Writers & Publishers Need to Act More Like the Art World

Today’s Q&A is with Dan Holloway, who I first met on Twitter as agnieszkasshoes. Dan is a founder-member of Year Zero Writers, and curator of eight cuts gallery and eight cuts gallery press. I was very intrigued by the new publishing operation he’s launched, eight cuts gallery press, and asked him some questions about how it’ll work.

Okay, let’s start from the top. You’re starting a press called eight cuts gallery that focuses on contemporary urban fiction (sorry to categorize!).

You only want submissions from writers who buy into what you’re doing—which involves not profiting a penny from the books you publish. (Authors take all money from sales of eight cuts editions.)

Wouldn’t making money from the press allow you to spend more of your time on it? Or employ others to help?

First, the key to what I’m doing is in the gallery part of the name. What literature needs now is what art had in the late 80s and early 90s (I hope this isn’t too British—I’d urge people to Google “Young British Art”).

We need chutzpah. We need the larger than life curators like Nick Serota and Jay Jopling, we need the equivalent of the Turner Prize (not the Pulitzer or the Booker), an event like the Sensation exhibition. We need a watercooler-WTF-is-that moment. I blogged about this last year, but I really haven’t seen anything that fits the bill.

So that’s where eight cuts gallery, and eight cuts gallery press come in. To clarify the relation between the two, eight cuts gallery is the umbrella that encompasses a virtual and real literary gallery that will focus on highly curated events (submissions have almost closed for our first, Into the Desert); two prizes, the Chris Al-Aswad Prize for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts and the eight cuts gallery prize for best literary “thing” of the year; and eight cuts gallery press.

The aim is to locate a press within a movement, and for everything that’s part of that movement to be focused around our mission statement: “eight cuts gallery exists to champion extraordinary literature from people you may never have been given the chance to encounter.”

No problem to categorize—it’s hard to describe what we’re looking for without using categories—which is why I tell people who want to submit to look at our titles, the feel of our site, and our blogroll. It’s about a feel.

For the record, it’s not just fiction. We do poetry, and I’m not ruling out essays.

 By buying into what we do I don’t just mean the financial stuff. I mean the whole culture—for example, people for whom writing is confessional—that’s a really big thing—not autobiographical but confessional. And serious.

There’s a whole wave of new, exciting literature that’s really livening things up, and is led by things like Literary Death Match, and it’s great, but it’s very humor-centric and there’s a real danger that can come at the price of being superficial.

I want writers who look inside themselves and scrape whatever stinking, complicated, messed up thing they find there onto the page. One of our first authors, Cody James, said, “Maybe there is no way for us to leave the world a better place, and all we can do is tell the truth.”

I DO want it on record, though, that we are categorically NOT the literary equivalent of prog rock.

The gallery I very much hope WILL make money, from live shows and merchandise. I’d also like to think if I do my job well, what I’m doing is new enough that I might get asked to write and talk about it. So, I DO hope to make money, bu not through my writers. I will be bringing one, maybe two, of my own books out though—IF they are good enough. My first novel, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, has had some great reviews, but it’s not good enough, so I won’t be putting it through the press.

 
You’re giving all authors an equal share of any profits that the press happens to earn. So any money that the press takes: it will be only to cover costs (and reduce out of pocket). Is that correct?

eight cuts gallery press will almost certainly make no profits aside from books—the profits on books, authors keep 100%. And yes, profits will be calculated very transparently in terms of the costs incurred in producing the books.

Where we need to advance money to outside parties, as part of the terms of being shortlisted for an award, we will revert to a 50/50 profit share until we have recouped the outlay.

But we MAY sell merchandise if it seems appropriate, and where that has the press label on it, money will go to the authors. Most of the profits will come through the gallery. That’s where I’ll make my money—authors and exhibitors will split their share.

 
?With eight cuts gallery, authors keep all rights, meaning authors may walk away at any time. However, you plan to offer assistance to authors to negotiate rights with third parties, and not take a commission when doing so. This sounds generous! And like a lot of work! Thoughts?

This is almost certainly very naive, and IF we make it out of the starting blocks, I will almost certainly get burned on it from time to time, but what I think people need to remember is that the literary world I want to tap into is first and foremost a movement, not a business. It’s a community bound together by a certain set of cultural ideals, and antecedents, and a desire to shout about literature and get, for want of a better phrase, in the public’s face to get them excited too.

But being a movement doesn’t mean you were born yesterday—it just means that sometimes you realize it’s for the greater good if you act like you were.

From a business point of view, as well, I think ultimately this makes sense because everything reflects on eight cuts gallery as a brand.

 
You’ve said you want to give the very best self-published works a chance to storm the major literary prizes that currently will not accept self-published novels. How will you find the best? Do you already know of these works through your own network, or do you expect people to discover your press through word of mouth and submit? Or … ?

I very much DO want people to submit, but I started because there were particular works I loved so much I knew I wanted to devote myself to promoting them, and a couple of collections I knew would be ready next year.

I started Year Zero Writers as a meeting point for amazing independent authors of literary and independent fiction. Through the collective, our publicity, our live shows, and interaction on the web, I’ve met hundreds of incredible authors, come into contact with hundreds of networks, and tens of sites that are devoted to exceptional alternative/experimental works, and read thousands of manuscripts.

I have been very very lucky in whom I’ve met in the last year, and the way they’ve responded to what we do, so I’m very fortunate to have a network where I come into contact with an awful lot of the great stuff.
<
br>There IS a danger that some of the self-publishing scene and the alternative fiction scene is quite introspective, but there are huge pools of talent out there once you click through a couple of times from the same old, same old. Look outward needs to be the watchword—get involved with local creative networks, put yourself up for live shows, support independent bookstores, work across the arts. Always ask “what else is there?”

 
Why aren’t you attaching ISBNs to books? Would that eliminate any possibility of having the book distributed in major chain stores? (And also wondering if this will make it difficult to storm the major literary prizes?)

Yes, the reason for not attaching ISBNs is precisely to ensure the books aren’t available in the chains. For a while (certainly since May last year when I wrote this, predicting the demise of chains like Barnes & Noble), I have genuinely struggled to understand the way books are sold. I can’t think of a reason for book chains and ISBNs other than sentiment and “because that’s how it’s done.”

We need small presses to come along and re-imagine it. I want to do what’s best for the books, and best for the writers, and for me that means selling direct online (why do you need Amazon to sell alternative fiction? I mean, most of our readers think Amazon’s the Antichrist so why?); at live shows and exhibitions (eight cuts gallery press is part of eight cuts gallery, built around exhibitions and live shows); and through direct deals with independent bookstores and other outlets like tattoo parlors and alternative lifestyle shops (my retail background is in the highest end luxury flooring, which is essentially a niche like alternative fiction. The way that worked was through networks of exclusive stockists—it works for the stockist and it works for the supplier. Our books aren’t impulse buys, so why even consider the front tables at Waterstone’s?).

I don’t see an issue with prizes. To be honest, I don’t think they’ve considered there might be books without ISBNs, they just consider self-publishing. I have a feeling it might blindside them. I am sure some will object, but that’s publicity.

?How do you plan to market and publicize your authors in a way that would extend beyond the authors’ own networks and marketing campaigns?

I love Twitter, so social media will play a role. Being part of a press that’s doing something new will, I hope, also help us get column inches.

As is the case at Year Zero Writers, I very much believe in direct interaction with readers as the very best way to get the right people reading in the first place. Part of that’s online, but live events also matter—exhibitions in conjunction with eight cuts gallery, and reading nights. And as a group we can help our authors to get slots in some of the bigger shows. We can also promote our authors through prizes, and doing deals with suitable retail outlets.

 
?You say that your authors will never be associated with defamatory material, but that you plan to make a brouhaha. Elaborate?

By the former I simply mean that I’m not going to pull stunts that get our authors into legal trouble by saying, “At eight cuts gallery we believe …” I want to reassure people I’m not going to wind them in prison.

On the other hand, the literary world seriously needs more interventions and anarchy. There’s so much incredible stuff going on underground—flyposting poems in public toilets and on bus shelters as an example—it’s high time some of that went overground. That’s what I’m alluding to with the “we’re rats” manifesto on the eight cuts gallery homepage. Like I keep coming back to (do I keep coming back to it in this interview? I do in real life. Maybe this is the first time I’ve said it here), we need to act more like the art world.

 
For authors, eight cuts will target sales, publicity, appearance and alternative format possibilities. What networks/connections or experience do you have that will help you do this (beyond what an author would have)?

Shall I take those point by point? Hmm, probably best.

Alternative formats to start with. I absolutely believe books should come out in the formats to which they’re most suited. That will depend book to book. There are lots and lots of possibilities, of course, and I want to encourage authors to think beyond e-books (not that I’m not happy to help format e-books).

Most of my contacts have come through Year Zero. For example, I’ve been introduced to the people behind Love Bunni Press and Geneva 13, who are two of the best zine producers. Others have come through our live shows, which has brought me into contact with a lot of people in the music industry, so I have access to some great studios to produce high quality audio books.

I also do a lot of work with visual artists—I’m the only writer on the Oxfordshire arts collectives network for example, which has brought me into contact with artists and printmakers who can work on one-offs and limited editions.

Appearances. At Year Zero we put together a highly enjoyable live tour earlier this year, and I promoted and produced the events, at venues as diverse as art galleries and record stores, as well as music venues and bookstores. We’ve also done slots at leading literary nights like The Literature Lounge, and in October we’ll be doing Literary Death Match. We’ve also started being invited to literary festivals, and through my music contacts (and music journalism), I’ve got to know quite a few music festival promoters.

Sales and publicity. A lot of sales and publicity goes hand in hand with the above. I’ve also done a lot of work with people in the arts, which gives us access to mailing lists, to places that will stock our books, and where we can hold events. Likewise the music and festival scene.

  

My thanks to Dan for taking the time to answer my questions. (Pictured above: the first new releases from eight cuts.)

Dan Holloway’s articles on publishing, short stories, poems, music and poetry
reviews, and papers on post-community Europe have appeared in print and
across the blogosphere. He is the author of
Songs From the Other Side of the Wall (a novel), and the collection of stories and poems (life:) razorblades included, both available from his site.

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10 thoughts on “Writers & Publishers Need to Act More Like the Art World

  1. Dan Holloway

    Thanks, Dana. Yes, I think what most people starting out as writers don’t really get – and aren’t really told frankly enough by the industry – is that they’re not going to mske a living from their writing, EVEN IF they jump through all the hoops, and have the talent, the savvy, the perseverance and the luck to land a deal. Certainly at eight cuts gallery press we’re not going to make anyone a millionaire. I doubt we’ll make anyone enough to give up the day job altogether, but we will mainline our authors straight into the veins of a world that’s exciting and vibrant, and give them a chance of "success" that way.

  2. Dana

    I like the idea of writing as art or movement rather than writing as business. Most of the popular "how-to write" communities place a disgusting amount of emphasis on the business side of writing and publishing. "How-to Get an Agent to Notice You." "How-to Get an Editor to Like You." "How-to Get that Cute Guy in Algebra Class to Notice You." "How-to Get a Bunch of People Online to Friend You on Facebook, and How That is the First Step Toward Getting an Agent or Editor to Like You." Yuck.

    I am very much in favor of alternative definitions of success in writing. Success in writing does not have to mean being accepted by a publisher or agent. Success in writing may be moving somebody, either online or in a writing group or in sharing a piece of writing with a friend. Success in writing is completing a poem or short story, completing a goal. Success in writing is channeling your irrational self into a form, like meditating, like a dog on a treadmill. Success in writing is changing the energy in a room when you read your piece to an audience. Success in writing may be posting a piece and feeling vulnerability in the balance as the electrons wiggle across thousands of miles and fingers type a keyboard in response, a connection across the world, across a room, inside the personal intersection of soul and flesh.

    It is in the best interest of corporate publishers (including the powers that be behind Writers Digest) to support the status quo definition of success. Your name in print, money, thousands of adoring fans. Publishers know better, but it is in their best monetary interest to let the aspiring author dream. It is highly likely that the dream of the first time corporate author is the most valuable return she will get on her book. Most books, corporate or otherwise sell fewer than 100 copies.

    Success in writing is not selling books. I support any movement that seeks to collectively define success in its own way.

    -Dana

  3. Dan Holloway

    Rose, I think you’re right about the way the separate roles will break down and become more fluid. I think a really good example of where this is already happening is the world of zines (interestingly a real hybrid between literary and art worlds), where there’s a really thriving scene that’s heavily curated, has a huge following, and has few if any people involved who aren’t firectly producers of their own content.

    The need for curation was one of the real driving forces behind eight cuts gallery – too mcuh really exciting content gets lost because it’s presented as "indie" or "alternative", but those are categories that offer readers few if any hints about what they should actually expect to find. The project very much has a feel (as Jane says, it’s urban contemporary, and a little transgressive) but within that the idea of running shows is to let an audience know exactly what they’re getting AND to let the juxtaposition of material say something exciting above and beyond its intrinsic fantasticness.

    I should add that I’m very lucky locally in being part of a network for artistic collaboratives that includes musicians, poets, theatres, and writers as well as artists – we regularly get together and share ideas as well as supporting each others’ events, which is a great way to learn from each other and let ideas grow. One super project I organised that typifies this multi-arts curated approach was Lilith Burning
    http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/lilith-burned/
    which was a collaboration with New York-based artist, model & writer Katelan Foisy – it involved a day creating art on the streets of Oxford and an evening show of readings and music for everyone we’d met during the day.

    Am enjoying your blog btw :)

  4. Rose

    The art world certainly has it’s problems, and as it currently stands, it is not a system that does an excellent job of connecting artist to viewer nor financially supporting the emerging artist, but the notion of curatorship is one I’m strongly in favor of. I’m betting on a future where there will be (and is already) a merger of once disparate roles like artist/curator, critic/artist, writer/critic, writer/curator (add your own combinations.) My project Art is Dialogue precisely identifies the curator as being central to this, but only if curatorship as we know becomes more fluid. In other words, the separate identities of artist, writer, curator, and critic will break down. Artists, just like in the publishing world, are finding themselves having to embrace new media and alternate ways of presenting their work outside of the gallery.

    Thanks for this great interview, Jane and Dan. I’ve long been thinking of the various exciting possibilities that could develop from merging literary and artistic pursuits into a hybrid movement. eight cuts gallery press is right up my ally in terms of identifying cultural movement and momentum.

  5. Dan Holloway

    Mayoma, Mari, Rob thank you. One thing you’ve both put your finger on Mayoma and Rob, is that the so-called changes in the publishing world aren’t really changing all that much. I’ve written a piece for Touching From a Distance (http://www.spectator.co.uk/arts-and-culture/touching-from-a-distance/) on Monday about the rise in popularity of the Beat poets, which I’ve sort of used as a platform to have a gentle dig at some of the so-called new, exciting scene.
    There’s no doubting there are fantastic exciting things going on, but from two directions – the tech world, and the emerging not-so-underground – I see a very worrying sign – we are still obsessed with names. Ooh, Seth Godin says. Wow, did you hear what Clay Shirky says? When I saw such and such at Literary Death Match. When we had David Vann to speak. Yeah, sure, we all have our pin-ups and icons. I go gaga for Jack White and Banana Yoshimoto. But in much of the allegedly new landscape, it’s all about WHO and very little about WHAT. And you know what? That’s EXACTLY what we wanted to change the landscape to get rid of. we wanted out with the arbiters of taste and in with putting it out there and letting the readers decide. Well, just because today’s arboters wear skinnies and shades doesn’t make them any less arbiters than the people who wore suits and tweeds.

  6. Robert Dean

    I absolutely support brilliant minds at Year Zero. Cody James is a wonderful writer and a beautiful soul. I don’t know Dan but a lot of my online friends do and I’ve never heard anything less than great things. I hope the break through the bullshit that is splattered all over the literary world. Someone’s gotta do it, god knows I haven’t been trying. Whomever does it first, I hope the shadow of the middle finger is big enough that the rest of us who are sick of the tasteless idiocy can get a kick in too.

  7. Dan Holloway

    Jane, thank you so much for giving me a chance to ramble. It was a pleasure.

    Guy, thank you. And yes, I agree the sales & marketing certainly wouldn’t get me a bank loan, but that of course is one of the reasons I’m doing it – if publishers were already doing things this way there wouldn’t be a need to try it. They’re not, so there are no stats, no track records.

    We had our first live outing AS eight cuts gallery press tonight at Oxford’s Art Jericho (http://eightcuts.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/failed-flights-of-transcendence/), in collaboration with an arts collective – the response was fantastic – first and foremost the response is to the material – I think I’ve got two of the most extraordinary books out there – but I really do think reaching arts/music/zine fans not "literature" fans is the way. We’ll see – if I don’t try it I won’t know, and I’d find failing a lot easier to live with than that

  8. Mayowa

    I rather like the sound of Eight Cuts. The industry could definitely use an infusion of new blood and new energy.

    Despite the tsunami of change flooding the industry, i think we need more dissidents, more contradictions or like Dan put it, "a little more anarchy." It sounds like Dan here is going to play the dissident role quite well and I wish him good luck.

    Great interview, Jane.

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