Burning Books

Thanks very much for your interest in Burning Books. Here’s the deal. Burning Books is a small independent unfunded publishing company and we are unable to consider unsolicited manuscripts. Already we have more books and ideas for books than we can ever finish.

For the record, Burning Books never intended to become a publishing company. It just became necessary. (It’s a dirty job, et cetera.) Someday when you are particularly fed up with getting rejection letters, and tired of seeing books inferior to your own displayed in every Barnes & Noble, Inc., you might consider starting your own publishing company. That’s what happened to us in 1979.

“Self-publishing” has a very inspiring history. Thomas Paine, William Blake, Robert Burns, Washington Irving, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, William Morris, Stephen Crane, Upton Sinclair, Zane Grey, Carl Sandburg, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Anaïs Nin all published their own works at various times for various reasons. Usually because nobody else would.

The best books of Dostoevsky (including The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov) and later works of Tolstoy were published by the writers’ spouses. Alice B. Toklas published several of Gertrude Stein’s works as “Plain Edition.” If you don’t want to do it yourself, just have your friend or partner do it. And don’t forget the important more recent examples of Dick Higgins (Something Else Press), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (City Lights), and Dave Eggers (McSweeney's).

If you become seriously interested in this idea there is a book from Pushcart Press titled The Publish-It-Yourself-Handbook. It gives the entertaining history of over twenty self-publishing presses. So, before you start trying to fit your writing into the ordinary, stifling commercial press world, think of a good name for a new press. If you want your books done right you might need it.

But . . . why would anybody start a small publishing company these days anyway? Why bother putting out all that effort if there are so few independent bookstores left that will even stock an independent press book? (Well, there’s always Amazon.)

A man who was considering funding a proposed Santa Fe-based literary magazine a few years ago said to everybody at the big meeting, “But if it won’t make any money, why would you do it?” At that moment my mind was so crowded with REASONS that I couldn’t even begin to try to answer his question. The explanation of “why” is so obvious and important to me, and to a lot of other people, but all those reasons will appear baffling and flimsy and questionable to an entrepreneur only interested in publishing from a profit/loss point of view. And rightly so.

- - - Michael Sumner / BURNING BOOKS