88º (10:00 a.m.) ~ on our way up to 102º if the forecast holds true, heat index could top 115º in places, a chance of severe storms and rain as a cold front confronts the heat, crossed fingers
Yes, I've been absent. No, this summer has not progressed as I thought it would. I'm pretty much okay with that and am trying to embrace the fallow period of regeneration.
However, during the fallow periods, the rejections continue to arrive, and here I am speaking particularly of the book rejections. After over a decade of placing individual poems in national journals, those minor, individual poem rejections might sting for a moment but then I'm on my way to submitting somewhere else and I forget that pang. Also, given that I might have any number of individual poems circulating at any one time, there are enough acceptances scattered about to soothe those little paper cuts.
With the book, things are entirely different. One manuscript circulating in search of that elusive acceptance, with each submission requiring a submission fee in many cases (more on that later). This means that the rejection wound has no chance to heal until, perhaps, one day when an acceptance arrives. Until then, the wound starts to heal and is then sliced open time and time again, festering, oozing, throbbing. I exaggerate for effect.
As many of you know, book #2 (fairy tales & saints, glacial elegies) for me has been on this journey for years (I do not exaggerate). Yesterday, I received another rejection for it, and I've been racking up rejections for book #3 (the fever book) as well. What sparked this post was the information that came along with yesterday's rejection. The editors noted that they received over 700 manuscripts for this one contest. Over 700 manuscripts. Holy poets, Batman!
How on earth does my manuscript stand a chance of rising to the top in that ocean of words? Of course, there must be many of these 700 manuscripts that are quickly dismissed for being too short or too long or for not following any of the myriad rules required for submission. And, I imagine that some of the manuscripts reveal themselves as having been submitted without being proofread or polished. Still, that leaves hundreds that will be seriously considered.
When I first started on this journey I was told the following:
1. Publish the individual poems in national journals in order to establish a reputation and show an awareness of the poetry business. (done)
2. Have others you trust read your manuscript and make suggestions for revision. (done and done and done again, with thanks to all my readers)
3. Revise and polish. (done)
After that, what is there? Hope, magic, luck? Karma? (Ack! What righteous poet did I offend unknowingly?) Does it all really depend on networking and schmoozing? (I hope not!)
I confess, I've acquired a bit of a complex. Consider the mixed message: my individual poems place in national journals (hooray, I'm a "good" poet); my books fail to be published (ack, I'm a "terrible" poet).
Now, back to the idea of reading fees, and let me say first that I admire publishing houses that take a chance on poetry, and I know that the editors, production staff, and marketers are doing all they can do to keep it together and running smoothly. However, as I said on Facebook recently, I am completely open and willing to include a reading fee when I'm submitting for a contest, wanting to support the winner (should it not be me) and the publication/marketing of the winning book. However, I am puzzled by presses that require a reading fee for non-contest submissions. These presses often label these as open submissions but charge the same amount as the contest. The reason why is this: presses need to subsidize the cost of publishing poetry.
*Aside, when a friend from another academic field read my FB post about this she was stunned. "You have to pay someone to read your manuscript on the off chance that they might publish it?" she asked.
I am of two minds here. Yes, I want to support American poetry, and I do so by buying far too many books of poetry each year (my towering stack of to-read books and the negative balance in my checkbook will prove this). However, is it a good model to ask poets to subsidize the publishing house where they hope to someday publish?
This is a personal matter that each poet approaches differently. I confess, I have paid reading fees during open submissions to presses that I love, but I'm rethinking that, as I simply can't afford it on a community college instructor's salary and with two books circulating. I am open to paying a reading fee that is half what the contest fee is as a way to help with the overhead costs (minus judges, minus monetary awards to the winner). Again, everyone approaches this differently.
And this issue of presses (mostly independent presses not affiliated with a university or major New York publishing house) needing to be subsidized makes me wonder, are they publishing too many books each year? Ack! Of course, I don't want there to be fewer poetry books published, but if the business model can't sustain the list to the point that emerging poets have to subsidize the house, don't we need to look at the model again?
Finally, I'm a huge proponent of poets supporting poetry by subscribing to lit mags and buying books of poetry. That seems to me to be the healthiest model out there. If all 700 poets who submitted manuscripts to the contest I referenced above were to buy (and read) ten books of poetry a year, well, you do the math. Yes, books of poetry are expensive. Most paperback copies are now around $15 with some well above that. And, yes, if you are in grad school or raising a family, $150 a year (ten books of poetry) will pinch. But, if we, the poets, get frustrated by the rising costs of reading fees, don't we need to be part of the solution?
I suppose then, that my challenge, my call to action, is for each of us to evaluate what value we place on poetry, and by that I mean, of course, poetry written by others. If all a poet wants is to write his/her own poems without supporting his/her peers, then I suppose we will be fated to the current model in which more and more publishing houses are forced to charge reading fees outside of contests.
This is a touchy issue, I know, and I hope if you are still reading at this point, that my comments will be taken as intended, as a way to open dialogue, as a way through the difficulty toward a better situation for us all. I'm open to suggestions!
Vive la poesie!