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'Collaboration Is the New Competition' at IPNE'

"Opportunities for collaboration come along all the time, but as independents, we are sometimes so focused on doing it our way that we fail to see the possibilities right in front of us," wrote Independent Publishers of New England president Charlotte Pierce of Pierce Press in the catalogue for this year's IPNE Publishing Conference, held recently in Portsmouth, N.H.

I was there, having been invited to give a little talk about my life in the world of books. What I took away from the show, however, was a keen sense of how that word "collaboration" resonates when considering the future of book world organizations like IPNE.

There was a moment on the first day when attendees were asked to raise their hands if they were a) publishers of other writer's books, b) publishers of their own books, c) hybrid publishers who did both, or d) authors. A lot of hands went up when that final category was mentioned, but IPNE's leaders stressed the importance of self-identifying as publishers, even if you are publishing your own books.

Tordis Isselhardt, Pamela Fenner & Charlotte Pierce

"You have to think of yourself as a publisher," advised Steve Porter in his seminar on marketing through partnerships, adding: "You cannot do it alone." Porter is an author, publisher (Stillwater River Publications) and the founder of the Association of Rhode Island Authors. Earlier, he'd recommended that all attendees do more than just visit the conference bookstore: "When you purchase a book and take it home, you become an advocate for that author."

In considering the "Collaboration Is the New Competition" theme, Pierce observed that the idea "was to establish a back-and-forth flow of information, resources, and support while pursuing our passions as independent publishers and authors, and without creating an organizational structure requiring huge amounts of capital and staffing. Of course this will always be a work in progress, but at the conference, I saw the wheels starting to turn in people's heads and connections starting to happen."

Noting that IPNE members "are a quirky and wildly varying bunch," Pierce added that during the conference, she "could see people becoming aware of how connecting with each other in this group with shared goals and interests would be helpful to them; and how paying it forward to others in the group also helps themselves."

Pierce also presented the first independent publishing achievement awards to IPNE co-founders Tordis Isselhardt (Images from the Past) and Pamela Fenner (Michaelmas Press), "the two IPNE members who taught me the most about the value of paying it forward and being open and transparent when working in publishing teams."

Isselhardt observed that the conference "showed IPNE's strong educational role in providing both general information and individual skill training. Publishers (and writers in search of a publisher or considering self-publishing) need to understand and be informed about the constantly changing Big Picture of the publishing industry. Publishers also need to understand their place in the industry based on a realistic assessment of their own talents and preferences, so they can prioritize their actions effectively and profitably. No matter how long we're in the business, we all benefit from reviewing the essential steps in the creation of a book, i.e. of the publishing process from ideas to a book that sells to a successful back list title that goes on selling--if we're lucky!"

Publishing a book "has never been more accessible or complicated," Fenner said. "While writers and publishers have many options today for getting into print, many may not grasp the importance of nor know how to find reliable resources for appropriate editing, quality book design and effective marketing tools. For more than 15 years, IPNE has offered education and networking opportunities for independent authors, publishers and service providers through regional trade shows, local meetings, weekly video 'office hours,' workshops and our annual conference." Describing this year's conference as "our best to date," she added: "Attendees left with enthusiasm, practical tools for their enterprises and a strong sense of community."

Pierce cited a recent example of collaboration in action. Board member Crystal Ponti of Blue Lobster Book Co. coordinated this year's book awards and found a new client when IPNE partnered with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance so they could register for the conference at member rates.

"Realizing that Crystal was looking for new clients, I sent her a list of Maine authors and publishers that IPNE had in its resources file," Pierce recalled. "She promptly created a book awards poster for display at our NEIBA exhibit. We retweet each other's tweets, like our Facebook postings. Our relationship has ratcheted up a couple of notches. Crystal are I are both publishers, but we don't regard each other as competitors. By being mindful of opportunities to build each other up, we create an environment in which we both grow and win."

That's precisely the environment I saw being encouraged, and realized, during IPNE's Publishing Conference.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2610


The Complexity of Reading for Pleasure

I think of myself as being essentially a reader. As you are aware, I have ventured into writing; but I think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written. For one reads what one likes--yet one writes not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write. --Jorge Luis Borges

So... I saw this London Review Bookshop video... about reading... for pleasure.

Later this month, The Pleasure of Reading: 43 Writers on the Discovery of Reading & the Books that Inspired Them will be released by Bloomsbury USA. Edited by Antonia Fraser and Victoria Gray, the book, first published in 1992 to mark the bicentenary of WH Smith, was reissued with additional contributors as a paperback in the U.K. earlier this year.  

In her essay for the anthology, Kamila Shamsie observes: "Now my reading life covers much wider ground than it did in childhood when writers such as C. S. Lewis and J. M. Barrie simultaneously opened up the universe and circumscribed it--from Tolstoy and Toni Morrison to Ali Smith and Juan Gabriel Vásquez the world sits on my bookshelf. But although I recognize the richness and breadth of my adult library, I miss the deep pleasures of childhood reading, the intensity which sent me back to books--and not just the most loved ones--over and over again."

Sometimes a confession is in order. Here's mine: I have a complicated relationship with the concept of reading for pleasure. Because I "read for a living," sometimes I have to remind myself that there was a long period in my life when I read strictly for pleasure, for enlightenment, for amusement, for solace, for the hell of it. Although this does still happen, after all these years I've sacrificed a little something almost indefinable. I do get pleasure from reading, but when I open a new book, a now instinctive set of goals and expectations cloud my idealism, if that's what it is.

Often I read books people ask me to read. Or I read with a nagging corner of my brain whispering, "Will this sell?" Or I read the surface of a book to get through it just to be able to say "been there, read that." I worry sometimes that even though I encounter good books regularly, I may have lost some of the pleasure principle.

"People who read regularly for pleasure have greater levels of self-esteem, are less stressed, and can cope better with difficult situations than lapsed or non-readers," the Bookseller reported earlier this year. So there's that. But reading for pleasure isn't as simple as it sounds.

In a New Yorker essay last year, Rebecca Mead recalled: "It's a common and easy enough distinction, this separation of books into those we read because we want to and those we read because we have to, and it serves as a useful marketing trope for publishers, especially when they are trying to get readers to take this book rather than that one to the beach. But it's a flawed and pernicious division.... [T]here are pleasures to be had from books beyond being lightly entertained. There is the pleasure of being challenged; the pleasure of feeling one's range and capacities expanding; the pleasure of entering into an unfamiliar world, and being led into empathy with a consciousness very different from one's own; the pleasure of knowing what others have already thought it worth knowing, and entering a larger conversation.... There's pleasure in ambition, too."

For the past few years, I've found the best way for me to "read for pleasure" is a meditative, almost ceremonial morning read. With my first cup of coffee, I also sip from a book--sometimes old and sometimes new. I may read a few pages or a chapter or even the same page a half-dozen times.

This morning, I read: "Through writing what I had thought would be a very short prologue in a place and time I didn't know at all, I discovered the pleasure and deeply satisfying challenge of writing yourself from ignorance into familiarity rather than mining the stories you'd lived your whole life. I didn't immediately realize that I was severing the cord which had connected the most essential part of me--the writerly part--to the country of my birth and upbringing."

The passage is from another essay by Kamila Shamsie, published in the slender yet powerful anthology 1914: Goodbye to All That--Writers on the Conflict Between Life & Art. Reading those words was in itself a "deeply satisfying challenge," even if I was simply exercising my right to a quiet morning read, with a mug of coffee... for pleasure. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2605


'How Pleasant... to Just Work in a Bookstore'

I had to laugh at myself for thinking I could embark on such a venture with no business experience whatever, but it felt like an instinct as powerful as a cow's instinct to eat grass. That is what made me laugh, the certainty that I was at the same time a little crazy, no doubt, and absolutely right that this was the adventure for me, godsent, in fact. Hatfield House: A Bookstore for Women was the name that came to me after dawn. --from May Sarton's novel The Education of Harriet Hatfield

Imagine what it would be like to be a bookseller. People seem to do that... a lot. For those of us who are, or were, booksellers, the fantasy is both understandable and amusing. It tends to lean heavily upon endless hours set aside for reading, book-lined shelves, sleeping cats, and engaging conversations with well-read customers.

Occasionally a reality check will leak to the innocent public via social media or a list ("14 Things Only People Who Have Spent Countless Hours Working In A Bookstore Understand"). Mostly, however, the fantasy thrives.

Those of us who've been in the bookish belly of the beast do understand there is something irresistible about the bookselling life. We succumbed to the siren song ourselves, after all. And it is fun to see the fantasy retain its hold on the public's imagination. After all, does anybody fantasize about opening an e-bookstore? Where would the digital cat sleep?

Sometimes, people get the chance to rehearse a bookselling life:

Indies First: On Small Business Saturday, independent booksellers host authors as honorary booksellers throughout the day to help handsell favorite titles, sign books, give readings and more.

AirBnBookselling: For £150 a week, guests at the Open Book in Wigtown, Scotland, "will be expected to sell books for 40 hours a week while living in the flat above the shop. Given training in bookselling from Wigtown's community of booksellers, they will also have the opportunity to put their 'own stamp' on the store while they're there."

Bookshop-sitter: In Big Stone Gap, Va., Wendy Welch and Jack Beck have put their bookstore, Tales of the Lonesome Pine, in the hands of strangers several times since 2012, when they first sought a bookshop-sitter to fill in while they went on tour for Wendy's book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book.

In a recent article for the Straits Times headlined "Selling books is hard work," Corrie Tan recounted her eight-hour shift at the great Singapore indie, BooksActually: "A warm cat on my lap, my favorite book in hand, a steaming mug of good coffee, on-trend music lingering in the air, the intoxicating smell of new books--this is what I imagined owning a bookstore would feel like. I was certain it would be the most comfortable job ever. I was wrong.

"At the end of an eight-hour shift at independent bookstore BooksActually, my sore feet had turned to lead. I had notched up a score of paper cuts from folding brochures and flyers and opening paper bags. And, surprise, surprise, I didn't get any reading done.... As I limped home, I realized that being a bookseller for a day was like being a sort of literary weatherman, sussing out the mood of the room and reacting accordingly. Sunshine, rain, hail, haze--we were there to create an atmosphere where the written word could be best appreciated and find loving new homes."

As it happens, in 2011 I wrote a column with a similar headline ("Bookselling Is Harder than It Looks"), in which I noted: "They glance up from their reading to watch booksellers shelve a few novels. It's a beautiful, universal and almost ceremonial tableau.... They can't help but consider an alternative: How pleasant it must be to just work in a bookstore....

"Here's just a bit of what those customers nestled in their comfy reading chairs planet-wide don't see because you are doing your jobs so well: today's deliveries stacked up in shipping & receiving; cartloads of as yet unshelved books; sections needing to be culled for returns; returns waiting to be boxed and shipped; staff meetings; internal staff rivalries; scheduling conflicts or sick days that result in overstaffing/understaffing (whichever is the worst one that could happen at this particular moment); ordering to be done; bills to be paid (or strategically delayed); websites and blogs [and social media sites] to be updated; author events to be planned and executed....

"Part of the magic and mystery of bookselling is never letting customers see below the surface.... You chose this profession. If you're one of the best, it also chose you." --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2600


Award-Winning YA Novel Banned in New Zealand

In the U.S., we're just nine days away from "celebrating the freedom to read" with Banned Books Week 2015, but in New Zealand there has been considerably less cause for celebration recently. During the first week of September, the president of the country's Film and Literature Board of Review issued an Interim Restriction Order banning the sale or distribution of Ted Dawe's YA novel Into the River, which was honored as the 2013 NZ Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year. The work will be reviewed again by the full board soon to determine a "final decision."

Booksellers NZ issued a warning to member bookshops, noting that "the fine for distributing Into the River while it is banned, without knowledge of the ban, is $3,000 for an individual, and $10,000 for a business. If it is distributed while it is banned, with knowledge of the ban, is $10,000 or up to three months in prison for an individual, and $25,000 for a business."

The Interim Restriction Order was sparked by complaints from Family First, a fundamentalist Christian group whose director, Bob McCoskrie, requested the review. "Hopefully we have set a precedent and people start bringing other books to the fore that they are concerned about," he said. "Where a book is targeted at teenagers it needed to be language and theme appropriate."

"I read the book in 2013, and it has stuck with me," noted Jenna Todd, manager of Auckland's Time Out Bookstore, which has drawn attention to the issue in numerous ways, including a sidewalk chalkboard, photo op with Dawe and an "offensive books" window display, with a prominently featured brown paper-wrapped copy of Into the River.

"We often look at troubled young people around us and ask, 'How did this happen?' " Todd continued. "Into the River tries to answer that question. It takes a look at the path that a young Māori boy could take after leaving his whānau, having his culture disregarded and being bullied within an alienating boarding school system.... It's gritty, unapologetic and raw. It contains sex, drugs and swear words. But when read in context, its confronting scenes add depth to the protagonist Te Arepa's toxic surroundings. Many of the so-called scandalous and 'offensive' scenes result in negative experiences for him. It's a good book. And this week, I have been told we will be fined $10,000 if we sell or display it.... We look forward to removing the paper bag and selling it again."

Reaction to the decision has been sharply critical among booksellers, authors, publishers and readers. Across New Zealand, public "silent readings" of the book have been held in protest.

"It is clear that the processes within the 1993 Act are out of sync with modern norms where access to information, particularly books, is ubiquitous and cannot be censored by way of a single country's laws," said Booksellers NZ CEO Lincoln Gould. "Censorship cannot be applied effectively when printed books, e-books and all sorts of other reading material can be accessed online from anywhere in the world.... There certainly needs to be a conversation with government about whether the current law needs to be reviewed."
Publishers Association of New Zealand president Melanie Laville-Moore called Into the River "a highly regarded piece of literature, charged with influencing and changing the lives of many of its teenage male readers. This is an unprecedented and extreme action by the Film and Literature Board of Review. Banning books is not the New Zealand way."

Peter Biggs, chair of the board of the New Zealand Book Council, said "placing a permanent age restriction on Into the River will restrict the ability of family and whānau to make a decision on what is appropriate reading for their children; it will limit access for mature, advanced young readers."

The book's publisher, Penguin Random House NZ, issued a statement saying it "believes that young people benefit from having access to coming of age books that help them to understand the complex society in which they live."
Writer and editor Emma Neale, who worked on the initial assessment and editing phase of the novel, observed: "If we silence the book, and remove it from young adult readers, we repeat the kind of insidious censorship and bullying the fictional private boys' school of the novel, Barwell's, embodies. From silence grow ignorance, isolation and confusion. The extension to a total ban is horrifying and represents the level of censorship expected in totalitarian states."

In an essay for the Guardian, Dawe shared his views on the issue, concluding: "I won't speculate on how all this will end, because my thoughts are for those boys I set out to connect with. You know the ones. They are the dudes who don't read. Don't succeed. Appear in the newspapers for the wrong reasons. And, instead of finding their place in society, find it in jails, mental hospitals and morgues. Reading can be a lifeline to these guys, it's just often one good reading experience that sets them down a new path."

At some point during Banned Books Week, perhaps we'll also have the chance to celebrate the end of Into the River's ban, too. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2595


An 'Occasion to Celebrate' & a 'Day of Reckoning'

Maybe you already know this and are still celebrating, but I think it should be noted that Tuesday was UNESCO International Literacy Day. This year's theme was "Literacy and Sustainable Societies." On its website, UNESCO stated: "Literacy skills are the prerequisite for the learning of a broader set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required for creating sustainable societies. At the same time, progress in areas of sustainable development, such as health and agriculture, serves as an enabling factor in the promotion of literacy and literate environments."

Calling #InternationalLiteracyDay both "an occasion to celebrate the commitment of individuals and organizations striving to ensure that everyone has the skills needed to engage with the world," as well as "a day of reckoning," the Global Partnership for Education shared new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics indicating that 757 million adults (two-thirds of whom are women), including 115 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24, still cannot read or write a simple sentence.

Here's a tiny sampling of how the world acknowledged International Literacy Day:

U.S.: "Reading is much more than a leisure activity for members of an East Cleveland court diversion program, who proudly snapped their 'literacy selfie' last Friday so they could participate in WKYC's celebration of International Literacy Day [#WeReadHere]. For these women enrolled in the court's 'From Lemons to Lemonade' program for offenders, their every-other-Friday discussions about literature have helped give them tools needed to break difficult cycles in their lives."

Belize: The Ministry of Education celebrated ILD by holding a Read Aloud Day. Lurleen Betson Gamboa said, "What we are trying to promote is that we want parents, we want teachers, we want community personnel to read to their children or read to a child and the reason for that is when you do read aloud it promotes comprehension, it promotes strong vocabulary, so when you are reading to that child he or she is able to imitate that reading as well as the child is gaining basic comprehension skills and vocabulary skills."

photo: Vanndeth Um/tuoitrenews.vn

Vietnam: Tuoi Tre News presented a World Vision Vietnam photo feature exploring how kids in remote areas "embark on extreme journeys to school... to pursue literacy."

New Zealand: Literacy Aotearoa Wellington, a specialist provider of adult literacy and numeracy education, held a giant game of Scrabble in the foyer of Wellington Railway Station as "a fun way for our staff and students to engage with the public, promote awareness of adult learning and highlight the services that LAW have to offer."

Russia: Olga Ivanova, a senior research fellow at the department of Russian linguistic culture at the Vinogradova Institute for the Study of Russian Language, "claims that Russians are simply fed up with the illiterate mangling of words that Internet communication has produced and that was fashionable just a couple of years ago. A backlash is now underway, with international projects like 'Total Dictation' promoting correct spelling and use of language throughout the world.

DR Congo: From a statement by Martin Kobler, head of the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo: "I commend the Government for the efforts made to promote literacy, which, in addition to representing a fundamental right that should be guaranteed to all Congolese people, is a development factor. Therefore, I reiterate my commitment to supporting the Government authorities to better empower the most disadvantaged sections of the population for an active contribution to sustainable development."

Fiji: "Highlighting the importance of literacy to people with disabilities," and with support from the Australian Government through its partnership with the University of the South Pacific, the Disability Resource Centre "provides a space for studies, specialized learning equipment and support from student volunteers. The initiative is part of the university's commitment to make its facilities and courses accessible under its Disability Inclusiveness Policy adopted in 2013."

photo: The Hindu

India: Students and teachers at Periyar University rallied to mark International Literacy Day, carrying placards and banners with slogans like "Education is not a preparation for life, education is life itself"; and "A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance." The students and teachers "took a pledge that they will do everything possible to eradicate illiteracy."

Cayman Islands: "There still remains a segment of students who leave our schools without obtaining the literacy levels they require to contribute fully to the development and sustainability of our society," Education Minister Tara Rivers observed. "Improving literacy standards continues to be one of the highest priorities for the Cayman Islands Education System, as literacy underpins the life-skills of all individuals in our community."

At the opening ceremony for a two-day literacy conference in Paris this week, UNESCO assistant director general for education Qian Tan said ILD is a time to "renew our commitment to literacy as a human right which empowers people and transforms societies.... Without literacy, equitable and sustainable society cannot be realized." --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2590

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