New Poem Up at Picaroon Poetry

picaroon-poetry-issue-9“Canali” is another one of my Venice poems, and I was so happy when Picaroon Poetry took it.  (You have to scroll through to page 35 to read it.) This brings my published Venice poem total up to 13 out of 22, or a 59% published rating.

You may wonder why I offer that metric—who cares?  But I share it because collections these days seem to list so many previously published poems on their respective acknowledgments pages—and manuscripts with multiply “vetted” poems seem to have a better chance of becoming books.  I know for a fact that some book publishers say that writers shouldn’t even submit a book to them for consideration unless 25% of the poems in the collection have been published already.  So my hope is, that with a 59% (or more) published rating, my chapbook will someday find a home. (I still have the rest of the poems from the chapbook out circulating, and hope that a few more will “land.”)

Of course, my full collection is 23% published, and it’s still homeless.  Which just goes to prove publishing will always be a crapshoot. *sob*

Hostage Situation: When Your Accepted Work Doesn’t Actually Get Published

handcuffsI’ve been mulling over my C.V. and noticing that there are a number of acceptances that are still listed as “forthcoming” because the journals where my work was accepted haven’t yet published them.  This doesn’t bother me with recent acceptances, of course, but three pieces (two poems and one flash fiction) received acceptances last year and have yet to be published.

I think this is unconscionable—especially because the journals that accepted them are little.  It would be one thing, if I were waiting on a print magazine like The New Yorker, which accepts work with the caveat that there is considerable lead time until publication. But these online journals are neither large nor prestigious, so what’s the hold up?

I am especially annoyed at the situation surrounding the publication of the flash piece because that had been accepted at another journal (in August 2015), and it never came out.  I guess the journal folded before it ever even released an issue—although the journal still has a webpage and an active Submittable site.  I wrote them an e-mail to withdraw the story, and began sending it out to other places.  And after a time, it was accepted again (October 2016).  And then nothing.

I’ve looked at the journal and its Duotrope statistics, and it appears that nothing has been updated on the journal, and the most recent response reported on Duotrope was—wait for it—October 2016.  Two e-mail inquiries I sent have received no response.  So the damn story is just in limbo.  I plan to give the journal one more month, and then I’m withdrawing it and starting the whole process again.

The publication sitch with the poems is similar.  Both poems were accepted in April 2016—while I was at AWP, no less—and I waited and waited for some news about their publication.  First I went to Duotrope to see what was the most recent reported response and saw that Duotrope apparently considered the journal “defunct.”  When I went to its listing in Poets & Writers, I clicked on the website, and it brought me to their former website, which had been sold to some rando guy who was now going to post his own stuff on his new blog.  The journal was missing.  I tracked down the journal’s FB page, and sure enough, it had a new website address, but no information about when any new issues would be appearing.

A few weeks ago, I went back to the site, and there was a notice that the journal was restructuring and would be on hiatus until Fall 2017.  I will give them some time before I withdraw the pieces; maybe they are still planning on publishing them—I have to cut them a little slack, since there was obviously some kind of problem.  And at least they (belatedly) had the courtesy of posting a note on the website about the hiatus.

All of this gets me to thinking though about how important it is for editors to be ethical about the writing they accept from people.  Editors should say, in their acceptances, when publication will happen—or at least give a ballpark figure.  (At Atlanta Review, the expectation is that any work accepted will appear in the next issue without question.  If there is some reason why the poem will not appear in the next issue—like if we miscalculate the number of pages we need—you better believe I contact the author with an updated ETA when their poem will appear.)

Of course journals—especially little ones—come and go, but it seems to me that when a journal has accepted work, if some catastrophic tragedy happens, and they can’t actually fulfill their contract to publish the piece, they have an obligation to e-mail the writers and explain.  It’s wrong to keep work hostage, and it’s wrong not to respond to polite and professional queries for updates.

Writing and publication are a writer’s livelihood—and sure, I’m not getting paid for this work—but publications add to my reputation as a writer, and I count on my work being available for people to read.  When work is accepted, and then not published for whatever reason, and editors don’t respond to emails asking about updates on the status, that’s unprofessional behavior.  And they shouldn’t be editors.

Not publishing accepted work compounds the already problematic issue of not getting paid for work (yes, yes, I know poets and most fiction writers don’t get paid—and don’t get me started about that) by denying writers exposure—the exposure that being published for free is supposed to bring.  Exposure helps you to create name recognition and to build your brand.  (Not to be all corporate-business-speaky about it.)

Additionally, when journals charge submission fees (as one of these journals charged me), not publishing my work as promised becomes even more egregiously unacceptable.  It is, in some ways, outright theft.  To wit:

  1. I’ve paid for them to read my submission.
  2. They accepted my story for publication.
  3. They have not published the story.
  4. I’m out the $5 bucks and the story.

That’s not ok.

Journals that engage in behavior like that are not ok.  And they should be called out for their unethical practices. I haven’t named the journals here only because I’m still giving them a chance to redeem themselves.  But if it doesn’t get fixed, I certainly would want to warn other people about the treatment I’ve received at the hands of these journals.  I would hate for other writers to have a similar, crappy experience, getting work accepted and then all their hopes dashed when the journals flake out.

I hope none of you, my five loyal readers, have experienced such a thing.  But if this has happened, what did you do to set it to rights?  (Looking for suggestions.)

New Poem Up at Amaryllis

amaryllisRecently, I received a smack-down from a Brand Name Poet (who evaluated a packet of my poems for a fee) because one of the poems I’d given her was a narrative ghazal—that’s right, in other words, I’d employed the ghazal form to tell a story—and I was told “no way, you can’t do it, it’s wrong.”  It was, I thought, a harsh rebuke—I mean, calling a poem “wrong”?  Just because I had used the spirit of a form to organize the poem?  What if I had replaced the word “Poem” instead of “Ghazal” in the title, I wondered?  Would that have made the other poet happier?

I know what a traditional ghazal looks like.  I’ve written (and published) them before.   I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Follow writing rules until you have enough maturity and experience to break them.”  Because sometimes playing with a form is a good thing—it shows that form can be flexible.  Form is like a corset—it restricts the shape of a poem, but there should always be breathing room.

Result:  “Ghazal for My Father,” published a few days ago in Amaryllis.  I hope you like it.

Two New Poems Up at Redheaded Stepchild

gatti

A few “gatti”

I was so excited to get the news that Redheaded Stepchild accepted “Ghiaccio” and “Gatti,” two poems from my Venice sequence.  Of course these are earlier versions than what have become the final versions (the ones that are in the chapbook I’ve been submitting), but they’re not hugely different.

You can read the poems here, if you’re interested.

Brushing with Fame When You Don’t Know You’re Doing It

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what a lot of writers look like.  Unlike movie and television stars, whose photos are ubiquitous, writers—even most superstar writers—don’t get their photos splashed everywhere.  I don’t watch TV, so while writers might be doing the book tours, and showing up at morning chat shows, I’ll never see them there.

Authors I would recognize if I saw them walking in the streets:  Stephen King, John Grisham, Roxane Gay, Joyce Carol Oates.  (And Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and Audre Lorde—but of course, they’re long dead.  And if they were walking in the streets, that would be terrifying and highly inappropriate for a corpse.)

Forget poets, I have no idea what they look like.  We live in obscurity.  The only poets whose faces I’d recognize are the poets I know personally—not an insignificant number, but not a huge one either—or the poets I follow on Twitter, though their images are about the size of a finger nail.

My point being, sometimes you bump into a famous author—whose name or work you know, but you don’t know the person, so you’re caught a little flat-footed until you see his or her name badge.  This very sitch happened at AWP this year in Washington D.C.

Working the Atlanta Review table on Friday morning (Feb. 9th), I perfected my carney act, trying to entice passers-by to get interested in the journal and maybe buy a subscription, when a handsome older man in a dapper hat, too polite to pass on by after I flagged him down, stopped.

“Do you know about Atlanta Review?” I asked in my dreadfully cheerful, most hopeful voice.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“Are you a poet?  Have you sent us some submissions?”

“Well, I have a list of 100 journals that I’m currently going down the line and sending work to.  Atlanta Review is somewhere in the middle, a great journal.  But I’m mainly a fiction writer.” (Dramatic pause.)  “I’ve written…oh, maybe 50 books.”

And that’s when I notice his name badge, peeking out from his scarf—Walter Mosely.

Oh, geez, do I feel stupid.  Of course he’s written 50 books, he’s Walter Fucking Mosely, famous for his Easy Rawlins detective novels, like Devil in a Blue Dress, which came out in 1990.

walter-mosely-photo

via John Winokur on Twitter @AdviceToWriters

We chitchat a little longer, and then he promises that he’ll send some work our way soon, and wanders away from the table.

I’m standing there, bemused, thinking, If I had just seen his name badge, I could have been a lot more effusive in my interaction with him.  I could have sounded like a fan.  (Not to hustle him into buying a subscription, but because writers like to be appreciated for their work.) But he was absolutely charming, and didn’t seem to hold it against me that I didn’t recognize his face.  (Thank goodness.)

Of course, this is all by way of saying, we should know what authors look like—they should be in our collective consciousness, like movie actors—writers are just as important and affect people in personal, sometimes lifelong, ways.  And it’s just too bad that on some arbitrary scale of cultural significance, writers, and especially poets, fall somewhere near the bottom.

I think they should make posters of famous authors, and there should be issues of the equivalent of Tiger Beat for poets.  Wouldn’t that be cool?  If suddenly we had magazines full of poet pinups?  (I think that would be fun.)  Or if there were trading cards with bubble gum which you could collect?  Or glossy, autographed headshots?

On a last note, I realize I do live under a rock, so perhaps others are more aware of what their literary heroes and heroines look like than I am.  But I wish that as a group, we were a little better at publicity.  That fame game is hard.  (I wish I was a little better at it myself.)

How to Write a Perfect Bio for Your Journal Submissions*

unfold-here-craneWriting the perfect bio to accompany your submissions is essential—and it can be tricky. After all, a bio offers insight into you as a person; it alerts the editors and your readers about other places you’ve published, and reveals some of your interests—points of connection that can humanize you. You are your words on the page, certainly, but you’re also more than that.  Your bio accomplishes this work for you.

So you might wonder, “How do I summarize my background in a way that is intriguing, meaningful, and appropriate?” Maybe you think,“How do I balance astonishing people with my literary accomplishments while remaining down-to-earth and approachable?”  Good questions, glad you asked.

Because altruism is second nature to me, I have developed the following list of bio-writing tips based on my many years (off-and-on) serving on editorial boards and as editorial assistants to a variety of journals.  I guarantee that if you keep these suggestions in mind, you will craft a Bio to Amaze ™, one that will endear you to editors and readers alike.  Fortunately, the list of tips is short, so you can implement them quickly:

1. Emphasize your credibility as a writer.  Editors want to know that your work has been published in at least a hundred journals, so include the names of every last one of them in your bio, and hope that editors actually have to retype them from your cover letter, because it’s thrilling to see just how many places have published you.  And hey, have you won literary prizes?  Be sure to list all the prizes you’ve ever won, including the Blue Ribbon you got in your kindergarten class for your story about the kitten and the puppy who visited New York.  We’re really impressed by that.

2.  Make it personal.  Editors feel connected to writers who share personal details.  We love to know that you have a deep, abiding affection for the Dallas Cowboys, that you can’t make it through the day without a cup of Earl Grey, that in your off time, you like to read your poetry naked to the pigeons in your local park while doing yoga, and that, were you a tree, you’d be a live oak, reaching your knobby hundred-year-old limbs in prayer to God.  We get a deeper sense of you as a person with this information, and it makes us feel really creepy close to you.

3.  Name-drop.  Have you studied with Famous Short Story Writer at a Really Hard to Get Into Summer Writers Workshop?  Or attended a conference where the current Poet Laureate was reading and you bumped into her later on at the Overpriced Fancy Coffee Bar, getting the same Pumpkin Spice Mochaccino Latte Frappe that you ordered?  Include this trivia, by all means.  We too like to hobnob with greatness, even vicariously, and it’s a mark in your favor when you can list the celebrity writers you’ve met IRL who have influenced you.  Bonus points if you make us editors jealous in the process.

4.  Experiment with form.  Why go with the conventional format of…

[Writer Name] has work published or forthcoming from [Journal A], [Journal B], and [Journal C].  She works as a [Job Title] in [City], and is the author of [Book Title] from [Press Name, Year].  You can read more of her work at [Blog Name.]

…when you could go with a racy picture of a woman that you’ve sketched in charcoal, adding a speech balloon to list your credentials?  Or maybe an origami paper crane that you write the word “unfold here” on a wing, so the editor can open it up to see where you’ve scrawled your bio?  Or, my personal favorite, record the bio as a YouTube video, and link to it?  Not only will a video demonstrate you’re A Totally Creative Special Snowflake of the First Water, it could kick-start your whole YouTube career. You might decide to give up traditional publishing altogether and just record all your poems and stories on a channel, counting the precious thumbs-up “likes” from all your new fans.  Instant gratification.

5.  Be thorough, but to-the-point.  Honestly, I can’t emphasize this enough.  Six hundred words should suffice.

Bios are important, and they should enhance your submission, not detract from and thwart it.  Remember, editors look for any excuse to reject your work—even if they say they read bios and cover letters last, can you really be sure that’s the case?  Of course not.  A bad bio can do real harm—and can negatively influence an editor as she reads.  You might have sent an awesome story, but if your bio offends, sayonara journal publication.

Writing the perfect bio takes some time and thought.  But it’s not difficult, once you’ve mastered the simple five-part process I’ve laid before you in this post.   Give it a try, and let me know in the comments how everything works out!

 

 

*Please note, the author of this blog shall be held blameless if oblivious readers fail to recognize the snarky sarcasm contained herein.