Thursday, November 19, 2009

STEVE ALMOND WRITES: “This Won’t Take But a Minute”

STEVE ALMOND WRITES: “This Won’t Take But a Minute”
Interview with Doug Holder

I got this email recently from the noted author Steve Almond (My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow ,etc…) about a new project and subsequent event he is involved in. The event will be at the Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square Dec, 2, 2009 at 7PM. Almond writes:

“The book I'm reading from -- "This Won't Take But a Minute, Honey," isn't out yet. In fact, it's going to be printed ON THE NIGHT OF THE READING. In fact, DURING THE READING ITSELF. On HBS's new "Expresso Book Machine." Which can print a book (from a PDF) in about four minutes. You'll even be able to choose the cover design and trim size you want. All books cost $10 flat. Seriously.

I'll also be discussing how I chose to publish the book in this way, and what it says about the changing nature of the publishing industry, as the means of production become more accessible. Here's the official link:”

Of course I had to shoot Almond some questions for OFF THE SHELF:

Doug Holder: First off--could you tell me a little about your new book, its theme, etc... How does it differ from your past collections?

Steve Almond: The book is pretty, uh, unconventional. It's 30 short short stories (500 words or less) and 30 short essays on the psychology and practice of writing. And it's literally two books, with two covers, that are read from either side and meet in the middle. I've been writing short shorts for years, many of them old, failed poems, and I love the dense emotions of the form. But it's hard to get them taken seriously by publishers. The essays are really just versions of what I tell my students, about what it really feels like to try to write, what you're up against. I've taken all the mistakes I've made, basically, and gathered them up, in the hopes others won't take as long as I did to get better. I think of the book as a kind of lovechild of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and Strunk and White.

DH: It is self-published. Why would a noted author like you need to go this route? Would you have never considered this say five years ago?

SA: I've been thinking about this for years, actually. The publishing industry is doing its best to sell books, but the economic model doesn't make much sense. And what I really wanted was to create a book that felt like an artifact, rather than a commodity. Now that digital printing has come to the masses, there wasn't any excuse -- other than sloth or cowardice -- not to give this a try. So I am. I realize that my having published books before will be helpful, but my motive isn't to "move units" but to get a cool little book into the hands of folks who might dig it. Period.

DH: How has the literati responded to this? You probably will be reviewed in top shelf publications because of the body of your work. Does a less established writer have a shot?

SA: The book really isn't "out" officially. I only sell it at readings, or for use in classrooms. I'm not interested in piling up big sales numbers, or making a big splash. In fact, I kind of like that the book is not "available everywhere." I'm really tired of feeling, as an author, like I should be selling selling, selling all the time. It's the wrong attitude to have about art.

As for a less established writer, obviously it would be tougher for them. And there's still a lot of stigma around "self-publishing." But I think that's changing as the industry is changing. It's become more of a DIY, grassroots enterprise, rather than top down, which I dig.

DH: Could you give me the advantages and pitfalls of the self-published route?

SA: I'm not the right person to answer. This is really my first small step. But I can see, generally speaking, that you get total freedom to make the book you want -- but you also have to do everything yourself. There's no built-in printer or editor or publicity person, etc. So you have to figure out how to put this thing into the world. That takes time. But it's also exciting as hell.

DH: Do you think this will prove profitable?

SA: No idea. I mean, I make a little money on the books I sell. But I wanted to keep them at $10 flat, so it's not much money. Then again, that's not what it's about for me. It's about getting the work to the folks who are ready to feel it. If it makes money, in other words, it won't be because I had some business plan.

DH: Is this book Print-On-Demand?

SA: As I said, for now it's just available at readings, or for use in classes. If people wanted copies, I suppose they could get in touch. And I may, at some point, make it available on-line or in certain bookshops. But that's down the road. I'm really at the beginning of the process.

DH: Five years from now--or perhaps sooner--do you think this alternative way of publishing will enter the mainstream?

SA: They already are! I mean, Dave Eggers and Kelly Link -- two of our finest and most popular writers -- started their own presses! So it's not really "when" DIY publishing will enter the mainstream, but how quickly. That depends on how the big publishing companies adapt. But the big point for me is to get more people reading. That's the ultimate mission -- to get people to engage with their imaginations before it's too late for the species.

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