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.