Tuesday, September 06, 2011
a peak inside dancing girl press
Since the Blazevox discussion has alot of editors talking about their various publishing models (all of which vary delightfully and offer potential authors a glimpse into different experiences), I thought I might offer a rundown of how we do what we do at dancing girl the best I can.
Of course, like many of other editors offering a glimpse behind the scenes, the we in dancing girl press is pretty much singular--mostly I mean me. I have occasional assistance in the assembly part, but for the most part, I make all editorial decisions, read all manuscripts, and handle design, layout, and publicity efforts. I have often thought of rounding up an intern or two, but am also a control freak and fear that having another person underfoot might be more of a hindrance than a help given the odd hours and catch as can time I tend to spend working on things. ( I work 40 hours a week elsewhere in addition to the 3-4 hours a day or so I spend on the press.) I sort of have a finely tuned production system in place (some might say an OCD system) so it’s not all as chaotic as it might appear. I like to think the we, though, also includes the of the authors we’ve published , who take a pivotal role in not only penning the works, but in offering suggestions (general or specific) for cover art, proofing, promoting their own books and the press in general (scheduling readings, interviews, suggesting placement of review copies.)
What We Publish
The bulk of our titles come to us through our open submission periods every year, typically during the summer months with a few solicited works thrown in here and there (usually these are manuscripts by local poets I seek out or work by wicked alice contributors that have caught my interest.) I read all manuscripts and sort them into three folders, basically a yes, absolutely file, a maybe if I can fit it in file and a no thanks file. Then I battle it out from there.
We tend to get between 300 and 400 submissions, and I usually aim to take around 20 manuscripts at a time, but the “maybe” file sometimes gets me into trouble if there’s too much in there that I feel I may want to publish. (which is why we weren’t open for as long this summer, I took more manuscripts and extended that schedule into mid 2012). I try to schedule only a year ahead, otherwise it seems rather long to wait for chaps, which feel like they should be somewhat more immediate than full-length books. I also try to take on as many manuscripts as I want and feel comfortable publshing, since I feel like the larger a press' reach the better the returns, ie the more authors we publish, the more corners of the literary world we invade, the better exposure for both press and all our titles and the better the chance of people finding us and taking an interest in what we do. It's alot of work, but very much worth it. I suppose it's the difference between a small drop in the poetry universe and a small trickle.
I do all pre-production design work, printing and assembly in our studio space (well, and sometimes during long lonely service desk shifts at my day job). Each title is usually started off with a run of about 50-75, with additional smaller batches produced as needed to fill orders and /or author needs. We try to keep each title in print for as long as we can, though some are limited editions (usually due to special material needs or author’s request.) Cover designs are usually based on author ideas and /or my own. I have perfected my system of layout over the years and typically have several projects afloat in various stages of production at a time. Late in the year, we sometimes fall behind due to variations in my own available time which fluctuates throughout the year, but I try to keep with in at least a few months of my predicted release dates (or do my best to.) Once the initial layout is completed, it usually goes to the author for proofing and any changes. I tend to accept work that I feel doesn’t need any sort of editorial suggestions on my part (ie that I am happy with from the beginning) but I may occasionally make suggestions for consistency or layout reasons (line length, page breaks, etc.) Once the final corrections have been returned to me, I will make the changes and begin printing and assembly, which usually takes me a week to two weeks, during which I make the book available on the website and push forward on marketing efforts. Typically, we see an initial burst of sales upon release which tempers off to a handful every month on each title. It would be hard to pin an average on books sales. Some titles do only sell around 30 copies total while other popular ones sell 300 or more. A lot of it depends on the author’s notoriety and support network, as well as how well they market their work in the period after their book is published. Since our goal is to publish new & emerging authors, some of whom lack an initial following at this point in their careers, I’m willing to invest in some slower moving books in order to get the work out there. Sometimes those slow sellers hit a burst of sales later on as the poets gain a wider readership.
In the beginning, the entire endeavor was funded totally out of pocket and remained that way pretty much for the first three years. In 2007 we broke even, and with the help of the other paper and craft items I was selling, we were able to rent a studio space, which allowed for expansion in terms of our number of books per year. Other expenses usually include printer maintenance, utilities, paper, postage, and shipping supplies, other art & craft supplies, etc. We continue to mostly break even on the books, and as a whole with the other things we sell besides books, usually make a small profit (about a $800 each of the past two years when all is said and done.) Ideally, the goal would eventually be to make enough to pay myself a salary and quit my day job, as well as pay the authors some tiny royalty, but as you see it might take a while. Tax and business-wise, we are considered a sole proprietorship and a for-profit business.
We never require or accept any sort of subsidy or fee from authors either upon submission or acceptance. I tend to like to keep the art and commerce separate, and feel like even contest fees (or the lack of them) hinder some artists from being able to afford to submit (just the sort of author I may want to publish.) Also, contests seem like a logistical nightmare, so I would rather not run one. While we can’t yet afford to offer the poets monetary compensation, we do pay in initial author copies and a steep discount on additional copies needed (which some of them sell for full price at readings/events which does allow them a little income for themselves at least.)
We try to do as much as we can to promote each book upon its release, including promotional work, social networking, press releases, placement in some indie bookstores, distributing review copies, and hosting readings for local and/or visiting poets, etc. I’ve been trying to use our facebook page lately in particular as a way to promote our authors both before and after the publication of their chaps by offering links to new work, new publications, interviews, etc. Still, as with most small press publishing a lot of the burden falls on the poet to find opportunites throughout the months following release, but we do whatever we can to help.
I think dgp is very fortunate in that we have managed to build a good steady audience base for our books that seems to grow with each new title and that are books seem to find their readers even if it takes a while.