time to test your publishing knowledge:
how much does it cost to publish a book of poems? how much does it cost to distribute a book of poems to bookstores? libraries? through SPD? through IPG? how much is postage? how much are mailers? what royalty percentage should we pay our authors? how much is a judge paid? how much is an ad in Poets & Writers? how much is an add for APR? how much is an ad in Rain Taxi? how much does a bound galley for review cost? how much is the credit card processing fee for online submissions? how much is an online submission program? how much money will we receive during a contest period? can we survive without a poetry contest? how many books do we have to sell to break even? how much is an email manager? how much is a website? how much is a table at AWP? how many books do we have to sell at AWP to break even? how much does it cost to have Quemadura design a book? how many boxes of pizza should we buy to feed your staff? what kind of pizza?
these are only some of the questions that a small press has to ask themselves. while most poets have no idea about what goes on behind the scenes to operate a press or a poetry contest (besides the obvious one that jorie graham is probably sleeping with the winner), i’ve been privilege to not only have started two different micro-presses, but I’ve also worked many years for one of the best independent publishers in the U.S.: Omnidawn Publishing. I’m also one of their authors, so not only have I learned so much from them about how to run a successful press, but i also know what it’s like to be one of their authors who benefits from all their hard work.
so i wanted to share with you an email i received today from Omnidawn co-founder Ken Keegan. He analyzes the Walt Whitman Award, and i think it’s really an important learning moment for all of us (especially Anis Shivani). i’ve also bolded a certain portion of his email for emphasis. As always, i’d love to hear your thoughts:
One of the primary criticisms in the June 3 Anis Shivani article in the Huffington Post is the cost of such awards, and he cites in particular the cost of Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, particularly when compared to the amount of money it brings in ($25 entry fee x 1, 245 entries = $31,125 this year, probably more than any other contest). Where does all that money go? This is the focus of one of his main criticisms, but he just asks the question without simply thinking it out for a moment and adding up all the costs of the elements detailed in the Poets & Writers article. In his summary (in the third to the last sentence in his article to be exact) he states, “It doesn’t cost $30,000 to publish a book of poetry.”
Well, in the case of the Walt Whitman award, it does, and if you actually analyze how much they do for a book, and how important and beneficial all this is to a poet’s career, you can understand why. Here is the breakdown of costs that can be easily determined at a minimum value. These are pretty tight minimums, and costs are probably higher. I doubt that what is left over ($3,765) does pay for all the costs that are not spelled out in detail in the article (screeners at an hourly wage, labor or fulfillment to create mailing labels and mail the books out, advertising, overhead, etc.).
From Contest Fees (1,245 entries x $25 entry fee) : $ 31,125
5,000 books sent to all member of the Academy of American Poets
(approximate membership noted in Poets & Writers article):
Cost of printing 5,000 books (effective cost .80 each) $4,000
Shipping from printer to Academy (Aprox 1600 lbs @$.40/pound) $ 640
Postage to mail to members (5,000 x $2.38**) $11,900
Mailers (5,000 x .24***) $1,200
Credit Card Processing Fees for online submissions at minimum 4% of total: $1,245
Prize Money to Winning Poet (as stated in Poets & Writers article): $5,000
Judge Fee (as stated in Poets & Writers article): $1,500
One Month Residency at Vermont Studio Center (List price on VSC web site
is $3,750, but I would guess it is about half that to the Academy) $1,875
Total cost of known components $ 27,360 (27,360)
Remainder for paying screeners and other staff, labor to mail,
(or fullmment house cost to mail), advertising, etc. $ 3,765
* Approximate cost of printing a 72 page book with a full color cover with a run of 5,000.
** $2.38 is the minimum cost for shipping Media Mail. First Class postage for a 6 ounce book in a 7/10 ounce mailer (7 ounces total) would be $2.39). This is the weight of a small 6″ x 9″ book of 72 pages. The cost would be more for a larger book, which is probably more common. Discounts of approximately 10% could apply for pre-sorted bulk mailings, but these would probably be more than offset by the fact that most winners have larger books.
*** Approximate minimum cost of a suitable mailer in bulk order of 5,000, in this case bubble mailer of minimum size to mail 6″x9″ book, with weight of 7/10 ounce each. These mailers are priced at .24 each in quantities of 3,000 plus from Uline, a major supplier of packing materials to business. These mailers are the least expensive available, especially when you consider mailing costs for heavier mailers.
Most authors know that there is a huge difference between just publishing a book and publishing it with ample support. Apparently Anis doesn’t, and he doesn’t give much value to the following:
1. The poet gets a royalty (prize) of $5000
2. There is a very nice one month residency at Vermont Studio Center
3. This is the most important and most expensive. 5,000 copies are printed and distributed free of charge to the most important and influential poets in America, many of whom will read the book because it is such a prestigious award. Talk about jump starting a poetry career.