From Wrens to Chickens… Judy Hogan now

Just wanted to note a lovely report from past CWP staffer Ruth Eckles about a backyard chicken workshop she attended. The workshop was led by none other than CWP founder Judy Hogan. Here’s a link to Ruth’s report.

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why I like grant applications

Of course I could fill two paragraphs with why I don’t like them (e.g., budgets present and past, learning new application software, the very fact of a deadline), but there is much that I do like. Interestingly, writing a good grant application is like writing a good formal poem. Like a sonnet form or a sestina or an Oulipo exercise, a grant application forces me to move outside my comfort zone and think in someone else’s terms. I can’t just say I want to do any old thus-and-such, but rather, I must fit my goals into the terms of the grant. Though this can mean a lot of frustration at the start, the effect is often a richer project.

For instance, recently, the North Carolina Arts Council, after a several-years-long consultation with Nello McDaniel and George Thorn at Arts Action Research, retooled their project grants from simple support of publications and literary and other arts events, to a more goal-oriented approach: to encourage arts organizations to reach more and more-diverse audiences. These project grants, with all the arts now grouped under the umbrella term “Arts and Audiences,” ask us (directors of organizations) to think about what audiences we feel most connected to, and which audiences, currently disconnected, we might want or need to connect with. Whereas in the past the emphasis was on producing books (and promoting them), the emphasis now is on “connecting with audiences” and creating “meaningful experiences” with the arts.

So what does “connecting with an audience” mean for a press? Through the years, CWP authors and board members have hosted conferences, taught and performed in under-served community settings (such as shelters, halfway houses, small public libraries, independent bookstores), served as mentors to new writers, and many other community activities. Mainly, however, we have written and produced books. Promotion of these books has often begun with these community activities, but the be-all an end-all has always been to sell them to libraries or directly to readers. We believe that the most significant relationship a reader can have with a piece of literature is to read it. Readers are our audiences, plain and simple.

Who are our readers? Do we know who they are? Yes. Like most non-profits receiving government support, we keep careful track of attendees at our events. Our authors are asked to count attendees at their readings and to make some “guesstimates” about the races and genders of those attendees. We don’t like this–we know it’s guesstimation, that we really can’t tell much about a person based on appearance–but it’s a necessary evil. Carolina Wren Press was established in 1976 with a mission to publish “underrepresented” writers, which in the 1970s seemed obviously to be women and black writers. Nowadays, we recognize many other types of underrepresented writers, including disabled authors, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writers, other people of color and mixed races, and even experimental writers. Part and parcel of this mission has also been to reach underrepresented readers. We believe that by publishing new and/or marginalized voices, our works will appeal to new and/or marginalized readers. We’ve endeavored through the years to choose appropriate, accessible venues for our events–to be inviting to those audiences. Through the years we have seen highly diverse audiences, often counting 30% or more African-American attendees, more than 50% women, and significant attendance by members of the LGBT community.

In the last five years, however, we have noticed a significant drop-off in sales to libraries, and in orders from chain bookstores (exception: college bookstores associated with B&N, Borders and Follett are still our biggest wholesale customers). We get very few reviews from larger publications (exception: the Women’s Review of Books has noted our publications in recent years). Our book sales to individuals remain steady–and are exactly proportional to the efforts of the authors themselves in getting themselves readings and teaching gigs–but they aren’t going up.

So, what is happening here? First answer: the economy. Books are a luxury item, so when money gets tight, people don’t buy them. Libraries have had to cut back also, especially since so many of them have been in the midst of retooling–going digital and investing in computers and software (second answer, the digital revolution)–for the last 10 years. Libraries are also shifting some resources from print acquisitions to the purchase of eBooks to loan to their members. Bookstores are also changing in the face of the economic decline and advancements in digital printing, online publications, and–hugely–online shopping, both for printed books and eBooks. Because of technology that allows online shopping to see inside books, even the browse-to-buy function of bookstores is becoming moot. Additionally, the huge discounts offered by online book retailers, and benefits like membership discounts and free shipping, are factors in the demise of local, independent bookstores. And local bookstores are the store-equivalent (and necessary partners) of small, independent presses.

Independent bookstores are going to have to change their strategies, and so are we. I don’t know what they will do, but I know what we are doing: Jumping onto the internet. Instead of fighting the new technology, we are embracing it. We are learning about eBooks, about (eek! dare I say it?) print-on-demand, about podcasting and tweeting and blogging. We have to make our books “discoverable” on the internet, and doing so requires links between our site and other literary sites, author’s webpages, stores, and blogs.

So, back to the grant application (oh yes, I did have a main topic for this rangey blogpost). This year, instead of applying for funding for one or two books (and the associated promotional events), we are asking for funds to help us create an audio disk, a sampler of past and forthcoming poetry. We will also render several past, best-selling titles, into eBooks. One of these, Jaki Shelton Green’s Breath of the Song will include an additional section of new poems. The disk will be a promotable publication in itself, but it will also be an important marketing device. Individual MP3’s can be posted widely on the internet–on our site, certainly, but also on other sites, with links to ours. The disk can be mailed to libraries to alert librarians to our list of poetry titles, and to independent bookstores in this state and nationally. Because the disk will include a multitude of voices, it can help us connect with a multitude of audiences–both online and through libraries. The eBooks will allow us to connect that portion (estimated at 30 to 40%) of readers now using eReaders. In general, these projects will help us meet readers where they are looking for books…on the internet.

So, cross your fingers that our grant application is approved!

–Andrea Selch, President

Further reading:

See this timely article from the Best American Poetry Blog

Also, check out David Wilk’s Publishing Talks, most especially his interview with Don Leeper of BookMobile on February 14, 2011.

Subject for a further blog: What is CWP’s role? Are we a national press or state press?

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Yvonne Murphy in NC, April 14-15

We’re all looking forward to Yvonne Murphy’s visit to North Carolina during April, National Poetry Month. She’ll be in the Triangle/Triad for several days.

On Thursday morning, April 14th, she will visit UNC-Greensboro–Jennifer Whitaker’s poetry seminar.

The evening of the 14th, she’ll be reading at the Flyleaf Bookstore, at their “Second Thursday” series, hosted by Debra Kaufman and Stan Absher. Please join us at 6pm for wine and cheese (and other things) before the reading.

The following morning, April 15, she will be at Duke University Medical Center, as a guest at the Osler Literary Roundtable.

The reading at Flyleaf and the OLR are open to the public! We hope to see you there.

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Flipping the switch – to our new site

Well, if you’re reading this, it has already happened. We’ve departed from our old, static website, and “moved house” to this lovely, flexible virtual space. It’s a WordPress Theme, but adjusted to look like our publicity materials–through the programming expertise of Susan Strozier at Bantam Designs and the design sense of Lesley Landis of Lesley Landis Designs. We look forward to using all the bells and whistles available to us: links to videos and images, shopping carts, individual pages for new books, comment boxes, and who knows what else. We look forward to hearing more from you, and we know you’ll be glad to hear from us in a more regular fashion! Above all, we are looking forward to the community we can build by connecting you with our authors, events and contests. Please consider linking to our site.
–Andrea Selch, President

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AWP Preparation- Hurray! You’re A Poet!

I’ll admit, I have a little love/hate thing going on with AWP. As a small press, it helps us a lot to attend. People begin to recognize the press’s name when they see it elsewhere, we get lots of eyeballs on our beautiful books, it gives our authors a chance to read in front of their fans, and I always enjoy seeing people and talking to customers at the book fair.

At the same time.
I’m just going to say it.
The place is crawling with writers. And, worse, AWP is particularly crawling with pretentious writers. It’s just shocking how important so many people think they are because they wrote a book. Or even worse, they are disgruntled because they’ve published a book and no one has treated them like they are important. The book hasn’t gotten them laid. Or they didn’t get whisked through the VIP line at check-in. Whatever they dreamed being a writer was, isn’t what it turned out to be. And thus, they pack up their little bag of delusions and bring them along to the conference, where they insist their genius be admired by all.

That part is rough. But what I like is, since we are a small press, the Powers That Be at AWP always stick us in some dingy corner. However, that also means we are stuck out of the way with all of the other small presses. Talking with them about the printers they use, how they find their writers, how they get books to new audiences, is fun and interesting. I learn a lot and it makes me believe that there are plenty of people who really love books and who think writing does something. (Maybe not get you laid, but something important.)

But the nicest part of the whole conference is when people stop by the table and tells us how good our books look. We work hard to publish not only good books, but books that look and feel good too. Reading a CWP book should be a pleasing experience on so many levels, for both the reader and the writer.

Because the truth is, writers don’t get enough love. But insisting people love you doesn’t really help. Remember when Ellen DeGeneres pointed out that no one ever has a “Hurray, You’re Gay” party when you come out. Well no one is ever going to have a “Hurray, You’re a Poet” party for you either. So you have to be capable of giving yourself your own little party.

But we at CWP try to help. We will publish the most beautiful version of your writing we can. We will thank and admire you for going to the trouble of creating something out of nothing. And we’ll set out a bowl of chocolates on our AWP table and answer all the questions you can think to ask. So come find us in whatever remote corner of the Book Expo we have been stuck in this year and we’ll celebrate you and us. It’ll be like our own little party. But leave the pretentions behind.
–Tanya Olson, VP (which doesn’t stand for Very Pretentious)

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2011 Poetry Book Contest

Our next poetry book contest will take submissions with a deadline of 2/15/2011. The final judge for this contest will be Lee Ann Brown and we anticipate results in September 2011. Please note: While other sources may have the deadline for this contest listed as 12/1/10, they are wrong! Please believe us when we say the new postmark deadline is February 15, 2011. This will give you time to visit our booth at AWP and pick up something special from us (hint hint!).
Download full guidelines.

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