Falling in Love with Digital Publishing: An Interview with L.L. Barkat


November 3, 2011

There are those whom you would describe as enthusiastic, and then there is L.L. Barkat. She has an energy and laugh that is absolutely contagious. And some of her ideas are contagious, too! Mediation staff writer Thomas Turner chatted briefly with L.L. Barkat on the subject of digital publishing and electronic media, something she knows well as a managing editor and point person for an up and coming press.

So that the people know, who exactly are you?

Who am I? A person who falls in love. Oh, this morning it’s with Bagatelle tea, made in the white porcelain teapot. I am just now beginning my second brew, and while I’m waiting for it to steep I have nipped two Noir Orange chocolates from a collection of Belgian thins sitting on my gold granite countertop.

Don’t let the fancy thought of garnet-flecked granite fool you. My kitchen is quite small, as is the 1930’s Tudor in which it resides. I stand at the counter almost all day while I do some of my many jobs: managing editor for TheHighCalling.org; staff writer for The Curator; soul behind T. S. Poetry Press and its related communications, like Every Day Poems and Tweetspeak.

What is your role with T. S. Poetry Press?

Soul, as I said a moment ago. Seeker of poetry and prose I can fall in love with. I pay the bills. Others do the editing, photography, and take care of our grass-roots publicity.

How did T. S. Poetry Press start?

The tea is ready, and it’s a little on the light side (note to self: Bagatelle doesn’t hold up well to a second go-round), so I am going to sit down now and sip while I consider how to answer…it started with love and discontent. Love for beautiful words. I wanted the world to see them. There was also discontent with the possibilities; it seemed to me that some of these words, for one reason or another, might never be formally shared.

Basically, it started as a dare. Could a start-up press be successful in a climate where publishers were cutting back, canceling contracts, running scared? I love a good dare! Tell me I can’t do it, and I might decide to show you I can.

So given this current climate, how is T. S. Poetry Press different than another start up press?

Is it different? It is hard for me to imagine anyone starting a small press, except for love. It takes tenacity, time, resources… and a deep belief. Maybe my heavy involvement with social media makes the Press different. It is how I’ve developed a strong platform and ultimately made a profit.

With such an ambitious catalog of books so far, what is the “big picture” goal of T. S. Poetry Press?

Tea, I think. Or coffee. And words shared across tables, across the wires, anywhere that people wish to show their care for each other. All of our books are Creative Commons. That doesn’t mean you can republish them in full; it does mean you can share a poem on a blog or in your own book, without writing for permissions. Just credit and link to us, and move on to your real objective: to connect with another person through words, to change them or you in the process, or just to share a moment of beauty.

Looking beyond T.S. Poetry Press, how do you see self-publishing and digital publishing changing the publishing landscape?

Two different questions, really. Self-publishing, in its strictest sense, is publishing that might not be vetted. It can be Lulu and Createspace, with substandard art and endorsements from your next-door neighbor. It will not change much, just as vanity publishing didn’t change much.

But digital publishing (sometimes of your own excellent, vetted books—so the term self-publishing can also apply here) is a powerful new player. Digital publishing, in the hands of experienced authors who have connections, in the hands of experienced editors who know how to bring a book to print, is changing the game. It can still be Createspace, but when the book arrives to the buyer, she will absolutely know the difference. The quality of the writing, the art, the endorsements will all say this is not vanity; it is something to be regarded.

And because this can be done at a fraction of the cost (without funding warehouses, inventory and royalties systems, fulfillment and distribution), well, the “small” press has much bigger opportunities than ever before.

Specific to poetry, how does digital publishing affect readability?

Reading poetry on a Kindle affects readability. This is true even with non-fiction. Pages break where they will. It is hard to cognitively map the book. Worse with poetry, of course, which often depends on meticulously-determined line lengths and breaks. But a quarter of our poetry sales are on Kindle. So somebody doesn’t mind.

Do you like reading poetry on a Kindle or iPad/iPhone?


But I love writing poetry in little boxes—otherwise called Twitter— and the platform for our improv poetry parties. Some people deride such activity, but I am going to write about this sometime: it’s the basis for poetry in a certain Roman tradition. So writing poetry on Twitter is more classic than one might expect, at least the way we do it with our community.

What is the biggest gain you receive from digital publishing?

The shareability factor is marvelous. And T. S. Poetry Press depends on that.

Do you think a press like T. S. Poetry will always be around, or do you see small presses like yours as stepping stones to a time when authors will take full control of their own work and function as their own press?

I have considered this question. For some authors, these presses will be stepping stones. But other authors will appreciate the opportunity to simply write without the pressure of finding quality editorial, design, and marketing support. They will recognize that having their books surrounded by sister titles is a source of free promotion and buoyancy. They will be happy to have a much higher royalty than with traditional publishers, but a low responsibility for dealing with all the intricacies of publishing.

In some ways it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not looking for this to last forever. I’m enjoying the tea, if you will, just for this moment in time.

L.L. Barkat is the author of four books—Stone Crossings, InsideOut, God in the Yard & Rumors of Water—and blogs at Seedlings in Stone.