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Posted on April 9, 2010

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So why isn’t Quale Press at the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Conference this year? Well, if I were at AWP right now, I’d already have lost track of how many people I have tried to catch their attention as they would walk by our table. You’d be surprised at what lengths people would go to avoid meeting your gaze — or my gaze (since all I want to do is try to sell a book or two — which is what normally happens for us at AWP: literally selling only a handful of books over 3 days). If anyone does stop by the table (other than friends and acquaintances), nine times out of ten the question that is on their lips is, “What’s your submission policy?” And, boy, how quickly do they take off when they find out Quale does not read unsolicited manuscripts. (Sorry, but I have enough manuscripts to read that I do solicit, or receive from Quale authors.)

So, it doesn’t make sense to spend hundreds of dollars on airfare, hotel, registration, food and drink — as well as inordinate amounts of money to ship books to the site — to sell a dozen or so books. I did not add in the cost of printing these extra copies since Quale uses print-on-demand and only has copies printed as they are ordered. To stock bookfairs, we have no book larder but have to print them up specifically for the bookfair and then have to ship them back to the office when they are unsold and worry about where to store them. It’s a lot simpler to have Small Press Distribution — our distributor — sell a few titles at their table (and even in that case, we’d be hard pressed to break even with the fee SPD charges to bring a title to AWP or any other bookfair).

What Quale would rather do is have a sample copy of each book in our catalog (for possible buyers to peruse) and a laptop at the table. If someone wanted to buy a book, they could order it securely online using the laptop from either SPD or Amazon and have it shipped to their home, where it might be waiting for them when they get back from AWP (so they don’t have to worry about lugging a bunch of books on a plane). But secure wireless in the AWP bookfair is inordinately expensive right now. So that won’t work either.

I do admit that being at AWP does offer a press some visibility, and marketing push, but it really depends on whether you are in a high-traffic room (and whether you are in a high-traffic area within a room). Some rooms get hundreds of people filing in and out all day; others a handful of people waltz through at any time. That’s a crap shoot — one I’m not willing to spend $1,000 or more on (when all expenses are tallied, and even with reimbursement for some travel expenses from the school I teach at). I could better use that money to publish a book.

Some presses manage to break even. A few (those incredibly lucky ones) manage to make some money. But most get the short end…

Money’s tight enough these days, and I’ll try to husband Quale’s, thank you very much. We’ll wait for 2013 when AWP is back in Boston (and our travel expenses get minimized) — maybe by then there’ll be inexpensive and secure wi-fi on the bookfair floor…

Oh, one last reason I’m not there. Since I teach, I’d have to reschedule, or cancel, at least one class to attend AWP. Making up the class is a distinct hassle. While AWP could be considered a substitute for any missed creative writing workshops (& therefore it can be argued that students could gain by going to AWP), the same argument cannot be made for the publishing students that I teach. It would be more convenient (for me, at least) to schedule AWP either during Xmas break (like MLA) or just after the spring semester.

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