They’re almost sold out, and we won’t be reprinting. You can get yours here.
This month, we were thrilled to be able publish an edition of Nancy Campbell’s How to Say ‘I Love You’ in Greenlandic: An Arctic Alphabet. Usually we have some grace after the actual release date to bring the book to this space, but—incredibly—the edition has almost sold out. We have about 30 copies left of an edition of 175, as well as a huge amount of gratitude for all of those who’ve placed orders. Thank you.
Printing the books was always going to be a risk: we wanted to have the cards and paper wrappers that comprise the books be 100% cotton paper (more expensive) and to have the belly bands foil stamped. But the number of people who placed pre-orders alone covered almost half the cost of printing the edition (just over €1200). It was a huge relief (because we figured that then the rest of the printing costs would be covered by sales in the longer term). What a surprise and what a joy that the orders have continued to come for this book. Thank you.
The books are beautiful. Nancy’s monotypes reproduced so well. Tompkin Press, our printers, did an incredible job. The silver foilstamping shines and is clean and precise (it was done by De Sloovere BVBA). The effect of the book, wrapped in the pale blue coversheet and bound by the crisp white belly band with the silver foil, is like a very cold day after a heavy snowfall—that kind of shine. Nancy, qujanaq.
We’ve published eight chapbooks/ books/ objects by women. Two more are forthcoming this year. We’ve also published two books by men, with three more forthcoming. Our literary magazine contributors include 41 men and 66 women.* (Thank you, writers and artists, for letting us print your work!)
We count and aim to pay attention to writing by underrepresented voices.
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* (We also know that a man/woman binary is an insufficient reflection of the actual diversity of our submitters and of the literary world more broadly. We know there’s more counting and accounting to be done. We accept the binary here as the rubric under which VIDA counts, and we say in concert with this counting: Hey you, with your voice of difference, we want to hear from you—we want to read your work. You count.)
Today we’re pleased to welcome Nancy Campbell to the blog. Nancy’s How To Say ‘I Love You’ in Greenlandic: An Arctic Alphabet has just come out, and it’s wonderful to report that the edition is more than half sold already. Please enjoy Nancy’s essay, which gives some background on the book.
I had just finished a series of poems about light—a collaboration with a photographer, considering the way light moves through space, how it is used by the camera to freeze moments in time—when an invitation arrived to be writer in residence at Upernavik Museum. I had an appetite for darkness, and was curious to see what kind of work I might make under these conditions.
The tiny plane in which I made my journey north struggled to land on the Upernavik airstrip in a snowstorm. Even once the winds had passed on the sky remained a dense indigo, only broken by stars and the lamplight that shone from homes scattered between the hillside and the harbour. But snow and ice have a luminescent quality, and many objects—distorted and concealed under slopes of snow—glowed from the darkness. I recalled the Inuit myth which describes how early arctic people saw by the light of candles made of ice before the creation of the sun.
Each morning, obedient to my alarm clock, I rose and made a cup of strong coffee, then sat with the lights off, looking out from my dark room towards the dark sea. I watched the icebergs gleaming faintly out on the horizon, and noted their progress south. In silhouette, the varied forms—domes and pinnacles, and a few great tabular bergs—looked like a new typography, a slow communication unspooling from the Pole. I felt I might understand its message, if I looked long enough.
The islanders certainly understood the ice. Their lives depended on it. The vocabulary for a variety of different ice forms in the Greenlandic language shows their awareness of its nuances: anarluk—black piece of calf ice; imuneq—hummocky ice; kassuk—bits of ice drifting in the sea; mitillivoq—ice that prevents a door from closing; nutarneq—new ice; sarrippoq—slippery ice; and siku—ice on the water, leading to sikuaq—thin ice.
I began to learn the language, copying down the same words over and over again. The loops and ascenders echoed the patterns formed in the shore ice.
The environment changed constantly, as if to illustrate my lessons. As the days grew brighter the moat of ice around Upernavik began to fragment. More icebergs drifted past, calved from glaciers further north. The islanders told me their concerns. Fishermen needed to walk across the ice to reach their fishing grounds, but a misjudged step on thin ice would propel them to sudden death in freezing water. It was a risky way to make a living. They could no longer read the ice, because its sounds and appearance did not conform to the rules their elders had taught them.
It is not only the ice that is disappearing from the arctic. The Greenlandic language that describes it so well is also vulnerable, and has been added to the UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger. I decided to record the narrative of one young fisherman using his own language. I chose an alphabet book, traditionally an educational tool, to reflect my experience as a slow learner of Greenlandic. How to Say ‘I Love You’ in Greenlandic is illustrated with images of icebergs, for those who chose to read neither English nor Greenlandic but just to view the horizon.
As January moved into February the skies that stretched between the snow-covered mountains and the ice-covered sea began to grow lighter. The sun appeared for the first time on Valentine’s Day. A golden line rose over the snowy peaks, rested there for a moment, and then slipped away. Once the sun had returned, the days lengthened at bewildering speed. By early March the long darkness was just a memory.
What are the real costs of making tiny books like these? I suppose this is the thought that went through the mind of the guy who picked up a copy of Langoustine at the RGAP fair in London in November, asked me how much it was, and sputtered when I told him it was £9.
Nine pounds might seem like a lot (although I think also there’s a certain expectation in the UK about cheapness/’affordability’—although what’s affordable, and for whom, are other questions—that’s its own problem, and I’m not going to deal with that here). It is a lot. It is three fancy coffees. A week bus-pass here. It’s two or three lunches out, or a week’s worth of packed sandwiches. I realize that. I realize when I price the books that I am asking people to put their hard-earned money out; that I’m asking for a kind of commitment from them. It’s not easy to ask, and it’s not necessarily easy to offer.
But here is what’s behind those nine pounds/nine euros.
First of all, there are the hours spent making the books: designing them. Binding them. There are two of us who do that; neither of us pay ourselves for the work. There is the time to do the accounting: Belgian taxes are complex and exhausting. There is the time to set up the webshop (and to keep it running), and post here on the blog and Facebook and Twitter.
Then there are the costs to print the books (usually between €250 and €500 per 150 books, depending on the simplicity of the design—die cuts cost more, vellum costs more). (And these costs are all out the window when it comes to books like Lisa Solomon’s, which is full color and was bound at the printers’.)
Then there are taxes. We pay 6% sales tax (BTW) on books (not bad!) and 21% sales tax on everything else (oof). But on top of that I pay about €700 every quarter for self-employment tax (basically my Social Security payment) and then income tax has to be paid as well.
And there are the associated costs: paper, ink, envelopes, tape. These have to come out of the money made from books (they’re not covered by shipping fees—the postal service here is just too expensive to ask a further one or two euros per order to cover packing/etc.).
Last but very much not least, there’s the issue of paying writers: we do it, for the moment—although this will change in 2014, I hope—in books, and the shipping of the books. So the calculations we do about how many books to print versus how much that will cost versus how many we can reasonably expect to sell off the bat (i.e. how much of the investment is likely to be covered so that we can plan to print more books) have to incorporate 20 or so books that will be sent to the writer. There will also be review copies sent out and given away; these, too, have to be counted in.
That is why the books are ‘expensive’. I suspect it is similar for many, many small presses. Because when you take away about €3 per book for printing, then another 54 cents for sales tax, then a euro or so for packing, and there are about five euros left to cover income tax, Social Security, and, oh, yes, printing more books, not to mention saving something up to be able to offer writers—nine euros is not a lot.
It’s important to me that the books stay somehow affordable, though. I don’t want to get into the realm of the €20 chapbook (that’s one reason we use digital and litho printing rather than letterpress). I want people to have access to them. And I’m in a position (extra paid work on the side; partner with a steady job) that lets me work for free and keep the prices, if not ‘affordable’, then certainly at least within the realm of the possible for many people. All that said, Reader, if you are ever in a place where you cannot afford the book+shipping, please get in touch and we can figure something out. It’s more important in the end that the book be read than that it be paid in full; the money will eventually even itself out.
We want to start the year off by returning your generosity and support of MIEL during 2013, and so all our remaining stationery stock is 50% off (until it’s gone—and there are only two or three of each thing left).
On top of that, all our current (2011-2013) books and journal issues are buy one, get one free* until the end of the month.
All you have to do is put a note in your order (click ‘notes to seller’ on the PayPal screen) with the title of the book you’d like—our only stipulation is that it has to be less costly than the one you’ve paid for.
We’re looking forward to our 2014 list already—and we’ll be announcing a couple of very exciting projects soon, including something that we think would be perfect for your Valentine (whether platonic, familial, or romantic), subscriptions to our 2014 list, and more!
Thanks for your support this year—it’s not an uncomplicated thing, making books and getting them out into the world, but it is exhilarating and I feel incredibly lucky to get to do it.
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* buy one, get one free only applies to items of lesser monetary value than purchased item. Does not apply to books or journal issues published after January 1, 2014.