Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Father's Day and Patremoirs

On June 7th, André Gerard, editor/author of Fathers : A Literary Anthology gave us a mini-workshop on his experience as an indie print publisher. He published Fathers through his Patremoir Press in 2012.  

In so doing, one reviewer said he had created a new genre:  Patremoir (pa-tre-mwär): essay, poem, play or film built around memories of the author's father.

André certainly left no stone unturned in this self-publishing project. 

Why did he choose indie print publishing in the first place? 

The book is a collection of writers (some still writing, some dead) writing about their fathers. André did extensive research on each author and wrote an introduction and bio for each piece. "When I had ten done, I started sending it off to publishers as a package. I got a whole raft of rejection slips."

Fathers became a massive learning journey. Of course it was a labour of love. "It took me 10 years from beginning to end. This is still a draft,” he says, holding up the book."It exceeds the conception I had when I started. But of course  it could still be better. Still, there comes a point when you have to let the draft go out and say, 'this is it.'"

It's a pretty impressive "it."

But who knows -- there's that quotation from Herman Melville in Moby Dick on his book promo flyer:  God keep me from ever completing everything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash and Patience!  

If he was not a man of substantial patience when he started the project, that was one of the skills he surely had to develop in abundance -- especially when it came to getting the permissions to print the pieces.  

"Sometimes it was very difficult to track down who held the permissions. It could be the author, it could be the agent, it could be an estate," he shrugs, now philosophical about it. "With Margaret Atwood, for example, permissions are split. She has an American publisher who has her rights, she has a British publisher. 'Negotiate' I use loosely – you basically accept the price they tell you.

"Disney is a big force in the permission business. They want to keep their rights for movies. So they keep pushing back their dates. Usually for 75 years from the death of the author. Used to be 40, then it got bumped to 50, now it’s 75. I thought I’d get Virginia Woolfe for free – I’ve got two of her essays in Fathers. I was publishing this 70 years after she died. It’s now 75 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they bump it back further."

And there was more--much more. Learning all about the printing process, about print and POD (print on demand) vs. e-books (he decided not to do it as an e-book - it would have required re-negotiating the permissions). 

He had to learn about artists and illustrators; how to design an engaging cover; cover art; typefaces and book design; proofreaders, copy editors, substantive editors; marketing; creating all the social media platforms -- and about two of the key components: distribution and book promotion. 

Frequently he hired mentors or professionals, but he's still had to do much of the work himself. 

"There’s a whole industry that preys upon us, the wood-be writer," he says. "You can spend thousands having all kinds of suggestions made, and take courses, and attend workshops – and in the end I don’t know that you’re much further ahead. Because you can already do it right now – you don’t need all of that. Other than networking – it’s a great chance to meet some great people, passionate people  the nuts and bolts of what you need from these courses are online."

And if you choose to go the indie publishing route,  maybe you'll be fortunate enough to have mentor who's been through the process, an André Gerard who'll come to your writing group and share all the trials & treasures of the process--and maybe save you some grief.

Fathers has taken André down this continent and over to other continents attending conferences and doing promotion and readings. It's been a ride, and it continues.

Meanwhile, he's working on another project that plumbs the depths and bedazzlement of Virginia Woolfe's To The Lighthouse. And even after everything he's been through--that long, steep learning curve--he's thinks he's likely to indie publish again.

A little more about André Gerard: 

  • Beyond Memoir and Biography: Edmund Gosse and the Patremoir, here.
  • "André Gerard's Top Ten Father Memoirs" in The Guardian here.
  • André's blog, here

An article André recommends on indie publishing: 

  • "Self-Publishing: The Carnival of the Indies Issue #18 by Joel Friedlander here.

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