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An Interview with Gordon Haber of Dutch Kills Press

Gordon Haber

Gordon Haber

 

The word “disruption” is used frequently these days. Its used in regard to journalism, to the publishing industry, to a variety of occupations which have melted down because of the internet changing the way previously stable professions have become precarious. Neoliberals and market dogmatists love telling us that the race to the lowest wage is simply a market adjustment.

 

So what happens to those with talents who are devalued in this “marketplace”? All the kids graduating with a journalism degree in a world that no longer wants to pay its journalists? Or the writers of fiction who work for years with a dream of breaking into what used to be a traditional publishing career?

 

Gordon Haber is one of the people trying to respond to these changes, and trying to answer those questions. He’s moved through a series of creative and academic careers, and is finding new inspiration in digital publishing and the seismic shifts in our economic landscape. Not only has he been doing his own digital publishing, but he has established Dutch Kills Press on a business model of paying all his writers.

 

He sat down with our Founding Director, Debra Leigh Scott here at Hidden River to talk about this endeavor – what led him here and what he hopes to accomplish.

 

DS: Can you talk a little about yourself? Your background and what you did before establishing Dutch Kills Press?

 

GH: My first career was in graphic design and marketing. Then I chucked it to write. I got an MFA (God help me) and since then I’ve been writing fiction, criticism and journalism. I also taught college. I had a great run for a while. I was in a groove, writing about religion, publishing short stories, polishing a novel, and I really loved teaching. Then I got worn down by adjuncting. So I was looking for the next thing, which was digital publishing. As it turns out all this experience—design, marketing, editorial—is a great background for e-books.

 

DS: What was the inspiration for establishing the press?

 

GH: I had this novella, False Economies, loosely based on my time in England on the tail end of the Thatcher years. I wrote it in grad school and it had been gathering dust on my hard drive, as it were. There are one or two nice outlets for novellas these days, but generally they are almost impossible to place.

 

Then I submitted it to Amazon’s Kindle Singles program. They published the novella and it did pretty well. They published my next novella about the adjunct life, Adjunctivitis. Both times it was a really enjoyable process. My editor was deeply interested in helping me improve the stories; they hired great cover designers and copy editors. And remarkably, within weeks I was earning money from fiction.

 

That started me thinking. There’s been a wonderful proliferation of literary journals, both online and in print, but most don’t pay their contributors. In fact too often the business model is predicated on not paying contributors. A lot of editors will tell you that they don’t have any money, which isn’t true. There’s money for web hosting. Sometimes there’s money to pay the editors. But there’s no money for writers. Because paying writers is not a priority. It’s just not in the budget.

 

I realize that a literary journal is almost always a labor of love. I’m not suggesting that editors are preying on naïve writers (except for the people at Narrative Magazine, who overcharge for submitting, and then, after rejecting a story, offer ludicrously overpriced editorial services). But I do think it’s fair to say that more often than not editors don’t prioritize paying their contributors.

 

So that was the inspiration for my press—first, to combine the editorial expertise of traditional publishing with the flexibility of digital publishing. I can publish short stories and novellas, even novels. I can publish collections of street photography or drawings inspired by Modernist architecture. I published an outstanding writing manual. There are all these constraints in traditional publishing that I don’t have to worry about.

 

And second, I wanted a business model predicated on paying writers and artists. This is how it works:

 

  1. I acquire an e-book.
  2. I edit the e-book.
  3. I publish the e-book.
  4. I market the shit out of the e-book.
  5. Every 6 months, I send the contributor 50% of his or her e-book’s profits.

 

So a contributor may end up with a check for $20 or $200. I hope it’s the latter, but I can promise my contributors that they will be paid something.

 

DLS: Why did you decide to go exclusively digital? Why not establish a small press and go print on demand AND digital?  

 

I prefer to master one thing before chucking something else into the mix. I probably will do POD at some point. Actually it’s more likely I will do an actual print run of a book, but not right now.

 

DLS: What are some of the most important things you’ve learned since starting the press?

 

GH: People are hungry for the editing process. The publishing business has become like the movie business, only without the money. Often editors are more like producers, “packaging” a book without actually helping the writer improve the work. From the stories I hear it seems clear that some editors don’t give a shit about the quality of the work. So when someone really pays attention to a story, when someone wants to help the writer realize his or her vision, they’re just delighted. The same goes for the visual artists I’ve worked with—culling images, arranging them, structuring the e-book—they love these discussions.

 

DLS: Which delivery platforms are you using?  

 

GH: Amazon, iBooks and Atavist. When it makes financial sense, I will hire someone to make a DKP app so that contributors can get a bigger piece of the pie.

 

DLS: Do you have preferences? Why or why not?

 

GH: E-book buyers don’t care about my preferences. E-book buyers care about their own preferences. They like buying e-books through Amazon and iTunes, so that’s where we sell them. Atavist has a great web-based platform that makes it easy for people who don’t like to fiddle with apps—they can pay and then read the e-book with their browser.

 

DLS: What has been your favorite part of this experience so far?

 

GH: When you’re a writer and your work gets accepted and someone values your work enough to pay you, even if it’s only a few bucks, that’s just the best feeling in the world. I give people that feeling. I love that.

 

DLS: What are your hopes for the press over the next few years?

 

GH: Like Conan the Barbarian, to crush my enemies and see them driven before me. Kidding! Right now I have one goal: don’t fuck it up. I want to publish 2 or 3 e-books per quarter, build a customer base, figure it out.

 

DLS: What advice do you have for writers hoping to understand the various options for publishing?  

 

Treat writing and publishing as two distinct stages of the process. Get your story done and then decide if you want to send it to the New Yorker or put it on Amazon or publish it on your Tumblr. Of course we all have fantasies of wild success when we’re writing and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I meet people who keep themselves awake at night wondering if they should try to get an agent or if they should self-publish—and they’ve written maybe 17 pages of their first novel. Just get the work done and then worry about how to publish it.

 

Then when your work is polished to a high sheen and ready to show to the world, more often than not the piece will lend itself to a particular outlet. So you’ve got to consider which one to try first. If it’s an erotic novel about lesbian werewolves, your best bet is to self-publish. If it’s a literary novella, try the Kindle Singles people or Nouvella Press. If it’s a well written spy novel, by all means look for an agent. If it’s a novel-in-verse, have a drink, because you’re fucked.

 

By the way, you don’t need an MFA to find an agent. Nor do you need an agent. You do have to (a) get the work done and then (b) consider the most fitting outlet for that particular work. The Council of Literary Magazines (CLMP) has a searchable member directory to help you research potential publishers. I’d also sign up for Submittable’s weekly newsletter. Get a sense of the landscape, of the journals or publishers with the right sensibility for your work. It takes some time but it’s worth it—I’ve placed a couple of my own stories in respectable literary magazines that I learned about from the CLMP database. There are tons of quality journals and small presses out there and you can increase your chances of publishing if you don’t mind a little drudgery.

 

DLS: You have a marketing background, and I’m sure that helps. Most writers don’t have the stomach for marketing, don’t know how to do it, feel vaguely nauseous about the idea of “sales”… so what can you tell them that might help to re-conceptualize this part of the process?  

 

GH: The absolute first thing that any serious artist needs to remember is that the best of yourself must go into the creation of your work. There’s always going to be Andy Warhol types, those guys whose flair for self-promotion equals or even surpasses their creative talents. The rest of us are plodding along just doing our best to be creative and keep a roof over our heads. So it’s totally okay if you’re intimidated by sales and marketing.

 

Instead ask yourself this question: How can I get my work out into the world? You don’t need to have an MFA and an MBA. I reject this whole notion that every artist must also be a branding expert and maintain a perfectly coordinated social media presence. But, as I said above, you do need to have a plan for your work. It’s less about marketing than it is about improving your odds.

 

DLS: You’ve worked as a journalist. Are there differences between journalism and the world of fiction you can talk about?

 

GH: It’s more the similarities that trouble me, in that getting paid for journalism is becoming as difficult as it is to get paid for literary fiction.

 

DLS: Is there anything else you would like to say?  

 

GH: Yes. If you want to read something really interesting and not spend a lot and help an artist make a few bucks then buy an e-book from Dutch Kills Press. While you’re there, please sign up for the mailing list. And by all means, drop me a line.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Finding the Flow” – An Intermediate Writers’ Workshop with Hidden River Writers

Do you have a story idea that you’ve been longing to write? Have you begun a project and long for feedback and support? Our intermediate workshop is offered in a six-week format, for writers and aspiring writers who either have some experience with writing (any kind of writing) and/or who are passionate lovers of literature. The workshop is designed to include exploration of the craft of writing, through reading and discussion of published work as well as discussion in traditional workshop method of your original writing. Debra Leigh Scott, Founding Director of Hidden River Arts and Editor-in-Chief of Hidden River Publishing, will facilitate the workshop.

 

Hidden River continues its partnership with Cavanaugh’s in Headhouse Square in Society Hill to offer our workshops in the wonderful Pickwick Room — so named when this pub was The Dickens Inn – owned by a descendant of Charles Dickens himself.

 

What could be more perfect that a writers’ workshop in a private space that resonates with the spirit of Dickens?   The workshop will meet on Wednesday from November 11 through December 16, from 6:45 to 9:00 p.m. in The Pickwick Room, at Cavanaugh’s Headhouse, 421 S. 2nd Street, Phila, PA 19147.

To maintain intimacy and personal attention, the workshop is limited to 12 people.  We welcome writers at all levels of proficiency, from beginners to advanced, in this workshop.

 

Tuition is $225. We accept PayPal, Credit Card and are happy to break down payments into two or three increments. It’s our goal to be all-inclusive and want always to offer a seat to someone eager to join us – so please don’t let the tuition be a stumbling block – just talk to us about possibilities!

 

Please email hiddenriverwriters@gmail.com or call 610-764-0813 to register and save your seat!*

Hidden River also brings a variety of workshops to private groups, schools, homeschool organizations, professional organizations — we can adapt all of our programs to suit your schedule and budget.  Private individual tutoring and writing consultation, developmental assistance and editing help are also offered to writers at all levels of development. (We also can create online individual or group instruction!) Please see our Workshops page for further information about all that is offered.  Also, click here for a great article written about us when we first launched this workshop.

 

*Discounts have always been offered for students, for senior citizens, for adjunct educators and others.  And, of course, we are thrilled to accept donations that would help us to keep our programs running!  Please email us at hiddenriverwriters@gmail.com to inquire.

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Semi-finalists and Finalists for Eludia 2015 Announced

We are running a bit late with our announcements because of the amazing number of high-quality submissions we received for this year’s Eludia Award.  But here are the semi-finalists and finalists – a truly amazing collection of manuscripts and talented writers to whom we owe such gratitude.  Thank you all for sharing your work with Hidden River.  (For those interested in submitting to our 2016 award, please see our guidelines.  We begin accepting manuscripts November 1, 2015.)

Semi-Finalists

Baker, Sara, Athens, GA, Poised for Departure, stories

Brandes, Kate, Riegelsville, PA, Broken Ground, novel

Burris, Dorothy Duncan, Jackson, FL, Mad Cow Disease, stories

Coyle, Caryn, Baltimore, MD, So Cold the Air Smelled Like Nothing

Cullander, Jean, Ridgefield, CT, The Train to Skeleton Coast: A Tale of Murder and the Struggle for Freedom

Fondakowski, Melissa, Brooklyn, NY, Purgatory, novel

Fox, Margaret, Toronto, Ontario, Wheel and Ride, novella

Holsaert, Faith, Durham, NC, JackRocks, novel

Kerr, Carolyn, S. Hamilton, MA, The Bunny Suit and Other Stories, stories

Krautkramer, Kate, Yampa, CO, In This Season, In This Light, novel

LaHines, Carol, NY, NY, The Hush of Empty Spaces, novel

Larkin, Mary, Ph.D., Sarasota, FL, Fall, or Eden Revisted

Mallen, Ann Margaret, West Palm Beach, FL, A Bear and Other Stories

 Maddox, Marjorie, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, What She Was Saying, stories

Martin, Robin, Brooklyn, NY, Out Like a Lion, novel

Ortalda, Claire, Berkeley, CA, Edenvale, novel

Reilly, Lee, Chicago, IL, Blameless, novel

Romo, Cheryl, Roseville, CA, Ruby Hands, novel

Schaum, Melita, Berkeley, CA, Fishing the Plains, stories

Schmidt, Jan, New York, New York, Collateral Regeneration, stories

Sheldon, Ames, Eden Prairie, Minnesotta, New Women, novel

Suhr, Kimberly, Wales, Wisconsin, Nothing to Lose and Other Stories, stories

Stephens, Mariflo, Charlotteville, VA, Keeping Something Warm, stories

Veseley, Donna, Anthony, NM, all I loved, I loved alone, novel

Wisniewski, Linda, Doylestown, PA, Where the Storke Flies, novel

Withey, Alison, Newberg, Oregon, Uncertain Treasures, stories

Yocom, Katy, Lousville, KY, Three Ways to Disappear, novel

Finalists

Baker, Sara, Athens, GA, Poised for Departure, stories

Brandes, Kate, Riegelsville, PA, Broken Ground, novel

Burris, Dorothy Duncan, Jackson, FL, Mad Cow Disease, stories

Coyle, Caryn, Baltimore, MD, So Cold the Air Smelled Like Nothing

Cullander, Jean, Ridgefield, CT, The Train to Skeleton Coast: A Tale of Murder and the Struggle for Freedom

Fondakowski, Melissa, Brooklyn, NY, Purgatory, novel

Kerr, Carolyn, S. Hamilton, MA, The Bunny Suit and Other Stories, stories

LaFontaine, Diane, Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, Stolen Renaissance, novel

Maddox, Marjorie, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, What She Was Saying, sto

Mallen, Ann Margaret, West Palm Beach, FL, A Bear and Other Stories

Martin, Robin, Brooklyn, NY, Out Like a Lion, novel

Ortalda, Claire, Berkeley, CA, Edenvale, novel

Romo, Cheryl, Roseville, CA, Ruby Hands, novel

Stephens, Mariflo, Charlotteville, VA, Keeping Something Warm, stories

Suhr, Kimberly, Wales, Wisconsin, Nothing to Lose and Other Stories, stories

Wisniewski, Linda, Doylestown, PA, Where the Stork Flies

Again, thanks to all, and congratulations to all who are the semi-finalists and finalists of this competition.  Please be sure to bookmark and follow us here, as we hope to name the winner of the 2015 Eludia Award within the next week.  For those interested in submitting their own work, please see our guidelines for the 2016 Eludia Awards.  Our reading period for the next round begins November 1, 2015.

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Writing From the Chakras: A Writers’ Weekend Retreat

Our experiential workshop, “Writing from the Chakras” is being offered as a writers’ retreat weekend August 28 to August 30, at the St. Raphaela Retreat Center in Haverford, PA.

“Writing From the Chakras” is a unique program which is born from the combination of both areas of our Founder, Debra Leigh Scott’s, expertise: graduate training in comparative world religions and experiential spiritual practices, and graduate training in creative writing and literature.

Debra will lead her workshop participants through the practices necessary for opening the centers of energy in our bodies – the chakras. Using a combination of guided breathwork, yoga, hand mudras, meditation and other experiential practices, participants will free creative energy in a variety of ways, in order to unshackle the deepest and most unique forms of creative expression an artist can discover. No previous experience of any of these practices is necessary.

For more information about this retreat, please write to Debra at hiddenriverwriters@gmail.com.

 

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Literary Readings and Live Music at July 26 Hidden River Live Arts Event

Hidden River Arts will be hosting its Summer Live Arts Event on Sunday, July 26 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Cavanaugh’s Head House Inn,   421 South 2nd Street in Philadelphia. We will be celebrating the wrap-up of our summer writers’ workshop, and our workshop members will be offering some readings of their work.  Readers include Margaret Thorell, Charles Glackin, Aidan Walsh, Michael DeLorme and Dan Corso. We’ll also be having some live music by Coyote Jack Band. This event is free and open to the public. Come, and bring friends!

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“Discovering Your Hidden Voice” – A Popular Hidden River Writers’ Workshop Returns for Fall 2015, Offering a Pay-What-You-Can Option!

Our popular six week intimate, intensive exploration of craft and creativity will be conducted by award-winning writer and playwright,  Debra Leigh Scott, Founding Director of Hidden River Arts and Editor-in-Chief of Hidden River Publishing.  Hidden River continues its partnership with Cavanaugh’s in Headhouse Square in Society Hill to offer our workshops in the wonderful Pickwick Room — so named when this pub was The Dickens Inn – owned by a descendant of Charles Dickens himself.

What could be more perfect that a writers’ workshop in a private space that resonates with the spirit of Dickens?   The workshop will meet on Wednesday from September 30 through November 4, from 6:45 to 9:00 p.m. in The Pickwick Room, at Cavanaugh’s Headhouse, 421 S. 2nd Street, Phila, PA 19147.

To maintain intimacy and personal attention, the workshop is limited to 12 people.  We welcome writers at all levels of proficiency, from beginners to advanced, in this workshop.

Suggested tuition $235. But this season, we are also opening our workshop in a “Pay What You Can” format.  Since Hidden River’s goal has always been to “serve the underserved artist”, we want to be sure that no one is turned away from our workshops for inability to pay tuition.  We will happily work with you to find a way to barter, or adapt the fee, in a spirit of inclusivity.  We accept PayPal, credit card and check payments.   Please email hiddenriverwriters@gmail.com or call 610-764-0813 to register and save your seat!*

Hidden River also brings a variety of workshops to private groups, schools, homeschool organizations, professional organizations — we can adapt all of our programs to suit your schedule and budget.  Private individual tutoring and writing consultation, developmental assistance and editing help are also offered to writers at all levels of development. (We also can create online individual or group instruction!) Please see our Workshops page for further information about all that is offered.  Also, click here for a great article written about us when we first launched this workshop.

*Discounts have always been offered for students, for senior citizens, for adjunct educators and others.  And, of course, we are thrilled to accept donations that would help us to keep our programs running!  Please email us at hiddenriverwriters@gmail.com to inquire.

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Arts and Activism – A Talk at The DaVinci Art Alliance

What is the role of the artist during times of social upheaval and tumult?  Elie Wiesel said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This is even more true, when it comes to the role of the artist in society.  The problems of our society are extensive, and the voices of artists – playwrights, poets, musicians, performers – are essential to raising public awareness and giving voice to the issues, raising the call of dissent.

Founding Director of Hidden River Arts, Debra Leigh Scott,  has been invited to give a presentation at The Davinci Art Alliance at 704 Catherine Street, Philadelphia, PA, on Thursday, May 21, from 7 to 9 p.m. where she will discuss the importance of activism in the arts.

Since its founding way back in  1931, the Da Vinci Art Alliance has been a dynamic organization presenting artists and their work, focus on community-based arts, cultural and educational dialogue for artists, individuals and families.

Da Vinci currently has over 140 members and holds exhibitions of members’ and non-members’ artwork as well as special events, workshops, performances, poetry readings, and lectures, and keeps its members informed on community events, news and opportunities. The mission of the non-profit artists-run organization is to support its members and to further community-based arts, cultural, and educational exchanges.  I am proud to be offering my presentation there, since I’ve been fortunate to work with the many artists of Da Vinci, and admire the work that they do in supporting artists, the life of art, and the community.

Please join us at the Alliance.  For those who are not in Philadelphia, Debra will be developing the program and offering the presentation in an online format – so stay tuned!

 

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