amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chapbook Contracts? Hell, no.

Recently after a chapbook of mine was accepted by a small press, I received a formal six-page long publishing agreement, giving them carte-blanche to use my name for promotion, to an exclusive right to the work without any kind of a term stated and a fairly ambitious marketing and promotion plan for a chapbook. To be fair to the press, they did mention in an earlier e-mail that their plan usually includes a written agreement, but either I didn’t notice that or I thought it was some kind of blanket form letter e-mail not relevant to chapbook publication because I sometimes deal with presses that publish both perfect-bound books and chapbooks.

While I have signed contracts for paid publication in literary magazines and once so far, for a perfect bound book,I see no reason to sign a chapbook contract.

Is this a double-standard? No. In the case of the chapbook, the run is limited to a small number of copies (so far the maximum run I've seen is 200) and there is rarely payment. I've never received payment for a chapbook myself.

In a decade of publishing others and more than a decade of having my own work published in chapbooks, I have never before encountered chapbook contracts. After withdrawing the chapbook, I canvassed a few writer pals and small press publishers informally. I found out that at least three small presses in Central and Western Canada provide a formal contract that the author is expected to sign. And I am unsure in each case, whether the author was paid for the work. If so, that's a different story. In one case, the contract was limited to a promise made by the author on length of time before republishing the work in the chapbook. 

A contract for unpaid publication is not the standard so far and the micropress publishers I talked to felt that the practice was excessive. 

Proponents of chapbook contracts expressed the idea that it’s good to lay out all conceivable terms and that the contract protects the writer. This is going down a rabbit hole for a very small and time-limited publication opportunity. 

The terms for a chapbook are very limited: number of copies published; number of free author copies; price to author for additional copies and possibly, but not essentially, a request from the publisher for the author not to republish the work for a limited time.  These are simple terms and can be dealt within an e-mail. 

For instance, for AngelHousePress we do a print run of 50 copies, give 10 comps to the author with an option to buy additional at half price. We don’t do reprints and we don’t publish any of the person’s work from the chapbook without seeking permission first. If someone doesn’t like those terms, they are free not to publish with our press. 

Once the work is out of print, they can do with the work whatever they like. To be frank, in our case, if someone immediately republished the work right after we published it, we wouldn’t have any recourse. Or if they published another chapbook at the same time as the one  they’ve published with us. So the worst thing that happens for us is that we don’t sell as many copies as we might have or it takes longer than we thought. That’s really not a big deal because our expense is not that high in the limited runs we produce. Therefore the risk to us is low and the risk to the author is low. 

If we don’t publish the work by the time we’ve promised and we haven’t communicated to them a reason, it’s their work; they can publish it elsewhere. This hasn’t happened to us ever. But if for some reason, such as death or ill health or the world’s impending end, we cannot publish a manuscript, we will kindly let the author know and apologize profusely.

Contracts are in formal, legal language and usually contain stipulations regarding exclusive print and electronic rights either for North America or World-Wide. I’ve signed plenty for writing that I’ve been paid for. For a story or a poem, these contracts have been a couple of pages in length and have been limited to a particular term.  For my only poetry book so far, the contract was a bit longer and I received an advance for the work with the promise of royalties if revenue exceed the amount I was advanced.

Micropresses function based on good will and reputation. Authors or presses who don’t keep their word are simply not dealt with again.

Here’s a question to small presses who insist on contracts: if your author signs the contract and then breaches it, are you going to sue? For a chapbook given to you for free that you will likely already cost you more in expenses than you will gain in revenue?  

If you’re an author and the chapbook publisher goes back on your agreement, are you going to sue? Or are you simply going to move on and not publish with that press again and let all your fellow writers know what an asshat the publisher is? The risk to both author and publisher in the case of a chapbook is simply not great enough to cause the need for a complicated contract.

I’ve dealt with 15 micropress publishers to date (2003 – 2017). Other than one misunderstanding about print run, which was settled via e-mail, I’ve never had any other problems with any of these publishers. Micropresses are usually run by one or two people out of a labour of love and the urgent need to get great and uncommon work in the hands of those who would appreciate it.

I love chapbooks, but they are penny candy. They are there to be bartered and exchanged and mailed around and enjoyed. Small presses come from a tradition of anti-establishment, non-conformist, independent thinking.  If you’re going to require me to hire a lawyer to negotiate a complicated contract, you’d better be paying me some serious dollars.

I worry that signing a contract for a chapbook might open authors up to legal risk and to difficulties in getting the work republished because they will have to disclose the contract to subsequent publishers, should they want to publish it later. 

Contracts are always written to protect the organization that created the contract, not the other way around. When payment is received, the author has a valid reason to sign away some rights, as long as they are limited, but otherwise, why bother?

My own philosophy is to embrace the ephemeral, uncomplicated nature of the chapbook and move on. I am not so excited by the chance to have my work published that I will agree to constraints that may cause issues later.  

I have a request to publishers who require a contract for free chapbook publication, please include this information in your calls for submission, so that I know to avoid you. Thanks.


Sorry for the addition to the post, but I thought of something else that seems germane: Rather than presenting the writer with a fait accompli in the form of a legally binding contract, why not treat the process more as a dialogue, a consultation for anything that's more than the basics. Work with the author rather than against.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A List of Canadian Chapbook Awards

Canadian Chapbook Awards

Here’s a list of annual prizes that result in chapbook publication. For more details on deadlines and specifics, up-to-date submission requirements, guidelines, etc, please visit the sites. I consulted with all the presses/journals listed below, but any errors are my responsibility. If you see a mistake, please let me know. If you know of additional Canadian chapbook awards, please let me know.

Note that the bpNichol chapbook award, administered by Toronto’s Meet the Presses collective, is awarded to chapbooks published by a Canadian press in the previous year and result in a $4000 award for the author and $500 for the press. Chapbooks can be submitted by the press or the author. Check the site for specific information.

"Cost to author" refers to the cost authors must pay per chapbook should they decide to buy additional copies.

"Sales on site" refers to whether or not the chapbook will be sold by the press via its web site.

Press/Journal : 
Name of Award:      John Newlove Poetry Award
Entry Fee:                  $0       
Prize Amount:          Honorarium for reading varies (up to $250)       
Print Run:                  126     
Comps to author:     26
Cost to author:          half price retail cost.
Sales on site:             Yes

Press/Journal:           Tree Press/Tree Reading Series
Name of Award:       Tree Press Chapbook Contest
Entry Fee:                  $0
Prize:                          $250
Comps to author:     10
Note that the categories of "cost to author," "print run" and "sales on site" are flexible and depend on wishes of winner and size of book. 

Press/Journal:           Frog Hollow Press  
Name of Award:       Frog Hollow Press Chapbook Contest
Entry Fee:                  $0
Prize:                          $0
Print Run:                  100
Comps to author:     10
Cost to author           depend on cost of publication, including mailing proofs to author, endpapers, etc.
Sales on site:             Yes

Press/Journal:           Vallum
Name of Award:       The Vallum Chapbook Award
Entry Fee:                  $25
Prize:                          $115
Print Run:                  125
Comps to Author     10
Cost to author:          $10
Sales on site:             Yes

Press/Journal :           Kalamalka Press
Name of Award:       John Lent Poetry/Prose Award
Entry Fee:                  $10
Prize:                          $500
Print Run:                  “varies from year-to-year depending on available materials, available storage capacity, how recent titles have been selling... so, last year it was 75; this year it's 55, i think.” Kevin McPherson
Comps to author:     10% of total print run
Cost to author:          Author discount is usually 25%
Sales on site:             Yes     

Press/Journal    :    Metatron
Name of Award:    Metatron Prize for Rising Authors
Entry Fee:        $15-$30 ($15 Submission Fee, $30 With Feedback)
Prize:            $500
Print Run:    500
Comps to author:    10
Cost to author (to purchase additional copies):     50% of Retail Price

Sales on site:        Yes

Press/Journal : Big Pond Rumours
Name of Award: Big Pond Rumours Chapbook Contest
Entry Fee: $0
Prize: $0
Print Run: 100
Comps to author: 25 to winner; 20 to 2 runners up
Cost to author (to purchase additional copies): 50%

Friday, May 12, 2017

Outsider art, micropresses and money

Creative workers deserve monetary compensation for their work. I agree with this. I run an online literary site/magazine that pays writers thanks to the help of local government. However, I also run a micropress with print and online publications that do not offer financial compensation to our contributors because I do not seek out government grants to pay for their existence. We offer complementary copies for print publication, but that’s it.

The administrative work that goes into applying for financial assistance is huge and it’s not a burden I’m prepared to take on more than I already do. I am always uncertain, when I ask for free contributions from artists whose work I admire or have discovered whether I should not be a publisher at all because I am unwilling to do the work required to ensure that we are all financially compensated.

I am fortunate to be able to work as a volunteer for everything I do. We limit micropress publishing activity to what we can afford, which isn’t a lot. Money received from those who purchase chapbooks goes directly into paper costs and the cost of hosting the online publications. The expense is greater than what is received.  I receive occasional grants for my own work and the occasional honorarium from literary magazines or reading fees. The advance from my poetry book was small and after two years, sales have resulted in payback of the advance.

I respect those who won’t contribute to anything unless they are financially remunerated for it. But my own way of thinking is to support small, outsider presses who don’t receive money either. Money often means accepting conditions. For government grants for example, you have to have steering committees, regular meetings, insurance and final reports, and you have to adhere to very specific rules about such things as Canadian content, to name one example.

I suspect that if everyone insisted that they only contribute to publications able to offer financial compensation, a lot of micropresses and online publications wouldn’t be able to exist. This means that readers and appreciators of art would be exposed only to government-sanctioned art. I don’t see this as a good thing. I see what these micropresses do as being part of a long tradition of outsider art.

The other option, the kickstarter/indigogo campaigns are an alternative, but also require administrative work and focus on things other than the publication of the art and working with the contributors. I think this is a completely valid way of raising money, but I’m unwilling to spend that kind of time. My micropress is a two-person operation and that’s the way it has to stay in order to do what we do without complicated board meetings and consensus building exercises.

So I will continue to ask you to contribute for free and if you don’t want to, I will understand if you respectfully decline.  I will continue to share remunerative opportunities on social media to help you find ways to share your work and be financially compensated. I won't criticize outsider art and micropresses for not asking for money. I'd be a hypocrite.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Electric Garden, 2017 Tree Press Chapbook Award and Launch

I'm thrilled to announce that my manuscript, "Electric Garden," has won the Tree Press Chapbook Award administered by the Tree Reading Series. The judge was brilliant Ottawa poet, Stephen Brockwell, who wrote "There’s a willfully joyful complexity to Electric Garden’s exploration of female ageing and its accompanying social silences and invisibilities. These poems never settle into mere complaint. Amanda celebrates the potential energy—physical and creative—in the transition by engaging with other texts and mucking about with the declining pronouns for the self in the rust-belt of our later years."

Tonight I will be reading at the Tree Reading Series, Black Squirrel Books. More info on the reading is available here:

Heartfelt thanks to the Tree Reading Series, and to Stephen Brockwell, to Claudia Coutu Radmore, who designed the chapbook, to all the open mics where these poems have been tried out and readings/journals where they’ve been featured and published and the City of Ottawa and Ontario Arts Council for funding.

Electric Garden is part of a larger work called “Grace: City Poems Under the Influence of Buckley, Barnes, Cixous, Jacobs, Midol, the seasons, melancholy and gin.” I began the series in 2015 with the help of participants in a workshop I took with rob mclennan at his home in Alta Vista.

 I’ll be reading from several parts of Grace: Electric Garden, Lady Lazarus Redux, firstwalks of the  year (In/Words Press, 2016), wintered (forthcoming from shreeking violet press), and Daily Graces.

Words and phrases in italics come from various sources, which I credit in print.

The Tree Reading Series began in 1980 and has been a stalwart supporter and promoter of  not only Ottawa's literary community but the Canadian literary community at large, inviting readers from Vancouver to Newfoundland. It's always treated me well. I am honoured to have my work included as part of the award.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3 Summers by Lisa Robertson, a reading diary - part two

February 21 to March 16, 2017

I liked the startling and rich imagery, the way the book was organized into different sections with recurring themes that weaved back and forth throughout. I liked the illustrations by Hadley + Maxwell. I liked the concept of the work as a hormone, the poem as hormone, the various glands: dandalian, acoustic, enjoyment. I liked the contemplation of the awkwardness of the body, its relationship to form and gender. Rebelling against form but also how form can adapt to fit its content. I liked the investment of abstracts, especially desire with concreteness, with feeling. I loved the relationship of the work to art, the way LR seems to build imaginary art installations. I loved the changeling speaker, sometimes with hoofs, sometimes wearing a sheep or cow’s skin. I loved the colour palette: green, purple and gold. I loved the sutures, folds and seams that brought the outside in, that made me think that nothing is ever really whole, but rather stitched together. I loved the sometimes wry and humourous juxtapositions: poetry, highway robbery.  I loved the quality of the light. This book is beautiful. I wrote and paraphrased over 3500 words when I realized I was oversimplifying, unintentionally clarifying or putting LR’s words into my own words  and I despised doing so, so I stopped.

I loved the flower machine. I am glad I am being converted to a lily. I squandered myself rosily with 3 Summers. I hope you do too.

Next I realize that all along it’s been my body
that I don’t understand
I just have to describe what it means
supernatural, negative and sexual
and blooming on one side. It’s fierce and then
it’s tired. The dog lies on the lawn
eating apples, me crouched in the
luxurious secret, whatever
I have been building, vena cava
threading to atmosphere, psoas
ruffling, everything quiet
rocked only by love, hazard, fate, sleeping—

Like a weak church flung across the matter they scarcely are
each dandy stands prepared to dispose herself
stands sutured to her animal mortality
to make philosophy say
the hummingbird.

from “The Middle” in 3 Summers (Coach House Books, 2016)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Upcoming Reading in Toronto: Poetry Now Battle of the Bards-March 29, 2017

I've been invited to read at Poetry Now's Battle of the Bards in Toronto on March 29. At this event, 20 poets compete for a spot at the International Festival of Authors, which takes place in the autumn.

Here's a link to the event, including readers: Wish me luck & if you're in Toronto, it might be a fun way to spend yr evening...

Brigantine Room

235 Queens Quay West
Toronto M5J 2G8
Cost: $10, Free for Supporters & Students

Monday, February 13, 2017

Toronto: Canthius Issue 3 launch at Likely General

 On February 11, Charles and I took the train to Toronto where I was reading as part of the launch of Canthius magazine's third issue along with the talented Nicole Brewer, Doyali Islam, and Lisa Richter.

First we imbibed in some delicious cider at the Cider House.

 Then we walked next door to the beautiful little gift shop, Likely General, where the reading was being held.

After listening to the engaging and delightful short fiction and poetry of my fellow readers, I opened with an excerpt from "Kiki," read poems from the issue, including one by fellow contributor and amazing poet, Ariel Dawn, then read from a new work in progress, "Lady Lazarus Redux," from "Electric Garden/Grace."

It's a terrifying experience to read to a group of people who I don't know at all, but the audience was kind and attentive, and the hosts, Cira and Claire, were welcoming and made sure everything was taken care of. It was a pleasure to talk to people afterward.

The issue is gorgeously designed by Quentin Mitchell with artwork by Tafui. Thanks to the editorial team of Canthius: Claire Farley, Cira Nickel, Puneet Dutt and Chuqiao Yang for putting this issue together and for Canthius. It's a smart and engaging magazine. I wish it many happy years of circulation.

Thanks to the League of Canadian Poets for underwriting my shenanigans and to the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Arts Council for funding the work published in the issue and WIP. Thanks to Brick Books for the OAC Writers Reserve Recommendation for same.
 On Sunday, we left snowy Toronto

to return to an even snowier Ottawa (28 cms!). I look forward to my next out of town reading in Windsor.