Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Independent Publishing as Strategy

I’m reading this book called Blue Ocean Strategy. Like most books I read nowadays, it fell in my hands randomly, but ended up speaking to me personally. The premise is that most companies tend to operate like every other company in their industry. They compete for the same customers along narrowly defined lines. Some find a way to break away from the conventional wisdom of their industry and create a “blue ocean” of “uncontested market space.”

The authors offer Cirque de Soleil as an example. In this case, it breaks from the traditional ideas of what circus and/or theater should be like. The result: There’s nothing else quite like it, which makes competing for customers’ attention much easier and more lucrative.

What does this have to do with poetry? A lot, actually. People don’t like to admit this, but book publishing is an industry, and poetry is a part of that. When we started RMP, we looked at the traditional models for starting a poetry press: Hold a contest, apply for grant money, or both.

Within those basic models, the differences between poetry presses are minimal. If you visit most press websites, their mission statements are the same (“We strive to publish the best poetry.”) What does that mean? As a consultant I heard once says, “It doesn’t mean anything. ‘Best’ is a definition only you and god know.”

Some presses try to differentiate themselves by the type of poetry they publish (“We strive to publish the best [experimental, witness, political, women’s, regional] poetry”). The differences are minute, and what’s worse—the strategy is the same. If every press competes using the same strategy, there will only ever be a small handful of presses that succeed.

Blue Ocean Strategy suggests creating new business models that buck conventional wisdom. I personally can’t stand flying Southwest Airlines, but I have to concede their success. Who thought way back when that an airline could get away with not serving a meal or assigning reserved seats? Those amenities were part of a narrow formula that airlines considered necessary to succeed.

When I look at RMP in this context, I’m encouraged. We’ve abandoned most of the conventional thinking that goes into starting a poetry press. I see a lot of advantages in not competing with other presses for contest fees and grant money. It makes us a lot more flexible, and our future is much less dependent on the trends that affect other poetry presses. For instance, if grant money dries up or so many presses are applying for grant money that each press continues to get a smaller piece of the pie—that won’t affect our ability to keep publishing books.

What we haven’t done is turn those advantages into profitability…yet. Living in D.C., we’re surrounded by the history and mythos of the punk rock scene. Independent music labels that exist as standalone companies today started out in basements. I think when you have something like RMP, where there’s nothing to lose by experimenting, you’re more likely to succeed in the long run.

What we haven't done is figure out how to maximize all the advantages of being a truly independent press. The other message in the book is that companies like Cirque de Soleil and Southwest Airlines create models that brought new value to their customers. I’m not sure what that is for a poetry audience. When we figure that out, I think we’ll be set.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Corrupting the Youth: Part III

Click here to read some feedback about my session at the CMA convention.


Corrupting the Youth: Recap

Ten minutes before my presentation started at the College Media Advisers convention on Saturday, there were zero people in the room. So I thought, this is going to suck. The hotel is about four blocks from Adams Morgan, which for those of you who’ve never been to D.C., is basically a street lined with bars. So I figured everyone went out late the night before and couldn’t drag themselves out of bed for a morning session. I couldn’t blame them, actually.

Still, nearly 20 people did show up by the time it started. The gist of the session was how to stay involved in the literary community after you get out of school. I used starting RMP as an example of the extreme. You don’t have to start a press to stay active, but it was cool to see that more than a few students in the session wanted to start their own. If you’re interested, here’s some of the content I gave them—a rough description of how much it cost. If you want more detailed information, email me, and I'll send you the specific breakdown of expenses. (Bear in mind, the losses are split three ways, and it’s over three years, so it comes out to about $5,000 each per year. I’ve spent that much money on much less worthwhile things.)



Net Loss
















As you can see, it is not a money-making venture for us, but as I said in the session, that’s not to say it couldn’t be. If we had a contest, I guarantee we’d be profitable. If we didn’t travel to AWP, we’d be profitable. If we printed the books on demand, we’d be profitable. We just don’t want to do it that way, and we don’t have to, because we have day jobs. It's a liberating feeling--something I hope I communicated during the session.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Corrupting the Youth

I'm conducting a presentation tomorrow at the College Media Advisor's convention in Washington, DC. The conference is not geared toward advisors, as one might suspect. Instead, it's for students who work on college publications, including newspapers and literary journals.

My presentation, which is titled "Keeping the Dream Alive," is supposed to give students ideas about how to stay involved in the literary scene after they graduate. Starting a press is one way, I guess.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Gridiron Poets

I don't actually have a comment on this. I just thought you'd like to know that there's a college athletic program that has embraced poets as a mascot.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

How to Win the UK's National Poetry Contest

I thought this was funny. Some "tips" on how to win it all. Click here to read.


Charles Simic in Wall Street Journal

An article about poet Charles Simic appeared in today's Wall Street Journal.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reading Series Turns 25

Anything that last 25 years is pretty remarkable, especially in the world of poetry. This year, the Midwest Poet Series celebrates its silver anniversary. To read about the series and its founder (who kept it going all these years), click here.


Monday, October 22, 2007

You Could Be Poet Laureate!

If you live in Boston, you could be the city's poet laureate. According to this story in the Boston Globe, the competition is weak. Only a few people have applied for the 2-year job, which pays $2,000 per year and requires you to give a reading or two. The application process is managed by the Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events. Click here for the downloadable application form.


Another Tongue List

Courtesy of John Moore:

73 Things to Do With Your Tongue

1. make trills on a flute
2. make staccato notes on a trumpet
3. pronounce alveolar consonants
4. pronounce velar consonants
5. clean dishes
6. provide sensual pleasure by contact with the outer body of another person
7. be rude to someone
8. help carry out a wine-tasting
9. dislodge stuff from your teeth
10. explore the inside of your mouth for wounds
11. swallowing
12. provide evidence of your health
13. grip food
14. move food around
15. direct spit
16. recognizing the taste of food that's gone off
17. lingual tonsils filter out harmful germs
18. stop saliva dribbling out
19. sculpting ice cream on a cone
20. playing shove football with cherries
21. push food onto the back teeth for grinding
22. saying tongue twisters
23. place in the cheek to say things in a subtly mocking way
24. gauge air temperature
25. find out wind direction
26. convey food items into your mouth
27. when protruding, express eagerness
28. when bitten, stop yourself from saying something stupid
29. sealing envelopes
30. attaching postage stamps
31. cleaning the lenses of spectacles
32. moistening cigarette paper after rolling over tobacco
33. holding it to remain silent
34. aids the prehension of food
35. find out what you're eating
36. when pierced, holding a stud or other adornment
37. when forked, speak dishonestly
38. cleaning fluff out of hard to reach crevices
39. getting sticky stuff off your fingers
40. soothing the pain in your thumb after a blow with a hammer
41. provide sensual pleasure by inserting in another's mouth
42. pass it over your lips to show anticipation
43. stroking your lips to encourage sexual arousal
44. balancing several full wine glasses on it to impress your friends
45. applying it to a part of your boss's anatomy when you're after a raise
46. cleaning your boss's shoes with the same object in mind
47. preening yourself if ever you're asked to do a cat impersonation
48. removing lice etc from your partner when he/she asks you about your animal instincts
49. removing fresh bloodstains from non-porous surfaces
50. removing particles of food from your moustache
51. separating the side of the plastic bags you get in rolls in order to open them
52. temporarily attaching two pieces of paper
53. tut-tutting
54. pronouncing the clicks in African languages
55. microfacial tongue thrusts to show aggression
56. creating works of art as an alternative to finger painting
57. moistening an oboe reed before playing
58. directing the air into a blowpipe
59. wail like Arab women at a funeral or wedding
60. deliver a tongue-lashing
61. annoy someone by tickling them behind the ear
62. picking up toast crumbs off the sheets after breakfast in bed
63. stealing the decoration off the top of a wedding cake
64. temporarily corking a bottle
65. give it to the cat to cheer it up when you want to keep quiet
66. blocking holes on a harmonica to play single notes
67. moisten pages of a book to make them easier to turn
68. opening the window if your hands are full and your nose hurts
69. fold it back to wolf-whistle
70. roll it, make it look like a slug dancing to scare people
71. tickle your upper palette if you are really bored/sexually frustrated
72. stretch your cheek out to pretend you're sucking a boiled sweet
73. catch rain, tears, nose droppings and other falling liquids

Friday, October 19, 2007

Guenette Thankful for Bredle's Poems

Poet Matthew Guenettee blesses Jason Bredle's poems here.


Bredle on Verse Daily

Verse Daily has posted a poem from RMP author Jason Bredle's Pain Fantasy. Check it out here.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

72 Things to Do With Your Tongue

Compliments of Jason Bredle:

72 Things to Do with Your Tongue

1) Elect a political leader.

2) Decry a political leader.
3) Sign a petition against an action a political leader has recently taken with the environment.

4) Sign a petition against pants.

5) Nod knowingly to a college student canvassing against pants.

6) Take off your pants.

7) Call a friend on the telephone to discuss your mutual hatred of pants.

8) Call a friend on the telephone to discuss your distrust of a political leader.

9) Angrily hang up a telephone and put on pants.

10) Mail a letter to a political leader.

11) Walk about town furiously and with purpose.

12) Forget about love.

13) Remember love.

14) Taste an ice cream sundae.

15) Listen to a friend discuss his recent ordeal with the phone company.

16) Impersonate a snake.

17) Impersonate a lizard.

18) Impersonate a frog.

19) Impersonate a puppy.

20) Impersonate a man walking on the moon.

21) Impersonate a college student angrily canvassing against pants.

22) Audition for the role of Neo-Nazi #1 in a Jerry Bruckheimer production.

23) March into the Gap and tell them exactly how you feel about its new line of pants!

24) Rescue a family from a burning house.

25) Rescue a family from a burning tree house.

26) Rescue a family from a burning houseboat.

27) Watch a total solar eclipse.

28) Win third place in a pie eating contest.

29) Tell a friend you love him or her.

30) Win tickets to a concert after successfully naming a song on a local radio program.

31) Learn to fly a helicopter.

32) Appreciate an opera.

33) Enter a square dancing competition.

33) Enter a break dancing competition.

34) Clean yourself.

35) Earn twenty dollars in a short amount of time.

36) Erect a monument to a political leader.

37) Play a heated game of tic-tac-toe with a friend.

38) Land an airplane.

39) Direct a Broadway musical.

40) Scale a tall building.

41) Judge a beauty contest.

42) Deliver a eulogy.

43) Deliver a package.

44) Deliver a baby.

45) Infuriate a choir.

46) Circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon.

47) Build a model airplane.

48) Become the fastest human alive.

49) Become a political leader and eliminate all pants from existence.

50) Edit a literary quarterly.

51) Signal to someone that he or she may cut in front of you.

45) Signal to someone that he or she may not cut in front of you, and doing so will anger you.

52) Participate in a longest tongue contest.

53) Participate in a shortest tongue contest.

54) Perform a sexual act in a pornographic film.

55) Complete a dissertation.

56) Indicate to a person of the opposite sex that you like him or her.

57) Judge a wet t-shirt contest.

58) Submit an abstract to a medical conference.

59) Perform quadruple bypass surgery.
60) Perform quadruple bypass surgery on a horse.

61) Make a watch.

62) Move scorpions from one box into another on a television program.

63) Lose a quarter of a million dollars playing high stakes blackjack in Vegas.

64) Write a detective novel.

65) Solve a murder.

66) Murder a detective.

67) Save a child from a terrible ferris wheel accident.

68) Direct traffic.

69) Beg a debtor to have mercy and not take your finger.

70) Mourn a recent tragedy and honor those who have died in the tragedy.

71) Make love to the person you love.

72) Lick the person you love's ass.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Top 10 (Modern) Korean Poets

The list and ranking formats are generally tired. How many ways can you write a magazine or newspaper article about the Top 10 [fill in the blank]? They're especially overdone in lifestyle magazines, where it's considered hack to have a list with less than 50 entries. The result are absurd numbers of mundane things, like "73 Things You Can Do With Your Tongue."

That said, I find rankings and lists useful when they're about a topic I know nothing about. A case in point is this recently published list of Top 10 Modern Korean poets. The rankings don't matter; I find it useful because it's a starting point for exploring the topic. I may discover eventually that I don't agree with the list at all, but without it I'd be overwhelmed by the total number of Korean poets and wouldn't know where to start.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Build Your Audience One Reader at a Time

Here’s an idea for self-promotion: A couple of writers in Seattle are giving poems away. Each one put up a box by their homes with copies of their poems. Passersby and guests are invited to take one for free. Read more about it here and ask yourself--What if there was a poetry box at every bus stop?


Poetry Center Gets New Home

One of the largest poetry collections in the world is housed at the U of Arizona Poetry Center, which just moved into a new, larger building. Read about it here.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Print on Demand: A boon to DIY publishing

In the interview I linked to below, Jen mentions that Horse Less is planning to print books with Lulu, a print-on-demand publishing company. I’ve been meaning to write about POD on this blog for awhile, because it’s a huge issue in the printing industry, especially the book publishing specifically.

First of all, if you are remotely interested in the topic of DIY publishing, you should be reading the newsletter Publishing Basics put out by Ron Pramschufer of RJ Communications. It is the single best resource on independent publishing that I read regularly because of its balance between practical info and birds-eye view of the topic. For instance, here’s a recent article on Amazon.com’s acquisition of iUniverse.

If you want some perspective on the way POD is affecting book publishing, the article is a good place to start (and then read some of the back issues). One of things I’ve taken from my reading on POD and as partner in RMP is that the print-on-demand part of POD is not exactly why it has been a boon to DIY publishers.

Most people assume the reason that print-on-demand removes a huge barrier to independent publishing is because you don’t have to pay for books that don’t get sold. However, that particular cost savings is negligible in my view. Printing 1,000 books up front is not prohibitively expensive. In fact, the unit cost is always lower than if the books are printed on demand. Where I think POD printers have done a great service for DIY publishing is not in the printing but the auxiliary services, such as listing the books on a website, taking care of order processing and mailing the printed book when someone buys them. Those are the most expensive and time consuming parts of running an independent press.


What's Jen Tynes Watching on TV?

In a recent interview at poetry blog Women on the Web, RMP author Jen Tynes gives a rundown of the things that interest her. She also discusses her role as editor and publisher for horse less press.