What does it take to get a book of poetry published in this country? I wish I could write a blog where I list out all the steps a person needs to follow to help ensure success in this process. These are the things I would mention:
- Write a book of poetry.
- Get friends to read it and make suggestions for revision.
- Edit and polish the hell out of it.
- Send it out to publishers.
- Get published.
- Become the latest darling of the poetry world.
- Repeat for Books 2, 3, 4…
Except, it hasn’t worked that way. Well, I mean, I’ve got Steps 1-4 down pat. I’ve sent out my manuscript (at this point) 42 times (which as you know is the answer to life, the universe, and everything), so you would think that perhaps the universe will come calling for me pretty soon. (And to be fair, after a hiatus of several blues-ridden months where all I was getting was rejections, I’ve sent it out 10 places in the last month, 5 of which are contests. I guess you could say I’m feeling hopeful again—so technically speaking, it’s only received 32 rejections.)
And I get rejection is part of the gig. Your manuscript has to find the right person who loves, loves, loves your writing, someone who will pass it along to the next reader, who also needs to love, love, love it. And so on. And contests aren’t the best way to ensure that your manuscript finds a loving audience, because readers simply don’t have the time to invest—particularly if your book is a little odd. (Which I fully admit mine is.) Readers barely have time to invest even if the poetry they read is something they expect and understand. I know this. On an intellectual level, I know this. Everyone is getting rejected (well, except for one person). Most contests report that they’ve had anywhere from 600-1000 entries. Lots of people are getting told to take their manuscript and go bite the big wienie. I get it. I just wish that the process didn’t suck so hard.
I have a writer friend who told me that he knew someone for whom it took 70 times before her book won a contest and got published. 70 times. Considering that most contests only award $1000 and run $25 a pop to submit, that times 70 contests comes out to $1750, meaning the contest cycle put her $750 into the hole. (I don’t even want to think about how much into the hole I am.) (Not that anyone goes into poetry to earn a living.) (Honestly, what kind of business model is this, where the poet has to take it on the chin, nose, or other body part to get her work into the world?)
Of course, railing about it here is not going to change the status quo. For whatever reason (because hardly anyone reads poetry anymore and contests are one of the only ways that publishers can make any money), this is how the process goes if one wants to be published by a reputable press and hopefully receive accolades for it. And I buy into the system (literally and figuratively), which makes me complicit, and I have to be ok with that. I am ok with that. Because, hey, who doesn’t want to win the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and spend 6 weeks lounging around and poeming in Italy plus get their book published and sent out to everyone who is on the rolls of the AAP? If you won that, the $35 fee you invested (for me $70, since this is my second time around) when you submitted your manuscript would be hella worth it.
I could just wish I knew what the magic number of submission times for my book to get published would be. Because that would so alleviate my anxiety. Like, let’s say the Goddess of Publication were to come down from On High and whisper one night when I’m asleep: 64 times, JC! Then I would know that I only have 22 more rejections to go. That would be great. I could send them out all on one day and get it all done, knowing that soon I’d hear the good news. Ah well.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
I haven’t been working on Hecate Applebough. I was thinking about why this is, and it’s a combination of factors—the weirdo exhaustion, a preponderance of tennis matches in the evening when I would normally write, and a renewed vigor about writing poems. But actually, those aren’t the biggest reasons. I think the biggest reason is because I’m waiting to get notes back about the first book…and so I’m kind of feeling like I don’t want to write any more on the 3rd book in case there are repeated mistakes in the 1st one that I could prevent myself from writing in the 3rd book if I just knew to avoid them.
That’s certainly a true enough statement. Avoiding mistakes if they’re preventable is always preferable to making a bunch more and having to go back and fix them. But if I’m honest, another thing making writing the 3rd one a pain right now is I’ve dug myself into plot hole and I really don’t know how to get Cate out of it. When I sit down at the computer and see that last chapter., I’m like, “Bleah” and then I get up and do something else. It’s the first time since starting to write this series that I’ve just felt like I’ve lost control over the story and over Cate’s life.
And so in your endless wisdom, you might say, just throw out that chapter and start fresh. And that’s really good, practical advice. But the thing is, I don’t know what to replace it with. I don’t know how I can make it better. I have a blind spot right now. So I kind of thought it might be ok to just set Hecate aside for a little while, and focus on writing poems and sending them out. Maybe when I get the notes on the 1st book, it will help me see the 3rd one with a fresh eye too. (There is no pressure on the person reading the book right now to hurry up and make those notes… I need some down time from Cate, so it’s totally ok. Take as long as you need. Srsly.)
And maybe this weekend, I’ll get a bee in my bonnet and suddenly figure out how to proceed with Hecate. Or maybe I’ll write three more poems. When it comes to my writing, it’s always just a mystery what will happen. I kind of like it that way.
And, as a total non sequitur, please enjoy a photo of Jenny, who has been keeping me company: