Censorship and the Sins of Omission: The Plight of the Independent Presses
A special-to-Combustus column by North Carolina author, poet and independent press editor, Richard Krawiec ~
very year we celebrate Banned Books Week with bookstore displays of Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and others. These displays rack up sales for the banned books. It’s morally right to purchase a book banned on the basis of its depiction of issues of race, gender, sexual preference, or language that offends conservative sensibilities. More recently, as in the case of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series for children, ‘encouraging disrespect for authority’ has been cited as a rationale for banning a book from a public or school library.
The moniker ‘banned’ is sure to boost sales.
I don’t know a writer who wouldn’t love to have their work banned by some backwater censor.
Most of these banned books have one thing in common: they’ve been published by a major publishing house, houses with the resources to capitalize on, to make a public issue of, their banning. That’s good. We should be made aware of censorship.
Independent Presses, and their writers, are effectively banned because they lack the financial clout of the major publishers, and increasingly bookstores, scrambling to stay afloat, feel they must push the product that already has money behind it.
From a financial perspective this makes sense. The genre fiction that used to sustain bookstores – romances, mysteries, etc. – have now moved to ebook, thus depriving bookstores of a major source of income. And for the most part, Independent titles don’t sell as well as a mass market release.
Major publishers – in the U.S. the consolidation of the publishing industry means only five companies publish two-thirds of all books – can offer bookstores advertising money, sweetheart discounts for ordering enough copies to make a large store display, that Independent presses can’t match. Small presses can only counter with Facebook Events and consignment deals. Increasingly, too, bookstores are charging small presses a $75 fee, on top of 40% of all sales, just to host a reading.
This prevents most small presses, living on a financial razor’s edge, from even being able to sponsor a reading. Which prevents even single copies of their authors’ work getting on the shelves.
Just as our country is becoming a two-class system, writers are being separated into two divisions; those who publish with the five major houses, and those who don’t. The numbers of the former are relatively small. The numbers at the bottom are legion. Yet it is the 2%, metaphorically speaking, who grab the overwhelming majority of shelf space while the majority of books published by independent presses are left like dogs caged in the pound, all hoping to be taken ‘home’ to a bookstore; but there are just too many for every one to find a place.
American writer Richard Krawiec was born in 1952 in Brockton, MA, and currently lives in North Carolina with his two sons.
His most recent book is the poetry collection, She Hands me the Razor (Press 53), one of 17 finalists for a SIBA Award.
Krawiek’s novel, Time Sharing was featured in Publishers Weekly ‘Recommended List’, the Village Voice ‘Real Life Rock Top Ten column, and received attention from Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post, Richard Eder in the Los Angeles Times, and in the ‘In Short’ column of the ‘N.Y. Sunday Times’.
Krawiec is also editor of two anthologies of North Carolina authors, “Cardinal” and “Voices From Home”, which included authors like Allan Gurganus, Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Fred Chappell, and Elizabeth Spencer. He has written two sports biographies for young people, one about basketball star Yao Ming and the other about Olympic Gold Medal winning skater Sarah Hughes. His biography of Yao Ming was cited as one of the “Forty Best Books of the Year” in 2004 by the Pennsylvania Librarians Association.
He has had four plays published by Big Dog Publishing.
His feature articles for “Pittsburgh” magazine won national and regional awards. His column “Under the Radar” runs monthly in the Raleigh News and Observer. It features discussions of literary and small presses. Krawiec also wrote the Beginning and Intermediate Fiction Writing curriculum for the UNC-Chapel Hill Independent Studies Program, where he teaches online writing classes. He is the 2009 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from UNC-Chapel Hill for these courses.
Krawiec is also the founder of Jacar Press, a Community Active Press that publishes poetry and contributes proceeds to fund workshops in underserved areas.
In addition to writing, he was one of the first writers to teach writing in homeless shelters, prisons, literacy classes, housing projects and in other community locations. His anthology of writing from homeless shelters, “In Our Own Words” was the first published work to feature writing by people who were homeless. His play, “Here, There, or in the Air’ was co-written with the women on Death Row in Raleigh, NC.
To connect with Krawiec, please visit his website.