . A writing colleague, Penn Wallace, of Blue Water and Me, had moderated the self-publishing panel, and we sat together at the keynote speech. While we waited for Eagan to begin his speech, Penn told me of his plans: to publish a spy story, and thereby earn enough money to bankroll his epic, his family story of life on a Mexican haciendas and the early-20th century revolution and his grandmother’s “enslavement” to her U.S. employers and his grandfather proposing to her at his first wife’s funeral procession.

At these events, the people and stories I encounter enrich my life and publishing experience. I learn of the sponsors and partners for various publishing projects, the extent of self-publishing, the contracts offered by different publishers, the back-stories of books and publishers, and I’m encouraged and inspired, and sometimes outraged.

I’ve been trying to figure out what I think, if I should care, and what I should do about the screen-writers’ strike and the decline of newspaper journalism.

As I understand it, the screenwriters have been striking since November, with their basic demand being payment for their work’s publication on and through the Internet – seems reasonable to me. At first it seemed like they were enjoying “slumming” like other blue-collar union workers who go on strike. Now it seems that screenwriters and their clients and audiences are forging new agreements, finding new sources. It reminds me of when Reagan “broke” the air-traffic controllers’ union when they struck in 1981, and I expect a radically different arrangement will emerge from the strike.

The decline of newspaper journalism and the FCC’s decision to allow major TV and radio stations to own newspapers in the same markets concerns me, as a journalist and as a lifelong reader of newspapers and magazines. Like books, I don’t think newspapers will ever completely die. Yet, I see and hear of the decline in readership, of books and of newspapers, as people who don’t have that devotion to the printed page, (and even those, like me, who do) turn more and more to the Internet for their news, their information and their entertainment.

I picked up The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electonic Age by Sven Birkerts at the library, and would recommend this book to those who care about the future of reading as an element of basic thinking (not just processing text into meaning, but considering the thought expressed).

I also spoke with Barbara Lewis about a new Writers’ Conference being planned for Orcas Island in September 2008. Barbara and I talked about the difference between love of story and love of words – how impatient we are when word choice seems to drive the writing, to the neglect of telling a story to the reader. Barbara brought out the market-driven hunger for new books; an unreasonable demand, she feels, when “not that many great new books are written.” It reinforces my appreciation for the good stories, or good writing in old books, and I take pleasure in noting that Birkerts’ book was published over 12 years ago, in 1994.

I also value the story in Gutenberg Elegies of Birkerts’ own challenges in finding his writer’s voice – the literary essay. In a personal and clear way, he describes the path of a writer to finding the lifestyle, time, and then voice and resultant audience of his writing.

My calendar of public events is pretty skinny right now, just Feb. 22-23 FisherPoets in Astoria, Oregon. But I’ll be posting to my websites, and preparing for the publication of The Wild and Holy Child this summer. And I always appreciate hearing back from you.

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.

Margaret Doyle The Fisherman’s Quilt ISBN 0978 976 109 907