Monday, March 3, 2008
In 1990 I founded an independent literary publishing venture called Asylum Arts Publishing. For fifteen years I acquired, edited, designed, published, and marketed books to the trade, with a special emphasis on translations of French Romantics, surrealism, and four difficult to market and thus extremely underrepresented categories of books: serious collections of poetry, prose poems, plays, and short stories by living American authors.
According to the non-profit organization Poets House, which keeps statistics on American publishers of poetry books, Asylum Arts was among the top ten publishers of poetry in the country for three straight years. That a one-man operation produced a greater number of poetry titles than almost all of the commercial, university, and subsidized non-profit literary publishers in the nation speaks volumes about the sorry state of poetry in this country. So does the fact that there are more academic programs granting degrees in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry than there are readers who purchase the Pulizer Prize winning volume of poetry most years...
I originally conceived Asylum Arts as a niche publishing operation. Ironically, the venture failed as a result of its unexpected success. Spurred on by consistent and enthusiastic reviews of the books in national media, Asylum Arts quickly grew to be a trade publisher with the same requirements as large operations: seasonal lists, national distribution, deep discounts, heavy returns, and a team of sales representatives taking a cut of the profits. Then my exclusive distributor stopped making monthly payments and six months later declared bankruptcy, stranding 80% of Asylum Arts' stock in Connecticut and swallowing whole the money from six months worth of sales. The press never recovered. Over the next six or seven years the press sputtered along, publishing small print runs an abbreviated list. In 2005 I sold Asylum Arts, which lives on as an imprint of another small literary publisher.