Friday, August 29, 2008

The Poetics of Bravery


Nic Sebastian is looking for an editor for her manuscript, not a publisher, an editor.

How I Connected with My Dream Publisher and Had All My First Book Dreams Come True, Part 2

My first contact with Bruce Covey was back in March 2005 when he sent a submission to No Tell Motel. I liked it very much and accepted 5 poems for publication. Although I had read a few of his poems in other magazines, I didn't know much about him or his work. In May he also sent some poems for the first Bedside Guide that I accepted. After his poems appeared in No Tell Motel in June, we started chatting about a mutual friend (Amy King). He invited me to send poems for his not yet launched magazine, Coconut. In August he accepted some for the second issue and then invited me to submit my chapbook for a new online chapbook series he was starting. The chapbook is a parred down, edited version of my first manuscript (and graduate thesis), Home-Schooled By a Cackling Jackal. (The one I entered into all those contests -- and named this blog after.) Poems in the chapbook were published in 5AM, Ducky, Esther Press, Good Foot, LIT, MiPOesias, Pip Lit and Best American Poetry 2006. One was also supposed to appear in Drunken Boat but I pulled it.

Bruce and I continued our correspondence, discussing poetry, my ideas for starting a press, our children, our mutual distaste for SUVs and a hundred other things. We finally met in person in November in Miami when we read for a MiPO reading. We really liked each other. I admired Bruce's poems, what he was doing with Coconut, his work ethic, his personality -- we published each other's poems and we worked well together.

When I decided to start a press, I asked Bruce to send a manuscript, he did and I agreed to publish his 3rd book, Elapsing Speedway Organism. He was still waiting for his then-publisher to release his 2nd book (they eventually did, 8 years late). His 2nd book was published a few months after No Tell published his 3rd.

A few months after I accepted his manuscript, Bruce embarked on his own press: Coconut Books. He invited me to submit my manuscript (a brand new one I had not sent to any other publisher). We discussed the possible pressure he might feel since I was publishing his book. He said he knew enough of my work to know that he liked it and if he decided he didn't want to publish my book, he knew I wouldn't freak on his ass. At this point we had known one for over a year and become close. When he accepted the book to be the first one his press would publish, we very briefly discussed the inevitable eye raising toward our publishing one another's books. He said he didn't care. I said I didn't care either. And that was pretty much that.

Poems from Your Ten Favorite Words were first published in MiPOesias, Coconut, Kulture Vulture, Tool a Magazine, The Carolina Quarterly, mem, SOFTBLOW, Melancholia’s Tremulous Dreadlocks, The Hat, past simple, The Concher, Jumps, OCHO, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel – Second Floor, The Displayer, The Fishouse, Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Vs.

During the editing process, I kept changing my manuscript and sent Bruce 4 or 5 versions. Over the course of 3 months I proposed over 10 possible titles. We did not go with the one he liked best. I convinced him to let me do the typesetting because I like to be in control. We spent a lot of time discussing fonts. He made a case to include some poems from the chapbook. I explained why I didn't want to do that. He accepted that. I had A LOT of input into the cover -- although Bruce did talk me out of using my own face (like a pop star!) on the front. He didn't want my personality to overshadow the poems. His observation was that more people knew of me from blogging than from my poems. He's probably right. When we were doing the print galleys, there was an issue with the spine not being centered. I told Bruce how he should handle it, but he didn't do exactly what I suggested and several print galleys after that were still screwed up. I got a little testy and made Bruce feel bad. If you consider the following report from Gideon's speech camp and replace "Gideon" for "Reb" and "teacher" for "publisher" you'll kind of get the gist of the situation:

"Gideon's interactions with the other children in the classroom were in general very good, although at times he tried to control the behavior of the other kids and needed reminders that he was "not the teacher."

Bruce took my last minute hissy fit in stride and did not tell me to go "suck a fuck."

The book came out, only a few weeks later than it was supposed to and I'm very happy with it. I wish more people were reviewing it (Yes, I'll send you a review copy, just ask!) and more people were buying it -- but almost a year later I'm still thrilled and forever grateful to Bruce Covey.

That's how it happened for me. I correspond and have friendships with many poets, the majority of them have never published me and probably never will, but some have. I don't make friends with poets in hopes they'll do something for me. In most cases they won't. I make friend with poets because I'm often lonely and misplaced. Poets tend to understand that part of me because they often experience it themselves. Sometimes, when there's mutual respect and interest, poets do really wonderful things for other poets' poems. That's an added benefit. We talk about "publishers" but sometimes forget that almost ALL publishers of poetry are also poets. Poets are the ones passing the torch.

Next I'll talk about putting together the Bedside Guide anthologies.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How I Connected with My Dream Publisher and Had All My First Book Dreams Come True, Part 1

As I pointed out a few days ago, one of the biggest problems with book contests is that there is no prior relationship between the editor/publisher and the poet. For a contest to be "fair" this can't be. A prior relationship may give an unfair edge and if everyone is paying money to be considered, a press needs to run its contest above suspicion.

No prior relationship is good for contests.

No prior relationship is a recipe for disappointment in publishing.

No doubt there are contest winners and publishers out there who are quite happy with the relationship developed after the contest ended. If you're lucky enough to win a contest, you might even be lucky enough to land a compatible publisher.

I've seen a couple comments by poets that basically said they wouldn't be picky about the cover or the TOC, they'd just be so damn happy to have a publisher, that would be good enough. That's like saying you don't care how a boyfriend treats you or how stinky he might be, you're just so happy to have a boyfriend.

For instance, if you're a poet looking to place a manuscript with a publisher who will do line by line editing and suggest major changes to your book, then No Tell Books would be your NIGHTMARE publisher. I don't do that. I don't publish books that I think need a lot of work or changes. I publish books by authors who I believe have a certain vision and I don't want to monkey with that vision. For me to agree to publish a book, I have to trust that vision. Does that mean I give zero input? No, not at all. But if I think a bunch of poems need to be cut from you book, I'm never gonna take it in the first place. Other publishers might. Not me.

But how do you know if you're compatible with a certain publisher? In the case of No Tell Books, I only consider manuscripts by authors I already published in No Tell Motel. Anyone can submit to the magazine during open reading periods (next one is October). Unfortunately I'm full and not considering any manuscripts right now (really, I can't read your manuscript). When I do have a slot, I invite a couple poets I especially would like to publish to send their manuscripts. I keep this pool very small. I have to, else I'd create too much work for myself and I wouldn't be able to publish anything, I'd be spending all my time buried in manuscripts. There are poets whose work I LOVE, but would never consider publishing because of their personalities and working style. Those poets need a different type of publisher. That's fine. Different types of publishers are out there.

Having previous interaction gives me an idea if the poet is flaky or responsible, prone to manic freak outs or reasonable, polite or condescending. It's kind of like going on a date with someone. I may not know everything about him, but I have an idea. And I need that idea because working on a book is like a marriage. You're gonna be with that person for at least two years. A year to get the book out and at least a year promoting it together. If you're the type of poet who makes a lot of last minute changes and edits and your publisher refuses to deal with that down to the wire stuff, your book will feel wrong and unfinished to you. If you're a stickler for perfection and your editor isn't, you're only going notice the 5 typos that made it through. If your publisher doesn't like cussing, he's gonna push for you to remove all those "motherfucks" despite your protests. If you love BRIGHT ORANGE but your publisher hates BRIGHT ORANGE and won't budge, you'll never get the cover you want.

So how did my book Your Ten Favorite Words end up being the first printed book that Coconut Books published?

I will tell you how. Later tonight. Now I have to pick up Gideon and feed him dinner.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blake Butler Asks:

Can you really release a first book for $500?

If you do the layout and cover design yourself (or get someone to donate services) -- yes, absolutely.

I'm going to use the POD Lulu model because it's what I'm familiar with. Lulu is not the only POD publishers out there. I like Lulu a lot, but not everybody does. For instance, Didi Menendez was unhappy with Lulu and doesn't use them any longer.

Let's say you have an 80 page book with b&w page printing (the cover is color), 6x9, perfect bound (i.e. it has a spine)

Layout: You lay it out using a word processing program you already own. I use InDesign, which is expensive, but you could use MS Word or your favorite word processing program. As long as you're able to convert it to a PDF file, you're good. Layout is time consuming and there's a need to pay attention to detail, but it's not difficult. $0

Cover Design: Lulu has templates you can use. It's limiting, but if you're OK with plain, it'll work. Or you can design your own, or if you can't do that, find someone who can. No Tell Books relies on the kindness and inexpensive rates of several poet-designers who have sympathy for the cause. I pay them a small amount (I'll talk about that below), but maybe you have a friend who can help you in exchange for a favor, or just the kindness of his own heart. A good source for inexpensive, but quality cover design is from current or recent design grads. They're often looking to add work to their portfolios. That's how I landed the designer of The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel -- Second Floor $0

ISBN Distribution: If you want to own the ISBN and have your press' name to appear as the publisher, it's $99. (This is what NTB does). If you don't care that it's listed as "Published by Lulu" instead of "Published by Insert Your Press' Name Here" it's now FREE (I just noticed this recently while ordering Rebecca Loudon's ISBN/distribution package, it used to cost money). Either way the distributor is Ingram. Or if you don't want an ISBN at all or for it to be available for order to retailers, that's also free. $100 or $0

Print Galley and Shipping: If you get it right the first time: $10

Short Run: Even if you go the POD route, you'll want some copies to send for review and to sell at readings. If you decided that it's important for your presses' name to appear as publisher and for you to own the ISBN, then you have a budget of $315. If you decide you don't care about that (you're satisfied that people can order it in a bookstore or an online retailer), then you have a budget of $415. If your book is 80 pages, you can do a short run of 65 books for $315 (that's $4.91 per book). With a budget of $415 you can do a short run of 90 books (that's $4.58 per book).

Now when I say "short run" I don't mean that's all the books out there. The short run is for you to use for review copies and have copies to sell at readings, trade, etc. Purchases made online (via Lulu, Amazon, B&N, Powell's, etc.) or ordered from bookstores are printed on demand. So if it ends up 2000 people buy your book, 2000 copies are printed (at no cost to you -- you get a royalty, which you decide beforehand by pricing the book). If NOBODY orders your book, you're not stuck with 2000 copies molding in your basement or collecting dust in a warehouse (charging you $$). If nobody orders your book, no more copies are printed. $315 or $415

Postage and shipping: People forget about this. You'll need to pay for getting the books shipped to you and sending out review copies either Book rate or First Class postage. This could be a little more if you send out a lot of review copies, postage has really gone up recently. Estimate: $75

So there, that's how you publish a book, have it listed at online retailers, available to order in bookstores and have copies on hand to promote. For $500.

Does No Tell Books only spend $500 per full-length collection? No, I spend double that. That's because I send out over 50 review copies per title and everyone who does work on the book gets paid. They don't get paid much, but they get paid. It's important to me that everyone gets paid something.

This is my general budget for a "full-length" poetry collection:

$150 -- payment to author (they get royalties too -- but that's not upfront, that's based on sales) -- in most cases the authors ask for that payment to go towards additional author copies
$150 -- cover design
$50 -- proofreader
$100 -- ISBN, global distribution
$20-50 -- Print galleys for both me and the author. When we have to do a few rounds of galleys, this cost goes up.
$450 -- initial short print run -- 100 copies (author copies, review copies, books to sell at conferences & readings, etc.) Often the short run is a little larger because authors buy additional copies (sold at an author rate) -- this is not a cost for the press
$100 - postage

Total: $1050

Anthologies are more because there's more pages (individual book cost is higher), the print run is bigger and there's a crap-ton of postage involved with contributor copies.

That's how I do it, but as you can see there's wiggle room to save money, especially if you aren't paying for services or do a smaller short run.


Bill Knott disagrees with the below post

I'll just note that I don't think one has to be an entrepreneur -- one can do a lot for free, especially with online options. Although admittedly producing a physical book for free would be challenging. Of course an especially industrious person could possibly find donated/discarded paper and borrow the use of a printer and bind books herself. I'd likely choose the online options over that, but that's just my personal choice.

I am most certainly guilty, in a sense, of being an entrepreneur -- although this shop is all Mom and no Pop.

On the flip side my family and non-poet friends all think I'm a business idiot and completely irrational. According to their values, I probably am.

Forgive me. It's not easy being a Capricorn (Sun) with Gemini (Rising)!

p.s. Bill, not offended one bit!

How I Created and Then Published My Collaborative Chapbook with My Own Micropress and Made All My Chapbook Dreams Come True

A year after I finished my MFA, a fellow student and I wrote a collaborative poem. We thought it was swell and wanted to share it with other people so we submitted it to a poetry journal that recently published my work. It was one of the few journals I noticed publishing collaborative work. That magazine rejected it. The editor thought it was too long. We didn't agree, but oh well, rejection wasn't new to us. At the time we couldn't come up with any journals that seemed open to collaborative poems. I had recently launched my very own author site but at the time didn't really have much to put up. I suggested that we post the poem up there so when people googled us something would come up. My poem collaborator wasn't crazy about the idea, he had dreams of becoming famous collaborating poets, but eventually agreed.

The poem stayed up for a couple years. A poet I met at AWP in 2004 came across the poem and asked about collaborating. I had just finished reading Shanna Compton's and Shafer Hall's collaborative chapbook Big Confetti and was really impressed. I was jazzed up as the kids like to say and suggested to this poet that we collaborate. He agreed and then we didn't talk for several months, which is something that happens from time to time being temperamental poets and all. Anyhow, a few months later we were talking and he mentioned collaborating again.

Last year Jen Tynes did an exhaustive interview on our process, you can read that here.

In brief, via e-mail we began writing a long poem. My collaborator wrote a few lines, then I wrote a few and back and forth for several months. Sometimes we would respond quickly to one another and sometimes there'd be radio silence on My collaborator's side for several weeks eventually followed by a note half-apologizing and professing busyness. His "so many papers needing to be graded" woes were annoying because at the same time I was BUILDING A HUMAN BEING in my womb. I was all "MAN UP and get writing!", but now see that approach was all wrong. I should have been more like "WORK LIKE A WOMAN and learn to multi-task!"

Anyhow, my due date was approaching and I did not want this project to be dangling any longer so I insisted we wrap it up -- and a few weeks after that, we did. At this point, I'm a little murky with all the exact details but basically what happened was I had a baby and shortly after that my collaborator was all "I'm gonna be a daddy!" and we didn't do anything with our collaborative project for the rest of the year.

After we settled into parenthood we returned to the project. I came up with a list of possible titles and we agreed on Wanton Textiles. We went through and re-edited each other's lines. I'm pleased with how we shaped it up -- all except for one edit I still regret agreeing to.

The original line was:

This ark ain't the Love Boat.

My collaborator changed it to:

This ark is not a love boat

We agreed on this compromise:

This ark’s no Love Boat.

Clearly the original line is far superior, but my collaborator made the case for "sophistication" saying "ain't" ain't sophisticated. I swear to God if anyone ever makes a similar case for sophistication again in my presence I'll kick his teeth in.

Anyhow, we finished editing our long poem and decided to send it out. I had my heart set on it being published by a chapbook press that I greatly admire. But the publisher did not have his heart set on it. He said he'd consider it again if it was "saucier" -- he wanted us to really sex it up. That was exactly not what we wanted to do with this project. Then I sent the poem to an online magazine that published some collaborative pieces by other poets. That editor didn't want it either. He was upfront and said it boiled down to "taste," that the language was "sometimes flat-out flooring" but he didn't see a "a sort of dramatic-ness...oratory." I appreciated his comments, but didn't feel like he got what the poem was intending either. I felt misunderstood. I always feel misunderstood.

At this point I think my collaborator got frustrated with my choice of potential publishers and on his own (informing me only after the fact), he answered a blanket call for work from a new magazine started by recent grad school graduates. I was incensed. I looked at their their sloppy placeholder website (they didn't have a single issue up yet) and couldn't believe he just willy nilly sent it off to people we knew nothing about.

This new magazine took it, my concerns were unfounded and my assholiness exposed. The poem was presented very nicely as you can see here. The magazine (Fringe) also passed out a beautiful broadside of a section of the poem at AWP and nominated it for Best of the Net (which Eduardo says means absolutely nothing, but he's absolutely wrong on that).

So the long poem was successfully and "legitimately" published. But that is not the end of the story. I still wanted it to be a chapbook, but realized there had to be more to it. It occurred to me that I was relying on other poets to do something I was perfectly capable of doing myself. I was publishing work by other poets, why not my own? Why am I good enough to publish them, but not good enough to publish myself? Unlike the first two publishers I approached, I "got" the point of the project. Doesn't that make me the perfect publisher for it? I thought so.

Turns out I always had a publisher -- I just didn't realize it. It's like looking for someone else to fill all the holes in your heart. No my love, you must fill your own heart first.

So I proposed to my collaborator that we do a series of postcard poems (via e-mail) and then work those poems into the longer piece for a chapbook. Together wrote approximately 15 poems over a summer. A few of my postcard poems can be read at Beltway (scroll down).

Like any good editor, I layed out the book, got a proofreader, found an awesome designer (Charlie Orr) and wa-la, really awesome chapbook. That year I sent out around 50 review copies and probably traded another 50 or so. I think my collaborator sent out a few review copies too.

But is it any good? In the end I did all the work and promotion myself -- how can it possibly be any good if I had to do all that? You can reviews at Galatea Resurrects, MiPoesias, Asian American Poetry, berniE-zine and Jeannine Hall Gailey's blog. Or you can see how readers rated it on Goodreads. In fact, I gave it 5 stars myself -- aren't I the scuzbag?

If you want to buy a copy of Wanton Textiles for yourself you can buy it online here or check the bookstores listed on this page. If you're going to be attending the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival next month, there will be copies for sale in the giant book tent.

Was it expensive? A little -- I printed a lot of copies so my collaborator and I would both have enough, a short run of 150, cost $500. A smaller print run would lower that price -- once could direct more people to buy online, send out fewer review copies, etc. I paid the designer $100. In this case I didn't pay the proofreader because she was my sharp-eyed sister and owed me. I have a regular proofreader now who I would pay $50 for such a project. Postage did factor in, but in most cases I just included it with other books I was already sending out. Shipping (with insurance) 50 books to my collaborator cost a little money too.

Was it a lot of work? Yes, it was a fair amount. But it was worth it -- even if the sales sucked. Welcome to poetry publishing. Sales tend to suck.

The book is print-on-demand, so if the 500 or so folks who visited this blog yesterday to see me rage against contests each purchased a copy online, no problem -- all sales can and will be fulfilled. My press would clear $1450, and that would cover the publishing costs of almost 2 full-length books. If 10 of you purchased copies of this chapbook the press would clear $29 and I would be beside myself in delight and gratitude. If 1 person purchased the book today, the press would clear $2.90 and I promise to never accuse anyone of "chugging a lot of cock" again.

Next I will write about my publishing relationship with Bruce Covey.

Toasty-Warm and the Harsh World I Propose

Over the next few days I will post a multi-part series where I will discuss in detail how a book or creative project of mine came into being. I'm sharing the ways how I did things. My point will never be to say this is the right way. My point is to demonstrate a way, one of many ways. I hope by doing this I will inspire someone else to consider her own resources, resources that perhaps aren't being recognized and utilized.

In the last post Charlie Jensen suggested that it was brave for a poet to step outside "the toasty-warm world of academic and prizes and tenure and books and summers off." I want to note that my chapbook collaborator is a tenured professor (he received tenure after the chapbook was published), my publisher is a full-time lecturer at a university and through No Tell Motel, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel anthology series and my micropress, No Tell Books, I have published well over a 100 working academics ranging from adjuncts, assistant professors and tenured professors. To the best of my knowledge, nobody's livelihood or tenure has been imperiled by his association with my projections. Nobody had to get a summer job because of me.

Of course the night is still young.

While I have never applied for a single teaching job and have no plans to do so -- I don't burst into flames when I walk onto a college campus. As recently as a few weeks ago, universities invite me speak on panels and to classes about publishing and poetry. Often they even pay me to impart my crazy cat lady wisdom onto young, impressionable minds. One time, my book was assigned reading for an advanced undergrad poetry workshop. At least two college instructors intend using The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel a classroom text. Blogging, self-publishing, online publishing, micropressing and my general assholitude have not completely ruined me. I still get dates to nice restaurants.


Just a Few (More) Notes

I believe the majority of book contests are run fairly and deliver what they promise.

I don't believe publishers who run contests are going to hell. I believe they run contests because they need to raise money to run their presses. Publishers have to find some way to raise money to operate because not enough people buy poetry books. As a book publisher myself, I have TONS of empathy for that situation. Publishers have discovered that while they can't get many poets to buy contemporary poetry books or donate money, they can get money from them by holding contests. It is a little karma in action. Yes, some poetry books are published via this system and some good comes out of it. I question how much good and suggest a lot more good (for everyone) can happen other ways.

I don't believe poets who participate in contests are idiots or deserve to be flogged. As I admitted in the comment field of the quiz below, between 2001 and 2005 I submitted to 65 contests. I was once part of the problem myself. I sent to contests for all the same reasons everyone else did. I thought it was my only way to get a book. I was drinking the same Kool-Aid as most MFA grads -- I had ideas of legitimacy and little understanding or knowledge of the history of poetry and the small press. I didn't consider self-publishing, or starting my own press, or making the effort to develop relationships with like-minded poets or publishers. I didn't even know of most small and micropresses. As I slowly became more involved in the poetry community (via blogging, starting my own online magazine, writing book reviews, running my own reading series, and yes, eventually starting my own press) I began to realize how many opportunities were really out there, opportunities I never considered. Now I suggest to other poets who feel hopeless and disgruntled, bitter and jealous, to fulfill their creative destinies (is that hokey?) and be CREATIVE.

If you think self-publishing is dishonorable and not worthwhile and prefer the contest route, why do you care what those who propose it as an option think? I embrace my dishonor and unworthiness. Besides, I wouldn't shut any book contests down even if I had the power and won't be burning my bras in protest (they're much too expensive and a good fit is difficult to find). I promise you that no matter what I say or write, there will always be contests for you to send your money to. I am no threat to the status quo.

I am interested in sharing ideas and generating dialogue on ways to get poems to an audience -- in books, in magazines (both online and print), in blogs, at readings, on the radio (both old-timey and online), on post-it notes, sidewalks -- and anywhere else they might find a reception. That's what I've been discussing here for the past 4 years in between posting pictures of my extremely good looking son and cracking jokes about other online magazine editors' nutsacks. That's pretty much what you can expect here. Four more years!

Maybe later today I'll discuss the process publishing a collaborative chapbook, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing. But I warn you, I did most of the work myself which I realize might be disturbing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Winningest Son

Gideon at his father's desk at Gideedee Haught Marrow!

That's right, in (and outside) the Livingston-Morrow abode, anything that starts with a G is Gideedee Haught Marrow!

Don't even think about arguing that point.

Discussion Elsewhere on Alternatives

Barbara Jane Reyes

Eileen Tabios

Collin Kelley

Rik Roots

And if none of that strikes your fancy, there's always this opportunity:

Angela Genusa

In the "if I had a nickel for every time department" I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone bemoan his booklessness while rattling off tens of publications the poems from his manuscript appeared in. If 80% of the poems in your manuscript were published in "legitimate" publications, perhaps even those coveted "prestigious" ones -- isn't that enough confirmation that they're good? Doesn't that meet the editorial approval that you crave? How much editorial approval do you need? Can you not make a single step without it? Isn't that a crippling mode for an artist to work in? Do your own ideas and judgments hold so little value? Do you never feel pretty unless someone tells you so?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Take the "Are Poetry Contests Killing Your Soul?" Quiz

1. Add up all the money you spent on poetry contests. Does that amount make you dizzy, cringe, squirm, feel flush or consider kicking a small domesticated animal?

2. Have you spent more money on poetry contests than on contemporary poetry books and periodicals?

3. Is the above amount more than 50% spent on these contests? (i.e., if you spent $100 on poetry books and periodicals and $300 on poetry contests, that means you spent 200% more on contests.)

4. When learning that you did not win a contest you entered, do you feel depressed, despondent or angry?

5. Do you believe that you must win a contest for you to be considered a "serious" poet?

6. Do you believe that a small group of individuals control your ability to get your poems to a wider audience? That if these people don't embrace your work, you're screwed?

7. When a friend or acquaintance wins a poetry contest, do you seethe with bitterness and jealousy? Are you consumed with the fact that their poems are kinda sucky and yours are so very much better?

8. Have you ever said (or anonymously posted) "Well clearly __________ chugged a lot of cock" upon hearing of his/her winning a contest?

9. Do you revise your manuscript based on what you think will make it more contest winnable? (i.e. Try to ride popular trends, making it more like last year's winning book, remove offensive lines or poems so as not to offend a judge or reader, etc.)

10. Have you entered more than 50 poetry contests in your lifetime?

* * *

Give yourself 1 point for every YES answer.


0-2 point: Your soul is a juicy, seedless watermelon bursting with delicious. Contests ain't got nothing on you. Your mama raised you right!

3-5 points: Your soul is a bruised peach and kind of mealy. Feeling that twinge of bitterness and hopelessness? Are you a creative artist or my aunt who attends the big Sweepstakes Convention every year? Hey, don't laugh, she's won a cruise and TWO Cadillacs. It can happen to you too!

6-8 points: Your soul is a hollow gourd. You have allowed contests to suck out your succulent artistic goodness. It's not too late, gourd art is all the rage. Reclaim your integrity and take control of your poems. They need you.

9-10 points: Your soul is a dark, shriveled speck that even raisins mock. It's too late for you. Your worst fears have been realized. Nobody will ever love you or your poems. Learn a trade and become a respectable member of society already.

Of Note and for Comment

Jill Alexander Essbaum is the Featured Poet at Anti-.


Every Sunday Bruce Covey is featuring a Coconut poet at the Best American Poetry blog. This past Sunday was Anne Boyer.


And in case you haven't seen this book contest nightmare yet.

Now this is an extreme example, but there are plenty of unhappy book contest winners out there -- for lots of reasons. In the above case, clearly the press mentioned was unprofessional, to say the least. But even in cases (most of them) where the press is totally on the up-and-up and comes through on all its promises, contests often still are disappointing -- for the winner, nevermind the hundreds or thousands of losers.

In most cases this is because the winners don't have any prior relationship with the press.

Huh, you say? Aren't contests winners supposed to be completely connection and relationship free to ensure fairness? Isn't that supposed to be a priority in the contest system?

Sure, for a contest system.

But why do contest systems usurp publishing systems?

This is why book contests are bad for poetry publishing.

Every year, there are thousands upon thousands of poets contributing money into contests. In many cases each poet is spending hundreds and sometimes over a thousand dollars a year doing this. If we do a very conservative estimate that there are 4000 poets a year spending $250 (that would be roughly 5-6 contests and doesn't include postage) a year -- that's a million dollars into this contest system.

In most cases, these poets know nothing about the presses or organizations running the contests. They may have heard of the contest, perhaps know the work of the guest judge, maybe even know the work of the past winners, but they don't know the publishers and editors -- the people responsible for making their book a "reality." They had zero interaction with one another beforehand. They don't know if these editors and publishers are responsible, if the press is stable or about to fall into the abyss. These poets have no idea how much say they're going to have into issues like cover design, layout, editing -- or other important things like how much promotion will the press do, will they send out review copies, if so, how many? Will the press help find readings? Will they arrange any readings? How long will the book stay in the print? Will they do a second run if the first run sells out? What is the distribution? Will the book even have distribution? And about a million other things.

The same goes for these editors and publishers -- they don't know the "winning" poets they're publishing. Is it going to be a compatible working match? Will the winner be making all kinds of outrageous demands and throwing fits because he has no idea how publishing works? There are a lot of difficult and unreasonable people out there.

I know a lot of book contest winners. A few are completely and perfectly happy with their experience. But most have serious gripes from little input over cover design to editing decisions they didn't agree with and some have bigger problems like contractual breaches. Almost all of them are in the same exact boat with their second book -- they're back to searching for a publisher -- and now there are even fewer contests they can send those manuscripts to because many contests are *first book* only.

With the exception of contests like Yale and Whitman that exist solely to bestow the honor of the award, presses and magazines hold contests to raise money. They need to raise money because these books and magazines don't sell very well -- even the books by well-known, well-published authors don't sell very well, rarely enough for the press to break even, even if the press is fiscally responsible and smart. These presses don't need to discover new talent, every editor with one eye halfway open knows tens, maybe hundreds of manuscripts they'd love to publish if time and money were no object. Really.

So what's a poet to do? Feel helpless and a victim to a cruel and unfair system? Well, you could. Most poets do. You'd have plenty of company. For people who profess to be creative, they sure lack creative ideas on how to bring their art to an audience. For people who profess to be outsiders to "the system" they sure seem beholden to one -- and voluntarily so. I mean it's not like non-participation in the contest system will mean you'll lose your house and your kids will go hungry. Only a handful of these contests mean diddly squat to academic hiring committees -- and even then, there's zero guarantees. There's past Yale, Whitman, Bakeless winners still looking for teaching jobs.

If that million dollars (which I'm confident is actually a much higher number) went into book sales, most presses would have sufficient funds to operate and focus solely on publishing -- that would mean more time for books and everyone would benefit from that. More books could be published, more attention could be given to them, more promotion, etc.

If you used that $250 (which in many cases is a much higher number) towards a creative project, either publishing your own work or another poet you admire, you'd be much much better off. If you spent over $500 on contests, know you could have published your own or someone else's book for that amount -- and that includes distribution and a short run of copies. You could have started your own press. You could have gotten with three other poets and created a publishing collective. You could each contribute $250-500 each per year (what you're spending already on contests that frustrate and anger you) and take turns publishing one another books -- or if you're so concerned about the self-publishing stigma, you could find another 4 poets who create their own publishing collective and they can agree to publish your collective's books and you there's. If that's not "legitimate" -- well write off the Beats, the NY School, Black Mountain poets, cause they published one another, a lot.

Oh, but what about all that nepotism -- doesn't that mean more crappy books?!?! The floodgates!! The horror!! I have a bright idea, pretend like, you're an editor, and only accept poets whose work your admire into your collective. Only agree to publish work by other poets that you think is worthy. Everyone has the power and "cultural capital" to make smart editorial choices.

Ah, but what if you only see yourself as a poet. You just write poems. It's not your job to think about editing, publishing or generating ways of getting your work out there. It's not your job to contribute anything the same poetry community/economy that you want to benefit from. You're not gonna start no stinkin' press, you're not gonna edit no stinkin' magazine, you're not gonna start a reading series, you're not gonna buy anyone else's books, you're not gonna ask your local library to buy any contemporary poetry books, you're not gonna write any book reviews, you're not gonna exert any of your precious time or energy into any of that crap. No, you're the type of poet who expects other poets to do all the work for you, you think other poets should take away time from their own poems (and jobs and families) and spend all their time publishing and promoting your work. What you need a servant poet, a poet to dedicate her energy to making things happen for you.

If you are that type of poet, there is a path, it's called the contest system. You have to pay a lot of money for that -- and remember, good help is hard to find.


This Week at No Tell

David Dodd Lee wants the openness of an unasked question this week at No Tell Motel.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

This weekend I'll be in Boston for the Morrow Family Lobsterfest where I'll crack open the shell of a being I just recently observed living while trying not to make the icky face that Chris says I always make. At this point, I think the New Englanders will no longer be surprised at my unfamiliarity with the varied shell cracking implements and procedures and also at this point I'll no longer ponder why lobster guts are referred to as "tamale" and I'll be at peace with the fact that this "tamale" is saved to be used in a Christmastime dish of some sort. The Livingston's have their JellO salad (JellO mixed with cottage cheese, mayonnaise in the center, served on a bed of lettuce), so who I am to judge?

Who am I? I'm the asshole making icky face embarrassing her dear husband. The same dear husband who did not make icky face when he was forced to eat the Livingston JellO salad nor did he make fun of his icky face making wife as she barfed up that very same Livingston JellO salad on the plane ride home later that evening.

We went out to dinner this evening and the restaurant that usually gives out little plastic cars, today gave Gideon a plastic lobster. Signs from God are all around us, if only we're open to them.

This weekend you may call me Lobster Mama.*

*Last year I tried to get into the spirit of Lobsterfest by dressing Gideon in lobster attire. It just so happened that Gymboree had a lobster-themed line around that time, so I dressed him in a lobster belt and shirt and later when we went to the beach, a lobster swimsuit. I might just be sensitive, but I think I might have creeped everyone out.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Self promotion is NOT A SIN, unlike touching yourself inappropriately on the bus, or wearing Tevas™ with a skirt."

Today everyone may call me Phatty Phat Pants.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm back from the dentist where I was told I was a "good girl" by one dental assistant, called "honey" by another and "kid" by the dentist -- who afterward gave me a Beauty and the Beast sticker. For real, yo.

Today, and for today only, you may call me sugarbottom, sweetpeeps or cutiepoops.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today is where I fess up to the countless times when I check the sales of my book and my press's titles and shout Why aren't you assholes buying these books!?!?! These are good books!

Then I take a deep breath and remember those who have purchased the books, those I need to be grateful for.

Everyone wants to be compensated for their work and effort. I want to be compensated for my work and effort. I'm not sure where people think this compensation is supposed to come from when so little funds are put into "the economy." Hence it only continues as a "gift economy." It can't exist any other way.

Trying to explain this to younger/newer poets and those outside of the poetry community is frustrating. Having to explain it to poets who supposedly have been in the poetry community for years is maddening. Everybody comes up with money for beer and Internet porn.

Results of Poetry Buying Survey

Eileen posts the raw data and an analysis of her recent poetry buying survey. I'm still going through it all.

I participated and as I look through other folk's lists, I see I omitted some of my own purchases -- it was difficult to remember them all. I see now that I left out Abraham Lincoln #2, Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox and Collin Kelley's After the Poison and I'm quite sure a number of other books I'm not recalling.

Still, most of the books I get these days are trades or complimentary copies (cause I published work from the book in No Tell, etc.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Looks like the BAP blog didn't get enough of Shafer Hall -- he's being talked about again.

This Week at No Tell

Shane Jones has an angry cloud waiting for him this week at No Tell Motel.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

See, he "holds" it now -- here he is at the Christmas Mouse in Kill Devil Hills, NC. The bastards at the Christmas Mouse in Kill Devil Hills, NC wouldn't let him use their toilet. We should have let him pee on the ornaments, but we're one of those classy families. Instead Chris drove him to the nearby Harris Teeter. To be perfectly honest, if Chris wasn't there, I would have told Gideon to pee on an angel. Maybe join him to make a point. I guess that means I should give back my #1 Classiest Mom mug.

I'm back home, slowly responding to e-mail and catching up on work. If you're waiting to hear from me and haven't yet -- hopefully by tonight.

In other news somebody is now potty trained. Pip pip. This means he runs out of bathrooms and restrooms yelling "Mommy" or "Daddy, I pee-peed!" and we high five him hollering how HAPPY he's made us.

It's OK, we're used to turning heads.

Bedtime is still a little precarious, but that's OK too.

On vacation I read 7 poetry books (Birds and Fancies by Elizabeth Treadwell, The Book of Sleep by Eleanor Stanford, The Second Person by C. Dale Young, The Stunt Double in Winter by Robyn Art, Rarer and More Wonderful by Trevor Calvert, Dummy Fire by Sarah Vap and My Brother is Getting Arrested Again by Daisy Fried) and a literary journal (Phoebe, Spring 2008).

None of them sucked. In fact, I recommend them all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Family Mid-Afternoon Naptime

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

This Week at No Tell

Kirsten Kaschock's love of the darker, percussive quality is a barely waking want this week at No Tell Motel.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beach Photos by Gideon

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I'm at the beach and will be spending precious little time online. This is my vacation and I won't be responding to most e-mail until I get back.

Last week I spoke on a publishing panel at the Marist writing conference. While the details always vary, there's a definite pattern to these publishing panels -- or at least the ones I participate in.

There's three types of writers who attend these panels. The first type are the ones who are dissatisfied with the process of publishing, but are threatened or turned off to unconventional or different possibilities in publishing. They don't want anything to change, they want to know the secret handshake. These types tend to scoff at pretty much everything except traditional print journals and publishers. They're unhappy, but they're stuck. It's difficult to unstick people who are trapped in their own limiting perceptions.

The second type are folks with exceedingly impractical expectations -- like living a middle class lifestyle solely from book royalties. They haven't tried publishing very much and they're often young. In many cases, they haven't even written very much. Sure, living off your royalties is a nice life, if you can get it and if you can get it, rock on with your bad self. When you tell these types that they will very likely have to work a job for a decade or twelve if they want all those creature comforts, they start to pout! I don't have much tolerance for that and don't like when the panels give too much attention to this la-la-ness. In this past panel one young man lamented that he'd just have to "sell out" and write genre fiction. I suggested that he sell out by getting a job folding sweaters at the Gap and write what he really wanted to write -- that way at least he'd be assured he'd be paid. Then I told him that before I went to grad school and had a baby, I worked at AOL -- and he looked at me like, I don't know what, but it all seemed pretty unbelievable to him. You know what people, just because I'm a poet doesn't mean I don't have marketable sk1llz!

The third type are the ones who actually consider what is being offered in the panel. These types usually don't interrupt or make faces when you talk. Cause they're too busy listening. Sometimes they approach you afterwards, sometime they don't. I participate in panels for these writers.

Ok, like I said, I'm on vacation. Bugger off!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Gideon's First Day at Beach Photography

Wow, that's some freaky global warming going on

Ok, so that last minute bathing suit shopping did not go well. Big thumbs down to this year's styles. Hey designers, fyi, btw, I don't want big bows attracting attention to the widest part of my body, i.e. my hips. Also, as a busy mom, I'd like some top coverage a bit more generous than a pasty.

Last year's suit it is.

Dear Christian,

I do not consider Tarpaulin Sky to be a muddled mess. I just enjoy making broad, general statements and offending people. Also, it's my cover so people won't figure the truth: I'm a control freak diva and nobody can bear to work with alongside me.


p.s. When you're finished with your home addition, would you like to fix up one of my bathrooms? You can bring along as much help as you wanted and I won't criticize a thing.

Tooth: Fixed
New Cavity: Found
Face: Numb
Eye: Twitching
Submissions: Completed
Galleys: To Do
Return Books to Library: To Do
Late Season Bathing Suit Shopping: Gonna give it a whirl, but not especially hopeful

This Week at No Tell

Lynn Behrendt is a cretin with icing smeared all over her face this week at No Tell Motel.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Thanks everyone for your broken tooth fix suggestions -- as well as other kindly comments. Hopefully I'll be able to get in to see my dentist tomorrow. Been putting my nose to the grindstone working on the last of the No Tell subs (only 9 more to go!) and getting ready for upcoming travel. The boys are going to the beach tomorrow. Tuesday I'm heading up to NY for the Marist Summer Writing Institute for a couple days. On Weds I'll be speaking on a publishing panel. Then I'll drive back and meet the family at the beach.

Today we bought Gideon one of those plastic kiddie digital cameras so he can more seriously pursue his photography (and not drop our cameras into the ocean). It has all kinds of interesting features, like check this out:

I'm the demon who's held your submission for 3 months! Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck. Now excuse me while I drink this cat's blood -- which I intend on doing before answering your submission cause I'm just that evil.

Friday, August 01, 2008

So Chris came back from Dublin with Guinness "Luxury" Fudge. Clearly I am not accustomed to such finery since after eating a few pieces one of my low-rent fillings fell out. On Friday at 5 p.m. Right before I leave town for 2 weeks. Super.

Hence I come off (or maybe I mean expose myself) as someone who meditates too long on potties and the negative, I should note that this week three people who I never corresponded with before contacted me out of the blue with very kind comments regarding my poems, blogging, NTM and the Bedside Guide anthologies. That's a pleasant experience. Three strangers writing in a week, I think that's a record.

Dropped Gideon off at his last day of speech camp. He can say "animal" and now usually doesn't pee his pants and that's good enough for me. Chris is coming home from Dublin, he's been away for two weeks and I've fallen so far behind that giant ferocious dust bunnies nearly ate my baby.

I still have 20 or so No Tell subs to consider for the last few spots. Been working on that a lot this week and will get all that done by this weekend. It's been a really slow process this time around, a lot of good work submitted.

People often suggest that I get "help" -- but this isn't really something I can pawn off on someone else. Or at the very least not something I'm willing to pawn off. If I'm going to spend all this time and effort publishing other people's work, it has to be work I feel strongly about -- not work somebody else recommended that I didn't give careful consideration too. If somebody else was making those decisions, No Tell would be a totally different magazine. I'm not saying it wouldn't be good, it would just be different, it would cease to become my project. Having somebody else read submissions doesn't save any work -- I still have to put the same time into it -- if I had another editor in the mix I'd have to discuss and defend choices. I don't have time for that!

I'm really selective about who I work with because I have particular ideas and a certain way of doing things. It's not that I want somebody who thinks like me, I need somebody who works well with me -- and that's not a common occurrence. Co-editing is a serious and intense relationship. Molly and I worked well together because while our aesthetics are pretty different, we understood the place where the other was coming from -- because we had an intimate poetry relationship beforehand. I don't shack up with any charming poet who's interested in my submissions. I'm not that kind of editor.

My favorite magazines are the ones with 1 or 2 editors -- because those magazines have a distinct vision. I find most magazines with a large committee of editors to be a muddled mess, rarely publishing work I find interesting, never consistently. They're like poetry orgies, which hey, is OK if that's your bag, but it sure isn't mine.

Aside from a few times a year when I have to address a bunch of envelops, I don't have work for interns or assistants. Unless they'd be willing to clean my house, do laundry and sit next to the toilet for 2-3 hours a day reading Gideon nursery rhymes while he decides if he's gonna grace the world with tinkle. I could use help with those tasks. I guess if somebody wanted to do the accounting for No Tell Books -- which is mostly hassling bookstores who don't pay their invoices or keep track of books on consignment, I'd be happy to pass that off on somebody. I hate dealing with that shit.

What "help" does is create a new and different type of work, a managerial type of work. If I wanted to manage people, I'd get one of those "real" jobs that paid me to deal with that shit. Cause I'd really have to be paid a lot of money to want to do that. I already have a son and husband to manage.

Truth be told, I prefer doing the work myself. When it's at a reasonable level, I love doing it. It's important for me to love what I'm doing. I do not love checking up, delegating and overlording. So when too much piles up the answer for me is to cut back. That means publishing fewer books and having shorter reading periods. It means no longer running Burlesque (but that may be handed off to others in the near future, I hope so). Those are very good solutions. My goal is to contribute to the poetry community, not to become the great poetry servant girl. When Gideon is older, maybe I'll ramp things up more or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll keep the pace I'm going and use the extra time for my own work (yeah, you know I write poems too!). Or maybe I'll take a sabbatical. Gideon and I can tour the countryside writing poems about cornstalks and cow patties. We'll carry our poems around in our AWP hobo bags and rely on the kindness of strangers.

But thank you for your input -- since you have so many great ideas about how to run a poetry magazine and press, maybe you should implement them. It would be a shame for them to languish in that wonderfully perceptive mind.