A Panel on Publishing


Writing may fill a personal need and can be a solitary act.  Sending a manuscript to a publisher may feel like sending a child off to the first day of school. The separation anxiety and fear of rejection may be tremendous, even with the knowledge that James Joyce’s now-classic “Dubliners” was turned down 22 times , while Richard Bach received 20 rejection slips for “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”.  The relationship betwen writers and publishers is one of mutual dependence and can be supportive and creative.  But especially for new writers and those whose writing breaks one mold or another, finding a publisher can be frustrating and even traumatic.

On OFF THE PAGE we speak with authors about the substance of their books, their working habits and worldview.  Often we hear about how a book came to be published.  Publishers have the power to advance or retard a writer’s career, and with it the conditions of our culture.  So this program takes a step beyond its usual format to present a panel of publishers, including one writer who has successfully accepted the challenge of publishing her own work.

Bill Jaker’s guests are:

  • Peter J. Potter, editor in chief of Cornell University Press , the nation’s oldest university press.  The hundred or more books Cornell University Press issues each year are intended for the academic community.
  • Jeffrey Cox, president of Snow Lion Publications , a prestigious publisher of works on Tibetan culture and Buddhist religion, based in Ithaca, NY (a center for Tibetan life in North America).  Snow Lion’s output includes Tibetan cookbooks, children’s story books and travel guides as well as the writings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
  • Tina Field Howe of Corning is a novel writer and artist, author of the science fantasy series for young people, “The Tellings of Xunar-Kun”. Her work is self-published as Alysa Books, in cooperation with the print-on-demand publishing services company Book Locker, Inc.

In a departure from the usual OFF THE PAGE format, the program was recorded on June 15th in the BorgWarner Community Room at the Tompkins County Public Library.  The public was invited and about forty people came to observe the production and question the panelists.

Despite one publisher’s lament that “this is a scary time” in the book business, the fact is that the advent of electronic publishing means there are more outlets than ever for a writer.  Traditional publishers are adopting digital short-runs and other new means of production, the quality of Print on Demand books is always improving though the practice remains a bit controversial.

Publishing is more than simply obtaining a copyright and an ISBN number and manufacturing enough books to break even (around 800 copies if they’re all sold).  A good publisher will provide for a fair critique and editing and look after promotional and distribution matters.  However, some writers will choose to self-publish and many will do this successfully.

The publishing field is large and a writer should be careful in seeking out either a traditional company or a subsidy publisher (those who will turn out books for a fee, often under terms that keep all rights in the writer’s hands).  Finding the right publisher can be a difficult task for a novice, though most publishers offer guidelines for submission. Writer’s Digest website has a listing of many publishers, and a website called “find your publisher” poses questions that can help narrow the search (WSKG does not necessarily recommend or endorse any of these services).

Several members of the audience told of their experiences, favorable and otherwise, working with publishers. Several people wanted to know how to get into print and establish their credentials as serious writers.  There were many suggestions, including the website called Helium that functions as a gathering place for aspiring writers.  Although the OFF THE PAGE program focused on book publishing the panelists emphasized that there are many outlets for shorter works, and even spoke of the benefits of writing a blog.


Photo courtesy of faungg via Flickr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *