Allan Kornblum, Coffee House Press

November 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Pipeline

allan_kornblum29020-v1-197x 20141124__AllanKornblum_skyboxMy good friend, long time publisher and poet Allan Kornblum passed away November 23, 2014. He was only 65, and will be missed by many.  Coffee House Press, which he and Cinda Kornblum founded as the successor to the earlier and more informal Toothpaste Press, has been in Minneapolis for over 30 years now, and has become a hugely important literary organization in its local community and far beyond, with national and international reach.

Allan and I first met in the mid-seventies when we attended a range of small press bookfairs around the country, and we shared many interests, both in poetry and in book production. Toothpaste was an early participant in the tiny midwestern literary project I started in 1976 called Truck Distribution Service.

When I traveled to Iowa to sell independently published literary books to local bookstores, I would stay with Allan and Cinda in their house in West Branch (proudly known as the birthplace of Herbert Hoover). They taught me alot about the local literary community and history, and as Allan became more involved in letterpress printing, Allan beautifully produced books and ephemera for my Truck Press (and later for Jim Sitter’s Bookslinger, the successor to Truck Distribution, Allan turned out a long list of beautifully produced broadsides and small books). The list of great books published by Allan and Coffee House is pretty incredible. Visit the press’ website to learn more about what Allan and his colleagues have accomplished, and to see the vibrant work the now well-established nonprofit press is doing today. Some really excellent publishing is going on there, and has been for a long time; no better legacy for Allan could be imagined than the books this press produces.

In later years, we I did not see Allan much more than once a year at the annual booksellers’ conventions, but we kept in contact, did business together, and always shared news of each other’s work and family. I interviewed Allan for Writerscast as part of the Publishing Talks series as I think the history of independent publishing needs to be documented, and first hand accounts by those involved seem to me the best way to preserve some of the knowledge and experiences of an important era in publishing. You can listen to it here if you want to get a feel for Allan and his work.

One moment with Allan still stands out for me. Probably six or seven years ago, when Amazon was first promoting digital conversion of print books, they put on presentations to publishers and distributors to convince us to convert as many of our books as possible to digital formats. I was perhaps naively convinced aready that the reflowable ebook format would be a great boon to reading. But Allan stood up and asked the pointed question – “What happens to the carefully designed pages we create for our books in this new digital format?” The Amazon representative bluntly stated something to the effect that “designed pages don’t matter in our ebooks.” That answer did not satisfy Allan, and somewhat presciently, he told me that this lack of interest and concern for design would be a big problem for e-readers and e-reading. How right he was then, and sadly, his views then about ebook design matters are still meaningful today. As he knew so well, the interaction between the reader and the word is where the magic of reading comes alive.

BIA-logo-RGB

29020-v1-197x

David Wilk Interviews Charles Bernstein of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine

April 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

charles-bernsteinPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how they believe publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics.

Recently, the series has expanded to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing.  I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the past, present and future of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.  Some of my latest interviews reflect my interest in the history of independent literary publishing, an area I have been involved in for a very long time.

Charles Bernstein has been a poet, editor, theorist and teacher of poetry and poetics, and is best known as a leader of what has become known as the LANGUAGE school of poetry. Between 1978 and 1981, Charles and poet Bruce Andrews edited the truly extraordinary journal they called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, that has become one of the most influential literary magazines of the last half century.  That magazine, which circulated a relatively small number of copies during a relatively short period of time (13 issues), helped to establish and define what was then mostly an outsider and alternative challenge to contemporary poetry and thinking about reading poetry and which has now become a fixture in modern poetry and poetics. All the issues of the magazine are available online here.

Since that time, Charles has taught and continued to help establish influential organizations. He was the David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the SUNY Buffalo and Director of the Poetics Program, which he co-founded with poet Robert Creeley. At SUNY, he co-founded the Electronic Poetry Center and is currently the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University Pennsylvania. He also is a co-founder of the outstanding and wonderful poetry audio archive at UPenn called PennSound (there’s a Writerscast interview with Charles, Al Filreis and Michael Hennessey here).

Our conversation about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E continues my effort to document at least a small portion of the creative work of independent literary publishing of the late 20th century, that has been so important to the development of contemporary literary culture.220px-Cover_of_L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E_magazine_(February_1978)

The anthology mentioned in the talk, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (Poetics of the New), was published by Southern Illinois University Press, and is in print and available.9780809311064Note to listeners: as with all these historically based conversations about literary publishing, this is a relatively long listen, at about 48 minutes.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Eugene Schwartz

Gene Schwartz PhotoIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Gene Schwartz has been an active participant in the publishing business for many years.  I first knew him as the ubiquitous representative of the magazine Foreword, covering every possible book and technology event for the benefit of independent publishers.  He still works as editor at large of Foreword Reviews.   He is an industry observer, an occasional blogger and columnist for Book Business magazine,  a member of its editorial advisory board and its Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board. He heads his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House, and is currently engaged in new business development projects for Waterside Productions, He is also notably co-founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., an innovative online private press and publication service for professionals , publishers and associations

In an earlier career, he was in the printing business, directed production at Random House and CRM Books/Psychology Today and was director of production and operations for Prentice-Hall/Goodyear. He is a former PMA (IBPA) board member and founder of the San Diego Publishers Group.

Schwartz has a civil engineering degree from CCNY and completed graduate course work in public administration at NYU, so like many of us in the publishing business, he came to this business from a very different background.

I thought it would be valuable to talk to Gene about publishing, past, present, and future, since he has been involved in so many different aspects of the business over such a long period of time.  He is consistently perceptive about the way technology and change can be harnessed by publishers and others in the book business, and has a terrifically tuned critical sensibility that he can bring to bear on any subject.  We had a great talk and covered a wide range of subjects in this interview.ws100_detail_cover

Self Publishing News

June 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Pipeline

self-published readersIf you are interested in self publishing (and who isn’t these days?), there are so many options and choices, it’s not so easy to figure out what your best pathway is.  And it will differ depending on what kind of writing you do, how much you have published in the past, and what your goals are as a writer.

There are all kinds of resources for writers who want to self publish, and there is something new going on almost every day that could be useful, valuable or interesting to writers (and some publishers) in the universe of self publishing.

Since so much of my work relates to publishing and options for writers, I decided to follow new developments and doings in the self publishing arena, and highlight some of those I think will be most useful to writers.  You can find my Self Publishing News on Tumblr. Please take a look, and if you like what you see, you can follow my posts pretty easily.  I’ll be posting 3-5 times a week, depending on my workload and what kind of interesting news I can uncover.  I hope you find this little site useful.  Feel free to send links and news items my way whenever you find something you think is interesting or valuable to writers.

Coming soon: a new interview series focusing on Self Publishing How To.  Video and audio interviews with experts and successful writers talking about what works and what doesn’t, always practical and useful information and ideas for writers and anyone who might be self publishing their work.header_2

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Glenn Nano

glenn nanoIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been having conversations with both book industry professionals and others with interesting perspectives about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in, around and to the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing and culture as our interesting present unfolds into the future.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Glenn Nano is a truly amazing guy I ran across first when he founded Code Meet Print, a “community at the intersection of texts + technology that will contemplate, define, and help build better interfaces for engagement, more relevant curators for discovery, and more useful marketplaces for dissemination of great writing and content to eager readers.”  And at Tools of Change this year in New York, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel called “Beyond Devices: Is The Real Value of eBooks Social Engagement?” on which Glenn appeared, and impressed me with his incisive and original thinking.

Evidently, Glenn is a serial entrepreneur who brings great ideas into being, or spurs them forward.  Aside from CodeMeetPrint, he also created Dictator Goods (you have to visit this site), was a principal at Centurion Venture Partners, and most recently engineered a very interesting start up called AnswerQi (“tech answers from real experts in real-time”, which I think is taking up most of his abundant energy for the moment.

As Glenn wrote in the introduction to Code Meet Print: “Words are finding new modalities, and innovators across disciplines have begun to experiment with how technology might improve their creation, curation, and consumption.”  This sums up very nicely what so many people involved in writing, publishing and reading are trying to understand right now.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with Glenn about his views of the current state of publishing, storytelling and writing, and his views about where we are headed.  I think you will find this conversation to be among the most interesting on these now well-worn subjects that you will hear or read.  Glenn thinks about the digital present in a way that I think alot of people whose roots are in traditional publishing simply do not natively understand.  So there is always something for us to learn from what he has to say.

Alert to listeners, we were having alot of fun talking, so this interview runs longer than usual at 46 minutes.                                                                                        global_22005223

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Andy Doe

doe_headshotIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

I discovered Andy Doe’s writing quite by accident, and a happy accident that was.  UK based, Andy comes from the music business. Most recently, he was the COO at classical music label Naxos from 2010-2012, and was head of classical music at iTunes from 2004-2010; now he freelances to help artists, labels and other organizations on recording and marketing activity, both on and offline.  He also blogs brilliantly and with a great sense of humor at Proper Discord.

A piece he posted in November, 2012 caught my attention and is one I highly recommend to anyone interested in physical and digital media; it’s called What is Going on with the Record Industry (at New Music Box, a very cool site about new music). It’s a list of ten observations with explications of each.  The first one is called  “Almost everything you read about the state of the record industry is, at best, totally useless,” which should give you a good idea of where Andy is coming from and where this piece might be headed.

Naturally, I thought it would be fun to talk to Andy about his thinking about the record business and to draw him out on how what has happened and is happening in that industry might apply (or not apply) to the book business. We do tend to think that all entertainment media businesses, including books, music, television, radio, film, video games and even newspapers have similar enough structures and relationships between physical and digital media, as well as similar disruptive innovations as to make the experiences in one useful to the those who work in other creative industries.  So we talked about that a bit, as well as how some of what Andy has observed and learned in the music business may not be relevant to book publishing.  Overall, because he is such a smart and witty guy, I think this conversation should be of particular interest.  As has happened recently, when discussions have been going well, we have gone a bit longer than podcasts usually go. This one is 47 minutes.

Another good reference point I should mention – here’s a written interview with Andy Doe by Tom Manoff you might enjoy as well.

And oh, by the way, this is the 200th interview I have posted on Writerscast since its inception just a few years ago.  I’d like to thank all the wonderful writers, technologists and thinkers who have been willing to give me some of their valuable time to pepper them with questions and engage them in my enthusiasms and interests.  And I’d also like to thank the individuals who have helped make this project work, my daughter, Emma Wilk, for editing my often poor efforts at recording, website builder and podcast expert Rob Simon of Burst Marketing, and his web guru, Jeremy Brieske.

And in particular I owe thanks to all of you who have listened and responded to this humble effort to contribute to the cultural and intellectual good of all. andy_doe_2-540x359

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Ishmael Reed

Ishmael ReedIn this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Ishmael Reed is not only one of my favorite writers (fiction, poetry, theater and a wide range of nonfiction), he is an editor, publisher, literary activist and one of the founders of the Before Columbus Foundation, which has sponsored the American Book Awards since 1980.  His latest publishing venture is Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, sponsoring the work of a diverse set of writers from many continents, including an online magazine, Konch.  He blogs for the San Francisco Chronicle at www.sfgate.com.

His own books include the now classic Yellow Back Radio Brokedown, Mumbo Jumbo, The Freelance Pallbearers (a book I like to re-read at least once every five years), Flight to Canada as well as an amazing number of collections of essays, plays and poems, and recently, Powwow: Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience, an anthology he co-edited with Carla Blank.  Forthcoming books include The Fighter and the Writer: Two American Stories (Random House), and Brawls, a new collection of Ishmael’s always provocative and on point essays. Ishmael Reed is a massively prolific writer in a wide range of forms.

You can read a complete biography of Ishmael here.  It’s pretty impressive, but listen to this interview I did with him to get a real sense of what he has done to support and promote the full breadth of writing and creativity in this country (and around the world).  Ishmael Reed gives voice to the heart and soul of the river of creativity that flows out of and through the great American continent, and never fails to tell truth to power, expose alternative views of accepted wisdom, and makes us think long and hard about who we really are.Fiction Anthology_0  This conversation covers a wide range of topics, and includes much about the history of independent publishing in the last several decades, and much more.

Blan_0609807846-330 A guest appearance by editor, writer and professor Carla Blank near the end of our talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carla Blank

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Coffee House Press Founder Allan Kornblum

December 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve been talking to a wide variety of people in the book business, mostly about the future of writing, publishing, and reading. But the future is always built on what has gone before now.  And there has been so much incredibly creative and wonderful publishing work done in recent years, I’ve wanted to share some of the experiences of people who have accomplished so much, with vision, talent and amazing effort.

I’ve known Allan Kornblum, founder of Coffee House Press (and its predecessor, Toothpaste Press), a long, long time.  He and I started out in publishing in similar ways and around the same time, the early 1970s.  Allan started out as many of us did in those days publishing a handmade mimeo magazine.  But he discovered fine printing by taking classes at the University of Iowa with the renowned Harry Duncan (Cummington Press – there is a great interview with him in a wonderful book called Against the Grain, interviews with independent publishers, you can access this book online through Project Muse).  Allan’s Toothpaste Press used letterpress printing to create beautiful poetry books and chapbooks for ten years beginning in 1973, when Allan and his wife Cinda lived in West Branch, Iowa (home of Herbert Hoover).

The Kornblums eventually faced an existential crisis with Toothpaste, to either become a letterpress “art press,” producing limited editions at high prices, with limited readership and distribution, or to aim for a broader audience, which for a low margin literary press, requires financial support.  Kornblum elected to create a nonprofit publishing venture, renamed Coffee House Press, and moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, the literary mecca of the midwest (then as now), where the press has thrived along with several other excellent publishers, with a literary arts center, and an extremely supportive community of readers and writers.  Now having published there for almost thirty years, Coffee House is an established an active organization, with a strong board and staff, and a tremendous list of books to its credit, many of which have won awards and have sold extremely well.  Coffee House has maintained consistently high editorial and production standards, but it has also been a successful and innovative book marketer, embracing a wealth of tools and approaches to finding audiences for its books.

Interviewing Allan for Publishing Talks was a pleasure for me.  I’d also like to recommend listeners to a written interview with Allan from 2006 that can be found at NewPages.com.  And visit the Coffee House Press website to see their latest books as well as their exceptional and impressive backlist. Listener alert!  These interviews with independent publishers, documenting their history and experiences, are longer than usual.  This one is 53 minutes long.  Pull up a chair….

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Black Sparrow Press founder John Martin

November 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve been talking to a wide variety of people in the book business, mostly about the future of writing, publishing, and reading. But the future is always built on what has gone before now.  And there has been so much incredibly creative and wonderful publishing work done in recent years, I’ve wanted to share some of the experiences of people who have accomplished so much, with vision, talent and amazing effort.

I’m very pleased and honored to present my interview with John Martin, founder and publisher of Black Sparrow Press for 36 years, from 1966 through 2002.  While best known for his discovery and commitment to the work of poet, Charles Bukowski, John was responsible for publishing an incredible range of writers, poets and critics an established a truly historical breadth of work.  Black Sparrow books were notably beautiful (all designed and produced by Barbara Martin), and established a singular and unmistakable brand that told readers that they could expect quality books with writers whose work was selected for aesthetic rather than commercial reasons.  And on that commitment to quality, Martin built a very successful and profitable business.

When I was a young poet and publisher, I admired no publisher more than Black Sparrow, and I am sure I am not alone among independent publishers in appreciating John’s achievement over such a long period of time.  The list of writers and poets Black Sparrow published is incredible, including Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Diane Wakoski, Paul Bowles, Wyndham Lewis, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Clark, John Fante, Charles Reznikoff, and many, many others.

Martin famously promised to pay Charles Bukowski $100 a month for the rest of his life if he would quit his job at the post office and become a full time writer.  What a brilliant and creative gesture.  Brave and perhaps foolhardy too, but that single act changed literary history and probably enabled Black Sparrow to become so successful.  A great investment, risking one fifth of his personal income to support a writer whose work he loved.  Bukowski wrote his first novel, Post Office, and Black Sparrow published it in 1971.  As John points out, that book sold forever, along with a number of others, and became the backbone of his business.

Black Sparrow Press was started in 1966 with a single broadside poem.  After 36 years of long rewarding hours and hundreds of titles published, John Martin decided the business had changed enough by 2002 that it was a good time to get out.  He guessed that the consolidation of retail would spell the end of the golden age of independent publishing, and based on that prescience, sold his most valuable assets, his deals with Bukowski, Paul Bowles and a few others, to HarperCollins’ Ecco Press imprint, and the rest of the inventory (but not the contracts) to fellow independent publisher, David Godine, who renamed the list Black Sparrow Books, and who has continued to publish a fine, though smaller list of books in the Black Sparrow vein.

I recently discovered a wonderful letter written to John by Bukowski in 1986.  In it he says “To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.”  That seems a pretty good description of what John Martin did himself and a worthy goal for any of us to aspire to.  (You can read the entire inspiring letter at a great site called Letters of Note.)

There’s a really well done history of the press, with quite a bit from John himself, written in 2002 here.  The Black Sparrow archive is at the University of Alberta and quite a bit of it can be viewed online. I’ll be posting interviews with a number of other independent publishers over the next few months, in hopes of helping to document what has been and remains an amazing era in American literary publishing. (Warning note to listeners: this is a long interview but hopefully well worth your time. Enjoy!)Photograph of John Martin from Metroactive by Michael Amsler.


Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Liate Stehlik

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I talk to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us better understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing, books and reading culture, and how we can ourselves both understand and influence the future of books and reading.

Liate Stehlik appeared on a panel I moderated last winter for Digital Book World, and I was  very much impressed by her perceptive understanding of the evolving publishing landscape.  In her role as the Senior Vice President and Publisher of William Morrow/Harper Voyager/Avon Books division of HarperCollins, Liate oversees the digital-centric Avon Impulse imprint, giving her a unique experience base and outlook.  Avon Impulse is innovative publishing for authors and readers, and is a learning base for the company within which it operates.

I thought it would be interesting and enjoyable to talk to her about her views on the book business, past, present and future, and I think our conversation demonstrates that it was just that and more.  Avon Impulse represents a significant effort by a Big Six publisher, creating a chance to experiment and learn important and valuable lessons about digital books and readers, which can then be applied across the overall publishing enterprise.  Much of what Liate and her company has learned will doubtless be applicable to many others in publishing. I’ll welcome comments and reactions from listeners in all kinds of publishing.

Next Page »