It’s available here.
Last Friday, I received an email from a small press with an acceptance for my poetry collection along with a book contract. I found myself shaking with happiness, reading and re-reading the e-mail that would answer a yearly–or heck, a lifelong–dream to get a book published. (Yes, my chapbook is coming out super soon, but I wanted a book out, something more substantial than short and sweet.)
When my mind had settled a little bit, I read over the contract and terms. I learned later that the no advance/contest prize money, 12% royalties, and contributor copies I was offered are usually part of a pretty standard poetry book contract. Something about the offer or whatever didn’t feel right to me though, so I asked for advice on Facebook and got these questions to consider:
- How long has the press been in existence? Will they still be going strong in 5 years and therefore still be able to be counted on to sell my book?
- What is their track record? How many good books have they published?
- What kind of marketing/promotion do they do? Do they send out review copies, submit for major prizes?
- How many contributor copies will you get and how reasonable is the cost for purchasing more?
- How do you like the layout, covers , etc. of their other books?
While I don’t want to give anything away about the press, my answers to a lot of these questions were in the negative. Publishing my book with them would also mean I would no longer qualify for First Book contests and other newbie awards or grants. Also, since I don’t have a job that is predicated on my need to get a book published (and thank goodness for that), I could wait.
Even though I made up my mind that partnering with this press wasn’t the best fit for me and that I would wait, I still couldn’t send an e-mail that refused the offer. I’d go back and re-read the editor’s kind comments and feel overwhelmed with doubt: “What if this is the ONLY offer I’ll ever get? What if I’m turning down THE ONE?” (This part really felt like trying to get up the nerve to turn down a marriage proposal.)
So, I waited. I talked it over with more people, felt my footing and conviction grow stronger, and finally after a week, I e-mailed the editor.
While not everyone will have the space and time available to do what I did, I felt really empowered being able to make that decision for myself. Yes, I want a book out, but I also want it to feel right. I want to know the press I’m working with is one that has not only chosen me, but I’ve chosen it, and for reasons that make sense logically and emotionally.
For those of you with published books, how did you know the offer was right? Were there sacrifices or compromises you were willing to make or ended up making?
forthcoming from dancing girl press in 2014
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Last year and the year before, I made a set of writing goals for myself. Out of the five, I met four, a big feat! I got not just one but four creative nonfiction essays accepted for publication. I wrote 3 more than my 50 poem goal. I submitted high, though I haven’t fallen into the stars just yet (but I did get some personalized rejections), and I did plenty special just for my writing: I worked through the 12-week Artist’s Way program with a group of writers and did two poem-a-day months (in January and November).
Here are my goals for 2014:
#1. Get my poetry manuscript, Swallow Tongue, accepted for publication. (I’m carrying this over from last year’s list. S.T. got an encouraging rejection from an independent press and a semifinalist nod from a fancy contest. It feels worthy enough to keep trying.)
#2. Keep writing creative nonfiction. (I wrote four essays and all four got published. There’s something there, and I need to figure it out by continuing to write.)
#3. Write with vulnerability and graciousness. Write because I need to. Write because I love to.
#4. Submit high. (Another carryover from last year. Keep submitting to the journals I hope one day to be in.)
#5. Read more. (Teaching with passion and fervor has meant I’ve given up joy-reading to compensate for it. I recently started reading again, and I need to find a good balance. Reading is too lovely of a gift to myself to give it up again.)
I met four out of my five goals from last year. Let’s see how this next year will hold.
What are your literary goals for 2014?
This is my third year of doing this post, and it’s helpful for me to assess where I need to go next.
Here are the numbers (in descending order):
110 submissions sent ~ 65 for poetry, 26 for creative nonfiction, 12 for my manuscript Swallow Tongue, 6 for fiction, and 1 for my chapbook Philomela. 108 electronic, 2 postal. Down from 117 last year (but not by much!) .
86 rejections ~ 49 for poetry, 24 for creative nonfiction, 8 for my manuscript, and 5 for fiction. Up from 65 last year.
57 new pieces ~ 53 poems, 4 essays, and 0 short stories. Up from 28 last year.
9 acceptances ~ 4 poems, 4 essays, and 1 chapbook. Down from 15 last year.
2-3 hours per week ~ my average time drafting, revising, submitting, reading, and blogging. Down from 5-7 last year.
Conclusion: Statistically (based on dividing the number of acceptances by the number of rejections received), my chapbook odds at 100% (1/1), creative nonfiction at 17% (4/24), and poetry at 8% (4/49). Fiction and my manuscript are at 0%.
Things I can do in 2014:
1. Keep up submitting, especially now that I’m throwing in a manuscript and several essays into the mix.
2. Keep up the faith.
Hope you all do your own numbers game and see where you stand. Let’s all be kinder to ourselves and others this year!
It’s December! My poem-a-day task throughout the month of November worked really well (excluding a day of wanting to do nothing and two days of a sinus infection), and I now have 27 poems that have just enough muscle and light to maybe be worked into something better.
Since I was working in a limited time frame (writing a poem at 5:30 in the morning until I had to get ready for work at 6), I opted not to write draft notes for individual pieces, but I did want to give a run-down of my general process.
Most days, I used a “template” technique. I’d find a poem somewhere online (websites listed below) that jumped out at me for word choice or structure, and copy and paste it into a word document for me to play with. I end up changing everything, but having those words already on the page helped me quickly move from “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO WRITE! IT’S SOOO EARLY!” to “oooo! bread and starlings…”
Sometimes, having the template didn’t work. I’d get caught up in how lovely the poem was that I didn’t want to change a thing. When this happened, I’d have to erase the template, maybe pull some words from it for a word bank, and start from scratch.
When working with a template, make sure to NEVER EVER plagiarize. Do whatever you can to change everything.
Ideas to help with that:
-Look up synonyms in the dictionary for words already on the page. If you find a word you like, replace the original and keep doing this. You may find a story after you’ve done a couple of these that will help you change the rest.
-Look up antonyms for words on the page. Replace the originals and keep doing this until you find your story.
-Pull words from that poem and another one and try to use one per line.
-If you’re stuck on the story, write it from another point of view (first person, third, from the voice of a character in the poem). Write it backwards chronologically, literally.
The important thing is to work WITH the template, to let its words and phrasing inspire new words and phrasings for you. It is not to copy, but to explore the interaction between yourself and someone else’s work. At the end of a draft with a template, I might have a poem that is still too similar to the original, so I let it set and come back to it later without the original on my mind and shape it into something totally new.
Websites I Used to Find Templates
1. Verse Daily (Particularly the archives section when the daily poem didn’t do anything for me)
2. Linebreak (Again, the archives section)
3. Poem-A-Day (This one was really hit or miss for me. Many of the poems aren’t contemporary, but some really helped me play with structure in a different way, so the poems here might work better for you than they did me.)
4. A Poem A Day (This one was sometimes helpful for me just to read through when I couldn’t figure out where to move next in a poem.)
5. [PANK] Magazine (Go through the online issues. Can be hard to distinguish between poetry and prose unless they publish more than one poem from the same author, but they choose such lyric prose that it’s not a bad idea to pull templates from the stories as well.)
A friend of mine and I have committed to trying NaNoWriMo, though we’re both cheating a little. She is trying to finish up a novel she’s already been working on, and I’m trying to write a poem a day to push me into figuring out a potentially new project.
I’m going to be including drafting notes for only the poems that feel done. So many end up like slop that when I try to scoop them into something manageable, most of them fall through my fingers. Sometimes I can salvage scraps from those and fold them into later poems, but it’s usually not worth trying to give scaffolding and solidity to something without, so I’ll only include drafting notes for poems that have some muscle.
This morning, I really wanted to work on something like a template. I sometimes struggle with figuring out how to drive a poem down a page and feel daunted by all that empty space, so it’s good to already have something there to work with.
What I often do is comb the internet for a poem that seems like a far throw from anything I might write. I usually find myself surprised with what words and phrases come out of it playing with what they’ve got.
My go-to is often Linebreak. They continually publish high quality work that is easily accessible online. Even if I’m not struck by the current poem, I can always comb through the archives to find something.
Today I was struck by Johnathon Williams’s “Valediction Lessons,” so I just copied and pasted the poem into an empty word document. Once there, I tried a technique a friend of mine told me about: Take a poem and write the negative of important words, so replace where it says “light” with “dark,” etc. What this does, often, is bring up weird connections and completely change the poem (completely changing the poem is also necessary. Can’t plagiarize!).
Doing this with a couple of words, like changing “forever” to “never” made me think of a storyline. Molly Spencer has written some absolutely lovely “Mail Order Bride” poems, and the farm imagery of the Williams’s poem made me think of the 1800s unclaimed West and the women who accepted newspaper proposals from men already living out there.
“When I said yes
to a stranger’s love, every promise
the life of flour in the wind and a heart full
of refused rooms.”
I kept the couplet structure and continued messing with word choice and syntax to keep pulling out the bones of the original until it could stand on its own. The ending doesn’t fit all that well right now, but I think some editing will help it get its feet.
Writing this made me think a lot about the six “wife” poems that appear in Swallow Tongue, my full-length manuscript, and how writing more could lead to a new project idea. I’m always a little nervous about saying something like “This could be part of a new collection/book!” but I’ll keep it in mind and see where my muse takes me.
I recently finished a manuscript overhaul and submitted to a couple of contests, and now I am trying to figure out if Swallow Tongue is done and it’s time to finally move onto a newer project.
It’s a hard question, especially because I’ve returned to this poetry collection so many times to tweak individual poems, re-think the order, change the narrative, add in newer poems, take out weaker ones.
After this revision, it feels very done, like I’ve done raised it and now it’s time for it to get a job and an apartment in the city. It’s time for it to get out. But, is it really?
I then came across this interview with Traci Brimhall in 2011 after her second manuscript won a contest.
How did you know your manuscripts were ready to go out?
Part of it is knowing when you’re ready to break up with the work. With Rookery, I felt ready to move on, but I kept coming back to the manuscript to tweak poems or reorder. So I broke up with the manuscript a section at a time. I looked at the poems in each section and then wrote breakup poems where I tried to have it out with my obsessions so I could be done with them once and for all. Of course obsessions follow you wherever your work goes, but I did feel like I put my obsessions’ belongings on the lawn and told them to get lost. Each breakup poem became the final poem in each section of the book…
While I don’t feel the need to write individual breakup poems for each section of Swallow Tongue, a breakup poem is a great idea to letting me think about and move on from the obsessions that held me in this manuscript.
S.T. is really loss heavy. Every character is dragging around the weight of someone or something that has left them, so I decided to try to write a poem in which the speaker leaves something and it frees him/her instead. I also decided to parody some of the mythic stuff, so it’d be easy to leave it behind (at least for this manuscript…).
I started with making fun of Zeus’s aegis and swallowing hearts, and ended up with the leaving. All prose form, and currently a sloppy mess, but I did like this line:
“To vacate a body is to leave everything, to not hover in the base above your sternum, to not mouth something in the air that sounds like crying.”
In the interview above, I was comforted that Brimhall’s Rookery was submitted to seventeen contests before being selected.
Swallow Tongue‘s stats are as follows:
9 contests (currently at 3)
4 independent presses (currently at 2)
Reader, when did you know your little manuscript was done?
Check it out here!
I’m nearing the end of another major revision.
I first laid out the poems and organized them by theme. What I found is that my poems fit pretty neatly into child, lover, mother poems, excepting two which I pulled out. The rest of them were already working thematically or could be reworked easily.
The child and mother poem sections had a good 10-13 poems each, but the lover one had nearly 30, so I decided to go through that section again and see if there was another way to divide it. I found that nearly half dealt with some sort of violence and the other half didn’t, so I could really just split that section in half.
Then I had to figure out how to begin the book. My po friend had made some suggestions for new beginning poems, and I started thinking about each of them and how they might help begin the narrative.
One, in particular, now titled “Song” but once called “Philomela,” really had all of the things I wanted the book to start with and is basically the title poem because it recounts the story of a hawk tearing out the tongue of a swallow (based on the myth of Philomela).
I chose “Song” to begin the book, but didn’t want to launch into lover poems just yet which it would be more closely linked to, so now I’m thinking about having “Song” be a prologue poem (or proem).
April Ossmann said, “As a reader, my expectation for a prologue is that it be one of the strongest and most representative poems in the collection, yet poets often choose a weak one, placing it in the most visible spot in the manuscript.” I’ve talked with my po friend, and we both think it’s a strong poem and could work, so I’m hoping I wouldn’t be doing exactly what she cautions against!
I wanted the child section to come next. It came first in the last manuscript order, but I’m completely re-ordering the whole section, and I just like it.
Next, I stuck the violent love poems since the child section is an easy transition to this one. Then the mother poems, which begin violent and end sweet, and then lastly, the sort of “sweet” love poems ending with being abandoned.
I still need to fine-tune the order, as well as read it through from beginning to end, to make sure it makes sense. So far, I’m pleased. I got the four sections I wanted, and thematically each of them is really tight. After I lock the order, I need to go back through and see if there are places where I can make the poems ring of each other more as well as do line edits to keep the poems really tight.
My next manuscript re-ordering should include reversing its current order, going from abandoned to mother to violence to child. Hopefully I won’t ever have to get there, but it’d be an interesting idea.