Money, Strategy, and Risk

by Richard Grossinger on March 2, 2010

Chapter Four
Money, Strategy, and Risk

Many years ago Julie Bennett, now director of sales and marketing at New Harbinger but then a publisher in her own right, started interviewing other Bay Area publishers for a book of business advice and philosophy (a project that never got past the planning phase). I didn’t even know that I had a business philosophy until Julie queried me.

Lindy and I were educated with a liberal-arts, not an MBA, orientation. There was nothing in our backgrounds that taught us how to do or even think business, so it was pretty much trial and error all the way, with lots of errors and much unnecessary (or maybe not unnecessary) reinventing of the wheel.

The Relation Between Editorial Vision and Economics

A publishing company is, almost axiomatically, a fusion between an editorial vision and an economic strategy. If there were only an editorial vision and no concern for sales, a press would go out of business pretty quickly (unless it landed hefty grants or a patron). We never had enough grants to pull off an aesthetically and thematically purist type of operation, and we certainly never had a patron, so our list could never represent solely our editorial vision. Our ideal list, for instance, would have had not only far more fiction but translations of international writing, political and sociological topics, and less homeopathy, bodywork, and martial arts.

Our broad philosophical goal is to publish metaphysical, literary, and cultural texts intended to deepen and change the consciousness and lifestyles of readers, to publish them well with high production values, to change our own consciousness at the same time, and to keep them in print. Yet, to do this, we need to sell enough of those books to live to fight another day. Our choices will always reflect both philosophy and business strategy. There is no way around that combo, so far as I know for anyone.

Of course, a press’s business strategy may not always take place in the market. For some publishers, Dalkey Archive and Heyday among them, survival is primarily the “business” of getting grants. For most university presses, academically oriented departmental funding through institutional affiliations underlies the business philosophy. Some presses, like Vigo Mortensen’s Perceval, or Other Press in New York, survive, in whole or in part, because their publishers and publishing partners can afford to subsidize them. And some presses are sustained within a larger corporate environment such that they are buffered from immediate bottom-line considerations and so can publish pretty much what they want, at least until their mothership swallows them.

Since the initiating rounds of NEA, State, and CCLM grants during the seventies and early eighties, North Atlantic has had to pay its way—no quarter given. There is zero outside funding nor any one or thing that will step forward to keep us alive and functioning and save the day if we don’t generate necessary cashflow on our own. If we run out of money, we stop publishing and send the staff home.  We are own lifeline. Nonprofit or not, we sink or swim on what we sell—yesterday, today, tomorrow.

This is sometimes hard for young staff to grok. They know it, but they are so used to the parental and in loco parental shadow that they subliminally imagine one that isn’t there. We are on our own recognizance, mission impossible, “the secretary will disavow,” etc.

Taking economics into account, I would restate our publishing philosophy as follows:

1. We publish books that we like, that fit our list and our psychospiritual and literary orientation, and/or one of our niches or goals as a trade publisher. We favor primary-source material and traditional books rather than concepts artificially developed to reach a particular market. It helps if the manuscript is well-written and not clichéd.

2. We need to reach an audience with each book. We cannot afford to print thousands of copies of a title and not be able to sell them at all.

3. Sometimes we will turn down a book we like and think we can sell because we feel other publishers could do the book as well as we could. We try to reserve our slots for books that are unique to our mission, interests, and aesthetics. We do not want to publish books derivative of other books on our list. We are trying to develop individualized concepts and a unique library as well as a series of marketable seasonal lists.

The overall North Atlantic list is hard to describe or pin down because it ultimaely represents, as Charles Olson dubbed such things, “a curriculum of the soul.”

Yet it also much reflect cultural trends and popular interests.  Where the “curriculum of the soul” intersects the current mind-body-spirit, ecological and literary market(s) is roughly where we land.

I used to describe our list as having an amoeba-like quality. When we cast out a pseudopod and, if it contacts something (e.g a real market with sales), it then fissions into many sub-pseudopods, some of which eventually split into others.

Martial arts is a classic case of this pseudopod type of growth— we expanded from a single t’ai-chi book into many t’ai-chi titles in the Cheng Man-Ch’ing Yang-style lineage, into many Yang-style lineages, into other t’ai-chi lineages, and then, one by one, into other martial arts and their lineages, and then into other warrior topics. Yes, we were interested in all this stuff as well as each individual books and they fell under our mission statement, but it helped that they sold. Because they sold, we favored their fissioning.

As an executive at Random House, our present distributor, said to me not longer: “We treat everyone well, but if your books sell, we treat you especially well.”  Well, same for lines of topics and themes.

Our huge holistic-health list began from a homeopathy pseudopod; our somatics list from a craniosacral pod.

On the other hand, many of our early literary and political pseudopods (for instance, screenplays, poetry books, novels, and environmental texts) contacted little or nothing in the market, so they withdrew and shriveled.  Science fiction has recently followed the same course.

At the core of the amoeba are all our fundamental interests, but our pseudopod’s “footprint” is a medley of our original energy and vision and a pellicle seeking to contact “food.” That yields the quirky, compromise shape of our list—pure yet subverted, commercial yet idealistic. It is how economic reality has muddied a pure aesthetic and philosophical vision. Yet that essential vision still underlies the projective geometry of the list and hopefully more than shines through.

Money: A Historical and Anthropological Discussion

In order to explain North Atlantic’s economic strategy, I want to begin to with a discussion about money itself and my view of it. My own perspective on economics and professional life has evolved and transformed over my life.[1] I have gone from considering business such an anathema that it was beneath dignity even to consider it as a career, to doing business begrudgingly in order to keep our press going and support a family, to conducting business avidly, creatively, and aggressively, to making business a spiritual discipline and daily practice.

In a book called Money and the Meaning of Life philosopher Jacob Needleman opens by declaring that the main problem with our attitude about money is not that we give it too much importance but that we do not give it enough. We overendow it while not respecting it for what it is and the actual energy it contains. Like sex, money spawns a kind of inflated, inappropriate, and juvenalized value system, while, at the same time, it is not accorded its real status, respect, or honor. People go bonkers and do crazy things, kill, risk their lives, and end up in prison, and keep lots of personal secrets around money (like sex), but they rarely dig into their real arcana or true touchstones.

All that money can buy finally is experience and time for experience.  To spend thirty years in jail over $50,000 dollars or so is a very bad bargain indeed.

Bill Clinton getting a blow job in the White House is not a bad image for the relative lack of maturity or self-reflection in our culture as regards not only money and sex but also power. The obscene amounts of money beyond any possible need or use corralled by financial-fund managers, athletes, movie stars, and corporate executives speak volumes to a complete lack of respect for what money really is or the karmic and symbolic power it carries to transform matter, sponsor well-being, and create peaceful and productive endeavors and societies. Global warming and eco-depradation are really just offshoots of financial pornography

Money, after all, is a singular expression of the cosmic mystery of number and the primary symbol and agency of human interaction. Money is virtually our only means for exchanging goods and energy through concrete totems and for melding separate tribes and nationalities. Without money civilization could not function; commodities would have no way of being transferred across cultural and geographic borders; labor and craft could not be converted into a wide assortment of objects, habitats, and uses. Yes, bands and tribal societies found other ways to convert and transfer value, even across linguistic and ethnic barriers, but such barter, potlatch, and “reciprocal generosity” are not transferable to global culture even at a Mediaeval level.

Otherwise, money is a fiction and an illusion; it doesn’t exist. And, if separated from value and use, it is as potentially scatological and corrupting.

Money is also, like language, a code that we have collectively arrived at and agreed to use for interaction and enterprise, despite other fundamental macro- and micro-regional dissonances and anomalies of politics and religion; e.g. to allow exchanges of value, commodity, resource, labor, talent, property, and intention to take place at all, both locally and globally—and to honor those exchanges to the death, even at the expense of every other concession and reality. Without money, human activity would be static, and value would be subject to constant dispute, reinterpretation, or bait and switch at whim or convenience. With money, the value of every human enterprise, interaction, and object is at least potentially linked to a precise if somewhat arbitrary universal standard of measurement and intelligibility and central databank of pluses and minuses.

Money’s benefit is also its bane, as it is often used to rigidify and possess what should ideally be fluid. It maintains hierarchies of illegitimate or unethical power, and it enforces inherited and class prerogatives irrelevant to real value or work.

While money is clearly not an absolute good, it is an absolute symbol that cannot be renounced by anyone anywhere without the whole system of value and the societies that it binds together collapsing in chaos and anarchy—something that a few survivalists have prepared for and assorted revolutionaries and anti-Western terrorists think that they would relish, but that almost no one in the game, even the majority of the terrorists and revolutionaries, seeks because, without money, there is no game and no value to overthrow, let alone conquer and rule or turn into a caliphate. Commodities and geographical advantages lose most of their meaning without money. Everyone relishes and protects value, even the enemies of capitalism. Russia, China, Yemen, Iran, Albania, North Korea, etc., love money just as much as America.

Money: A Personal Discussion

While some American citizens are innately precocious on matters of money and business from an early age, I decidedly belong to the opposite group (as noted in Chapter One), remaining in a form of suspended financial childhood well into my thirties, not taking money seriously, acting as though only dumb people and craven capitalists cared about it, in fact embarrassed even to talk about it or acknowledge its existence. When I heard peers gabbing about their investments, I slightly reddened as though they were sharing sleazy sexual acts.

Most notably I didn’t identify with either my father or stepfather who ran their own businesses and lived and breathed the economic activity in them, to the virtual exclusion of everything else and certainly to the exclusion of art, philosophy, spirituality, intellectual life, compassion, and integrity. They only wanted to make money and kick ass, and they were neither nice nor attractive doing it, nor (sadly for them) did they do it well. They didn’t even really know that money was their temple, but they would have been hard-put to think of another, though they attended synagogues. And they had no particular creative or productive uses for their dough.  It was mercantalism and status, for their own sakes or to flaunt.

A financial manager who invests billions of dollars cumulatively of other people’s money and his own, told me that the hard part of his job is the clients who seem to have nothing to do but stand watch over their money. “They are miserable and miserable to work with,” he bitched. “They never have enough. If they’re eighty and have $4 million in their account and it goes down 15%, which is easy with the markets the way they are right now, they panic and call me at six in the morning and again at lunch and later that night. They want me to do something; they want to make it go back up, or they want to get out. There’s no consistency or rhyme or reason. They have no sense of real use or value. No matter what happens, they’ll never outlive the bulk of their savings, but it’s not that. They just need to see the money in their account or they go crazy.

“Fear and greed, that’s what rules most people. When they’re making money, they never have enough; it’s greed. Then when they’re losing money, fear sets in. I try to point out that they wouldn’t be losing so much if they hadn’t made it in a previous year—they’re still playing with the house’s money. But the concept makes no impression. There’s never enough because the money’s really not going for anything. They don’t have a life. Their life is the money. So it’s all fear and greed.”

Well, that’s more or less the game that my father and stepfather (and something like half of the business people in America) are playing. Sometimes it seems that the whole Republican platform is a legitimacy of greed protected and disguised by patriotism, valorization of idealized capitalism and freedom, and the sanctimonious façade of fundamentalist religion.  That and the Second Amendment and anti-abortion campaigns.

Under my youthful surface rejection I of course liked money too. I liked its freedom and its “stuff,” but I was not willing to make a concession to play the “big game” and get more money, to become a money adult. The opposite of a player, I was an anti-player, a perversely non-entrepreneurial outsider, later a non-entrepreneural publisher—though I was never as much money’s enemy as my buddy Chuck Stein who stood in front of the gathering throng outside the Horace Mann auditorium before assemblies one afternoon around 1960, tearing up dollar bills and shouting at underclassmen in a Donald-Duck-imitation voice: “Doncha know, haven’ya heard—money is the root of all evil.”

I was still willing to remain infantilized for a long time, assuming that “business” was what my parents and their kind of people were about, not what I was about. Like Chuck I considered myself an intellectual, an artist, a seeker. In abjuring money, I presumed that I had found, if not the sufficient deed for remaining pure, at least a prime necessary prerequisite for my goal of not becoming one of them: the money sophisticates, the MBA playboys, the shallow cretins.

When I was exploring my first job at the University of Maine in Portland and Gorham State College, I never asked what the salary was and didn’t know until I got my hire letter. $10,000 a year in 1970 seemed like a fortune at the time, as I had never been personally associated with that high a number. It enabled Lindy and me to buy our first house.

In 1972 I moved on to Goddard where I taught until 1977. For the first three of those years I made $9000 a year, less than at UMPG. It was only in 1976 that I realized I was getting the lowest salary of any faculty member in the school. Why? Solely because I paid no attention to the matter and didn’t care. I didn’t know what other people were being paid, never inquired, never bothered to ask or considered to negotiate.

As it turned out I was getting only the base stipend on which my real salary was supposed to be calculated: I was entitled to increments of $500 each for several different achievements (up to $13,5000): $500 per book publication, $500 for each graduate degree, and $500 for each year of college teaching experience prior to being hired.

I never bothered to inform myself. Even faculty without graduate degrees or prior teaching experience, let alone publications, found ways to finagle at least one $500 increment after a year or two, for instance persuading the administration to count their teaching experience at Goddard as a kind of substitute milestone.

I blithely ignored the whole thing. To show how crazy this was: at the same time I regularly charged clothing for us and our kids, plus toys, furniture, small appliances, and assorted other items to my father’s account more than two hundred miles away at Sullivan’s department store near his hotel. Along with bags full of Sullivan’s merchandise, we would haul huge containers of food back from the Grossinger’s Hotel kitchen to Vermont—boxes of meat (like thirty sirloin steaks, ten chickens, etc.), hundreds of cookies, and fruit of all varieties, much of it to go into a freezer we bought expressly for the purpose.

Although semi-legitimate under an unacknowledged “pact” whereby members of the Grossinger family vied grabbily to seize their share of the hotel loot, it was not healthy for the soul, creating the feeling, even the archetype, in me of a thief. The act felt profoundly surreptitious and sneaky. I embodied its character, and it infantilized me further.

My father rarely missed an opportunity to make me feel lousy about it, showing me packing lists from the kitchen on a subsequent visit, as if I were something less than a decent man. He would also shame me with the receipts for our damage at Sullivan’s. Yet he always covered me. I felt like shit, but I never thought to self-witness or reconsider my strategy. I never flinched or balked at this small-minded pilfering and its shifty jackal-like mind-set and movements, though I hated the sensations.

While I spent no cash on those goods, I paid a huge emotional price for them. I took them compulsively like an automaton, and I became the rigid, fearful miser and crook that my actions created, all the time imagining myself some sort of sweet, unabashed child.

Here is the joke: if I had applied for my regular increments at Goddard, as I finally did during my last year there upon the urging of a faculty friend who was shocked to discover accidentally what I was earning, I would have received an additional $4000 or so a year right from the get-go, $16,000 altogether, more than enough to have covered all of the items I smuggled out of Grossinger’s and Sullivan’s during those four years plus the preceding three in Maine. I would have kept my pride and dignity, learned an important dharmic lesson about life, and been more astute regarding the real situation of earning a living and managing dollars in America. I would have been a money adult and a player; I would have had a political and pragmatic reality to build on, the beginnings of an internalized attitude (even a soberly critical one) about capitalism, the meaning of wealth and poverty, and my own identity. At the appropriate age of initiation, if not actually late, I would at least have begun to cultivate an economic identity.

Instead I was chose to remain a boy. I chose to be little and pure. It was as though I would become an Orwellian pig-faced capitalist, ugly and gross (literally becoming Gross-inger), intellectually defiled by admitting an interest in money or going after it with even minimal aggression—and I didn’t understand the many prices I paid by not earning my way or not confronting how I was being defiled by money anyway. The jackal is no prettier than the pig.

I have friends, peers, who started with my same attitude and never deviated from it, such that now, in their fifties and sixties, despite being talented, even brilliant, they are marginally employed and/or supporting themselves off their parents or siblings or inheritances, or they are waiting for inheritances. They never wanted to earn “real” money and they never did. Over the years they have expended much of their energy trying to get members of their family or some patron or granting organization to support them because it feels more right somehow to be getting taken care of and to have free stuff than it does to develop a relationship to money and earn a living. It feels the way that we tell ourselves that things should feel for an artist, a Marxist poet, or a true lover of wisdom.

That was why (see Chapter Six) I could never exectute a copublishing deal with Station Hill Press despite our affinities—because George Quasha, the publisher, viewed us only as a potential patron, and he valued and sought patronage and free money or more than a fair deal, no matter how much more money they might have generated from a real synergistic collaboration. This is why some people waste absurd amounts of time clipping coupons for discounts and refunds and going bargain hunting recreationally. It is kind of naive but kind of malignant too.  Time wasted on “pennywise, poundfoolish” is legion in the world in general and in my world in particular.  I am surrounded by people who alternately either refuse to play the game or only play the game.  It is hard to find balanced colleagues or elders.

I remember entering a rare window of candor and self-reflection on this otherwise unconscious topic one day in 1973 when I confessed to my stepmother that I felt inferior to a dashing young businessman friend of hers who used to grace her parties, holding forth there like a sage and a prince.

“Why, Richard,” she declared, “he’s a thirty-year-old man.”

“How old do you think I am?” I asked.

She thought for a moment and then said, “Omigod.”

I was twenty-nine.

Here are some seminal crossroads that I now know I missed big-time, by a country mile or often more:

When Lindy and I were in Ann Arbor, some fellow graduate students chipped in and bought the house next door to us on Brooklyn Street for virtually no money down and, during the three years that we lived side by side, they were paying less in mortgage than we were in rent. Then they sold the house for a huge profit—enough money to cover the full tuition for each of them plus enough for each of them to live on for a year or two after school.

During those three years they were proud dudes, cats that swallowed the canary, and they tried to convince us that this was “the way” and we should try it. They had finagled such a good deal that they couldn’t help bragging on it and proselytizing.

It’s not so much that Lindy and I didn’t do it, though we clearly had the opportunity and the miniscule amount of down-payment needed. It’s not that we never even remotely considered the idea or took them seriously. It’s that we thought it was silly. Can you imagine that? We were patronizing and aloof, as though we had the better plan. That is because we were involved in all sorts of late sixties social and cultural phenomena that had little long-term practical application or traction. We were editors of Io!

We never informed ourselves on how to do such a thing as make a profit on a house instead of paying rent or conduct a purchase of something as big and real as a house. We never assumed that it was possible for us (let alone easy). It wasn’t in our repertoire. I didn’t identify with anything about it; it was part of the corrupt adult world. People like us didn’t waste time on such things.

I didn’t even think actively about what these guys were doing, not once. I assumed without ever knowing that I was making a mere assumption (even though I was ostensibly a graduate student in anthropology qua ethnographic analysis), that there had to be a hitch, a way in which we were disqualified or would get in trouble doing it. I didn’t even know what a mortgage was then or how it worked.

Yet we struggled through two evictions and greedy rent hikes and, for our last apartment while Lindy was in the last three months of her pregnancy with Robin, had to take care of the landlord’s senile mother in order to get any place at all.  We were stubbornly and willfully infantalized by our own world-view.

In retrospect I marvel at how cocooned I was and how stubbornly uninventive and unresourceful. Doing what our student neighbors did would have been a cinch if I hadn’t been too vain and snobby to investigate it. A mere two years later (upon moving to Cape Elizabeth to teach at UMPG) we would enact what we hadn’t come close to considering in Ann Arbor—we would buy a house. We became a quick study in mortgages, offers, and counter-offers. It was suddenly the rule of the day, especially since there were hardly any rentals in the Portland area when we arrived.  Most faculty members bought homes—and, of course, buying was cheaper than renting.

Another example: a few years later in Vermont, while we were in our heyday of doing Io, I heard by mail from some people who were converting their spiritual magazine, Matreiya, into a trade publishing company. One of them, Larry Fagin, encouraged Lindy and me to join them in their venture or to take a similar step with Io. He was bubbling with imaginative ideas and notions, but I ignored him.

The publishing company, Shambhala, would become, and remain, the benchmark for independent psychospiritual presses in our generation, a standard that we have been emulating and chasing ever since—that is, once we found our calling over a decade later.

I dismissed Larry’s missive at the time, never even giving him the respect of a thoughtful answer, deeming the idea absurd and singularly irrelevant—as irrelevant as buying a house while in graduate school or asking the basis of my salary at Goddard. All these things were indecent, too mercantile to attend.

Years later Larry opined that we had as much to work with as he and his Shambhala partners did and he wondered why we didn’t want to give it a shot. Well, it was because I was being a jackass and an asshole about it. I thought that I was above the discussion.

He presumed that publishing was a better career than teaching college and he was right. In truth, the book field was wide open then for many more than one esoteric press.

I was condescending in my response to him because not only was I caught up in the preciousness of the literary and esoteric world of Io, but I thought of Goddard as some sort of career move and plum job. Starting an entrepreneurial publishing venture to earn a living seemed like something that nonintellectuals and uneducated people who didn’t go to Horace Mann and Amherst did, people who had never sat in Robert Kelly’s salon. People like me had meaningful jobs: I taught college.

Once again I never considered the alternate viewpoint. I wasted five years of professional life, hauling myself to my classes and jabbering on about ideas at a backwater, self-consciously radical college for less than a living wage, never examining the intention or meaning behind my daily acts and career strategy.

I was stuck in a trance, believing I was held to Goddard by something, perhaps my long academic education. I thought that talking about ideas (to pretty much anyone who would listen or who was paid to listen) was more legitimate and honorable than putting those ideas to the test in some sort of marketplace.

When offered a commercial concept for Io, I turned it down. I preferred our tiny subscription list and my faculty position (and nearness to the Grossinger’s kitchen and Sullivan’s); I wanted to stay in the lee of my symbolic protections.

I was staring much better options right in the face, and they were staring right back at me, but I looked past them. I saw neither the world as it was nor myself and my real possibilities. Any half-decent rock musician or organic farmer was way, way ahead of me. Certainly the Shambhala-ites were.  There were even successful start-up presses in our local Plainfield, Vermont, village—Daughters for one.

“Precious” does not even cover my delusion. I knew a lot of good shit, and it was perfect seed material for not just a Shambhala-like publishing entity but a number of good business concepts.  Yet I neither knew how to go there nor wanted to learn and try.  Because I thought it was crass and would, in some way that I never fully cognized, shatter me and leave me with no identity, I stayed a hippie poet and college professor who was neither really a hippie nor a poet, and I did that guy’s so-called teaching at a bogus and ideological college dreamed up by left-wing ideologues of a previous generation’s weltanschauung that wasn’t even a functional place of learning or matriculation anymore. It should never have been accredited, but then neither should I.

My ambitious classmates at Amherst knew a lot if things that I didn’t, and many of them had gone from the Ivy League into America’s mainstream. I was headed there anyway too, more or less, on a very back backroad. I delayed my arrival by decades, and I also handicapped myself in ways that were, in retrospect, pretentious bordering on ludicrous.

But there is more to this story, as I don’t mean to suggest that there is only one sanctioned path of individuation. On the level of the psyche, there was really only one path for me, given where I came from and who I was, to get to adult life in one piece and sane—and I took it. With both a mother and a brother who committed suicide, I was dancing with much darker and more deadly ghosts than most of my upwardly mobile Amherst classmates or Ann Arbor neighbors or L.Fagin and crew.

A month before accepting the job at Goddard, remember, I just missed out on getting hired for a position teaching graduate students in the new History of Consciousness program at the University of California at Santa Cruz (see Chapter One).  Lindy’s and my trip to the Santa Cruz campus that spring, as noted, had been sponsored by Norman O. Brown, founder of the department and a cultural icon, and he actually favored me for the job. When it fell through, at the last moment and probably in part because I acted more like one of the students than a prospective professor, I was quite upset.  Lindy and I had been looking forward to moving to Santa Cruz. We had assumed the appointment would come through. My first response was to tell Nobby that we were coming anyway and he could use me part-time or not. “If you don’t,” I said, “I’ll teach at the community college.”

He was irritated by my petulance and disappointed by my tantrum but, as he calmed down, he tried to be fatherly. “Don’t ruin your career,” he warned. “Don’t do something that you’ll regret.”

I didn’t. Once the Goddard, a mere hundred miles away, made its offer out of the blue, I opted for the safer and more familiar choice. Though a radical writer by self-declared aesthetic, I had always been inside the system: private school, Ivy League, Michigan graduate school, NIH-sponsored fieldwork, state college teaching job.

Yet here is a contrarian viewpoint: if we had moved to Santa Cruz without a job then and bought a low-end house there, as I threatened and seriously considered for about six weeks before the Goddard phone call, we would have made many times my Goddard salary in mere house appreciation over the next five years, even while teaching at Cabrillo or some other community joint, and probably for better than Goddard wages. I was being paid functionally next to nothing by a fourth-rate school, yet clung to the job as if it were Princeton or Harvard.

Nobby in fact, had the wrong instinct, at least entrepreneurially, because he too was an academic, and a snob to boot. He thought Cabrillo was ignominy and professional death; that one played for prestige, not cash. Though his own Pasatiempo Santa Cruz house probably shot to the stars in appreciation during his tenure there, he no doubt regarded that as a minor collateral benefit, an incidental value and not part of the game. He wouldn’t have made equity appreciation a factor in a career choice.

But money has no degree, education, or intellectuality and, as America has sadly proven, particularly during and since the supply-side bubble ushered in by R. Reagan, you can earn far more doing nothing, just by making an appropriate investment choice or day-trading or clever arbitrage, moving computer numbers around, than you can by teaching graduate students for a decade or, tragically, tilling fields or working in a factory. It may not be fair—in fact, it isn’t—but it has to be known.

During our 1975 and 1976 stints the Bay Area prior to moving there (totaling almost twelve months in themselves), Lindy and I would regularly visit Bookpeople for their afore-mentioned famous “natural food” staff lunches, which were open to the publishing community. I met many people from other presses there, some of them my own age and younger and of my rough philosophical persuasion. Most of them were selling enough books to make good money, in fact to earn a living and pay workers’ salaries. Publishers like Don Gerrard, Phil Wood, and Sebastian Orfali had wonderful imaginative ideas about how North Atlantic could parley its basic themes into successful trade books, and they were willing, free consultants.

But then there was the same old cognitive disconnect on my part. I didn’t identify with them or their mercantile concepts any more than I had with the Shambhala folks at its entrepreneurial birth. Again, I blew off the opportunity, a blatant invitation to publish trade books on occult and holistic-health topics instead of just more Ios and poetry on grants. I was addicted to my path.  I didn’t relate to the finances of the publishing situation, even though, at the time, I stood in the middle of it and had no reliable alternate way to earn an income. I envied these people’s sales and juicy Bookpeople checks but scorned the kind of books they were doing: popularized counterculture, how-to this and that, sentimental poetry, sensationalized magic, cosmic conspiracies, sex, comic books—commercialized products all.

I saw Io as of an intrinsically higher order. I still thought of myself as a professor in search of a job, not a publisher in need of commercial books. I couldn’t get my attention beyond the purism of my literary tradition. We were countercultural editors, elite literary writers. To equate books with moolah was, again, blasphemy.

So I had the capability to create a viable trade publishing company ten years earlier and then again five years earlier, but the opening was invisible to me because I looked down on business and money and imagined myself an insulated intellectual and artist. Without even thinking about it, I created a situation in which the single possible decently-paid job for me was that of college professor, and all I could do was apply to lofty, paternalistic institutes, one after another, and get turned down for being academically uncategorizable. I was a ward in search of a patron, not a nascent publisher.

A few years after the Bookpeople lunches, Charlie Winton took it on himself to try to teach Lindy and me how to develop a commercially viable line of books or, more cogently, to turn what we were already doing into something that could, in his words, “make all of us a bit of money.” He marveled at how dense I was for someone seemingly with brains and education, delivering book after book that, with a little tweaking here and there—a commercial cover, a title that said what the damn thing was, a simpler text—could have broken out.

“It’s nuts,” he said to me once. “It’s as though you’re actually trying not to make money.”

In a sense he was spot-on.

On the day in 1980 that I brought in Waiting Game: Photographs of the Oakland A’s, he turned through the glossy pages and then pronounced, “It’s lovely. Now who’s going to buy it.”

“A’s fans?” I wondered. “Baseball fans? Photographers.”

“None of the above. You’ve done something too arty for baseball fans and too baseball for the art market. Why didn’t you ask me before you sank money into this?”

But it wasn’t even our money; it came from NEA. It didn’t count.

When we hit our stride at PGW in the early 2000s, well after Lindy and I had had the proverbial wool removed and made the conceptual leap, we used to go to high-level marketing meetings with salespeople from New York and, later, corporate executives from Advanced Marketing Systems, the company that bought PGW.  I used to joke with Lindy that these were grown-up versions of our classmates who got gentleman C’s in high school and then went on to Farleigh Dickinson or the University of Miami—not that there’s anything wrong with those schools, but in our day we were elitist about the Ivy League and the “good” colleges. The implication was that the Farleigh Dickinson and Miami types and their ilk at all sorts of other colleges (including, by the way, Amherst and Smith) went to college to party and take business classes and saw nothing wrong with any of that.

But all of these so-called miscreants[2] were running things now and making hugely more money than we were. The top among them were getting $200,000+ salaries for essentially doing nothing more than organizing sales of books like ours and arising to positions of authority in a world of commerce ruled by price clubs and chain bookstores. They had mastered their gentleman’s C’s and turned them into the good life, even as they probably always imagined they would. They defined themselves right from the get-go as being about money, so money came to them like birds to St. Francis of Assissi. It didn’t matter whether they knew anything or did anything other than the obvious and the banally common-sensical, stuff that was determined totally by precedent and that anyone with half a brain could have figured out. They were in “sales,” and it was as though they had gone straight from diapers to executive titles to fancy houses and toys and cars and trophy existences. Even when Lindy and I were doing well, the “adults” were still way ahead of us.

I could go on indefinitely with examples like this, but I mainly want to make the point that, prior to my financial awakening, I was incapable of conceiving of North Atlantic Books as an entrepreneurial venture or imagining myself making real money from it. I don’t mean even to indicate that that was even necessarily an error or flaw for, whenever part of one’s consciousness remains naive and fallow, an opportunity exists to develop other aspects. I might have made more money in the short run if I had had business acumen or an entrepreneurial attitude. But as that financial manager said a few years before his comment about greed and fear, at a moment when I was disingenuously lamenting my choices and saying how much better I would have done if I had started earlier: “So what? If you had made more money, what would you have done with it? I have clients who have done nothing their whole life but make money. And now they don’t know what to with themselves or why they made it. You wouldn’t be any happier. What do you want that you don’t have?”

Nothing.  Nothing at all.  It was simply the other side of the same delusion.

It was also a forerunner of his “greed and fear” speech, and I now realize that I was responding ingratiatingly then to his praise for what Lindy and I had accomplished with North Atlantic, blowing off his compliment because it made me uncomfortable.

On the one hand, I still felt smarter and cooler than all those money guys, and on the other, I felt as though I has missed my moment to play the real game. I was giving the entrepreneurial ethos more credibility than my own artistic path, a knee-jerk and ambivalent and ashamed response. I was also expressing a kind of new-found business competitiveness plus embarrassment for not having grown up sooner. After all even Chuck Stein, the lifelong enemy of money, these days has been studying his adversary online and finding it fascinating and wondering, sort of, where and why he missed the boat. Because it was never that hard. Not as hard as studying Latin and Greek in graduate school, which is what he did instead.

The irony is that Chuck would probably have made a great businessman and, in theory, he could have still had the time, more time in fact, to be a poet and spiritual seeker. He has at least as good a mind as his late lawyer father. But he probably would have never translated Homer’s Odyssey. Not that money and Homer are incompatible, just that one path tends to preclude another—I’m not even sure why.

Meanwhile I probably had a better instinct for business than either my stepfather or father, both of whom, while playing roles of businessmen from central casting, failed at their businesses to a greater or lesser extent because they were obsessed by the choreography of their roles, the scripted financial aspect, and never stepped back to look at the actual content of their businesses or the contexts they generated, or to interrogate the many counterproductive strategies and authorities that they served and took for granted. At least by the time that I got to doing a business, I understood implicitly that entrepreneurial stuff was alchemy, ritual magic, zen, psychospiritual practice. Yet to my mind, even to this day, my fathers remain the real businessmen and I am something else entirely. This is partly because both of them died before I turned the corner in a way that would have been perceptible to them or me.

A different example of this same mentality comes from Lindy’s side of the family. Her mother, an old-fashioned matriarch, looked down for years on Io and North Atlantic Books as something less than a respectable means of earning a living. She gave far more due to Lindy’s older sisters for marrying a businessman and a doctor, respectively.  Even after both marriages ended in divorce, leaving them in perilous financial straits, she continued to treat Lindy and me as an embarrassment that shouldn’t have happened. We were of the pauper caste, whether we had money or not. After all, Lindy had been eligible from the beginning for a more socially and economically appropriate husband. Likewise, her older sisters were somehow financially legitimate, even while struggling, because their material impulses were at the right level.

During her lifetime she also enjoyed controlling her three daughters by dangling gifts of money before them, a thousand dollars here, five hundred there. She played her role to the hilt for decades, as she was the only moneyed patrician in the family. But when North Atlantic began to take off and we were suddenly drawing good salaries from it, instead of being pleased or relieved, she was appalled.

It came to a head when our daughter Miranda expected a high-school graduation present from her and was chagrined with getting only a token. Lindy mentioned the disappointment to her mother, as she had given Robin $1000 in 1987 but was denying such a gift to Miranda four years later. The grande dame responded to Lindy with haughty dismissal and these words, “I’m not going to give Miranda anything. You two are rolling in dough.”

She couldn’t have phrased it in an uglier way or one that better evoked the negative stigma of money in my mind: it was bonded in some inexplicable way to a materialistic, socially conservative attitude toward the world and a mainstream suit-and-tie, stockbroker lifestyle. When Lindy asked her why she wasn’t proud that we had turned North Atlantic Books into a business, she said, “That’s not a real business. That’s not real money you’re making.”

Wow! No wonder I chose to remain a financial virgin for so long.

In saying what she did, Lindy’s mother encapsulated the culture’s and my own secret prejudice. To her it was not as though I had finally joined the club of my or her and my fathers and their investment arena. It was more as though I had invented a rebellious alternative world that still flaunted and denied the core realities of real business and real money.

Of course, there aren’t many different monies; there is only one, and it doesn’t really matter whether you make it teaching college, selling books to Sam’s Club, day-trading and venture capitaling, renovating and reselling real estate, running a resort hotel, betting on horses, or dealing, pimping, and shaking down nightclubs. Any ghetto street punk learns that by first grade, and it all but determines his destiny. Yet  I didn’t learn it at P.S. 6, Horace Mann, Amherst College, or the University of Michigan—great institutions of learning that they purported to be.

Once I came to the understanding sometime in my late forties, I progressed rapidly in developing my own business philosophy, but even before then, by sheer logic and trial and error I hit upon some techniques that brought North Atlantic Books to a launching point in good enough shape to go forward. It is interesting for me to look back at those strategies and try to imagine how I conceived them unintentionally and then how I synergized them to make the quantum leap.

Basic Publishing Strategies for Small and Independent Presses in the Late Seventies and Early Eighties

When we arrived in the Bay Area in 1977, I joined up quickly with a group of publishers of other small, mostly literary presses. We met intermittently but loyally, usually at the Taiwan Restaurant on University Avenue. Our core group was Bob Callahan of Turtle Island Foundation; Ishmael Reed of Yardbird, Reed Cannon Johnson, and I. Reed Books; Malcolm Margolin of Heyday; and me. Occasional visitors included George Mattingly of Blue Wind and David Meltzer of Tree. I think most people then would have ranked Io/North Atlantic as not only the least commercial but least commercially promising of all these presses. We were maybe in the middle in terms of literary prominence. Malcolm was the only one of our circle with business rather than literary proclivities, developing books on hiking and California Indians in hopes of striking it rich someday. The rest of us looked down on him as low-brow and mercantile, but he was such a jolly character, with his beard and hyperbole, that it was all in good humor. Malcolm was a member of the order even without full credentials.

Ironies, in retrospect, abound: North Atlantic is the most thriving entrepreneurial venture of the Taiwan eatery group, while Heyday, the only press in the cabal that not only didn’t apply for NEA grants but had no eligibility to do so as a nonliterary press, is now the largest grant-receiving publishing entity (to my knowledge) in California: a steward preserving indigenous California culture and traditions.

Back in 1977-1978 I accepted my low status among the group, not only as a press with meager sales compared to the rest but as a recent Bay Area emigrée. I was never put on the steering committee, though Ishmael did later funnel his Barbary Coast money through our nonprofit.

The dominant commercial publishing entities in the East Bay back then, though not in our effete group, were Phil Wood’s thriving Ten Speed Press with its novelty, self-help, and cookbooks, and Sebastian Orfali’s countercultural And/Or Press, which specialized in drugs, UFOs, and holistic health. No one in our Taiwan group identified with either press. And/Or was so booming a business that it occupied two whole floors of offices, had tons of employees, and was in the process of raising venture capital with a Wall-Street-like prospectus. It was also starting its own distribution company, Network, presciently using more or less the PGW model a few years even before PGW was birthed.

And/Or was overshadowed by its fellow biggie, Ten Speed, which had a bestseller in What Color is Your Parachute?, and spun off general novelty concepts, the weirder or grosser the better.  They would be responsible, in subsequent years, for How to Shit in the Woods, White Trash Cooking, and Why Cats Paint. These two mega-independents were as far over our heads then as Random House was.

And/Or hasn’t existed for decades—and we happily competed with Ten Speed for both book projects and staff until they were bought by Random House in 2009. Over the years they sold from five to ten times the number of books we did, but it was no longer, as it was in 1977, five thousand times. By 1994 North Atlantic Books and Conari Press would co-rent an entire warehouse that Ten Speed occupied as its main facility while I was eating with my buddies at the Taiwan and laughing at Ishmael’s politically incorrect jokes.

What did I do differently from the other presses in our “small press” group or from And/Or and Ten Speed?

Most of my actions were out of naivité or caution and arose from strategies of survival. Much of my “wisdom” was along the lines of what not to do.

Very little consciously, most of it unconsciously or from unexamined assumptions and cautions.  My fathers had shown me how easy it was to fool yourself that you were making money when you were actually losing it.

Many literary presses I knew, not just those in our Taiwan group, got into trouble by using anywhere from some to all of their NEA and California grant money for their household expenses, and then faking the financial and publishing records (in part or in whole). Bob Callahan of Turtle Island Foundation bought his groceries on his NEA funds, on at least one occasion flamboyantly in my presence upon receiving a check that day. He held up the document and announced, “Time to shop for the wife and kids.  Let’s see them stop me!”

But ultimately that left him in a position of not having enough money to publish his books, not being able to file an honest report, and ultimately not in line to get any more grants. No one feared legal action from noncompliance; this was Bezerkely, the home of the Free Speech movement. If anything, they troubled over a possible shutdown of the public teat, which eventually happened for other reasons. Grant-dependent to publish at all, they suicidally didn’t use enough of their grant money for books. They saw the NEA as lifestyle patronage; it was their Sullivan’s and Grossinger’s kitchen.

I was far too paranoid about getting in trouble to spend a penny of Government money outside of publishing books, and I accounted scrupulously. It was also a game to me, to keep score of revenues and expenses—and I wanted to win; I didn’t want to lose possible points. It may have looked goody-goody to my buccaneer “Steal This Book” buddies, but it turned out to be salubrious. Practicing good management of the grant money and trying to convert it into greater cash through developing seminal books and selling them to customers was the first step toward applying the same principles to earned dollars. The NEA grants were supposed to be seed money, and I liked that concept a lot better than I liked the idea of duping the Government just for the hell of it (or for a quick hit of cashflow).

Of the other successful Bay Area presses in the late seventies and early eighties, we were closest to Turtle Island Foundation, as Bob published books on phenomenology of landscape by Carl Sauer and titles by cultural historians like Zora Neal Hurston and Jaime D’Angulo. He even bought D’Angulo’s former house in the Berkeley Hills in the process of negotiating a publishing deal. And in a second incarnation of his press he issued graphic novels while founding Callahan’s Irish Quarterly—an ambitious journal of Irish and Irish-American culture that was slick, funky, radical, and classic. He established a publishing niche in his ethnic heritage: “I’m really O’Callahan,” he liked to remind me—his family name before his forebears changed it at Ellis Island.  That’s what they called him automatically on his first Aer Lingus flight, he proudly told us at the Taiwan, or maybe it was years later at a more upscale establishment.

Turtle Island was far more ambitious than North Atlantic during the post-Taiwan years too, from the seventies into the early eighties—but ultimately Bob became ambitious in a heedless way, chasing sales of quasi-commercial books and spending more and more on high-end book production, parties, and lavish promotion, far more than he took in.

Turtle Island went out of business partly by trying to force more books into the market than people wanted, for whatever reason, and thus throwing good money endlessly after bad. Bob’s attitude was: these are important texts, damn it, and I’m gonna ring the bell till the ninnies out there wake up. He felt that his reward for the coups of getting Carl Sauer, Jaime D’Angelo, Edward Dorn, and the like onto his list should be big sales and big rewards.

At the same time, Bob never quite got past the fantasy that someone else was supposed to foot the bills and support him and, while he could have become a successful and influential publisher far more rapidly and lastingly than Lindy and me in fact, he liked the public (or private) dole so much that, when the NEA spigot ran dry, he became a legendary scam artist. His ultimate downfall was taking PGW money (as he once took NEA money) and spending it on the household before getting his project done. Perhaps he spent all or most of it before even starting the project, as was his habit, and then he was broke and couldn’t deliver. In Berkeley terms, that was like not paying the mafia for your drugs; it was certainly not like our lame NEA cons, which were more akin to welfare or immigration fraud. The boys at PGW was relentless about their vig and usually found a way to take it out of people’s hide, which was one reason Bob went out of business—he had to give PGW his lucrative Zora Neale Hurston books to settle the score.

Like O’Callahan I published books with high hopes but, if they didn’t sell, I moved on. I was not willing to waste any more money on them and potentially get into trouble because I saw that there was no one to bail me out. But some of my fellow presses, literary and nonliterary both, spent oodles of money on advertising and promotion, even hiring big-time publicists. I remember Bob being outraged whenever a significant new Turtle Island book by Carl Sauer or Zora Neale Hurston didn’t sell in the quantity he thought it merited and then throwing thousands of dollars into ads and publicist fees.

Few things are as economically suicidal as chasing sales. What doesn’t want to sell, for whatever reason, tends not to want to sell. There may be a way to change the situation but probably not—and psychic exercises and magic incantations would be as useful as pouring cash into publicity.  It is money down the drain, for certain and for sure.

To get a nonselling book to sell is usually not a matter of a few thousand dollars. It is probably more like $50,000 or $100,000, much more than anyone has in their discretionary piggybank to spend and much more than they can ever recoup in sales. The difference between spending nothing and spending $3000 is trivial to meaningless, so why spend anything?  Yet presses ran through their money on futile parties, publicity, and promotions, as these tended to supplant the simple workaday act of publishing, at least in terms of where passions went.

Simple math kept me from doing costly production or oodles of advertising and promotion. At our scale, with our modest print runs (yielding high unit costs), it didn’t take much advertising or promotion to create a perfect storm where, with even a little overhead and promotion, we were sure to lose money on every book sold.

The counterargument was that, with aggressive promotion, you’d get more sales, hence get to reprint at a lower unit cost—but I never saw anyone get those “additional sales,” so I accepted our small incremental gains and mild failures and did not chase rainbows.

Wasteful marketing strategies and overreaching aside, I would say that the main reason many of the original literary presses waned or went defunct is that the grant money dried up in the early 1980s and they had no other way to publish. By then North Atlantic was publishing homeopathy, t’ai chi, and anthropology. Some other fellow presses diversified too, in fact a few of them into the same territories as we tried, with books on culture, geography, ecology, and the like. But they mostly dabbled with, say, Haitian voodoo or American Indian myths; few persisted long enough to create full niches. Ours arose from my background in anthropology and ethnomedicine, Chuck Stein’s hermeticism, and Kelly’s literary and occult salon—much like Io itself.

Most of the other NEA-funded literary presses that did succeed broke through into commercial arenas by collecting fashionable and prominent literary figures while making it their career to spot up-and-coming stars and publishing them before they were nabbed by a mainstream press. Among notable literary publishing success stories were Greywolf, Ecco, Copper Canyon Press, and Coffee House Press.

So, if you were a small literary press, you either made it big as a clarion of new and international fiction (with the occasional commercial poet like Robert Bly or John Ashberry) in the mode of Grove Press and New Directions, or you found other niches, or you barely survived until you didn’t.

These were other new, post-NEA rival presses, some with wealthy backers, that ran off of donations and corporate money. In the 1980s North Atlantic Books was dogged by the ascent of a Bay Area press with an unfortunately similar name, North Point (regionally appropriate to a district of San Francisco as opposed to our name which was explicitly where we weren’t). To this day we are confused occasionally with North Point, even though that company ceased over a decade ago in its independent status, bought by Farrar, Straus, Giroux and subsumed as an imprint.

During North Point’s Bay Area debut and early run, to most other small publishers’ chagrin it was considered the gold standard, and in fact the singular representative, of independent publishing in the Bay Area. Ten Speed was the true East Bay independent giant, but because it published commercial shlock and soft glitzy New Age for the hoi polloi, it was not taken seriously in the same way as North Point; that is, in  New York Times Book Review/New York Review of Books circles.

North Point was a literary superstar right out of the cradle, and of course its principals did nothing to disabuse the media of their sense of their own importance. They accepted their role as uniquely elevating Bay Area publishing to the intellectual and commercial level of New York, while the rest of us were ignored or dissed, either overtly or implicitly.[3]

The players at North Point encouraged this view because they enjoyed the praise and because the inflated adulation enhanced their charisma as a “the first real Bay Area publisher” and gave them a branding and selling tool par excellence for all their books. They spewed a publicity/propaganda stream along these lines—the West Coast equivalent of Penguin or Farrar. It was a classic case of being born on third base and clapping your hands as if you had hit a triple.

The fact is, even during its glitter years, North Point sold far fewer books than we did—and we were just beginning our trade-book career at the time. North Point was in actuality no more successful really than Turtle Island or a number of other presses like Wingbow (Bookpeople’s house press) and Wilderness Press, all of which outsold it while publishing many fewer books. Yet for the better part of a decade North Point was synonymous with successful Bay Area publishing, while to the trade and popular media, the rest of us continued not to exist.

North Point’s success was solely the result of the backing of a wealthy and prominent donor, a developer of politically dubious properties in, I believe, Benicia. He was willing to pay for book after book, regardless of their sales because he liked having a high literary philanthropic cause, in part to tone down the criticism of him as a cultural philistine. Add in a phalanx of prominent, loyal authors like Wendell Berry, Evan Connell, and Gary Snyder, and you had publishing royalty. But the moment the external funds were withdrawn by the donor, North Point shrank to its real size and got sold. It had been publishing at a loss from the beginning except for the developer’s donations but acting as though it was leading the parade.

Several years before the North Point shooting star, And/Or became notorious for spending more money than they took in. Until their downfall they looked like a super-successful business with their fancy digs and hip books, but after the deluge I heard that they had such high overhead and so overpaid for services that they lost money on every single book they sold. The more books they published and sold, the more money they lost—like clockwork.  And they published bestselling titles.   It was a money-destroying machine that looked like a cornucopia—in fact the world has come to specialize in such machines in recent years.

Paradoxically, of course, the more action And/Or stirred up, the more viable it looked to investors. In pre-Enron days, their kind of misleading and/or poor accounting was the norm, and the financial institution(s) extending their lines of credit were clueless. And/Or had such high sales and such uninquisitive bankers that they were able to keep borrowing money on the mirage of their vast receivables while digging deeper and deeper into debt until the pyramid collapsed under its own weight, taking their distribution company, Network, with it.

The presses that had joined up with Network on the basis of Sebastian Orfali’s sheen of success and his convincing arguments were dismayed to learn that their own inventory was not protected against the bank’s claim of them as collateral. Unable to get  back their books, many good presses like Unity and Madrona followed And/Or out of business.

One of the single most important axioms of publishing (or any business with inventory) is: don’t pay a higher unit cost to make and manage your products than you are getting back from the marketplace for them. And so, make sure you know your actual expenses so that you can nail unit cost on the dime.

And/Or was probably selling books for anywhere from $10 to $20 and getting them from the printer for anywhere from $1 to $3 per unit (both good numbers, the cost of goods sold underwritten by economy of scale from their big print runs). Even with marketplace discounts running around 45% on the average then and And/Or’s sometimes lavish production methods, there should have been a safe margin. Not only was so the bank fooled, but the And/Or staff were fooled and CEO Sebastian Orfali was with them in dreamland.

You always need to factor in and amortize rent, publicity, marketing, salaries, and general overhead. One reason And/Or did well is that their books were competitively priced—too competitively it turned out. If their overhead had been built into their unit costs on a prorated basis, they should have been charging another dollar or two (or three) for every book.

Prorating hidden costs is a subtle matter. And/Or may have been losing only pennies per book, but they were doing it in such a way that it looked as though they were making pennies per book, and pennies per book can add up like in the Pajama Game lyric: “Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a helluva lot/seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing,/ but give it to me every hour,/forty hours every week,/and that’s enough for me to be/living like a….” You can supply that last rhyme.

Likewise, seven and a half cents red ink per book, at thousands of books every week on the jets of a booming, expanding market, is enough to put the parent company out of business. The more books And/Or sold, the further in the hole they went.  Axiomatic.

The demise of And/Or in the early eighties made a huge impression on me: you have to break even first in order to make money. You have to at least get to .500 before you can try to win your Division. If large amounts of sales activity or other hoopla surround a publishing company that is selling books at a loss or not selling them at all, the patina of success is an illusion…unless some donor or patron wants to keep underwriting the loss. To break even, you have to count pennies for real.

Fear—trepidation peppered with caution—kept me from joining Network. Sebastian was a delightful wildman and fearless, seductive promoter. He was on an LSD trip called New Age publishing. But he was so grandiose in his projects and so eager to get me to join the cabal that it triggered my innate reserve and suspiciousness. I don’t like joining anything, especially anything fancy and hip, and I positively hate parades. I was sure that I had made the wrong decision when other presses began raking in large monthly checks.

Do not chase sales. Take what the defense gives you.

Remember the football metaphor: take what the defense gives you. Many authors are disappointed that their books are not doing better and insist that they should be selling more so—let’s go out, hustle and shill and shake the rafters, whatever the price—it’s my baby!

More often than is comfortable, authors blame the publisher for not promoting or advertising their babies enough. For these occasions I developed quippy lines: “You don’t get to decide what should sell. The market tells you.”

I sometimes told a cute baseball story: Bill Lee, the Red Sox pitcher renowned for his weird exploits and known as the Spaceman, in his first season was pitching to future Hall of Famer Al Kaline, the Detroit outfielder, and the umpire kept calling obvious strikes balls, probably out of deference to the vet and as initiation for the rookie.

“Don’t just stand there like a statue,” Lee shouted at Kaline, “or the pigeons’ll shit on you.”

“When you throw a strike,” the umpire called back, “Mr. Kaline will let you know by lining it off the leftfield wall.”

So it is with the market—not quite a matching metaphor, but you get the idea. Whether a book sells or not is not the author’s or the publisher’s call. But when you throw a strike, the public will let you know by lining it off the leftfield wall.

Or a strike is not a strike until the umpire says it is.

Breaking Even Before You Can Make Money

In those early years I had more common sense than business sense—the two are not always the same, as it often takes daring, counter-intuitive measures to launch a profitable business. Well, North Atlantic certainly wasn’t launched through daring or risk. I tried very hard to cut my losses and keep the costs down. My philosophy pretty much came down to: “A penny saved….” I was obsessively frugal.  I earned more pennies by saving than by selling.

As I moved more into general trade publishing, I tried to think of at least one way, with each project, to have it break even and, if I couldn’t think of one, I usually didn’t do the book. This was a mode of thinking that drove Charlie Winton crazy. He said: “You can’t make money unless you’re willing to lose money.” And his strategy was better than mine, for he is now a retired multimillionaire, funding North Point’s Jack Shoemaker in his latest publishing venture from his relative leisure.

Ways of breaking even out the gate include: 1) one big guaranteed sale; 2) a copublishing deal whereby the copublisher not only pays half the bill but guarantees enough sales to break even; 3) a book used in a course or a popular studio class like t’ai chi; 4) a book that can be revised periodically and then resold.

Even if my particular strategy wasn’t always enough to quite get a complete break-even, it got me close enough to stay in the game overally, and a book that more or less broke even in the short run, regardless of whether it was “more” or “less,” functionally broke even in the long run. It wasn’t just a wash or a loss; it was a backlist title that might sell for years—seven and a half cents over and over again.

Breaking even, at least in publishing, is making money. If you break even on books, book by book, then you make money on most of those books because they continue selling for years beyond the break-even period. In truth, there is never such a thing as literally breaking even—the book either continues to sell after crossing the break-even point or it ceases selling before reaching it.

Each book, to continue baseball metaphors, was a swing at the plate. If you could guarantee (or almost guarantee) breaking even, it became, at worst, a foul ball; you got another free swing—and with every swing you might hit a home run, or at least a single. Eventually even a hapless batter puts the ball in play. So every “wash” was another chance, and every chance loaded the odds in your favor. This alone—trial and error—with a bit of street smarts and countercultural intuition added up to a default strategy: let me keep swinging month after month and I’ll get my occasional hits and build a backlist.

The other way to look at it is this: if 80% of your list at least breaks even, then half of the other 20% can make the money necessary to carry the business even if the other half loses money. Most of the 80% is at least contributing something and, over time, as demonstrated earlier, it is giving you a basic monthly subsistence income, while a portion of it, maybe 15-20%, is selling at a significant profit. As the years pass, some of that profitable portion may sink into semi-commercial backlist, but it gets replaced by new profitable books. Overall, you keep gaining, like a child rolling a tiny ball of snow over and over to make a body for a snowman. The 10% that doesn’t break even, if it stays at about that level, is not significant enough to retard the overall progress of the snowball. Of course, the real goals vis a vis that 10% sluggard rate are to have it be more like 2% or 1%, always to be reducing it, and also to not have it involve your most expensive books, like photographs of baseball—lessons that Grossinger learned the hard way. The real goal of the 80%, meanwhile, is to do better than break even, much better—but at least to foul the ball off and get another swing.

The whole strategy behind publishing, since no one really knows in advance what will sell and what won’t, is to get enough swings at the plate to produce hits. The point is to keep publishing, to put enough books out there to ultimately come up with some that last. All along, you are building your backlist, invariably adding titles with long lifetimes, and you are activating the public gestalt of your imprint by identifying yourself in the world with various authors and topics.

One of North Atlantic’s earliest and unquestionably finest pieces of old publishing, our original t’ai-chi book, Essence of T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Literary Tradition, ended up on the shelves of most t’ai-chi practitioners in the English-speaking world for a generation, thus was a cost-free ad for the press in just the places where you’d most want it.

In fact, all of a publisher’s books are cost-free ads for the press.

In any way that I could in the earliest years, I found new ways to get books out there, even if they were as weird as a history of northern Wisconsin entitled Land of the Tamaracks, funded by an author’s yogurt company. Or a not-to-be identified and also not-so-great holistic-health book for an author’s course. Or a guaranteed sale back to the author of 750 books. We published music, dancing, sports memorabilia, vanity-press novels, memoirs, and poetry, books that were poorly enough written to generate extra editing revenue (when Lindy and I did all the editing), and holistic product guides disguised as books. Our standards were much lower then than they are now, and I did what was necessary to keep the cash flowing. Everything had at least a scintilla of “mission statement” justification, though it tended at times toward the proverbial fig leaf.

“Publishing Is an Inexact Science”

I have been fooled again and again both ways. Books that I thought had indisputable commercial potential didn’t sell worth a damn (Hound Dog, Protecting Children From Danger, Axial Stones, The New Natural Family Doctor, Book of Theanna among them), and books that we published with misgivings ended up selling thousands of copies on up to hundreds of thousands (Waking the Tiger, Healing with Whole Foods, Nothing in This Book Is True…, Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful).

One season during the early years at PGW, our four-title list sold in exactly the opposite order mapped out by us for PGW. Our supposed top title, the afore-mentioned book of photographs of the Oakland A’s, fell completely flat, barely eclipsing a hundred copies—a joke of a sale. Just as Charlie had predicted, it was too jock for the photographers and too arty for the A’s fans, and furthermore the A’s, far from being enthusiastic to carry it at their concessions stands as we had hoped, threatened to sue us for using their logo (in a severe letter from then team president Sandy Alderson himself).

Our Spanish-English bilingual book on Peruvian shamanism, Eduardo el Curandero, did somewhat better but still pretty much tanked. Our best-selling book that season was another bilingual one, much more obscure: the afore-mentioned English-Chinese version of Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s commentary on the Tao Te Ching, entitled My Words Are Very Easy to Understand. It went through many print runs, soaring well over 50,000 copies, and is still a slow seller twenty-five years later.

That season demonstrated a basic law of publishing. You can’t consistently pick your sellers ahead of time. As Charlie Winton liked to say, ad nauseam in fact, “Bookselling is an inexact science.” It was an irritatingly banal but oddly useful homily. Even the most promising title might not sell for reasons that can never be guessed. Protecting Children from Danger came out at the time of the Polly Klaas kidnapping; its authors were the high-profile founder of Model Mugging, Matt Thomas, and the well-connected director of POLO (Protecting Our Loved Ones), Bob Bishop who worked with Mark Klaas, the kidnap victim’s very active father; and both authors got themselves on national TV (including The Geraldo Show).

We never even sold a fraction of the first print run, though we ran a big second one solely because the Matt and Bob, who were also copublishers, agitated and howled for one on the eve of their appearance on Geraldo with Mark Klaas—and they were forceful martial kinds of guys who would not take no for an answer. Years later these books all had to be given away to police departments. It is anyone’s guess why Protecting Children didn’t sell at all: bad cover, scary topic, competition from more reader-friendly books, who knows?

Conversely, books can sell like hotcakes for obscure and unpredictable reasons. Nothing In This Book Is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are barely got written—our editor Kathy Glass and I had to rewrite the text entirely twice over even to make it marginally presentable. But in 1993 it went bonkers right out the gate after garnering a strong positive review in Wired. Word of mouth did the rest and is still doing it. I don’t keep track of exact numbers, as our database has changed many times since then, but I would imagine that Nothing… has sold at least 250,000 copies and probably closer to 350,000 copies. And it was a throwaway book done on a whim and a goof.

As mentioned earlier, Publishers Group West didn’t want us even to release our top-selling Healing with Whole Foods. Charlie insisted that the book was too massive, expensive, and high-brow for the market. Conceding failure from this prejudice without even trying to gauge what the real audience was, PGW made at best a half-hearted attempt to pre-sell the title. No rep wanted to embarrass himself by pushing a pig in a poke, a monstrous oversized indulgence by those provincial assholes over at North Atlantic. Why should PGW make themselves look credulous or dumb before important buyers? Better to show titles that will enhance distributor reputation and actually move in stores.

HWWF is now approaching a million copies lifetime and selling better than ever almost twenty years later. After PGW did nothing, we used a different wholesaler who discovered it by chance and was revved to market the book: the notorious bottomfeeder Lee Heiman of the pompously self-named company Golden-Lee. This sort of back-door deal by us was typical of how we worked around our exclusive distribution contract and how it was a “soft exclusive.”

When we were selling thousands through Golden-Lee, Charlie griped: “I don’t like that low-life Heiman getting all the action and us not getting any cut at all on one of our own books under our contract.” Soon after, Golden-Lee declared bankruptcy, and we lost $25,000, and then PGW got all the action. But they made their own bed with that one, and cost both of us. Maybe Charlie got some after-the-fact satisfaction from Heiman’s demise and the seeming proof that PGW was still the only safe conduit to the market for member presses.  After all, they guaranteed receivables, whether they collected them or not, through bankruptcy and vendor belligerence.

Even though you can never predict how well a book will do, you can follow some rules of thumb:

1: Never ever reprint based solely on hoopla and pre-sales. Only reprint when you are confident that the end consumer is buying the copies, and then only when the stores are almost out of stock. Cumulatively, over time, any sales that you lose because a book is unavailable for a short time are easier to recoup than the money you will lose and the inventory headache you will create by overprinting. Generally people who want books will find them. They don’t have to be there in the warehouse or committed at the printer. Also be sure to check if your returnable “sales” are sitting at accounts or passing through to the end consumer.

I know that this goes against conventional wisdom, but conventional wisdom is based on the swiftest-moving bestsellers, not our kinds of books. And it is even less salient today when steady backlist is the main source of publishing stability. Plus, in the days since the advent of digital technology and the elimination of plating, costs for reprinting have fallen to a minimum. Little is gained by overprinting. And, in addition, inventory has become quite expensive to store.

Being “out of stock” is never absolute. OS books are often still shelved at wholesalers and in stores unsold, even when a title is technically unavailable from the publisher and distributor. Better to drain the inventory and even build up some pent demand than keep filling the pipelines such that they are in jeopardy of backing up. Yet authors and copublishers still get frantic when they think that their books might be unavailable somewhere for, say, five minutes. I will discuss this formula again in Chapter Fourteen.

For years afterward I cited Protecting Children From Danger to authors when explaining to authors why we were not going to print more of their books before we had sold what we had—and, even so, we have been forced to do just that all over again, fooling ourselves in the same way with the same kinds of assurances about unstoppable exposure and publicity and “can’t miss” situations. We have been burned again and again, most recently by Ori Hofmekler’s Anti-Estrogenic Diet (15,000 book books printed after a national magazine cover article, 12,000 of which  are still sitting in the warehouse over three years later), also our Spanish edition of Healing with Whole Foods. We expensively translated and published HWWF in Spanish solely on the basis of sales of the English version, without any meaningful research into the Spanish book market, and then reprinted it after a big advance sale spurred by the orders alone. But there was virtually no sell-through to justify the reprint. Much of the initial sale came back because, as we learned too late, diet and nutrition books do not translate well into Spanish—the potential readers have their own traditional cooking and health modalties, their own style and terminology.

2: Unless there is an obvious niche market or another way to break even (a copublisher or grant), do not do something both expensive and risky.

We were so sure of Waiting Game: Photographs of the Oakland A’s (prominent local photographer, prominent local author, America’s pastime, local team) that we let the printer, Inter-Collegiate Press, talk us into paying a hefty surcharge to get the books out early in order to exhibit at the American Booksellers Association trade show that year. I doubt that a single by-passer even noticed them there amid the towers of glitz, let alone placed an order. I had lost my bearings and forgotten just how vast and flashy the trade-show market is with its dog-and-pony shows and skimpily clad maidens handing out book and trinket samples. Our little baseball folio was a nonentity, and we would have been better served to have gone for a discount and a late print run rather than a premium to rush into a market that didn’t care (and wouldn’t care). Big mistake, an early $10,000 mistake compounded by a $4000 surcharge, but not a mistake repeated.

After the flub of paying $4000 extra to rush Waiting Game, I let books appear whenever they did under their own steam, and I have told authors over the years that I have never seen it turn out worthwhile to pay extra money for faster printing or overnight shipping of books to get them to a conference or make them available by Christmas. The market simply does not absorb books that fast.

We have encountered innumerable instances in which an author had books air-freighted on his own time to an event ahead of publication in expectation of large sales. Never once have these sales materialized. One of the bigger illusions of publishing and selling books is the ostensibly high percentage of those attending an event (other a course with a required text) who will purchase a nonrequired book (and if it’s required anyway, why the rush?). It doesn’t matter how relevant the book is to the event. People do not routinely pay $15 or $25 for a book on top of the cost of a ticket and other expenses. Sales approaching 5% of those attending any event is high and should be the benchmark.

An author or copublisher may have quite legitimate desires or needs specific to a situation—an important conference, a promise to a teacher, a trip abroad, a current world event—but virtually no conference or series of readings or one-time event can generate even a fraction of the sales necessary to offset the risks, expenses, and injustices of rushing a project and skipping it ahead of the books of other deserving authors ahead of it in the pipeline. Our goal has always been to publish for the long run, not for a moment of time or single events. Even 150 sales at an important lecture cannot reimburse the extra costs of a rushed print run.

Chapter 5: Different Models of Publishing and General Philosophy | Table of Contents


In this chapter I will talk mainly about my own view toward money, though Lindy’s viewpoint and our joint perspective also enter into the picture. In some instances I will refer to both of us where it is clear that we collaborated on a perspective (which has usually been the case), but the “I” in this chapter is me (and sometimes even the “we” is me). Where Lindy and I converged, it was mostly from a shared viewpoint or sometimes for different reasons from our variant personal histories. For instance, we both had fathers who ran businesses into the ground, but my father did it with one of the most mythically opulent businesses in the U.S., whereas her father did it with small oil and uranium magazines. Yet it left us both gun-shy about taking on debt. On the other hand, Lindy didn’t have nearly the degree of capitalist indoctrination that I did, and certainly not the almost-holy New York Jewish variety of it.
I don’t mean to indict all sales reps or marketing people in this rant. Most reps I have met are true artists and roadies.
Publisher Jack Shoemaker and the North Point principles would no doubt present a very different and perhaps even more accurate account of these events. But this is my mythology of it, and it probably holds a scintilla of truth. Meanwhile Jack should also be credited for keeping the NEA money flowing long after bureaucrats in Washington tried to stop it because of the abuses. He eventually moved from NEA liaison to patron-supported publisher, and North Point turned out merely to be the first of several prominent literary/belles lettres presses the good man launched after the NEA days.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ed December 2, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Enjoyed your writing about Grossinger’s Hotel. I worked there in the mid seventies as a night auditor. It was a great experience living and working there. I especially recall with gratitude how well employees were treated. I felt like a guest. I lived on the top floor of Milton Berle Building. Employee dining room had great food and even waiters. I went on from there to manage and now own my own hotel. Your family business taught me how to treat employees. It was a great lesson that I went on to learn is rarely copied. I would love to visit Grossinger’s one day. Great memories indeed.

Polly Hough November 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Thanks to Richard and responders for an interesting dialogue, some of which seems helpful, but too much seeking to blame Hillary for losing, when she fought as hard as she could to continue what she could of Obama’s Legacy, which has benefited many, though not enough. Thanks also to Congress! I do wonder about her handlers and advisors’ thinking. Trump’s smoke screen of scandalous comments has obscured our view, and perhaps obscured the complexity of the problems. Hillary has apologized for her errors, and had the right to her point of view. I do wish that she had embraced more heartily Sanders’ populist approach and even chosen him to be her Vice Presidential contender, but I think they still might have lost. She had a workable platform, he had charisma and slogans. With work, they could have unified their vision. But neither addressed the “rigging” that I see Republicans do every day here in Utah. Is it so common that we don’t see it?
I suspect the truth of why the Democrats lost lies in the systematic cheating that the Republicans set up long ago, which was not sufficiently revealed and decried. It is time to read Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman’s,” The Flip & Strip Death of American Democracy…”, ( and look into the rigging in each state, particularly those key ones that lost her the election. She didn’t lose by that much if you face up to the weak democratic institutions we have going, and the way it allows the Electoral College system to malfunction without corrective. Let’s quit grieving and get to work fixing the damn thing. Too much is at stake. Trump’s finger should not be on the Nuclear button.

Linda November 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

I just finished Ron Sieh’s book and would love to take lessons from him. Can you tell me where is and if he’s teaching?

Vegeko December 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

You can find pictures of here. Should I aemttpt to preface the city of a hundred spires, its lovely architecture cannot be forgotten. Search in your memory for a name of any style you can think of. Prague will almost certainly have some landmark to offer – be it from hundreds of years ago such as Romanesque rotunda or from numerous eras spanning centuries. The latter can be represented by the picturesque Prague Castle with its truly magnificent St Vitus’s Cathedral or the tiny (and that is probably one of the reasons why) fairy-tale like Golden Lane. The same applies to architectonic landmarks “remembering” merely several decades such as the precious Cubist pearls scattered here and there in Prague’s winding streets, buildings, , theaters, museums.

Richard Grossinger August 16, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Thanks for the comment. It was meant to serve a healing function itself, as there is not really a general cure for optical migraines. But no, I don’t have a lot of specific or topic-oriented feedback. Most of it is on the same level of yours: general usefulness of the book. As probably goes without saying (from my quotes and bibliography), I consider Oliver Sacks’ book Migraine very useful, but the best one is a book that our press published for which Sacks wrote the preface: Migraine Art. It is more than a picture book; it goes into great detail on the categories of auras and their effects. Richard

Jackie Perkins August 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Hi Richard,
I read your book about migraine auras several years ago and have reread it several
times. Thank you so much for writing it as it helps me when I have a bout of
auras with very little headache. I was wondering if you have had a lot feedback
from fellow sufferers and if you have learned anything more about them since
the book was written. Can you refer me to any other sources to help me make
peace or get rid to them completely.
Any comments will be appreciated,\.

Jacqueline phillips December 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for sharing. Raised in the village of Liberty. Worked the switchboard at the G as a teenager. Went to school with Sandy. Sad it did not continue.

david hovey August 27, 2014 at 9:40 am

my mother and aunt were bauer sisters..founder of lpga golf association..i spent many summers up there..great..miss it

Richard Grossinger May 22, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Dear Jim, Thanks for writing. You were really there at the core of my time, a rare thing. I don’t specifically remember you, though. Let me know if you want the two books, New Moon and/or Out of Babylon, as I can send them for just the cost of the postage. Richard

jim blankenship May 22, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I enjoyed reading about your family and experience at Grossingers. I worked there, along with Teddy Howard, as the house photographer from 1958-1961. It was quite an experience meeting and photographing many of the celebrities and sports figures. I had been on the staff at NY Daily news in the city prior to this so I enjoyed the life in Liberty and Sullivan Co. My wife and I live in Atlanta now. We were married in Liberty in 1960……. Jim Blankenship AP Photographer,retired

Richard Grossinger January 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Kris. I have send the review around to our staff, and there is even some tentative thought about including it as a foreword to one of the two 50th-anniversary Io anthologies that we are releasing next year (2015). If we were to pursue that, would you like to rewrite it or perhaps punctuate it more conventionally (close open parentheses, etc.)?
I’d be curious to know your actual critique of my political statements. You don’t actually say, taking it for granted that it is obvious, though part of your point is that it isn’t obvious to me, and it isn’t. I can guess, but I could easily be wrong. For instance, it isn’t actually clear that you are not the Australian (or other) offended equivalent of a Conservative Republican.
Although I do pose those arguments seriously, they are also at the level of myth, and I speak to that occasionally. I have no special insight into political matters, but I do throw myself into the mythology for what it expresses. I think that one can be literally “wrong” and still mythologically accurate. For instance, in the case of Obama, he is not literally who I have portrayed him as, but the myth is still authentic. In that regard, you might note my Facebook post on him recently, also on this website.
Also ironically enough in this regard, enough people are ONLY reading the political parts of my writing, enough so that Andrew Harvey has urged me to collect them in their own book as part of his Spiritual Activism imprint. This doesn’t make me any less off-base any more than that that refutation is obvious.
No complain here. I’m just interested to know what you are actually saying. I have spent most of my life in America, whether in compliance or reaction.
The whole “Ken Wilber” thing is an interesting story of its own, far too labyrinthine to tell. The very short version of it is that a writer friend in Maine with whom I occasionally hiked and whose work I supported and helped get published suddenly went ballistic against me and not only made those comments about me and Wilber, which I paraphrased, but wrote such, strong threatening emails that friends I showed them to urged me to take them to the police. They were what mafia might write.
The thing that set him off was that after a hike I naively wrote a piece (like many of the other pieces in 2013 and Bardo of Waking Life) about the events on the hike and our dialogue and then sent it to him (from NYC en route back to California) with the idea that he and I might collaborate on a piece about our experiences that day. Making him a character in my piece, even though it was informal and unpublished and I was offering him an edit and a collaboration, had the effect of triggering a response so extreme that I didn’t actually believe he was serious at first. I apologized profusely, trashed the piece, and yet the emails kept coming, up to the “mafia” level. What made this all the more inexplicable was the fact that prior to my transgression in writing the piece, he had been a good friend, and I had been pretty much his main supporter in the larger world, finding him a venue in which to publish.
Now that’s the shell of the story, and the piece you comment on came out of that, is my displaced response to it. I didn’t want to repeat the original error by being any more specific and singling him out in any way. The underlying issues are probably of a whole different order.
Since then, we have mellowed out, though are no longer friends and don’t hike together anymore. Meanwhile I have had a lot of indirect contact with Wilber in the sense that two of his main students who live in the Bay Area have read Dark Pool of Light and consider it relevant to the Wilber tradition and thus have spent time with me, talking. So right after I declared myself completely separate from all that, I got brought back into it in more benign and pleasant terms.
I hope that you take a look at Dark Pool, as what I began in 2013 is brought to its culmination in there. Really what my work is about, and what I make my stand on, is not the political ideology or even the literary voice so much, but the cosmic vision, and then putting it into viable literary form. I will post this on Facebook too. Richard

Kris Hemensley January 6, 2014 at 12:47 am

I’m amazed & humbled at yr reprinting of my review… Thank you. Looking forward to reading you anew in 2014! Cheers, Kris Hemensley

Richard Grossinger September 16, 2013 at 4:21 am

They have not been updated, but I have started work on a fourth volume posted on this website. Also the fourth volume is really now the “fifth”
volume because I have rewritten The Night Sky as a de facto fourth volume. It will be out next spring. See the home page of this site for a table of contents. Also I will continue to post interviews with me about the books, audio, video, and text. Thanks for reading them and for inquiring.

Jim Weddington September 16, 2013 at 3:31 am

I have all three volumes of “Dark Pools of Light” in nook book format. I recently heard that this trilogy has been up dated. If so I would like to recieve the update in the nook format. If this is possible.

I have been having some problems with emails. So if you can’t reach
me by email try.

Jim Weddington
105 LaGrange St.
Newnan, GA 30263


Jim Weddington

105 LaGrange St.

Richard Grossinger July 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Dolores, thanks for the touching thoughts. Time does move remarkably fast, especially because it never stops, even for an instant. But it may not be linear, so those times are still alive somewhere in the universe, as you will be.

Dolores Levine Seiler July 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Dear Richard, I enjoyed reading your piece. For me it was nostalgia and sadness, not only for Grossinger’s but for my life which is also nearing its end. My father was Lazarus Levine, and my husband, Seymour Seiler, married me at the hotel in 1953. He was an architect and worked with Harry. My son, now 56, had his Bar Mitzvah celebration at Grossinger’s. My daughter learned how to ice skate and ski at the hotel. I am sorry that my grandchildren could not particpate in the “Jewish” celebrations that were so wonderful there.

Richard Grossinger May 21, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Well said. Thanks for the comments.

Carol Malloch May 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Hello Richard,
I enjoyed reading your article. I moved to the town. of Liberty NY. in the early 70’s .
I grew up on the West coast up to that point. Liberty was culture shock . For your family to build a world class resort was a testament to their abilities . Your aunt Elaine. was a respected member of the community . She was head of the school board
in Liberty . She handled out the diplomas at the high school graduations every year.
When your grandmother died, the town lined the main st of town for her procession.
Grossinger’s was the castle on the hill and the jewel of the catskill resort.industry . Your cousins Michell and Mark went on in the hotel industry to make their mark . The problem was the weak economy and decline of the whole hotel industry that ruined Grossinger’s . Your father and Aunt Elaine did what they could do to keep people employed . Despite how your parents turned out, they are still your family and you are apart of them . Grossinger’s will be always known for it’s great hospitality . It’s just a shame how she ended up. The Catskill Mountains just reached up and took back what was their’s .

Richard Grossinger May 17, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I have no knowledge at all. The property was sold almost 30 years ago and has been re-sold many times since then.

Monique DeCicco-Jones May 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a few ideas on the restoration of this facility via Health Care grants. Who actually owns this property and what is their contact information? My phone number is (845)292-9114. I am a resident of Liberty and often don’t read my email because I am extremely busy pursuing a PhD in nursing so please feel free to phone.

Monique DeCicco-Jones May 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner with a few ideas on the restoration of this facility via Health Care grants. Who actually owns this property and what is their contact information? My phone number is (845)292-9114. I am a resident of Liberty and often don’t read my email because I am extremely busy pursuing a PhD in nursing so please feel free to phone. I pass the facility everyday and have great visions for it!

Richard Grossinger May 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I am moved by your bringing back the past, and it rings true about my grandmother whom, I always felt, had a dignity and grandeur beyond her public image, and also a kindness and generosity, though she also had her own hauteur and corruptness. The generation that followed just didn’t get it, not that it would have changed anything in the end. I’m not sure that “Peter” isn’t a wrong memory. It’s more likely Michael or James, my adopted half-brothers. Also possibly Jerry or Freddie. No “Peter Grossinger” in that era.

Ron Erich May 10, 2013 at 7:35 pm

So glad and sad to come upon your story. I , and my sister, worked at Grossinger’s for two summers as a waiters, earning money for college. I think it was 1965, 1966. Jennie G. offered us the jobs when she was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and my father was her Physical Therapist. I remember the two great fun summers there. I did hang out a little with Peter Grossinger one summer and it was always a thrill went Jennie would come into the dining room and give me a hug. It made me feel important and kept the maitre d’s off my back for a few hours, at least.
So sad to see the pictures of the property in its state of abandonment. I saw that the Concord is gone also. Here in southern California one seldom sees beautiful properties going back to nature.
Thanks for your story and bringing back memories that I had almost forgotten.

Shirley March 31, 2013 at 7:23 pm

My father worked as a waiter there during the 70s. Sometimes he would take us there and I would remember swimming, skiing, or just roaming around the hotel with my sister and friend. We loved going there and my father still talks about his wonderful years there. When the hotel was closing down my father salvaged a few things, including a painted porcelain plate I believe that was hung in the dining room. I want to return these items to the family. Let me know if you would like for me to send you a photo.

Richard Grossinger February 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Last I knew, he was teaching at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in the Somatics Program.

William McKeen February 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm


The double slit experiment prove that with observation you can improve the probability of making a certain thing happen. The negative aspect of this is if focus on the particle you lose sight of the momentum. Focus on the momentum, you lose sight of the particle. Another example, focus on the tree you lose sight of the forest. Focus on the forest you lose sight of the tree. Even better one, focus on God you lose sight of reality. Focus on reality you lose sight of God.

The extreme differential of the last example can be explored in the writings of both Schopenhauer and Swedenborg.

MN February 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Hello Richard, I used to know Ian Grand a long time ago in Berkeley. Wondering if you have any idea what’s become of him. Thanks!

Richard Grossinger November 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Great WorK!

Richard Grossinger October 4, 2012 at 9:14 am

Thanks for the nice note. I think that the warts ARE history, always. Nothing exists as an idea(l) or in a vacuum or as its mere prototype.

Wes Gray October 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

Dear Richard,

You are an extremely talented writer. A wonderful story indeed. As the internet goes, you end up stumbling upon things you never knew. I learned a great deal about a piece of American history, warts and all. Your grandmother’s legacy is secure for eternity.

ann September 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Regarding, Dark Pool of Light, Volume Two: Consciousness in Psychospiritual and Psychic … By Richard Grossinger, I would like a preview copy. I grew up with Kimmie Ross and we just today discussed Ontology, and her future with that concept. So it was quite a surprise to read your bit on her. Though a sceptic, your writing style keeps me reading….and your education…my grandfather went to Amherst and my mother went to Smith then Univ. of Michigan to join my father (a fourth generation U. of Mich grad). You seem to have fun with your life and family so that is why I am requesting the preview, which you offered.
Thanks, Ann

Barbara Sparhawk September 3, 2012 at 8:39 am

Hello Mr Grossinger. Found you googling Goddard and there were so many cross references historically between us I feel compelled to halloo.
Goddard student in ’62, classmates Charlie Ponce, Eric Saarinen, Peter Pilafian…acted in Charlie’s moody plays, there were many and he was stark drama, the only one I remember the title of is The Cistern, me posed reciting in spotlight over faux hole center stage. I attended Riverside’s Encampment for Citizenship summer prior to Goddard, Ethical Culture Society but as a child, and took Tai Chi in the ’60’s with Professor Cheng M’an Ching on West Broadway. Lived in Chinatown, Brooklyn, bits of the states and world; only female billboard painter; still write and still paint; gallery in Big Sur 3 years, now Carmel Valley.
Interesting to find you and read your history. Goddard produced activists, something that never entirely left the molecules electrified there.

Paul D. Mendelsohn August 24, 2012 at 6:44 am

Hi Richard:

I loved your piece. We must have run in parallel universes. My dad had the jewelery concession at G’s in the 50’s and early 60’s, so I spent a lot of weekends up there as a kid and have great memories. My dad was a good friend of PG’s, Jenny and Elaine and he mentioned the other day that he still runs into Elaine down in Boca. The ruins remind me of looking at the wreck of the titanic, which I also had a fascination with as a child. At G’s I had so many great memories of wandering through the lobbies, watching Jenny on “this is your life” in the lobby in 1954 (I was only 7), the ice sculptures, Lew and Simon Sez, skating with Irving, watching them break gound for the “new” indoor pool, the malts in the coffee shop, the great toboggan rides, but mostly I enjoyed watching the people. It was a great time to bond with my dad in a Camelot environment. In the late 60’s I also worked with my brother Hank in the dining room, but G’s was changing and was already not the same. I also got hazed at the one year I spent at Camp Chipinaw. But I did enjoy the horseback riding, fencing and lake area. Athough I did not like having to carry out “rocks” every time we left the lake to clean out the swimming area. I currently live in Charlotte, Vermont and would love to hear from you.

Richard Grossinger August 20, 2012 at 5:25 am

Thanks, Greg. So great to hear from you. You were my room-mate in Phi Psi at the beginning of sophomore year, a crossroads time. And you were my first stop on my flight west in 1965, the seminal summer of my life. That’s no doubt when I “performed” my orange-juice disaster. I can be very dyslexic with half a chance, and certainly back then. I am still grateful you provided that “safe house” when it counted. I’d love to hear more about your journeys. Is there a way to contact you?

John Prentiss (Greg) August 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Hi Rich. While googling “Sam Lipskin,” I stumbled on your “Best Friends” list and am glad I did. In addition to news of Sam, you shared info about other classmates like Jeff Tripp and Greg Dropkin I’d lost track of decades ago.

You remain one of the most talented, delightfully eccentric people it has been my pleasure to meet. (I still remember my father looking on in disbelief as you tried to mash a 2 1/2 inch wide can of frozen orange juice into a jar with a 2 inch top and his saying to me later, “So how come you’re telling me he’s genius? He can’t even make orange juice.”)
Take care.
Greg Prentiss, former screenwriter, bum, and Chief Deputy Prosecutor for Adams County, Washington, now living in the Ozarks with 6 cats

admin April 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Thanks, Harlan, I appreciate the comments. Probably the only thing further I’ll do on this is rewrite Out of Babylon for an ebook to come out in 2014.

Harlan Friedman April 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I loved this story. My father worked at the G during the 70’s until the parental units decided it was time to take the pilgrimage to Long island and set up shop there. I remember many fun days there. My first “print ad” was a shot they used of me on the playground for a brochure in the late 70’s. Please keep the stories and pictures coming!

admin March 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Thanks, Michael. Are you still around Bar Harbor? Lindy and I plan to be there around July 1 through at least the end of September this year.

michael flahetty March 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hey Richard! We first met on Mt. Desert Island when we swapped a pizza for Somme of your books(great trade).Hope you and your family are well.Saw your son on t.v. and felt a strange sense of pride considering how little I know you or your family.Hope to see you in Maine!

admin February 25, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I really don’t remember or, more to the point, don’t think I ever knew. The number “$26,000 a day” sticks in my mind from some discussion in the mid-seventies.

Nick Pjevach February 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

couple of quick questions on Grossinger’s Resort
would you by chance remember any of the operating costs of the resort?
I would be interested to find out what some of the costs are to operate such
a large complex. (just think of the gas bill for those two boilers).
Very sad about Paul losing everything. Grossinger’s $1.8 mm loss in 1985 was
probably (or eventtually) covered by Paul personnally. That kind of loss is hard
for any one person (or family) to cover. (my father also covered losses for a
business and it ruined the last 10 years of his life-he died broke also covering
personally guaranteed debt of a business)
also enoyed your writing above

admin February 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm

It’s from the 1970s, well before PDF days. Ann Arbor Microfilms made a version in the style of the day, and I know that that’s available in Maine libraries, perhaps by interlibrary loan. Some of the material appears in my books Book of Cranberry Islands and The Provinces.

Deborah Confer February 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I’m a research assistant to someone writing a report for the National Park Service on the traditional histories of Otter Cove and Isle au Haut. I would be very interested in reading your dissertation, The strategy and ideology of lobster-fishing
on the back side of Mount Desert Island, Hancock County, Maine. Is it possible to get a PDF version? Thanks so much.

Geoffrey Brown January 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Moving and sad and at the same time delightful. I grew up in Liberty, enjoyed Grossingers mostly from the outside but still able to see the place from my bedroom window. Your aunt Elaine was very kind to me when I was doing some grad school research on migrant manpower in the resort industry. Thank you for writing this.

Magdalena Ball September 9, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Thank you so much for these detailed and richly presented recollections. I’m writing a novel (as you so beautifully put it, “for curios and mementos, for jewels and heirlooms, and for memes of the elusive and illusory American paradise”) partly set at Grossinger’s in the 1940s, when my grandmother worked as a young singer (family mythology was that Jenny chose her from a competition in Central Park and brought her out to the hotel, where she subsequently met her husband, my grandfather, and changed the course of her life). Every piece of information I can find helps me to better reconstruct the setting and also illuminate my own history. Of course I would love to travel back in time and sit in the audience to verify memory, but your notes are almost as good.

David Gitin July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

Richard, I love your ability to articulate the ‘dilemma’ (even if that articulation, including the capture as ‘dilemma’ is itself part of the issue). Snyder’s discussion of Buddhism and the Coming Revolution decades ago gave hint of this, forerunner perhaps. Andrew’s responses closely echo the talk we heard him give the other night, but good to have them here as part of the conversation. Thanks for pointing me to your website!

jonah mark bekerman June 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

wonderful reading


elliot was going to give you a copy of breathing in the infinite

did he?

Anita Wolfenberger March 8, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. In 1964, after marrying (in Puerto Rico) to a Army man, I purchased a cookbook of Jewish cooking put out by your parents hotel. The Introduction is by your father.

I have no idea of the name of the book. The cover long ago gave way to white paper and scotch tape, the pages are missing corners and frayed all around, the book is only partly attached to what is left of it’s spine. In short it is well used.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell you this. I just read that the hotel is closed and am sorry to hear that. I believe I was there when I was about five or so, which would be around 1948. I have vague memories of a “talent” show of little kids.

(Mrs) Anita Wolfenberger
New Market, TN

Larry Olsen February 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Good Evening:
My brother, nearly 40 years ago, attended a technical competition that was held up at Grossinger’s in Upstate New York. The night before the competition, the hotel had a number of very talented people who put on various skits and songs, including “The Ballad of Irving” and a song about Washington at Valley Forge. One of the few lines that I remember was something about, “If Washington was Jewish, instead of Valley Forge, The Army would have wintered up at Grossinger’s with George!” Is this the same as the song you list on this site?

Paul February 12, 2011 at 12:05 am

I would add a couple of books that came out later – Henri Bortoft’s “The Wholeness of Nature” and Doris Lessing’s “Memoirs of a Survivor.” Interesting to see a bunch of Owen Barfield on your list. Such a lucid and compelling thinker and writer!

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