Thursday, October 07, 2004

Big Money, Part 2

Last month I asked, how on Earth is Tupelo Press offering a 10k prize for a poetry book contest? Tonight, Jeffrey Levine, publisher and editor-in-chief of Tupelo, thoughtfully e-mailed me to explain:

"Our focus this year is to show that poetry matters, and we're taking that challenge seriously. No, we don't collect anywhere near enough in contest fees to cover the cost of this prize.  If you have any of our books, you'll understand when I tell you that our production standards alone (paper quality, cover stock, matte varnish, real offset printing, the best designers we can find, and the best printer we can find) bring the cost of our simply producing our books to $8,000. On top of this, as you rightly point out, we pay our judges (rather handsomely), and then there's the cost of marketing and producing a country-wide reading tour. Nor do sales begin to cover these costs. Distributors demand such a steep discount and selling fee to sell our books to the bookstores that, in point of fact, we lose a little bit of money on every book sold through our distributor (not true, thankfully, of books we sell through readings and directly from our own website (

"All this said, we are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) press, and all of our shortfall is covered by donations and, frankly, from my own rather pocket. We have been furiously writing grant proposals to cover some part of this prize, and we have also been pounding the pavement looking for just the right person or organization to endow -- or underwrite -- all or part of the Dorset Prize. What is not covered by these efforts will, as always, be covered by generous members of our board of directors and, well, by me."

Wow, a book contest that isn't being used to raise cash for the rest of the press' costs. A book prize that's going to cost the press a lot of money.

You know, if I stayed at AOL one year longer before quitting to start my MFA, became a millionaire, managed not to piss it all away on blow and prostitutes, maybe I could have started a poetry press like that. Or maybe I would have just became a fat troll with 100 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes and matching handbags.


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