Friday, November 18, 2005

Cantara Christopher on publishing

Cantara Christopher, who refers to herself as 'dogsbody and publisher', has some reports from Paris on her blog. Of more specific interest, perhaps, are her three 'foundational essays' for her small press, Cantarabooks. One of these, about a disturbing real-life murder case, I have already mentioned on 30 August, but the one which caught my eye today was entitled Writing in the New Publishing Paradigm. Considerable food for thought here.

3 comments:

Cantara Christopher said...

Michael!

You've been wonderfully generous about pointing people in the direction of my projects and ideas. If you hadn't mentioned me in today's posting I would've responded to your Harlan Ellison item below anyway, as Ellison is not only one of the seminal authors of my generation, but the foundational anthologist and driving force of what we now call Speculative Fiction. His anthology, Dangerous Visions, is a classic volume of the '60s. Eliison knew how to choose a story. He also knew how to present the writing and the writer in the context of time, place and tradition.

As regards to my own essays and why I refer to them as the foundation of Cantarabooks:

The events in "Murder in the Genre" taught me to be suspicious of literary industry that lacks a human connection.

Reviewing James Wood for "A Game for Believers" taught me to question the value of literary criticism in which the critic's classically-trained judgment cannot overcome major, damaging personal prejudices. (It also gave me the opportunity to coin a term--"narrative consumerism"--and throw in my own definition of magic realism, which was recently picked up for discussion by a UK lit-site called East of the Web.)

Lastly, the essay "Writing in the New Publishing Paradigm" had been solicited quite out of the blue by a Filipino-heritage webzine called Our Own Voice, and was almost immediately afterward picked up for print publication by the North Atlantic Review, which also prefaced it with an earlier essay of mine--the end piece, in fact, of my writing group's 2002 anthology, The Best of PariSalon4665--called "How to Save Literature (by Nurturing, Editing and Publishing It Yourself)".

As I'd lost my job as an office receptionist this past spring I found myself with a lot of time to write, so these essays came out bang-bang-bang. The last essay, the one about the New Publishing Paradigm, was the one that caught the eye of the owner of the North Atlantic Review, John Gill, who asked my advice on how to go about getting his novel published. It had had a long string of rejections, and he was halfway set to bringing it out himself as a self-published book. I told him to seriously consider the other steps he'd have to go through to bring it to an audience, such as marketing, publicity, reviewing, distribution. He was completely stymied. He asked me to read the manuscript. I did, and two realizations hit me:

One, that it was a compelling read, a story of the Vietnam War which dealt with the military psyche far better than James Jones ever did;

and two, that if John were left to his own devices, two thousand copies of this book would quite probably end up languishing in his garage, never to see the light of day.

He asked me if I wouldn't mind taking a crack at it. So I asked around, did some investigating, and discovered that, because of some very recent developments in publishing technology and services, a modest press with a small outlay of cash could actually manage to avoid a good deal of overhead and still be able to get its titles into the general market AND pay a respectable royalty to its authors. All it required would be time, good planning, persistence, luck, an understanding of connections, and--I got this from your blog--faith in the Long Tail.

So about two months ago I took the plunge and filed the papers for Cantarabooks LLC (Limited Liability Company). And even though I'm concentrating on John's book (as well as my husband's fourth novel) and not intending to look at further submissions until next April, I've already been getting inquiries. One of them, astonishingly, was from a longtime acquaintance, a fine speculative fiction writer and two-time Hugo winner, whose current publisher apparently doesn't have the slightest idea of how to promote him.

Still more astonishing, I recently got over the transom a manuscript from a well-known film director whose writing shows a remarkable combination of beauty, candor and vulnerability. This is a collection any literary publisher would be pleased to bring out, without or without whatever name recognition the author might bring (and at the moment, it's a pretty well-known family name). I wrote last week to tell him we're accepting his manuscript; he, in turn, called me yesterday morning flattered and enthusiastic, and winning my heart with Hollywood gossip (I'm a sucker for any kind of gossip). My several reminders of the modestness of my operation did not seem to daunt him, as he offered the support not only of his famous wife and children, but of the writers in his circle, such as his college mentor, one winner of the 1992 Booker Prize, and Lady Hayden-Guest.

Where all this will lead I do not know. It's just as likely Stephen will get waylaid by a more lucrative, glamorous directing project, as follow through with his own writing. One thing's been made clear to me, though: The milieu of small press publishing is becoming more familiar--and attractive--to the general population. In evidence I give you last week's episode of Gilmore Girls. I won't reveal the plot in case you're a few episodes behind over there, but Rory's old boyfriend Jesse returns. In his early 20's, he's already written and published a novel with a small downtown NY press. It's only 500 copies and he's got to help out in the office AND go around to indie bookstores to flog the book himself, but Rory's suitably impressed. And what's impressive about that little scene is that they got the elements right, even down to the fact that Jesse lives in Philadelphia, which appears to be the New Bohemia of American writing (probably due to the presence of the annual zine fair, the annual sf conference, and the Underground Literary Alliance).

About all this, I'm still ambivalent. It might be that Cantarabooks, and small press in general, is indeed on the brink of entering that much-vaunted Center of Cool. But is this a good thing? It's like Haight Street 1967, and I'm fighting the temptation to burn the Effigy of the Hippie before the media trucks arrive.

Best from NYC,
Cantara

Logan said...

hi,
i just wanted to say how much i enjoy reading your blog. in a world full of spin, it's nice to get some fact-based analysis.
keep up the good work.
Virtual Receptionist

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