Monday, April 28, 2008

David Baratier/Pavement Saw Press

I no longer have a book coming out.

David Baratier, editor of Pavement Saw Press, never sent my prize money (as he said he would in January), never gave me any sort of contract (he doesn't "do" contracts), did not return emails (he doesn't "do" email either, preferring the phone), and did not return my phone calls.

Here's the email I sent Friday afternoon:

Dear David,

Ten days ago I left you a voicemail, and sent an email, asking you to call so we could discuss my prize money and entering a written agreement. I was disappointed that you never returned either of these messages, and frustrated last night when you returned my phone call only to tell me that you didn't actually have the time to talk then either. The last time we actually had the chance to talk was weeks ago, and you admitted then that you had yet to begin even thinking about the pertinent publishing details. These instances of poor communication, apparent disorganization, and lack of a concrete plan on your part to turn my manuscript into a book make me doubt the integrity of your press, and unless I have both a check and a written contract by Monday, May 5th, I will withdraw my manuscript and seek publication elsewhere.


He called that night and left a message to say that he's too busy with school to meet that deadline.

Last night he called again, and when I brought up the fact that it's been months now without any kind of plan, he said that he was just giving me time because I was moving. "But you never even return my phone calls," I said.

"Well, we seem to be on different schedules," he said. "I'm a dad. Every night between 5:30 and 9:00 I have to put my daughter to bed."

"Well, it sounds like you have too many teaching and family commitments to be doing this at all," I said.

"I don't teach in the summer. I was going to do your book then."

"If you do my book in the summer I don't see how it will be out by the end of the year, as you promised."

"If you want to withdraw your manuscript, then you can withdraw your manuscript."

"That's what I am doing. I already decided."

"Well, if that's what you want to do..."

And so on. Jesus Christ.


nevers said...

Golly. That is fucking ridiculous.

Paul said...

Hi Leigh. I had a very similar experience with my second book. The press exhibited all the same habits you describe here. You did the right thing, as difficult a choice as that may have been for you. You have to guard your own work zealously. In the end, it was the best thing I ever did and I've no doubt you won't regret pulling the book. Best of luck to you.

David Baratier said...


After not hearing from you from December to the middle of March (except for mailing an author photo), you e-mailed me. I called you. We talked. In mid-April an e-mail arrived that told me you called and that ten days had went by since then. At that point you demanded an deadline of two weeks to have a finished manuscript, check and contract. You gave me until April 28th. You called during a student conference, I was unable to talk, and you needed to go to bed at 9PM. I left you a message the next night and told you I could not work on the book until May 5th at the earliest. You then sent me e-mail and gave me until May 5th.

April and August are the busiest months for the press and that combined with an out of town reading, a family death, and working on end of the semester teaching and grading, I knew there was no way to please you. I called you again two nights later, April 27th, and you told me that you were withdrawing the manuscript.

To respond to your other points, we "do" contracts, when asked to do so, I return e-mails usually with phone calls, and phone calls with the same. This month as I put another four collections to rest to add to the sixty that we have already published, I will feel no guilt about your perception of what occurred. I have learned plenty through this experience and I thank you for those insights.

Be well

David Baratier, Editor, Pavement Saw Press

Leigh Stein said...

Dear David,

Perhaps you would like to look at a calendar.

You awarded me the prize in January.

I sent you author photos and requested you mail me my check at the end of February.

I emailed you on March 11th, asking you to call me, which you did not do, so two weeks later I called you. Still no check.

On April 14th I emailed you to ask where my check was. I asked you to call me. You did not.

On April 25th I sent an email giving you a deadline of May 5th for my check and my contract. (I had mistakenly typed April 28th, but as you will notice if you actually read these emails, I sent an email exactly two minutes later with the date I meant: May 5). NOWHERE did I mention having a completed manuscript by that deadline.

I don't understand your comment about me going to bed at 9pm. Your excuse for not being able to talk was that your daughter needed to go to bed.

Anyway, we can go tit for tat forever, but in the end it comes down to this: you can give me all the excuses in the world, but in the end, you're the editor, and you have no business running a press if you can't respect your writers' time and work.


Shane Jones said...

i have to say, i really enjoyed reading this. i've run in to a lot of small presses that are bullshit. it's really sad. people start a press, publish a few books (usually themselves and their friends) and then just get lazy. i'd like to think the small press/grass roots publishers are always worth supporting, but the fact is, a lot of them are just fucking with the progression of the arts.

Anonymous said...

Pavement Saw is a one-man show, run by the most self-important jackass I have ever met. He consistently uses his position at Pavement Saw to leverage his own 4th-rate work into crappy journals.

I applaud you for standing up and calling Mr. Baratier out on his bullshit. You're not the first, and I hope you won't be the last.


Damn, what a bunch of garbage.

I'm really sorry Leigh, that is the worst kind of dealings.

Just sad.

newzoopoet said...

The problem is clearly that you go to bed by 9.

What a bunch of crap for you. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Anonymous was right...second and third rate work and a very self-promoting website from this publisher. Beware any "editor" who is self-publishing and/or heavily promotes self via said "venue".

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I totally empathize with your predicament. It sucks that it had to happen with your first book, too. Not that I know this guy, or the press, or you, or that I'm making excuses for anyone, but we all have to remember that this is poetry, and whatever reasons small presses have for doing what they do is definitely not for money or prestige. They do it for the love of the word. And they can get away with more "stuff" because they are...small. We have to give them the benefit of the doubt. They keep all of us going. They're the little invisible machines in the air that we hear whirring at night.

It seems like, and I could be wrong, that if you were a little more patient, this guy would have eventually put out your book. It may have taken longer to get your check, but was that check really going to help you do anything? If you're counting on poetry to pay your rent, you picked the wrong genre. If you book came out a few months later than you thought, is the world really going to hold its breath until it does? I don't mean to sound like a jerk. I'm only playing devil's advocate, but it did seem like you were a bit high maintenance with him. Which makes sense. You're young and excited and expect more from everyone. You want to be catered to, adored, complimented. We all do. I totally do. That's not how it works in our scene, unfortunately. The Pavement guy has a busy life on top of doing his press. Kids and death and teaching can really put a damper on small presses. Yet he's put out a lot of books. I'm pretty sure he would have eventually put out yours, too. Whether he's a jerk or not. Separate the art from the artist. Always. Or you will be constantly be let down.

What the hell do I know, though. I'm nobody, located in Nowheresville, population 1.

Regardless, if your book got picked once, it will probably get picked again. When it does, maybe ask for a few email addresses from other people already published on the same press, so you can get a different feel/view of your editor(s), just so you don't go pulling your book again!

I'm working with a pretty big time editor/publisher right now, and he/she is impossible to get a hold off, they don't return emails, I haven't signed a contract yet, etc. But it doesn't matter, really. It will happen eventually. And if it doesn't, then I start sending it out again. Patience is the key in poetry, I've found. Not drama, not anger, just patience. If I were a novelist with an agent and a $50,000 advance, I would tell you differently. But I'm not.

Sorry to go on so long...Good luck!

brooklyn said...

Leigh, that blows, and I'm really sorry you've had to go through this.

Small presses are strange creatures. This is one reason why I can't even accept money, yet, for the stuff I publish through Taiga. I prefer to trade or just send stuff to people who will promote it on their blogs and stuff. I'm slower about getting the merch out there, but until I'm happy with the book-art as well as the amazing content I receive, I can't possibly take some poor poet's cold hard cash.

Taiga'll get there before the end of the year, but even then we won't be working out any kind of subscription deal, and we'll still probably just send stuff out on trades or whatever. Press editors need to look at running a small press as a hobby. It's what you spend money on instead of buying lattes at Starbucks everyday and new clothes and cell phone upgrades, etc.

It's amazing that your manuscript rose to the top to win that contest, but it's a shame that we'll have to wait a little longer to read it.


Marsupialus said...

So you jam a small press publisher who doesn't conform to your schedule and withdraw the manuscript. That'll show 'em. That'll show the world. Do you think the world is waiting for your little volume? Do you think the world is waiting for any of our volumes? How about a little less careerism and little more poetry?

Nada said...

David, it's not "had went," it's "had gone." Just a little wee detail. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry not to have seen this discussion earlier. I think Leigh had unreasonable and paranoid expectations (perhaps not so unjustified in the wake of much more unsavory episodes, such as the Zoo Press and Cider Press debacles, but unfortunate nonetheless), and that withdrawing his manuscript under the circumstances he describes was remarkably short-sighted.

My manuscript Sauce Robert was the co-winner of Pavement Saw Press's 2003 chapbook contest, and was my first chapbook publication. I seem to recall that the award announcement was in November, and my chapbook (very nice production quality, I might add) appeared in June. It would likely have been printed even earlier, but David allowed me to provide the cover art, which I did not finish as promptly as we would have liked. My impression is that, in comparison to other contests, this is quite speedy for a chapbook; for many full-length poetry book competitions the time between winner announcement and publication can be well over a year.

In other Pavement Saw Press publications over the years, I have been impressed with the quality of production, the caliber of the chosen poets, e.g., John M. Bennett, Ray Gonzalez, Simon Perchik, and the level of writing. The fact that so many of the chapbooks, published in editions of several hundred, are out of print should in itself be an obvious indication of the reputation of the press, and of David's efforts in promoting the press and its books and authors. David has frequently had a table at AWP--a huge commitment in terms of time and money for a non-academically funded small press.

And also in response to the tacky badmouthing of the first anonymous post, examination indicates that, unlike many ostensibly illustrious editors, David does not insert his own work in his journal. He also maintains a clear separation between the Pavement Saw Press publications and his own books, most of which are published by other presses.

It will be interesting to see whether Leigh is fortunate enough to have his manuscript selected by any other press--and, if so, what their publication timetable and production quality will be.