Friday, June 22, 2007

Getting it on the shelves, part three

As I said, I've been talking with other litmag editors who have experience with DeBoer, either currently or in the past. The first thing I learned was that everyone seems to know about Faye's unusual business practices. I wish someone had told me before I signed the contract with her. My colleagues' attitudes ranged from extreme chagrin at Faye's dishonesty, to a resigned willingness to put up with the way she operates. A lot of them feel sorry for her. (I don't.) Some have refused to put up with it, and stopped using DeBoer. I also found out that she pays some publishers, sometimes. It wasn't clear what the secret is, but her favorite journal is McSweeney's. She says she can't get enough of it, so I would guess that they get paid (but I don't know for sure). A couple of editors said she sent them checks after they had badgered her--one by barraging her with phone calls, and another by showing up at her warehouse in Jersey.

The one theme that ran through all of these conversations, though, was that, while Ingram can put literary magazines into the big chains, only DeBoer can get them on the shelves of the independent bookstores. I find that hard to believe. Over and over again I heard them say that they liked to walk into a bookstore someplace and see their journal on the shelf. Well, I like that, too, and I think there must be some other way to accomplish it besides dealing with DeBoer. I agree with the editor who said, "I guess it's an issue of integrity, and Faye doesn't really have any." I may be crazy, but I don't think she should be rewarded for her behavior, and I'm not going to do it any more.

One of my colleagues suggested that I talk with three distributors: Ubiquity (Brooklyn), Small Changes (Seattle), and Armadillo (CA). I had talked with Joe Massey at Ubiquity before, but his terms looked a lot better to me after my experience with DeBoer. I called him again, and now have a contract with Ubiquity to distribute 95 copies of upstreet 3. Joe told me up front that he would only carry upstreet if he was free to give the magazine away to the booksellers. The first term on the Ubiquity contract is: “(1) Ubiquity Distributors will not be charged for copies of upstreet journal supplied to it by the publisher.” The contract goes on to say that if upstreet sells 50 copies or more of each issue regularly, the journal will go on a pay-for-copy basis, and I’ll receive 45% of the cover price for the copies that sell. I am quitting DeBoer and going with Ubiquity because Joe’s contract reflects the situation honestly, and Faye’s doesn’t. She pretends she’s going to do one thing, and then does something else. I've sent sample copies to Small Changes and Armadillo, and will be following up with them soon. I've also sent a sample to Disticor, a Canadian distributor recommended by Joe Massey.

This morning I got an email from a Business Manager at Source Interlink, asking for two sample copies of upstreet. She said it could take 30 days before I know whether they're going to take the journal, because they have to go through a review process and then negotiate a distribution agreement if it's approved. After that, she said, they would solicit orders from the chains. Chains? Quickly, I went to their website. Source Interlink distributes to Waldenbooks, Follett's, B. Dalton, Borders, and Barnes & Noble. This is a very, very long shot, but I never expected them to even consider upstreet. Ingram won't.

Source Interlink will receive its two copies tomorrow, by Express Mail. Keep your fingers crossed, upstreet fans.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Getting it on the shelves, part two

Sorry I've been away so long. No excuses.

When I went to the upstreet 2 reading in NYC on May 21, I talked about distribution with one of the featured poets, who used to run an independent press and publish a literary journal. One thing he said reverberated in my head for days afterward: "DeBoer has a rep for not paying its publishers."

After sending DeBoer one last email--consisting only of the subject line, "Are you still in business?"--and receiving no answer, I left a voicemail message, saying that the new issue of upstreet would be coming out soon. To my surprise, Faye called me back, opening the conversation with, "Yes, I'm still in business." I told her I didn't understand her affidavit, and couldn't figure out how many copies of upstreet 1 had been sold. She started spouting numbers of covers returned, and finally said, "Oh, I can't do this on the phone." Then, after a long litany of complaints about what a difficult business she's in and how she doesn't make any money on litmags, she gave me the bottom line: she can't pay me.

upstreet 1 was not a loser (some magazines are). It sold. DeBoer owes me money, but they're not going to pay me. I told her that upstreet 3 was going to come out at the beginning of July, and she said she'd do a recall on upstreet 2 to find out how many sold, but that she couldn't pay me for them. (That was just the whipped cream; the cherry on top was when she told me I could send her 150 copies of upstreet 3 to distribute, but she wouldn't pay me for those, either.) In the middle of her whining harangue, I asked her if she still distributed Fiction; she said they had sent her their last issue. I asked about Ploughshares; she said they had not sent her the last issue. So they've dumped her. I especially liked her remark about Poetry magazine: "I told them--You have millions of dollars. I don't see why I should have to pay you." I think I'll try that approach with the electric company or the phone company the next time they send me a bill. Before I hung up, she had agreed to send me the 25 undistributed copies of upstreet 2, and a statement of how much she owes me for upstreet 1. I got the books back, but not the accounting. (If I had to make a guess, I'd say DeBoer owes me between $700 and $800.)

I told all this to someone at an independent publishers' organization I belong to, and he said that Faye hardly ever pays, and that the editors who continue to use DeBoer consider it a "marketing tool" to get their journals into the indie bookstores, and just kiss those few hundred copies goodbye, expecting nothing in return but some visibility and readership. In other words, I give DeBoer 250 copies of upstreet (which I paid to have printed and shipped) and they send them out to the bookstores; then, when they do their recall and get paid for however many copies were sold, they just keep all of it.

This organization suggested how I could get some information and advice on distribution from others in the litmag business, and I've been talking with a number of them over the past couple of weeks. What I learned from them, and what I'm planning to do next, will be the subject of my next post.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Getting it on the shelves, part one

I'm about to fire my distributor. This is a long story, but it may be of interest to litmag editors and publishers, or those who would like to become litmag editors or publishers, so bear with me. The first and second issues of upstreet were distributed by Bernhard DeBoer (owner: Faye Kosmidis), whose clients included Ploughshares, Fiction, Poetry, Jubilat, and McSweeney's. Seems like that must be a reputable outfit, right? And they were willing to take on an unknown literary journal that only comes out once a year. (Most are quarterly, and are replaced in the bookstores every three months.) All this cost me up front was a $100 contract fee and 200 flyers for DeBoer to mail to bookstores. In December 2005, I had the printer ship 250 copies of upstreet 1 to DeBoer, and it was distributed to their list of bookstores across the country. When it's time for the next issue to come out, the distributor does a recall. The bookstores pay for the sold copies, tear off the front covers of the unsold copies, and return them to the distributor, who sends an affidavit to the publisher stating the number of covers received. What the distributor owes the publisher is the contract price for the number of copies sold, minus whatever it cost to mail the books to the bookstores. All well and good.

In November 2006, at Faye's request, I sent her 225 copies of upstreet 2. I still didn't know how many copies of upstreet 1 had been sold, since the recall wasn't complete. The second year was much the same as the first, except that I didn't have to pay the contract fee or provide any flyers. All I was out was the actual copies of the book I had shipped to DeBoer. It became increasingly difficult to communicate with Faye; e-mail and voicemail messages had a way of disappearing into a black hole, unless she wanted something--for example, to talk about distributing the next issue. Besides this, it is impossible to find out where the books were distributed to, since DeBoer's list of bookstores is proprietary information--and, according to Faye, her only business asset. So, if someone e-mails me and says, "Where can I buy upstreet in Boston?" my answer is "I don't know," which sounds really stupid. Stay tuned for part two of this continuing saga.

Monday, June 4, 2007

On the Road with upstreet 2

On Monday, May 21, upstreet held its final reading for the second issue. This event, the seventh in the upstreet 2 road tour, featured six New York City poets and took place at McNally Robinson Booksellers at 52 Prince Street in SoHo, drawing an audience of 40-45 people--a very good turnout, according to the bookstore's events coordinator. This was the first reading we held outside Western Massachusetts, and it felt like a milestone. We hope to do it again for upstreet 3; there will definitely be enough authors from the NYC area to make this possible. I'd like to thank everyone who attended, and especially those who traveled as much as an hour and a half to reach the bookstore. This kind of support really keeps morale up, and I truly appreciate it. If you'd like details on the rest of the reading tour, go to the upstreet website and click on "Events."