Contests, & Waiting, & Rejections, Oh My

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:

  1. Write a book of poetry.
  2. Get friends to read it and make suggestions for revision.
  3. Edit and polish the hell out of it.
  4. Send it out to publishers.
  5. Get published.
  6. Become the latest darling of the poetry world.
  7. 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:

2016-03-09 20.05.25

Sharing Good News Doesn’t Make You a Braggart

I am a minimizer. That is to say: I don’t brag about myself or my accomplishments even when I should. In fact, sometimes I forget to tell people about them, or I mention good news in an offhand way, as if it’s of no consequence—and in this world where branding is a thing, you can’t be a minimizer.

I have writing friends who frankly tweet, post, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever, when they blow their fricken noses. That doesn’t appeal to me. I might make a quick tweet or a quick FB post, and it will get a few favorites or “likes,” and then it moves quickly out of the spotlight as I post more interesting things on my feeds, mainly pictures of my cats. And so, in choosing not to promote the hell out of myself—or even just the heck out of myself—I can’t really enjoy the accolades that I’m due because no one really takes notice.

Case in point. In my FB post about being named a finalist in the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize, I should have been self-laudatory ad nauseam and really took time to savor that moment—I should have appreciated that it was a kind of milestone—that it meant that people outside of my little coterie of friends on FB and IRL recognized some worth in my manuscript. In my poetry—in the thing that is so central to my core self that it’s my identity. So what did I write on Sept. 19th about it? I quote:

“Just found out that my manuscript was a finalist in the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize….but it didn’t win. Bummer.”

REALLY? That’s what I write? How about something like this?

“I just found out the great news that my poetry manuscript made it as far as finalist in the Hilary Gravendyk Poetry Prize!”

Look at the rhetorical differences between both of those posts—the lousy original and the one I should have written. Isn’t the second one a comment that deserves a lot of response? Of course it is—because it focuses on the positive, exciting aspect of even getting to the finalist stage. In my response, I minimized its significance right out of mattering to everyone… including myself.

How are people going to expect awesomeness from me if I don’t show off when something awesome happens? In my general (pathological?) desire to be wallflowery and invisible, this honor basically went unremarked. I mean, forgodsake, only one of my close writing friends even “liked” that post. It makes me wonder if the rest even know about it? And how would they know? I didn’t tell them. I should have let them take joy in my success—and it would have let me take some extra joy in it. But no.

Or what of the Pushcart Prize Nomination I received on Oct. 10th? This is an amazing recognition for me—yes, it’s a nomination, but just consider what it represents, that Glassworks thought mine was one of the best pieces they’d published all year. That is a Big Deal—or it should be. And here’s what I had to say about it on social media—talk about dinky—

“I would like to thank Glassworks Journal for nominating my piece ‘Camminare a Venezia: a Poemoir’ for a Pushcart Prize!”

This time not one of my close writing friends “liked” the post. Maybe they didn’t see it. Or maybe they don’t care about Pushcart Prizes; maybe they think writing prizes are bullshit, and nominations aren’t even noteworthy. But maybe they would have, if I had taken the time to tell them personally. (Or maybe not.)

This post is not to badmouth friends who weren’t more fulsome and forthcoming about praising me for my writing achievements. Whether something gets 9 “likes” or 90, that’s not how I should measure my worth. I know this.

This post is really designed more as a reminder to myself to be joyful in my writing successes, because they are fleeting and they don’t come often. By my not fully enjoying being a finalist in the manuscript contest or in learning about the Pushcart nomination (and preening or boasting even a little bit) I’ve robbed myself of some happy moments, and cheated my friends the opportunity to be happy for me too.  I need to do better about that.

P.S.: I took an unintentional hiatus from my Wednesday posts; October has been rife with disruption (bad and good), starting with the insanity that is semester scheduling for Spring; then my office flooded and I was office-homeless for more than a week; and my Mom came for a week, etc. So writing was a bit low-priority. I hope you, my Five Faithful, didn’t miss me too much.

I Need a Hit

I’m jonesing–yes, jonesing–for an acceptance.  For the last few months, it seems like I was getting an acceptance every other week or so, and it’s been 15 days since my last acceptance (a piece of flash non-fiction).  True, it’s been only 3 days since a rejection, and really, I should be grateful for that, because it means that even if the journal didn’t like what I sent them, at least they read it.  That should count for something, right?

Let’s be honest–the “hit” I want… is for someone to tell me they want to publish my book.  And that it will be a great hit with the publishing world.  That it will get a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, a National Book Award, Georgia Book of the Year Award, and various other accolades that proves that all the time I spent working on it wasn’t time wasted.  It’s hard waiting to hear back from book contests.  I want to know NOW.

So while I’m waiting more or less reasonably patiently about the book, I feel like every journal I have stuff out at should just agree to publish my work to make my wait more tolerable.  What do you think?  Seems fair, right?  😉

And again, I hope your writing and publishing are going well.  (I know we writers are all in this together.)

 

Feeling Productive (For the Moment)

I read this post on Facebook about annoying status messages, and the gist of it was, “Don’t post things that make you look like a smug bastard.”  And it’s a valid message for blog posts as well.  So, I’m hoping that I don’t come across as smug when I say that I have been a submission queen lately–in the last 2 weeks, I’ve sent 2 different chapbooks out to contests and poems to 14 journals.  I am not admitting this for praise (because, after all, no one reads this blog), but just to show (myself) that I’m trying to take my writing more seriously.  Which I’ve been needing to do.  (As we know, if you write something down, it becomes more real.)

Submissions are hard for everyone.  But they seem especially hard for me, as I don’t have a good sense of how to put poems together in batches that make sense to me, let alone editors.  Often it seems that my poems are really just very different from each other, so trying to group them is like a nightmare.  So, I wind up not sending poems out–not the best idea, if I actually want to be a writer that people actually read.

But I’ve been trying (as I mentioned)–and while I don’t know when I’ll be successful with any of these 16 submissions (and already I know 2 weren’t, as I received rejections today), I feel like if I can just keep trying–maybe just sending one or two submissions out every day–maybe I can start getting my name out there and seeing that name in print.

Poetry Overload

Yesterday was the quarterly meeting of the Georgia Poetry Society, and I think it was one of the better ones.  For one thing, the programming ran really smoothly, and we we didn’t get crazy behind as we have in the past.  For another, there was just a really good selection of people who presented.

Since it was hosted by Kennesaw’s Foreign Language department, Robert Simon (the VP, and a faculty member in that dept.) had gotten two of his colleagues to present on poetry–one was an Italian scholar, and the other was Chinese.  So it cool to hear poems in a different language, and then to hear them translated.  What was especially interesting to me was hearing the musicality (which you know from my last post is something I’m particularly passionate about) of both the Chinese and Italian poems–the attention that the poets paid to sound was deliberate.  I enjoyed it.

Then Dan Veach from Poetry Atlanta and The Atlanta Review gave a really great presentation of his own poetry, Chinese poetry, and Iraqi poetry.  He was really engaging and funny–I mean, one of his poems was a paean to his ratty old underwear (which reminded me of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Underwear” poem… maybe just because it’s about undies).  And he had a funny Power Point to go with his poems that had illustrations and Chinese brush and ink paintings that he’d made.

And what was best of all was that he knows his poems to speak them–every last one from his someday-to-be-released book Elephant Water he spoke from memory.  Now he made a gag about this book being 30 years in the making, so I suppose, if you’ve had these poems lying around for 30 years more or less, you might actually have memorized them just by virtue of their longevity.

But I just think he’s one of those people who just memorizes poetry, which to me is amazing and impossible.  (I mean, I’ve memorized Pound’s “In a Station of a Metro,” but who hasn’t?)  I asked him about that when he was selling the book of Iraqi poetry he edited, Flowers of Flame, and he said that memorizing his poems is very good for his writing.  He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t stick around because I felt bad not buying the book (although, had Elephant Water been available, I would have bought that).

Lunch, of course, was a disaster (as always), although I did get my $$$ for winning a few of the 2009 GPS contests.  (Which I won’t complain about, except that the money I won will have to go to paying the boarding/ vaccinating fees for the little dog I found on Thursday, instead of something more useful.  But that’s another story.)

The afternoon program had GPS poets Robert Lynn reading from his new book, Midnight Verse, and Clela Reed reading from her new book, Bloodline.  So, I’m going to be a little petty here and say that Bob confused Petrarchan sonnets with Shakespearian (not only did he misidentify the form when he and I were talking about sonnets before his presentation, he actually misidentified it in his book!) and that irritated me.  Not like I’m the Sonnet Police, but I don’t know.  It seems to me, if you’re going to use a form, be sure which one it is–Petrarchan sonnets are quite different from Shakespearian sonnets in rhyme scheme and purpose/ organization.  Or, if you don’t know which one it is, just be safe and say generic ol’ “sonnet.”  (Ok, ok, maybe I am being a little police-y.)  But other than my bout of poetry form OCD, his poems were ok.

Clela’s poems, as usual, were very good.  I actually would have liked to have bought her new book, and might have felt more free to with winning that money, but because it’s all going to the boarding  fees, I didn’t.  Maybe at the April meeting I’ll see if she has any copies with her…

And then the meeting was over, and the Board went over some things, and I went home.

I really enjoyed yesterday.  Sometimes GPS meetings can seem excruciatingly long, but yesterday the pacing was just right.

And certainly, all of the kudos for my poems were, of course, well-deserved, but nice just the same to hear them. 😉

OMG!!! Finishing Line Is Taking La Petite Mort!

Alright, I’ve been hella down in the dumps lately, like, nauseatingly so.

So, imagine how awesome it was to get an e-mail from Finishing Line Press today telling me that they’ll publish my chapbook La Petite Mort!!!! This is completely out-of-the blue too, because I had entered it in their New Women’s Voices contest, got the standard “Thanks, we’re going to publish this amazing writer, and you’re not her” note, and didn’t give it another thought.  I guess they also choose to publish a select number of non-winners.

But I am dizzily happy, crazy amazed, and thrilled!  Tomorrow I will worry about withdrawing it from the other contests I have it in.  But tonight I’m going to bask in the knowledge that I finally have a real, live book to my name.

When Good Poems Go Bad

I’ve been working on this poem that just isn’t going well.   Going well?  Try, not going at all.

Well, let me back up.  As I said in my last post, this poem, called “The Art of Loss,” was to be the bridge poem between the real and the imaginary in this chapbook collection I’m trying to get together for a contest with a deadline on the 15th.  All of the poems in this collection have something to do with animals.

The speaker is addressing an artist whose beautiful, jungle art, populated with jaguars and orangutans, has been replaced with abstract, muddy-colored images that the speaker doesn’t understand.  And the artist herself is mute in the poem, with the exception of producing these images that are so contrary to her earlier works.

What I was trying to do was comment on how the loss of imagination affects artists, how something as personal and communicative as art can suddenly become unknowable, how, as I said in an e-mail to Bob, “the painting of things becomes the painting of no things.”  But in what I’ve written so far, it has become the “poem of no things.”  

It’s just not working.  I’m on revision 12, and I can’t seem to do anything to make it better.  Each time I work on it, it’s gets progressively worse–almost as muddy as the paintings that the artist does.  And it’s a pity, because I really liked the early drafts of the poem–or at least, I thought there was a good kernal of poetry in it.  After I gave it to Bob and he commented on it, I realized that it’s basically crap and I should just abandon it.  Maybe it’s one of those things I’ll come back to in 5 years and have some amazing epiphany about it.  But it’s frustrating because I REALLY needed this poem to work now.

Now, I’ll have to choose something else to replace it, which wouldn’t be as big a deal except for the pesky fact that the title of the collection came from a line in “The Art of Loss.”  So now I’m title-less, as well as a poem short.  

Maybe the real problem is that the collection desperately needs focus, and I thought this poem could provide it.   I don’t know.  I’m just really disheartened.

And, while I’m at it, I’m disheartened about the fact that I keep sending these various chapbooks out and no one wants them.  (Got another rejection today.)  Maybe my poems are just bad.  I’ve said to Karen and Bob both that none of my poems go together–they don’t resonate with each other or speak to each other or do any of the things that collections are supposed to do.  

I’m just really, really disheartened today.