Monday, January 24, 2011

Publishing: So What?

Now that you've published, what do you do? I'll confine myself to those who self-publish with the intention of giving copies to valued friends and family since I've done that and suspect that many others also do so now that publishing is so easy. The answer is:

Buy envelopes and postage, address the envelopes, affix the postage, toss them into the nearest mail box and FORGET ABOUT THEM.

Once they've been posted they're on their own and expecting anything from your loved recipients is an exercise in self-love that won't be satisfied. It was two weeks before my wife, worrying that the “Ten Short Addresses to My Grandchildren” may have been lost in the mail, asked one grandchild if she got it and she said “Yeah” and spun out of the room to beat her little sister with a toy rabbit for sticking her tongue out at her. One friend emailed “Thanks for the pomes (sic)” and he's a poet too. I told my wife to not ask. The point is that not many will care much about your poems and those who do won't worship you our your work unless you are on your death bed our you slip a c-note into the envelope.

Keep in mind too that poems given to your family, written to/about your family probably aren't your best anyway-- and don't waste your best on them. Go smugly forth knowing that they won't get them, as in understanding them (or you), and that you have better places to place your best work. As I said before in an earlier entry, one of the first exercises for beginning poets is to understand the size of the audience that doesn't care

When it comes to publishing, win contests, submit poems to legitimate presses and magazines, accept the rejections as better than what you'll get from your family and friends and learn to write better. It is possible but rare to self-publish and sell a million (or even a hundred) copies. If your work can't pass muster with contests, presses, magazines it's not likely to pass anywhere else either and I am duty bound to inform you that if it passes muster with those contests, magazines, etc it still may not be very good, just accepted.

So jaundiced a view about publishing begs the question: Why write? Why publish? Write for the truth. Publish for vocational identity in public as a poet. Don't hide your light under a bushel. In fact, publish all you can without expecting anything from it and don't let your desire to publish affect your art beyond the writing lessons you'll get from even the most scurvy editor. If your effort to publish saps the art, feed the art, quit the publishing.

So long for now.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Editors Suck; But We (really) Need Them

But back to the poetry.  Having edited two journals for the Connecticut Poetry Society and having several manuscripts in hand worthy (IMHO) of publication, I decided to publish one on my own.  I downloaded Scribus, an open-source program very much similar to MS Publisher, and went to town on the thing, ultimately printing (at Staples) “Ten Short Addresses to My Grandchildren” just in time to miss Christmas.

The experience was wonderful once I got a handle on how to go about it and I had one of those lessons in humility we all need every now and then.  Despite my every belief in my skill, there was a lengthy learning curve.  We all complain about editors but I can assure you that even though I was working with myself, I as an editor brought my self as a writer into several unanticipated internecine struggles and an equal number of shaky agreements.

What did I learn? 

Editing is difficult. 

Anyone can get published.

I have on my bookshelves any number of self-published volumes, some by close friends, some of the books are pretty good and some (most) really crappy.  The gatekeeping function of the editor may be saving us from slogging through even more mediocre poetry than we dare imagine.   A couple of good editors have saved the world from some of my most pedestrian work.  But those editors also gave me the most focused, concentrated lessons in writing that I’ve ever had.

The moral then is to get your work in front of serious editors for their consideration.  It’s part of the process of learning to write, even more than a process of getting published.  No matter whether the editor is a fellow-writer (never family), a trusted reader, a professional.  Then, once you’ve gone through that gauntlet with your manuscript, go ahead and publish it yourself, or any other way you wish.

Next time I’ll tell you what to expect once you publish.

So long for now.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Write A Half-Assed Poem


I've been piping down valleys that did not include this blog, notably since my sister died. Then, I find someone is actually reading it and I re-think my dedication, which has failed, and why it failed and thus come to what is a problem in my little house and in the larger house of the artist.

The basic reason for my failure to continue is that I haven't the time and I haven't the time because I've spent my writing time writing poetry-- it was a very good year for that. Beneath that reason is that I have another life, or, another life has me. In that life I work, truck in the real world that I wish were the unreal world. Add to that that my wife is retired and we spend a lot of time together doing things that couples do when they have kids with kids and, allegedly, time on their hands.

Make no mistake: I have plenty to do that doesn't involve wife, kids, cats, rats and elephants and that does involve poetry, blogs, publishing (more on that in a few days), fiction, reading (got a Kindle for Christmas-- wonderful!) and all manner of things in the working out of my salvation. My lions fight my lambs and the rich, the well-healed have a leg up when it comes to the arts. Despite what one wishes to think, financial security, bucks, buys access as well and here I mean access to the workshops (however loathsome), festivals, seminars. It makes networking easier and this greases the skids.  I have been the fortunate and unfortunate participant in many such events.

We are in large part a product of our choices or failures to choose and there are many who rise from ashes like mine to achieve great things that I have not risen to. Nonetheless, I assert that there is something amiss when society makes it so hard to engage the arts; when life seems to have so many things more important than the arts, when it values them so little. Respect and dignity for the arts and the artists would go along way to giving the artist the motivation to seize those choices that make for a life devoted to the arts as a career. There can be many Waldens and when attacked with passion they can become sustaining to the practitioner of the art.

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