I teach my creative writing students that the best means of promoting their work is to participate within a network of distribution that can seem counter-intuitive. They should give their work away.
Using an extended metaphor, I believe that publishing practices and assertions of copyright is akin to contemporary zoos. Throughout the world zoos are struggling to maintain attendance rates which allow economic sustainability. Zoos require that visitors come to them, pay a fee and view the animals from a safe distance. The animals are kept behind bars (figurative or literal) and are out of contact; they are mere displays. I playfully propose that in order for zoos (and, by metaphorical extension, authors) to assert a new relevance they should release a breeding pair of underfed animals upon the general populace once a month. Each month this breeding pair would wreak havoc on the city. The population would want to learn everything they could about the rampaging animals. The animals meanwhile would devour passersby, breed and evolve unexpectedly. These animals would be joined by other competitive—and equally aggressive—members of the evolutionary food chain (a pride of lions and a dale of hippopotami for example).
In other courses, my students are taught to “professionalize,” to build marketability, and to treat their work with a sense of exclusivity. I completely disagree. By treating their work like my metaphorical zoos, they will allow their art to metastasize in unpredictable and exciting means, interacting with the digital landscape in ways that are truly contemporary.
With these releases in to the contemporary ‘wild,’ zoos and zookeepers would be a radically new, and slightly dangerous, resource. The best way of creating an audience for contemporary poetics is to release work online, giving the audience unfettered access to the text’s future.
In the last few days I’ve started posting free downloadable PDFs of many of my publications, including most of my full-length books. I believe that today’s reader seeks their writing in different forms and that reading has taken on different shapes, by releasing books as
PDFs in to the collective commons, writing can better engage with new, liquid, forms of reading.
I believe that this will encourage new readers (and may even lead to increased sales of physical copies).
I believe that releasing my writing online for free encourages new and unexpected ways of people engaging and responding with the writing; it will encourage experimentation and reaction. Its kinda like a student going off to university and leaving the nest: they live in residence,
they get a piercing, they dye their hair, they learn and grow and change — and they become different people. They return home changed, with new ways of seeing the world. I’m excited to see what my writing learns when it travels and returns home.
I’ve seen this in action — the day after I started to release my writing as downloadable PDFs, a fibre artist in eastern Canada wrote
to ask if she could embroider my poems on the side of her high-top sneakers … something I would have never thought of.
I encourage every author i’ve published through housepress or no press (and everyone else too) to scan your publications & release them online as a free PDFs.
So here you go, I’m giving it all away.