Refreshing Old Ebooks with Your Style

So you’re excited to open up your new book, freshly downloaded to an ereader. It might be the Amazon Kindle, maybe the Barnes & Noble Nook , or even a tablet using a book app. The anticipation rises, the new download opens to the title display, then after turning a few pages it opens to the first chapter. Three words in you realize you don’t like the font. Or maybe not. It’s more likely the font style and size are the furthest thing from your mind. As you read, a few hundred other people are likely reading that same novel, but are experiencing it in entirely different ways. Aside from the personal taste and perspective every reader brings to a story, there’s also the technical components of reading devices that allow people to customize their experience, and manufacturers to reach a wider audience with ebooks.

Devices such as the Nook or Kindle give you a variety of choices to make reading more comfortable. Each device features font and text size options as well as different color themes and margin sizes. Now, these features work a double function. One is to help make the reader more comfortable, the other is to make these devices more enticing to readers across all spectrums. Ebooks have their default font size, but it may be in the best interest for a particular reader to have a larger font. By making these devices cater to those who desire less eye strain with a bigger font, such as for those with vision problems, or those who desire a smaller font to fit more words per page, publishers and tablet manufacturers can effectively keep their readers happy, and perhaps, to keep them buying more ebooks. One such example is Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, which contains a special font, “Bookerly.” Its stated purpose is to keep spacing and words consistent throughout all font increases and decreases, and encourage users to stay in their story longer. Considering how much time and money can be spent on ebooks, it makes sense for companies to invest in components that are entirely devoted to the reader’s comfort. Yet, that doesn’t explain why the manufacturers added margin spacing, background color and color themes. The idea that someone can change the default for a unique look suggests that these particular options are entirely made to appeal to the reader who wants to be creative with their story, to try and make it theirs by tailoring it to themselves and having fun. In this way, old tales can be refreshed with a new look. Although these options are not heavily marketed, this move is investing in the customer’s happiness and loyalty.

It’s no wonder why ebooks have become popular. They’re easy to download, are often sold at a lower price, and many can be transported on one device without the weight or size of their physical book counterparts. By further indulging in the variables that technology allows, companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble are attempting to draw in new customers and find even newer ways to make existing customers happy. And in this case, it was as easy as offering an ebook with a customizable interior.

40 Years of Poetry Publishing

Founded in 1972 by Sam Hamill, Tree Swenson, William O’Daly, and Jim Gautney, Copper Canyon Press started out selling hand-bound, letterpressed limited editions of poetry books out of the trunks of their cars.  Today, over forty years later, with nearly 500 poetry titles under its belt and operating out of a white clapboard house in Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon is one of the country’s largest and most renowned publishers of poetry. Given poetry’s reputation of posing a challenge for even the shrewdest of sales managers, the press’s continued success seems astounding. How, one wonders, does Copper Canyon manage to continually bring poetry to readers in a marketplace marked by short-lived sensations and digital oversaturation?

The diversity of Copper Canyon’s catalog is noteworthy. It includes original collections and translations of heavyweight poets—including Nobel laureates (like Pablo Neruda and Rabindranath Tagore), Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Award winners, among them Ted Kooser, W. S. Merwin, and Lucille Clifton—as well as work by emerging authors like Ben Lerner, Natalie Diaz, and Kerry James Evans. Also featured is an impressive number of bilingual volumes of poetry translated from Arabic, Chinese, Belarusian, and other languages. To a considerable extent, Copper Canyon’s bestsellers—former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows, for example, sold more than 70,000 copies—allow the press to keep on publishing work by lesser-known authors, such as Lucia Perillo’s Inseminating the Elephant.

The press is also embracing digital formats, moving broadly and fearlessly into the e-book market since spring of this year. So far, more than eighty titles are available for the Nook, Kindle, and Kobo. For Copper Canyon’s marketing and sales director, Joseph Bednarik, the dialogue with readers and their (intellectual, emotional, and spiritual) experience with poetry is the main motivator. Over a glass of beer, he told me that nobody has quite figured out where the publishing industry as a whole will go, but that it is an exciting time for the business and that it would be foolish not to be open to exploring digital publishing venues.

In an effort to keep quality standards high and make submissions more manageable for its employees, Copper Canyon has moved away from an open submission system. Before switching to a fee-based submission process, over 1,500 manuscripts were sent in to the press each year, an amount that was simply unmanageable. Now, there are two-month reading sessions throughout the year, during which about 400 manuscripts are submitted. Poets pay a $35 reading fee, which entitles them to pick out two Copper Canyon titles for their own library as well as paying for a thorough reading of their manuscripts by Copper Canyon’s editorial department and their team of volunteer readers all over the country. Copper Canyon’s executive editor, Michael Wiegers (who took over from Sam Hamill in 2005), then has the final say in choosing which manuscripts will get published.

At the Wordstock 2013 poetry publishers panel, Bednarik also reported that the publishing house has tight control over books’ marketing. For example, authors will have a say in their book’s cover design, but Copper Canyon reserves the right to pass the final decision, often after presenting several versions to and consulting with their distributor, Consortium. Design and marketing here go hand in hand: it is important, for instance, how book covers look on the small scale, because readers will mainly come across them online first.

Numbers are a big part of Bednarik’s work and the day-to-day reality of the press, he conceded. With a staff of eleven, Copper Canyon—a non-profit organization, like most other poetry publishers—relies on grants and private donations for about half of its revenue. Technically, he said, every book Copper Canyon sells is underpriced; “it just doesn’t seem to work any other way.”

After over forty years of going strong, what’s next for Copper Canyon? Parallel to their printed books, they will keep expanding their e-offerings. An upcoming collection that I, personally, couldn’t be more excited about is Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes, slated for publication in spring of 2015. Siken’s debut, Crush, sold well over 20,000 copies—if this doesn’t bode well for Copper Canyon, then I don’t know what would.