Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The way we work
Jennifer L. Knox & Shanna Compton making the big bucks.
Photo by Michael Kelleher, from the very first reading of our very
first Bloof Books tour, in Buffalo, NY in 2007.
Since we (that amorphous multicellular) are discussing models of publishing in the Poetrysphere at the moment, and others (like Bruce Covey of Coconut, and Reb Livingston of No Tell) have offered some public explanations, we thought we would do likewise, even though we are not open (at this time, nor any time in our short past) for general submissions.
We, as usual, mainly means me, Shanna Compton. I use the plural pronoun because this is more indicative of the spirit of the press, even if that means I sometimes have to awkwardly refer to myself in the third person. I (and my spouse) are the sole financiers via our "day jobs," and I make all the "business" decisions, with varying degrees of input from him and the poets. The input of the poets in as many aspects of the press as possible is what makes the press a "collective." But more about that below.
BLOOF BOOKS PUBLISHING MODEL FAQ
1. How are books selected for publication?
Books are selected by Shanna Compton and submission is by solicitation only. For longer books, there are no other readers involved in the selection process, though we may ask for the opinions of Bloof collective poets and they may also play a role in suggesting possible new authors and manuscripts for review. For our annual Open Chapbook Reading Period (new in 2012), we do invite all collective members to read submissions, per their availability.
Because an important facet of our mission is to provide a home base for poets we love, publishing multiple books with them, we look at subsequent manuscripts by "our" collective poets first. When/if/as we have opportunities in the schedule to look outside the current collective, we will.
We are particularly interested in publishing women, but we are not exclusively a women's press, and are also openly and actively interested in the work of poets of color, LGBT/genderqueer/nonbinary-indentifying poets, and poets with disabilities. Our annual Open Reading Period is not exclusive in any way. We would like our growing list to reflect the diversity of our readership (and vice versa).
2. How many books does Bloof publish each year?
0–3, plus up to 6 chapbooks. The press was designed as a micropress and we intend to keep it that way. If at any time our finances (and our human resources like time) are too meager to publish, we skip a season, or a year. We have to see how things go, as we go, and we don't feel it's fair to keep people waiting in limbo. We do not accept a book we cannot see a way to publish in a timely manner.
Bloof will not run a backlog of pending submissions. Anyone who is being considered is encouraged to also submit elsewhere as they like and to just keep us informed if their situation changes. A backlog is a common practice and there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but for us, it's no good. We schedule books 1–4 seasons (spring/fall) in advance. This is not only to keep people from waiting too long, but also with an eye to financial circumstances. Because the press is financed out of real pockets, subject to the vagaries of our real jobs, unforseen things can happen. We hesitate to say in 2014 we will publish your book in 2018—because that's too far into the future for us to promise with confidence.
3. Are authors asked to contribute financially to the publication of their books?
4. Does Bloof run a contest?
No. And we do not charge reading fees for our Open Chapbook Reading Period.
At AWP 2011, we participated in a raffle called The Lottery, with No Tell Books and Cooper Dillon Books. This raffle consisted of the sale of tickets for $2 (or free ticket with the purchase of any book by any of the participating presses) and some random drawings for prizes. The money was split by the presses to help defray, in small part, the costs associated with attending AWP.
We sell tee shirts, and earn a tiny commission on them.
Oh, if we buy a keg for a party, we usually put out an optional tip jar.
Other than those sorts of things and the sales of our books, we have not run any other fundraising activities that we can think of. Any money we earn via any Bloof activities goes right back into the press.
5. If the authors do not contribute financially, in what ways does the press function as collective?
Book publication with Bloof is collaborative—the author is intimately involved in decisions about design, various publicity strategies, etc. Our editorial process is also intimately collaborative, with the author being responsible for the final decisions about editorial suggestions coming from the press and the author's chosen readers, which may or may not include other poets in the collective. Each poet retains ownership of the book, not just in the sense of copyright, but in the sense of its artistic integrity. Bloof aims to have the finished book reflect, as closely as possible, the author's conception of it.
The poets of the collective also actively participate in the publicity efforts of the press, for their own and other books. The collective poets write blurbs, book readings for themselves and other Bloof poets, do research into library acquisition opportunities, design posters or other promotional materials, etc., according to their skills and availability. The poets are the staff, in other words.
6. Are poets paid for their books, and if so, how?
Bloof pays royalties on all direct sales (from our website or at events), and distributor/retail sales. (Bloof books have worldwide POD distribution via a network of wholesalers like Ingram, a service we buy into for each book, and retailers who are part of these networks. In addition, we directly distribute titles from our own non-POD stock, via our website, at events, and through select booksellers we work with outside the distribution network, like Farley's, Powell's, and Woodland Pattern, et al.).
Additionally, Bloof authors have the option to purchase copies at cost (or below, when we can get it) to sell on their own. This gives them the opportunity to earn a greater share than a royalty percentage. The press earns nothing on books the poets sell themselves, but we consider their activities in this direction to be extremely important and valuable beyond any monetary considerations.
Additionally, Bloof organizes periodic regional and national reading tours, as well as individual events. Wherever possible, Bloof pays the expenses for travel, lodging and food on the trips, and this is discussed openly with all participants in the planning stages. When universities or other organizations offer speaking fees or honoraria, these are either paid directly to the poets or go into the tour expense fund (a.k.a. The Magic Envelope), which is shared equally by all the participating poets on the trip. (This is FUN.)
7. How are Bloof books promoted, once they are published?
Any and every way we can think of and afford. Strategies, in addition to the author readings, include review solicitations in print and online media (70 copies, publicity materials, envelopes and stamps are budgeted for each book, at minimum, with more added as necessary), announcements to our email newsletter and social media contacts, participation in bookfairs and conferences, ad space, etc.
We've found the best way to sell books is via events, which unfortunately can be expensive to participate in. But we do as many as we can.
8. Is Bloof a nonprofit organization?
9. So then, does Bloof earn a profit?
It depends on our expenses each year, but usually not.
We can sometimes report a small profit on our tax return only because no one takes a salary. We've only been doing this since 2007, and we expect the margins to improve somewhat as our reputation and backlist grows, and we will continue to innovate and adjust our operations as necessary with new ideas, to keep our production standards as high as possible while keeping our expenses as low as possible.
In seasons that we do not publish a book or go on a tour, our expenses are minimal and the backlist titles can continue to sell. Our books have, without exception, been strong sellers by small press standards. (THANK YOU!) All of our books get course adoptions, some of them nearly every semester. (THANK YOU!)
Because we combine traditional print runs via Bookmobile with extended availability using POD technology and distribution (just like major presses have been doing for their backlists for more than a decade) our longer books never go out of print, unless by mutual agreement of the author and the press. (The chapbooks are limited to 100 + ebooks.) This longer window of time—compared to the 4–6 weeks and 1–2 print runs major publishers tend to plan—allows each Bloof title to flourish as fully as possible. GOOD POETRY DOES NOT EXPIRE. This is another reason we keep the press small, so that the attention each book deserves and needs, over this inifinite window of time, is not spread too thin. We need to remain open and responsive if this is gonna work.
10. If I have more questions, can you answer them?
Yeah, we'll try. Email us at info [at] bloofbooks [dot] com. But please be patient; we get a lot of email. Thanks.
NB: This post has been periodically updated to reflect changes in our operations, most recently 7/29/2014.