The Complete Trumpiad

After four years of living through the administration of the forty-fifth President of the United States, and then another eighteen months of putting together all four volumes, and providing notes, dramatis personae, and coherent author’s notes, I’ve finally bound and printed The Complete Trumpiad, my effort to capture in verse the horror-comedy-tragedy show that was 2016 to 2021. You can read about the book, and plow through all 49 cantos, 1492 stanzas (plus a villanelle), and nearly 12,000 lines of verse here. I would say The Complete Trumpiad was a labor of love, but it was more an act of desperation, an effort to remain sane, a large literary pillow into which I could shout, or I could punch, when it all became too much.

The book isn’t for sale, and I’ve removed (or will be shortly removing) the individual volumes for sale. If you really want a printed copy, though, I’ll think of sending you one—while stocks last. How to do that can be found here.

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Leaving Lantern

After twenty-seven years in the publishing profession, twenty-two of which were spent at two companies I co-founded—Lantern Books and Lantern Publishing & Media (LPM)—I am leaving the industry to become the executive director of the Culture & Animals Foundation. I still enjoy books; I will still keep writing, for myself and others; and I may continue to offer advice to those seeking to find a way into (or storm) the formidable edifice that is The Publishing House. But I can no longer pretend that publishing is fulfilling for me, and so I’m going.

Book publishing has always been a tough industry, with low profit margins, poor pay, an insane work–outcome ratio, among a host of other indignities, such as your product being returned to you from the bookstore if it hasn’t sold. The explosion of self-publishing and multiple entertainment/education platforms has made it very easy to produce and distribute free or cheap content. The paper shortage, the consolidation of printers, the dominance of Amazon, and the global supply-chain crisis have turned the whole business of producing a printed book into attenuated, time-consuming drudgery.

I don’t regret spending so many years as a publisher; I’ve enjoyed working with (most) authors; I believe I’ve done a creditable job, and brought some good books into the world. I think our companies have made a difference, and that LPM will continue to do so. Perhaps one day I may return to the profession; who knows? If the ever-shifting technological landscape is more favorable to producing content I care about in a way that makes financial sense, I may find myself drawn back in. But for now, it’s farewell.

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Gene Gollogly (1950–2021)

My former colleague and the co-founder of Booklight Inc. (our web company) and Lantern Books (our publishing imprint) died on January 7th this year of a heart attack. It was a profoundly shocking event, not only because Gene was only seventy years old, but because, as he liked to announce when he was asked how he was, he seemed “alive and well.” It felt impossible to imagine that Gene’s vitality, energy, and exuberance could ever be stopped by anything as quotidian as death. His heart was too good to be betrayed in such a manner.

Gene was the first person to give me my long-hoped-for job in a publishing company, when in 1994 I was brought on as promotion manager for Continuum, a small social science and religion publisher. Over the course of the next five years, the company and Gene supported me in my efforts to expand my abilities: figuring out elementary coding, discovering typesetting, acquiring books, and learning the trade.

In 1998, Continuum merged with Cassell, a UK-based academic publisher about four times its size, and my job morphed from promotion to processing data. I was now being asked to handle titles such as Library Science in Scandinavia and Language Relations Across Bering Strait, and I signaled to Gene that I wanted to leave. I was going to learn more coding and write, I told him. Gene responded that he’d like to start a business with me providing web design for publishers, and that he had a backer. I expressed an interest, and we barreled forward, departing from Continuum in May 1999 and opening up Booklight Inc./DBA Lantern Books in August. By that stage, our backer had pulled out, and it was just Gene and me.

When I announced to my colleagues at Continuum that I would be setting up business with Gene, I was met with incredulity. Gene had never edited, typeset, or proofed a book; he was constantly on the road; and he was known for—how shall I say this?—not being entirely clear as to where he was or what he was doing that day. But I wasn’t too worried. Gene was a decent, patient, and supportive individual, with a preternatural patience in listening to the obsessions of octogenerian multi-millionaires. He was also a brilliant publisher: able to see book potential in would-be authors, speakers, and subjects and squeeze out a manuscript or two from them.

We complemented one another. Gene, in the Myers-Briggs formulation, was a “P” (all about the process); I am a “J” (all about the result). Whenever Gene would float a project, my immediate reaction was who, what, how, and when. Gene relied on me to get stuff done; I depended on him to provide perspective and haul me back from the precipice. I did the words; he did the numbers. When we hired interns and employees, Gene was the fun boss; I wasn’t. Together, I like to think, we created a fair, transparent, and safe working environment for our colleagues.

In 2002, Gene was offered the opportunity to head Anthroposophic Press, which he renamed Steiner Books, and so spent more and more time away from the office. Booklight/Lantern also changed. When we began in 1999, Gene I think imagined us as a web company with a small publishing concern on the side. I imagined the opposite. By the mid-2000s, it was clear that the emergence of a raft of programs and companies offering cheaper and quicker web development meant our web company’s days were numbered. Our publishing company had by then developed a relatively robust backlist. Booklight’s staff numbers shrank, we moved our office from Union Square in Manhattan to Brooklyn, and by 2012 we were effectively only Lantern Books.

Gene was by then immersed in Steiner Books, and in 2019 I resolved we needed to go our separate ways, since I needed a publishing partner who was wholly present. Gene agreed, having started his new non-profit, the Steiner Wegman Medical Foundation, and Lantern Books morphed into Lantern Publishing & Media. It’s particularly cruel that Gene should have died at the very start of this new stage of his life and career. Although he’d ended his time with Lantern, he hadn’t finished his work. He was enthusiastic about his future and mine and Lantern’s.

The above is the most basic report of our 25 years together as business colleagues and friends. It doesn’t reflect just how grateful I am to him for his tolerance, care, and integrity. It doesn’t capture how much I learned from him about publishing, or how much I tried to emulate his placing of people before project, mission before profit, and kindness before advantage. It doesn’t display how many of his mannerisms, quirky sayings, attitudes, or even vocal patterns have become my own, or how he’s present in so many of my decisions, inclinations, or responses. It doesn’t convey how much I will miss him—partly because I may never really be able to fathom just how deeply he became (and remains) a part of me.

He could be exasperating, rash, and for too long he simply wasn’t around. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been if I’d chosen a different business partner. But these are the usual responses to a long relationship, and they shouldn’t cloud the bigger truth. Together, we kept a company going for two decades. We paid our bills and royalties, remained solvent and owed no one any money, and we were honest. We published some damn good books that have helped and informed many people. We held fast to our values and our mission. And, as Gene would say, we made a living, if not a killing. And that is more than good enough for me.

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“And the Hummingbird Says”

After several years of false starts, Japanese composer Mihoko Suzuki and I completed our five-part song-cycle on the life and experiences of the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace laureate, Wangari Maathai. Entitled And the Hummingbird Says . . . , you can read all about the five-part, 50-minute piece here (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

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The Serendipity of Publicity

Nathan Heller's "Blood Ties" in The New Yorker

Nathan Heller’s “Blood Ties” in The New Yorker

A few years ago, I was fortunate to play a role in helping Gene Baur, the co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, complete his first book, which told the story of the organization and the many animals that he’d rescued from stockyards.

Last week, my company, Lantern Books, and I were mentioned in a profile of one of our authors, Jens Soering, by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker. This was a first for us. Three of Jens’ books with Lantern were named—One Day in the Life of Prisoner 179212, An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse, and The Way of the Prisoner—as was the individual, Fr. Thomas Keating, who brought Jens to us, and who is another of our authors.

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food was published to modest success by Simon & Schuster in 2008. One of the purchasers of that book left a copy at a bed & breakfast in New Jersey. A visitor picked up the book, read it, and was so inspired by its story, and the tales of the animals who made their way to Farm Sanctuary, that she told her husband about it. The visitor was Tracey Stewart, the wife of former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Not only did Jon invite Gene on his show to talk about his latest book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, co-written with Gene Stone, but Tracey purchased a parcel of land in New Jersey that will be her own sanctuary for farmed animals, and which will be run by Farm Sanctuary. She also published a book, Do Unto Animals, that, like Farm Sanctuary, is a rallying cry for less cruelty and more compassion.

In a world where it’s harder and harder to break through the incessant noise of self-promotion, information overload, and multiplying media to reach your audience and make an impression, the story of how one person read one book that changed her life and thereby brought an enormous amount of positive attention to a worthy organization is delightfully analogue, old-school, serendipitous . . . take your pick. No paid consultants; no publicity hacks; no massive media blitz. Just a book on a table that found its way into the hands of someone who was ready to be transformed. It’s perhaps what all publishers and authors dream of: it so rarely comes true, that when it happens there’s something providential about it.

I wish I could say the Heller piece has aroused great interest in Jens’ work/situation or our company, but it hasn’t . . . yet. I like to think that it’s still early days. Apartments around the world are filled with back issues of The New Yorker waiting to be read. Jens is the subject of a forthcoming documentary film, The Promise, which may remind that special someone of Heller’s thoughtful piece, and which in turn may stir the Kraken of national attention. Until then, we do our bit, communicating however we can about our books—hoping that that special someone will change her life and change the world.

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Jens Soering, The New Yorker, and Me

It’s a strange thing to see your name written out in the elegant, restrained typeface of The New Yorker magazine—as I, on this Monday morning, discover myself to be (in Nathan Heller’s “Blood Ties”). As someone who’s subscribed to the magazine for almost two decades, it feels unreal—as though the “Martin Rowe, a co-founder of Lantern Books,” is someone else entirely. But the thoughtful and conscientious Nathan Heller did come round to my house to interview me; the subject of his piece, Jens Soering, is an author of four books for Lantern; and another of our authors, Thomas Keating (also mentioned), did indeed send Soering’s first manuscript, The Way of the Prisoner, to us.

The story that Heller tells is complex and layered, and, as far as I can tell, accurate. It’s also restrained and judicious, without any of the sensationalism that (one might hope) might draw attention to our publishing program—with all of the risks and rewards that come with intense media interest. But the piece, at least, offers a welcome recognition for Lantern, and I’m grateful for that.

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The Book as Souvenir

Seth Godin is one of those disruptive gurus of marketing, publishing, and connectivity, and I think he speaks a lot of sense. I especially appreciate what he says about the book as a souvenir—with all of the ambiguity that such a word implies. Witness this comment:

A book is a physical souvenir, a concrete instantiation of your ideas in a physical object, something that gives your ideas substance and allows them to travel.

Out of context, a 140 character tweet cannot change someone’s life. A blog post might (I can think of a few that changed the way I think about business and even life). A movie can, but most big movies are inane entertainments designed to make a lot of money, not change people. But books? [. . .]

Books change lives every day. A book takes more than a few minutes to read. A book envelopes [sic] us, it is relentless in its voice and in its linearity. You start at the beginning and you either ride with the author to the end or you bail. And unlike just about any form of electronic media, you get to read the book at your own pace, absorbing it as you go.

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The Fine Writer

A friend who is currently writing a book sent me an email about its progress. She told me she’d started to read H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald’s award-winning memoir of how she dealt with her grief over her father’s death through falconry. My friend had had to stop reading the book, she related, because she’d been intimidated by MacDonald’s lush vocabulary and poetic style and it made her feel inadequate as a writer. Her own language was much more down to earth, she wrote, and she was trying to tell a story very plainly.

I have not read MacDonald’s book, but my friend’s comments did strike home. I, too, tend toward lushness in my prose. I often ask my sentences to carry a lot of weight—not least by freighting them with dependent clauses, balancing them between several semi-colons, and never allowing a noun or verb to complete their tasks without colorful adjectives or adverbs as chaperones. Once I’ve reached a first draft, I polish my prose to a dazzling sheen, which is not to say that it’s clear, well-written, insightful, or compelling. It may sound resonant; it may be lyrical; it may offer to the reader a veneer that suggests a rich grain of considered thought. But, in the end, the polish can lacquer the prose to the point of lifelessness.

I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, the first volume of her much-lauded re-imagination of the life and times of Henry VIII’s fixer, Thomas Cromwell. I’ve no doubt that Mantel labored as mightily over her prose as MacDonald did hers, and I do mine. What’s remarkable, however, about Mantel’s writing is that it feels as unvarnished and sometimes as muddled (who is the “he” in this sentence?) as the times she is describing. Sentences tumble into each other; we move back and forth in time and in and out of Cromwell’s head frequently within paragraphs; names are dropped, kicked around, and picked up again with abandon (and who is this “Thomas”?). Yet it all works. The prose more than breathes; it runs, pants, shouts, laughs, whispers, and has all the energetic vital signs you want in a book. It’s Dickensian in all the right ways: expansive, unafraid, pell-mell, and rich with characters and incidents. And in its own way as plain as day.

My worry as a writer is that my effort to make each word matter and to render each sentence beautiful is my way of avoiding producing sentences over which I don’t have complete control, which is itself a symptom of fearing not that I lack the tools to write a book but that I don’t actually have enough raw materials to make anything worthwhile. My facility, after all, hints at facileness. Yet a little less polish might open up cracks in the story to reveal emotional, intellectual, and narrative depths that had heretofore been plastered over by “fine” writing. The task is not to write plainly or beautifully; the task is to write truthfully. And sometimes that is a harder and scarier prospect than any prose style can fix.

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The Woes of the Author

The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society—an august body of writers (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) based in the U.K.—have produced their annual report on the dismal state of affairs for professional writers. (Thank you, Kim Stallwood, for sending it to me.) I reproduce here, for your inspection and circumspection, the salient details from the report:


  • The career of a typical professional author begins in the late 20s/30s. The optimum ‘earning age’ for most is the mid-40s to 50s, with incomes beginning to decline thereafter.
  • The earnings picture is very top heavy: the top 5% earned 42.3% of all the money earned by professional authors.
  • The bottom 50% (those earning £10,432 or less) earned only 7% of all the money earned by all writers cumulatively.
  • Since 2005 the typical author has become poorer against society as a whole and now (from self-employed writing) earns only 87% of the present minimum wage.
  • Nearly 90% of professional authors need to earn money from sources other than writing.
  • 17% of all writers did not earn any money from writing in 2013, despite 98% of these having had a work published or exploited in each year from 2010 to 2013. Therefore, at least 17% of writers work without any expectation of earnings.


  • A quarter of authors have self-published a book.
  • Among authors who have self-published, the top 10% of earners made a profit of £7,000 or more.
  • The top 20% of earners among authors who have self-published made a profit of almost £3,000.
  • The bottom 20% of authors who have self-published made losses of at least £400.


  • 44% of authors stated that the size of the advances they had received from publishers had declined over the past five years.
  • 46% of authors said they had signed a buy-out contract (where there is a single payment for use of their work without the further payment of royalties), with 30% stating that the prevalence of such contracts was on the increase.
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The Two-Week Rule

everytime-you-make-a-typo-the-errorists-winWe have a rule in our offices at Lantern Books that no copies of a book newly arrived from the printers are to be scanned for typos, verbal infelicities, or solecisms. It’s hard to do: the eye roves over the page like a klieg-light, casting into sharp relief the typefaces chosen, the leading and kerning of letters and lines on the page, the running-head format, the dimensions of the book, the thickness of the paper, the margins, and so on. We’ve poured our hearts (and not an inconsiderable amount of money) into the book, and it’s beyond disheartening to be confronted with mistakes that somehow bypassed the author, editor, copyeditor, typesetter, and proofreader.

After fourteen days, however, we can view the errors with more equanimity than despair; and exasperation and self-loathing have been replaced by a shrug of the shoulders and steely determination not to do it again. Thankfully, technology has helped us experience fewer unwelcome surprises. Not only can we do a dummy run with one or more copies of the book, just so that we can get the three-dimensional item in our hands before committing ourselves more fully to print, but the actual print run can be a matter of only a few copies, allowing changes to be made quickly, with relatively little expense, and with relatively few tarnished copies out there in the world.

I still think the two-week rule needs to be applied—and not just for publishers. An author recently told me that she’d sent her mother a copy of a book over which she’d labored mightily for many years, only for her mother to reply immediately that she’d found three errors—and that was just for starters. Of course, it is the ordained role of parents everywhere to remind their children that, no matter how much they may feel they have accomplished, they’ll always be in the wrong. So, authors: make sure you tell your readers (and especially your supposedly nearest and dearest) that for fourteen days you want nothing but unconditional love and support. After that, one’s fragile heart might be strong enough for the uncomfortable truth.

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