Sorry I’m a Pessimistic Indie Publisher

Thank you to the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, for printing my letter to the editor yesterday and allowing my voice to be heard. It was nice to drink tea and see the letter in print (yes, I still subscribe to print newspapers).

Sharing my published letter (edited down to 150 words) and my longer letter below. While scrambling to do taxes for my indie press, I am a bit down, sorry for for sounding pessimistic.

Published letter:

Re Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Gets More Money — But Can Awards Save Publishing? (Jan. 30, Arts & Pursuits): This article coincided with my annual conversations with my husband about shutting down my diversity-focused indie press. I am not making enough money to cover expenses. I do not have enough revenue to qualify for government grants, nor enough funds to rent shelf space at major retailers.

The future of publishing will likely be similar to other divides in society, with only a few holding power. Amazon and social media have allowed some disruption to happen, but the biggest publishers are still the ones choosing which voices are allowed to be heard.

For myself, I will continue to do everything I can, but I will have a greater chance of success as a writer than as a publisher.

Full letter:

Dear Editor,

Re Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Gets More Money — But Can Awards Save Publishing? (Jan. 30, Arts & Pursuits): The article coincided with my annual conversations with my husband about shutting down my indie press because it’s not making enough money to cover expenses.

For the statement about the “rise of online book sales leads to a homogenization of culture” I beg to differ. As people buy more books online, there is a greater chance they may discover more diverse books other than the ones displayed on the shelves of bookstores. My books will never make it to the physical bookstores because I can’t afford to pay rent for the shelf space and the major publishers have already cut deals with large retailers. There isn’t any space or time for physical retailers to take risks on small publishers. In the past I did enter a deal to sell books at a small bookstore, but they folded and I never saw my inventory again. The majority of my sales come from e-books.

While Amazon has had negative impacts on booksellers, at the same time, they have done wonders for indie authors and presses. Self-publishing has always been around but only to those who could afford to pay hundreds of dollars to print books. Amazon changed the landscape by offering free tools for people to self-publish along with education sessions on how to do so. I wonder how many writers they have saved from committing suicide by allowing them to self-publish?

In regards to Amazon advertising bestsellers, who doesn’t? Every other book store retailer displays these books as well because they know they have a better chance of selling. Publishing is gambling, one book out of ten makes money. However, unlike other retailers, Amazon allows authors and smaller presses an opportunity to advertise on their website, leading to potential new readers and revenue.

As for publishing grants, we are too small to apply. Publishers are required to have revenues of either $75,000 per year (Ontario Arts Council) or $100,000 (Canada Book Fund) to be eligible for operating grants. To apply for single book projects, you need to be eligible for the operating grant. So I conclude maybe we’ll be able to get a grant in twenty years if we are still alive and in the past we’ve done Kickstarters to raise private funds instead.

Shifting to writing, the Writer’s Trust prize is like a great lottery I can enter if I survive the slush piles of an agent or publisher. It’s wonderful that there are literary prizes to recognize the hard work of authors. My husband believes that I should focus more on my writing and stop publishing. However, one of the reasons I fight hard to keep my press going is because we have an imprint which publishes books from the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop. They have had a tough time finding publishers to consider their books and if I quit, there would be a loss of Asian voices and I can not do this to my community.

When I attended Book Expo in New York in 2019, it was disheartening to attend panels in which retailers and publishers discuss books as units and numbers. People seem to have forgotten the basic notion that a book is a piece of art, vessel of knowledge and someone’s voice. Books have lost respect. There is too much competition for books to fight against — video games, social media, films, among other things that take up time.

The future of publishing will be similar to other divides in society with only a few with power. Amazon and social media has allowed some disruption to happen but the biggest publishers are still the ones choosing which voices are allowed to be heard. For myself, I will continue on doing everything, but as a writer I have a greater chance of success than as a publisher.

Regards,

JF Garrard

President, Dark Helix Press

Deputy Editor, Ricepaper Magazine

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