Birds-of-the-Air Press: A Prospectus

Addressed by the early Church fathers to the Jewish community, and placed at the very
beginning of the New Testament, the Gospel of St. Matthew is, in a sense, the central
document of the Judaeo-Christian tradition; and so we find there -- in harmony with the
other great traditions -- an affirmation of the mysterious creative power of the universe:

       Jesus saith unto them, did ye never read in the scriptures, the stone which
       the builders rejected, the same is become the cornerstone: this is the Lord's
       doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?

       Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the
       which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and
       selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

       Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, the kingdom of heaven is
       like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;
       which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the
       greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air
       come and lodge in the branches thereof.

In this spirit, a question: when did the human animal become truly human?

Was it not that moment when a young mother, an infant dead in her arms, laid it within a
secluded bower, and then -- with some inexplicable impulse of grief and hope -- built over
the tiny body a makeshift grave of branches and rocks?

In this moment of resistance to death -- in this act of memorialization -- the human spirit
was born. An assertion had been made: this child was not to be forgotten. It had been,
and might yet be, part of the fabric of the cosmos.

The spirit of inquiry which has borne humanity on its patient journey to the stars bears
out her hope; for with a sure instinct -- and aided by our marvelous machines -- we seek
to discover, and remember, and preserve everything, no matter how obscure or

Our telescopes have catalogued ten thousand galaxies within a tiny patch of the heavens;
our microscopes have allowed us to enumerate every cell of certain complex metazoa;
and our sequencing machines have even reconstituted the DNA of many an ancient burial.

Are we then to treat the children of our intellect -- our literary productions -- with any
less respect? Having been delivered of us, and assuming that they are not chiefly inspired
by greed or vanity, do they not each bear some vital truth, or shared pain, or comic

And what marvelous machine might assist those who would care for such children --
unruly, and too numerous to count? It would needs be a machine which could operate
upon the very particles of human discourse; a machine which could indelibly record
every syllable which has ever been written, and sift through them at the blink of an eye,
and transmit its findings across the globe -- and someday, perhaps, to distant worlds --
at the speed of light.

Suppose, further, that this machine became small enough and inexpensive enough to be
discovered in the cottage of Gray's "rustic moralist", who bends over it to edit and
compose his own book; or to be likewise discovered in the back of a New York city
bookstore, where it drives an electronic press slinging stones at the west coast Goliath.

The computer has changed everything. Once guarded by the Church, and since then by
academia* and the big city publishers, the door of the cage has been flung open; and we
intend to fly through it.

It is with great excitement, therefore, that Space Machines Corporation announces the
establishment of its own imprint, Birds-of-the-Air Press. Directed, as have many of the
more successful little presses, by a husband and wife team -- Glenn and Dianna Smith --
we propose, in partnership with Manhattan's McNally Jackson Books in the United States,
and Amsterdam's American Book Center in Europe, to publish first-class books, each with
its own ISBN, and available, through the miracle of print-on-demand publishing, as a
perfect-bound paperback; and we intend, as well, to archive each of them with Google Books,
so that their contents can be indexed and searched via the web, and with the futher option
of unlimited electronic distribution.

(Click here for a NYTimes article on McNally Jackson.)

So the computer has not only given rise to the e-book, but has also enhanced the possibilities
of the traditional print book, and Birds-of-the-Air Press will have a foot in both camps; but
it is the latter which we will emphasize, and for three reasons:

First, the real writer will wish to see his or her book in traditional print form; and although
electronic analogies might be invented to correspond to the book discovered on a forgotten
shelf, or to the dog-eared copy passed from one undergraduate to another, they lack, shall
we say, a certain romance.

Second, the books of which we speak are not intended to be read once for entertainment and
then discarded; rather, they will become part of a personal library, to be referred to again and
again; and the holder of such a book will do well, from an environmental standpoint, to have it
in printed form, rather than incurring the energy budget of an electronic reader, and the infra-
structure costs of repeated downloads.

Third, we must confess to a nostalgia for the "big city publishers", like the Scribners of Hem-
mingway and Fitzgerald -- and so those publishers might now wish to think of themselves, not
as gate-keepers, but rather as the major leagues to our minor leagues -- or as distributors for
our "indie" label. If some of our books prove to have major league potential, we will gladly eat
crow and pass them on to their more capable hands; and hence it is that many of our authors,
by way of making themselves more embraceable, will defer electronic publication.

   *   *   *   *   *

*Co-founder Glenn Smith describes here his experience with a university press which has
led to the establishment of Birds-of-the-Air:

Aesthetic Wilderness is not only a scholarly work, but one whose subject -- kinetic art --
might serve as the basis for an enhanced electronic book featuring embedded video; and
so my initial attempt at publication was directed to Rice University Press, newly
reconstituted as the first and only academic press dedicated exclusively to the e-book.

Two weeks later I learned from its director, Mr. Fred Moody, that the press was being
shut down again, and that he was now out of a job.

He kindly directed me, nonetheless, to a major American university whose press he thought
to be still in the forefront of the electronic publishing revolution; and indeed, the website
of that press -- which I devoured with an absurd naivete -- made this bold declaration:

       With a more efficient publishing process, ______ Press will likely
       broaden its current offerings and increase the number of authors.

Even more to the point, however, was this statement:

       Among the most significant changes from printing on paper to making
       scholarly works available in digitized formats will be an emphasis on
       interactive design, which will include much enhanced digital options,
       including hot links, graphics, 3D animation and video.

Yes! I shot off an email to the appropriate acquisitions editor, was overjoyed to receive
from him an invitation to submit a proposal, and duly submitted same in July of 2010.

Several weeks passed without so much as a confirmation of its receipt. What to do?
Over the next three months I followed up with three polite and upbeat emails to him, each
bolstering the case for publication; but still no reply.

"Ah," I thought -- "Surely I will hear something shortly after the new year," but I was
mistaken; and in the second half of January of 2011 I made this attempt at a strictly
neutral letter of inquiry:

       Can you tell me if Aesthetic Wilderness is still under consideration at
       ____________ Press? I submitted my proposal, with your permission,
       on July 9, 2010.

Still nothing! Totally frustrated, I was on the verge of communicating with the president
of the university himself, when in March of the new year I was inspired to make a final
appeal to the editor in question:

       Could you email me a rejection notice? I will not say as a courtesy,
       because apparently I have done something to offend you and so am not
       deserving of such, but rather to put my writerly persistence to rest, and
       to clear the way for the publication of Aesthetic Wilderness elsewhere.

Praise be, I at last received the following reply, which I reproduce here in its entirety:

       My sincere apologies for the confusion. You have not offended me
       in any way. I thought that we had sent a decline on your project, but
       clearly it has not reached you or I am mistaken. I know personally
       how disconcerting it is to feel in limbo on a submission. I decline
       formally but wish you all success in finding other arrangements.

Even if this email had not represented an obvious evasion, its curious wording, and failure
to say anything about why my proposal had been rejected, would have given me scant
hope that there had been at work a rational and compassionate evaluation process.

Bear in mind, also, that I was not a young writer of poetry or fiction, for whom the
vagaries of the submissions process are perhaps a salutary test of his or her belief in
the value of what are, after all, the products of an individual imagination. I had waited
until late in life to write about a discipline which had been the object of thirty years of
practice and study; and now -- with nine months gone of those few remaining to me --
I stood back at square one in respect to academic publication.

"Screw this", I said to myself; and hence has been born Birds-of-the-Air Press.
(c)2011 Space Machines Corp.