Startled, I jump up from my seat. ‘What has happened?’ The Nymph stares at her screen with both hands in front of her mouth. My heart races as I rush across the office. ‘Look!’ Peirene gasps.
I lean over her shoulder, bracing myself to see…what now? A frozen word document? The blue screen of a computer crash? But instead my eyes fall onto our mailchimp account that is open on Peirene’s computer.
I blink, confused. ‘Peirene, I don’t understand-‘
‘Can’t you see?’ The Nymph’s eyes have filled with tears and with a shaky finger she now points to some figures. ‘All that hard work, all my self-denying sacrifices for nothing,’ she sniffles.
In April, instead of sending out a newsletter, we ran a poll. We asked our subscribers two questions: Did you know that 50p from each Peirene book went to charity? And did you know that the charity in question supports Syrian refugees?
Peirene and I are now staring at, are the results of that poll. Only 16.6% of readers replied ‘yes’ to both questions. 19.3% said yes they knew we give 50 pence of their money to a charity but they didn’t know which charity. And the rest – a full 64.2% – had no idea.
‘Since 2012 we give 50 pence of every book regardless of how we sell it – via our website, or subscriptions or bookshops, or amazon – to a charity and we carry an announcement of this in the back of every copy. After all it should matter to the reader what we do with their money. Don’t they read what we print in the books?’ Peirene shakes her head in disbelief.
I’m less surprised .‘People so often only take in what they expect or what they already know. It’s human nature. This is just another example. Publishers on the whole don’t give to charity. And so, no one expects us to either. Readers simply overlook that information.’
I put a hand on Peirene’s back. I can still feel the tension in her shoulders. ‘But, Peirene, why did the poll results cause you such a shock? Aren’t we doing it because we believe it’s the right thing to do? Regardless if anyone knows about it or not?’
‘Let me show you something.’ The Nymph now bends underneath the table. She reappears with her handbag. After rummaging around in it for a while, she pulls out her lipstick. She takes the cap off and holds it up to me.
‘Empty. For weeks. I haven’t had time to buy myself a new lipstick. I’m working so hard. So, yes, and when you then realise that no one notices the good work you’re doing and appreciates your sacrifices – yes that is very upsetting.’ Tears are again beginning to well up in her eyes. ‘Oh, Peirene!’ I suddenly feel sorry for my Nymph. I know how much lipstick matters to her. ‘You should have said something.’
I give her the rest of the day off. The following morning she turns up with bright red lips. ‘Wow! Isn’t that a touch too glamorous for the office?’ I enquire. ‘All for a good cause,’ she replies with a flashing smile. ‘I’ve decided that each reader who pre-orders a copy of Shatila Stories through our website, will receive a card with a red lipstick kiss from me as a thank you. Shatila Stories needs my special attention as we are not only giving 50 pence of each copy to Basmeh & Zeitooneh, but also all the profits as well. And I’m sure, no one will be able to ignore a passionate kiss from an Ancient Greek Nymph.’
By Meike Ziervogel
(Image by Filter Forge, creative commons)
This blog was originally published in May 2018 as part of Peirene Press‘s series Things Syntactical. The Pain and Passion of a Small Publisher.