Gaining a New Audience for YesYes Books

Picture of Katherine SullivanAuthors: Katherine Sullivan

At AWP 2012 in Chicago, YesYes Books unveiled its Poetry Shots series, which was the result of six months of hardcore design and development by Thomas Patrick Levy, owner of Levy Media, and KMA Sullivan, publisher at YesYes. A new poetry venue had arrived but where was the audience?

Some thoughts by KMA Sullivan:

Thomas Patrick Levy had designed eBooks for the full collections at YesYes Book but both Thomas and I were unsatisfied with the limitation posed by the eBook development format. Poetry is a visual art as much as it is a written art and as such the way the words live on the page is important. But the font and line-break limits in ePub formatting for the iPad and related devices was restrictive, and the out and out shackling forced by the Mobi/Kindle formatting was intolerable. In addition, I wanted to bring visual art into a relationship with poetry in a way that was affordable and available to many. From here, Thomas engaged a thought that had been traveling around in his head for a while, what about a book that was actually a website that was experienced like an eBook – only better. It’s better, because a website offers almost limitless visual possibilities. Because of this, a full incorporation of art on the page with poetry was possible. And so webBooks were born.

Six months later YesYes had five Poetry Shots (fully illustrated digital chapbooks) with writing powerhouses such as Dorothea Lasky, Metta Sama, Ben Mirov, Angela Veronica Wong, and Dana Guthrie Martin. The artists who came forward to work on this project were amazing talents as well and included Eric Amling, Ghangbin Kim, Mihret Dawit, Megan Laurel, and Kaori Mitsushima. The webBooks could be read on computer screen, the iPad and the new Kindle. Three of the books could also be read on Android or Apple based phones. They were priced low at $5 each or all 5 for $15. Thomas also designed webBook versions of two of the full collections out of YesYes.

Marketing happened at AWP, on facebook, on the YesYes Books website, and through a couple of passionate supporters whose work was represented in the webBooks. Samples were given away. Compliments came rolling in. But sales were bleak, almost non-existent for a couple of the webBooks.

What’s the problem here?

My guess is that there are a few things in play. The hardcore poetry audience is a sensual crowd. We tend to be passionate lovers, friends, cooks, drinkers, etc. We like to feel things with our bodies. Physical books are important to us – the way the paper feels, the texture of a cover. Many poets entertain themselves by feeling up books in bookstores. You know who you are. Such a sensual crowd is going to be suspicious of poetry offered on a screen. Indeed some have voiced concerns that eBooks or tech-based books will replace physical books. I can only state what I believe to be true: physical books will never be replaced. There are too many of us who cannot live without them.

There’s also a question of ownership when it comes to web applications. They feel slightly less “ownable” than eBooks since an eBook can sit on an iPad or Kindle and be read anytime. What people don’t know though, is that YesYes webBooks are cached onto the hardrive so they are accessible whether or not you are online until you decide to wipe out your cache at which point they can be downloaded again immediately. And this, of course leads to one of the great advantages of webBooks over eBooks. Once you buy a book it can be read on any device whether you own the device or not, whereas eBook access tends to be more restricted by digital rights management controls.

In addition, both the artists involved in the project and the editors at YesYes were a little puzzled by how to talk about what we had created. Poetry Shots are not a traditional poetry collection, not a traditional chapbook, not an eBook. The method of describing how the webBook exists in the world next to the established poetry venues was not obvious to us. We are getting over that stumbling block. Like our audience, we needed to clearly understand what we had accomplished. Even the vocabulary is new.

Another possibility is simply that YesYes Books is a new publisher and our customer base is simply not large or varied enough yet to attract the crowd we know is out there and who we believe will be interested in this new product.

There are plans in the works for a broadening of audience, a relaunch of the Poetry Shots in conjunction with print versions, and a renewed effort to share this new poetry venue through reviews, interviews and informational forums such as the one offered here by LitBridge . I hope you will check out some of what we have going on YesYes Books. The landscape is changing rapidly and we plan to ride the wave until we are able to share the words and art we believe in with as large an audience as possible. Let us love what we already know is beautiful and not be afraid of the horizon!

Links for the article:

YesYes Books Website:

Ben’s Poetry Shot: