25 January 2009

Christopher Bantick on Tasmanian publishing

Once again, reviewer Christopher Bantick has had a bit of a go at the publishing scene in Tasmania, in today's edition of The Sunday Tasmanian.

I have heard of ABS statistics that Tasmania is home to more self-published authors than any other state. His comments about quality and the need to employ an editor before rushing into print are well worth heeding.

As a place that "bakes its own curtains and weaves its own bread" (Frank Moorhouse's quip), Tasmania is also home to more than a few "properly" published authors, and many of these are themselves owners or operators of small literary presses.

In defence of those small presses, it is worth saying that, by and large, the overwhelming proportion of their titles are works by other authors, not the owner-author – a signature of the generosity of spirit that operates down here.

The small literary presses all know about the need to hire a distributor, and all know the hideous costs of doing so. The mainland distributor I hire does his best and the Tasmanian-based distributor I have attempted to hire maintains a mysterious silence.

The alternative to offering one's title to a distributor at a prohibitive 60% or 70% discount is to work alone, as I did. For two years I sold my author's books at Salamanca Market (averaging 5 sales per Saturday most of the year and up to 20 sales per Saturday over the Christmas holiday season) operating a casual stall.

Buyers were mostly tourists and interstate or international visitors, and sales were superior to those at any Tasmanian bookshop.

Reviews of the book which I published The Literary Lunch (by Australian author Geoff Dean) were mostly in interstate papers and journals (The Age, The Courier Mail, and four others) and the author also made it onto Ramona Koval's Book Show a year ago for a half-hour interview with Peter Mares (due to my efforts and those of his other publisher, poet Edith Speers of Esperance Press).

Another alternative is for the small literary presses to work together to form some kind of consortium and share costs and expertise. Before establishing Roaring Forties Press, I tried to do so and invited no less than four other small presses to join me, but each was wary and preferred to work alone.

I also worked with another small press, the excellent Pardalote Press, at trying to set up a model for distributing Tasmanian literary titles here, but one way and another we were thwarted.

The photograph accompanying Bantick's article today is of Tasmanian Book Fair stall holders at the 2006 event, central aisle from foreground to the back: Quintus Publishing, operated by author David Owen at the University of Tasmania; myself; poet Peter Macrow (of Blue Giraffe) and in the far distance, Ralph Wessman of Walleah Press.

So there we are, isolated and fair game for a slow day at The Muck. We'll never know what bits from Bantick's article ended up on the cuttingroom floor, or why a 2006 photograph accompanied the article, but so what. In the end, people do what they like.

And in Tasmania, it just so happens that a lot of people like publishing, just as they like bottling fruit (again, ABS stats show we do more of that kind of thing than any other state) and making their own jam.

Which reminds me, I have lots of apricots. Anyone want some?

While I intend publishing more books, I am not making jam anymore.
Anne Kellas.

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