Two weeks ago, we began a discussion of revision and publishing. We looked at revision, and I promised to delve into publishing in forthcoming columns. So here we go.
Since the world of publishing is huge, we need to look at smaller bites of it to understand some of the options for publishing. Because I am a poet and an editor of poetry, I will start with the nuts and bolts of poetry publication. Let me begin by saying that I am all for publication in its many forms.
Lets say you are a poet who has written several pieces. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you writing mostly for yourself, as an outlet or hobby?
2. Are you writing for your family for posterity?
3. Is writing more of a passion than a hobby for you?
4. Do you feel compelled to share your work with as large an audience as possible?
Now, lets examine the options within each of these questions.
If you are writing mostly for yourself as an outlet or hobby, it isnt necessary at all to think about publication. You will feel fulfilled by the act of creating the poetry, regardless of who reads it. You might enjoy sharing it with close friends, but you arent likely to want a public forum for it. Perhaps you are what I call a scrapbook poet; that is, you enjoy saving your own work in an attractive portfolio, perhaps experimenting with various fonts and styles to make your work come alive on the page. You probably enjoy returning to it and reflecting again on the moods and concerns of your work. Its perfectly OK to be satisfied with that. There is no reason to go further if you glean much enjoyment out of this practice.
If you are writing for your family and friends, you might consider creating cards for them using your own poetry. Another option is a broadside, a poem that is artistically printed on one page and distributed to a captive audience, much like ancient bards might have done. You are certainly in good company.
If you have created a series of poems that commemorate family, friends, and perhaps significant events, you might consider collecting these into what poets call a chapbook: a small, bound collection with a cover, easily created on desktop publishing or even a copying center. You can get fancier about this if you want and order an ISBN number, list it with the Library of Congress, and copyright it. You can give these as gifts to family and friends who will treasure them. This is a form of self-publishing, and there is nothing wrong with it. Many major poets began by self-publishing.
Perhaps you sense that writing is more of a calling than a hobby. Its the pressure within you to move forward with your work. You might call it ambition or drive, but I think its really the passion to follow your music, even when the odds are against you.
Sometimes, the urge is so powerful it actually redefines you as a person. You eventually stop saying things like, Yeh, I dabble with writing a little now and then, and start saying things like, Yes, I am a writer. You have the perseverance to get your work out there, despite the rejections. If you have that feeling, you probably wont be satisfied until you get out there (as the cruise commercial says). But how do you do it? Where do you start?
First, you really need to read and subscribe to magazines that publish the kind of work you do. Check out the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Buy a copy of Writers Market or Poets Market. Consider subscribing to Writers Digest, Poets and Writers, or any other magazine that supports writers and lists markets. Read what the editors are looking for and submit accordingly. If the editor prefers online submission, then online it goes. If snail mail, give the editor snail mail. Most ads will say how long, and author will usually wait for a reply. Its best just to wait until that time period has gone by before querying the editor. Cover letters need to be upbeat. One way to begin is by saying why you chose this particular magazine to submit to. Subscribing to the magazine isnt a must, but I think its a courtesy.
Second, keep track of your submissions. This may take weeks, months and years. I do not recommend saving rejection notices, and really cant understand why people keep them. I do recommend, however, keeping all acceptances in a special file to return to whenever you think youll never publish again. After several years of this, if you are a poet, that is, you will have an impressive list of places where you have published. Ultimately, this can help you land a full-blown manuscript with a literary book publisher. In addition, you will have an audience of some magnitude.
Next week, we will look more closely at some good literary magazines and literary presses for you to consider in your own literary endeavors. Until then, keep writing!
Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called The Writers Garret for this newspaper.
From the March 8-15, 2006, issue