I'm not a fan of charging poets a fee to consider work for publication. But I'm not interested in attacking contests, people who runs them, enter them . . . some of my best friends run, enter, win contests. Years ago I entered over 50 and spent over $1000 on fees and probably hundreds on postage for a manuscript that never saw the light of day and I still think is pretty good although I haven't sent it out in years. Many of the poems were published in journals, reprinted in anthologies, including BAP
. Some of the poems are included in Pterodactyls Soar Again
. At this point I'm not interested in pursing publication for that manuscript. Most of the poems have homes, what's the point? I have a new manuscript called Your Ten Favorite Words
that Coconut Books will publish this fall and I'm very happy about that.
Between the article in the lastest Poets & Writers
and an unrelated discussion on a private mailing list, a few people have asked/challenged my position on book contests. If I want to make money, why shouldn't I run a contest? The market isn't selling
poetry -- nobody wants to read poetry, let alone pay
for it. No, the market is making money on those people who wish to be published, often those same people spend very little time reading contemporary poetry and little money purchasing it. They purchase publisher directories, how-to-get published guides and subscribe to magazines that offer articles and contest listings. I believe that's true to an extent. I receive far more submissions to No Tell Motel
than I sell books. If I each submission equaled a book sale, I'd be rich, bitch.
Personally I'm not interested in making money off of the hopes of others. I'm choosing not to participate in that market. And I'm not Judith fucking Reagan. I'm not interested in publishing the next If This Didn't Suck
, no matter how potentially profitable it might be. Part of that is my personal opinion of right and wrong, but another reason is purely for my own sake. I'd rather spend my time promoting work, keeping costs down and creating a viable way to break even. It's not such a outlandish goal with POD. It's still a lot of work and energy and yeah, if I accounted for the hours I put into it, at minimum wage -- I'd be in hole, big time.
But I already was spending a lot unpaid time on my own writing, No Tell Motel
, raising my son, cleaning my house and numerous other priorities. Let's just say I'm used to it. I signed up for it. I'm OK with it if it's something I deem important, worth it. Controlling my time is high priority of mine. I value it above many things.
So putting aside the holier than thou publishing philosphy -- it would not be in the best interest of my press or my own personal interest to run a contest. This is specific to my (one woman) press and clearly wouldn't apply to all presses, especially university presses that have student readers or staffs do to the incredible amount of administrative work.
If No Tell Books ran a book contest, it would have to be on a budget. This would mean no paid-advertising (only announcements on mailing lists, blogs and print publications that posted such information for free). No money for a big name guest judge.
The highest I could charge per entry without raising hackles would be $20 and I'd have to offer at least $1000 and 20 author copies in addition to publication for the prize. It would also behoove the contest to send a copy of the winning book to every entrant (who includes a postage-paid envelop).
So a little known contest/press, with no recognizable judge and limited advertising offer publication and $1000 would probably garner a couple hundred entries.
$4000 -- big money for my press -- woo-hoo.
Hmm, ok, wait, no.
-$1000 for the cash prize
-$750 to create the book, short run for review copies, author copies, designer costs, postage, etc.
- $700 - $1000 for entrant complimentary copies
So that's somewhere between $1500 - $1250 -- that could pay for another full length book and chapbook. If I had any time to do 2 additional titles.
Probably not -- how much time would I have to spend on 200 entries?
Reading the manuscripts: Let's say half are obviously terrible, no way in hell I'd ever publish them. But these people paid and I have to give them some level of consideration. How much consideration is that? 5 minutes per manuscript? Ok, that's only a little over 8 hours -- just one torturous day at work.
But the other 100 manuscripts will have varying degrees of goodness and I'll have to read a significant portion if not the entire manuscript, at least once.
Then there will be 2 - 20 manuscripts that will be very good and I'll have to reread those a number of times. Last year it took me months to make a decision on just 2 or 3 manuscripts, by poets whose work I already had a significant level of familiarity.
That's months and months of my reading and consideration. A lot of time I'm not using on the books I already know I want to publish. I publish 52 poets a year at No Tell Motel
-- if time/money/energy were no concept, I'd probably love to publish 1/2 to 2/3 of their manuscripts. I don't need to run a contest for my "talent search" -- No Tell Motel
fills that requirement very well.
Working with poets for No Tell Motel
is kind of like dating -- you get to know a little about somebody, gives you an idea if you want to work with them again. If somebody is difficult, it's only bad for a brief time and you can easily move on. But let me tell you, doing a book is like getting married. Two years minimum of regular contact and collaboration. A brilliant, talented asshole is still an asshole. There's no way of telling anything about what it would be like to work with someone from a contest.
And yeah, that's important to me.
There's also the arduous tasks of logging the manuscripts, responding the flurry of "did you make decision yet?" e-mails and letters, contacting everyone with the results and then of course having to deal with the fallout of an angry non-winner who goes around telling people it was all rigged, how his co-worker's mother told him how I bedded the winner's cousin at Yaddo years ago. Then I'll have to make a bunch of public announcements defending my decision, setting the record straight, how it was only a 2nd cousin and everybody knows 2nd cousins don't count.
That's a lot of aggravation and I could probably make more money using that time promoting the books.
At the very least I'd be saner.
Another priority of mine.