Saturday, 31 May 2008

New publication from Dye Hard Press: Today is their Creator - Gary Cummiskey

"Urgent, edgy, undaunted, the poetry in Gary Cummiskey's latest collection resonates with a fluent energy, a post-classical reverb that holds both the mock-ordinary of our daily routines and the gross complications of our global condition in equal and critical contrast." - Fox

Twenty-eight pages, staple bound.

ISBN: 978-0-620-40282-8

Will soon be available at bookstores countrywide, estimated retail price R50.
Available directly from the publisher at R40 per copy, including postage.
E-mail for purchase details.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A high price

One of my favourite websites is, which operates as a sales intermediary for international stores specialising in used and rare books. Through ABE I have been able to obtain a number of titles from some of the small counterculture presses of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Writers Forum in the UK and Cherry Valley Editions in the US. I find the books to be reasonably priced and in good condition, although of course some titles are so rare that they might even cost a thousand dollars, which with an exchange rate of about R8 to the dollar, is a little bit over my budget...Read more here

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Sunday, 18 May 2008

Internet or Internot? - Joop Bersee

The discussion whether to publish on the internet or not will continue for some time, say two generations, then the dust will settle. The pieces of the puzzle still have to find their right positions.

With computers being part of the world of publishing, it is not a surprising outcome. Online publishing is still very new compared to the centuries of using paper and ink to manufacture a book. We have to get used to this new medium. In South Africa internet publishing has only made its first steps. It rattles and shakes the established way of publishing. So the mud throwing began and it will continue till we know better.

The self-publishing of hard copies has been attacked in the same way. If internots (those who don’t like self-publishing on the internet) were interested in literature they would welcome the alternative options to publishing because publishers are often tied hand and foot to their bank accounts. A publisher must make a profit. This means that manuscripts, no matter how good the contents, are turned down because there is no market for them. The internots also claim that the flood of online publishing will corrupt our literary taste. This same argument was being used a few hundred years ago when machines were invented to print books in large quantities. This was not seen as an advantage as a lot of bad writing would be in mass circulation (have heard that before).

Printing in England in the seventeenth century was distrusted, restricted and considered to breed seditious libel. Printing was only allowed in London, Oxford and Cambridge. It was printing and learning that brought disobedience, heresy and sects. Printing had divulged them. Even in this century writing poetry using a computer is seen as an evil deed. You do not write poetry using a computer! Believe it or not, but that is the opinion of a well known South African poet.

The fact that good manuscripts are turned down because there is not enough of a market for them should make these gatekeepers/internots/editors/publishers concerned. Strangely enough this is not the case. We thought that the problem was solved by using self-publications, blogs and websites. But their gate-keeping attitude tells us what is good for us and what isn’t.

If the gatekeepers do their work so well, why has the literary connoisseur been relentlessly bombarded with 375-million Harry Potter books? Thanks a lot. You have done us a great favour. Are you feeding this to your kids? I don’t have to mention other crap books which no one buys and will eventually rot away on shelves or disappear into recycling.

We’ll publish our work the way we want to. Mainline publishers try to silence countless voices which will go into history no matter what. This freedom allows authors to produce books that are more expressive, for wonderful books to be written that would never have been considered by the mainstream publishing houses. In the end, it comes down to what authors want.

I publish all my work on my website and have done so for a number of years. I must have done something right as I was approached, a few years ago by the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown for a copy of one of my A4 self-publications in a nice plastic folder, a so-called hardcopy. I must have been really lucky because someone wrote a positive review. In total I have been approached three times by NELM asking for hardcopies of my self-published, online (only) work. So was that a mistake on their side, or do online publishers have something worthwhile to offer?

Other Voices (USA) approached me for a few of my drawings from my website complete with the captions underneath. First they would publish it online and then it would be published in a book. I was also approached by the editor of Sibila, a Brazilian e-zine/journal for a drawing and two poems from my site. This would have been impossible if my work was in print only.

A few of my poems were published online by Poets against War founded by poet Sam Hamill after refusing Laura Bush’s invite to read poetry at the White House. Another site called War Post which began as a research weblog for the Ford Scholar Program at Vassar College USA used a few of my poems on Poets against War for their site. Amateurish rubbish perhaps, according to the internots, but I find myself surrounded by poets such as Dunya Mikhail, Harold Pinter, Robert Pinsky and Adrienne Rich, among others.

Finally, after visiting my site, someone in India asked for my permission to translate a few poems into Malayalam, and ended up translating sixty poems which were published in a book. Quite a number of poems were also published in magazines.

We all know that a writer needs exposure. Magazines and journals have their limits when it comes to exposure. Only the subscribers will read the poet’s work and the issues disappear on shelves. Literary magazines have a limited lifespan, and then they are gone, but online, you can potentially keep reaching readers. A website can advertise itself using search engines and its archives are only a few clicks of the mouse away. The readers are not trapped on an address list. Online sites get readers from all over the world, readers and publishers perhaps looking for new poets, writers of short stories etc. And you can lead others to your work once it is online.

I take my hat off to the smaller literary paper-based publishers who despite the wrestling to find funds continue to publish what they think they have to. Often they have a blog or site to advertise their publications. It is great when the reader can sample a few poems online. They too publish what does not bring them a great fortune. Their treasure is the words they found. And I thank them for that.

Joop Bersee

Check out Joop’s poetry on

Monday, 12 May 2008

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Coming up short

In 1998, a curious incident took place in South African publishing. Writer and editor Chris van Wyk had met with a Danish organisation called South African Contact, which suggested compiling an anthology of short fiction by local writers reflecting their responses to the relatively new democracy.

Van Wyk contacted a number of writers, the stories were compiled, the writers were paid . . . and then the anthology couldn't find a publisher in South Africa...Read more here.

Wednesday, 07 May 2008

An argument for self-publishing - Joop Bersee

Should one self-publish or not? Some believe self-published works range from being second class at best to plain rubbish at worst. It has been said that self-published works are all crap and that those who self-publish are basically publishing books not good enough to be published through established publishers. In fact one could turn this around and point out that there have been many books published by the "recognised" publishers that should never have been allowed to see the light of day! The same thing can of course be said about self-publishing - at times it is great, at times it is not. But self-publishing is not a form of literary masturbation.

Self-published does not have to mean unedited. People that self-publish can get others, perhaps friends who write as well, to read their work beforehand. Or the poems in the publication have perhaps already been published by poetry journals. So it does not always mean no third party has seen the publication before it is released on the unsuspecting public! The author can follow the same road as those who use a publisher to get their work out there.

The idea that self-published books can not count in the greater scheme of things or that it is unimportant is simply wrong. Especially in the South African context. There are many "undiscovered" authors in South Africa who can't find publishers to put their work out simply because they ARE unknown. Some authors might be hot from the start, others need time to build up steam. Whether we are speaking of poetry, prose, folklore, the short story, plays or novels, to deny the reader of potential books/authors in this way is wrong. Let the reader make up their own mind. But let it be published, one way or the other.

Not all South African publishers are looking for the possible gem among the dross, they are interested in making money. It is as simple at that - they have a business to run. Profit margins make the decisions! If they come across a new author and recognise that they are good but the genre is wrong for them (i.e. they don't think it will sell in big numbers) then they simply do not publish the book. These authors are then after a while forced to go the self-publishing route. It comes down to paying a publisher money to have your book printed. He doesn't care what it is, as long as you pay. Or printing on the home/library/a friend's printer and getting it out to the public. If you, as the reader, pick up one of these self-published works and don't like it then you simply don't buy it. When I go to a bookstore and see a book I might be interested in I first read chunks here and there.

Often with self-published authors the driving force is that they believe they have something to say and so it is not financial gain that is driving them but the desire to share their writing with the general public. It lies in the satisfaction of being heard and not in making a profit out of the book. In fact the opposite is true - many self-published publications end up costing the author more than they can re-coup from the sales they get.

The arguments for and against self-publication can be pretty heated. Who is right? Is there any hope of a compromise? I believe so! If we accept there are many authors out there that want to be heard and have a right to be heard, we also need to accept that there is good and bad, excellent and crap. Is there a need to have a middle road? No. Just publish and let it fly. The reader will decide what to read. Stuff that sucks has a long shelf life: it will stay on the shelf. We are in an advisory capacity. Please, no censorship like in the apartheid days. The writer could go to a writing workshop or a writing course to improve skills. Personally, I never was taught how to write poetry. I just started writing and hey, guess what, the first few poems I ever wrote were published by a poetry magazine and I was asked to read the poems they accepted. Within six weeks or so I was published and had read my work in public.

Without help it leaves the "unknown" authors floundering around, trying hard, only to be told they are not "proper" authors. It is might be the reason for someone to quit all together and this may be the greater wrong!

Joop Bersee

Check out Joop's poetry at