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Tuesday, 28 June 2011 04:11

It Hurts to Be First

A small group of fellow writers, acquaintances, good people all, asked me to meet with them to get some guidance about a self-publishing project. I asked to be paid $100 for this, and through the contact person we set a date to meet.

Then the contact person sent a polite and apologetic email saying the group was following the leads I had suggested to them previously, had learned what they felt they needed to know, and frankly some of them had been uncomfortable with the idea of paying me -- someone they knew -- and therefore had decided not to meet with me after all.

It hurt. Clearly, the money was the sticking point. I feel embarrassed having asked for it. I think the writers' perceptions of me have changed. But I wouldn't be following my own advice if I had bartered a Sunday afternoon, a 40-mile round trip, and hard-won expertise for "Thank you, you're very generous" and "Isn't she a nice girl." I want to say, "I AM a nice girl. But I'm 51 and if you've noticed that I'm on the skinny side these days, it's not because I'm dieting."

As small as this incident is, as small as I feel, this was a victory in the battle for writers to get paid.
Published in Sanity Bubble 2008
Monday, 09 May 2011 03:25

One Whine Away From Success

Good news: "Let's see your manuscript" from the most recent book publisher I queried. That was the query letter I didn't feel like writing, had 10 excuses for not writing, that I wished would write and mail itself. Not only that, but it got a really quick response and refreshingly polite "Look forward to reading the ms."

The effort was all worth it! All worth it!

Lessons learned:
1. I should do any chore that has even a remote possibility of helping me toward my goals.
2. Fourth time's the charm.
3. If a publisher's interested, they'll respond ASAP!
Published in Sanity Bubble 2008
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 03:08

Rejection at 50

My first published poem appeared 32 years ago. Rejections stung only a little. (There was still time to win a Pulitzer by age 25.) Then, around age 40, when I expected more rewards, my fragility increased: Call it osteoporosis of the soul. This forced me to systematically, ALPHABETICALLY, read through literary journals and submit only to those that published poems like mine. This HATEFUL activity forced me through jungles of jealousy: "She's younger than I! And he writes better! And that's a great poem! And she's published four books! And there's my former student in a journal I failed to get into!"

Actually, I was doing the smart thing, business-wise, because publishing is a business, but it only increased my fragility. Approaching age 50, I dreaded those S.A.S.E.s even more. Now I'm ever so careful to:
1. Send only my very best poems.
2. Make sure my poems have a a ghost of a chance at that publication. (Next blog will be about that!)
3. Avoid contests, no matter how tempting -- the chance of winning, about 1 in 1000, is too remote.
4. Take long, long breaks in between bouts of sending, sometime six months or a year.
5. Keep working on more, and when those S.A.S.E.s or E-mails come back, curse or cry, feel grossly ashamed of my "arrogance" and "presumption" in thinking the world might want my poems -- and then get over it, and put poems right back in the mail.

See that list of five things? That's my new backbone.

And yesterday: **Good news! ** A long, risky poem, perhaps the longest and riskiest yet, accepted. How long has it been since a poem got accepted? Three years? Five?

Joy? No. Forehead on forearm, and a sigh of Relief.
Published in Sanity Bubble 2008
Friday, 15 April 2011 17:24

Why the Agent Stops Reading at Page 2

Fascinating workshop at MO Writers Guild conference with literary agent Kristin Nelson "thinking aloud" as she read manuscripts (first two pages) submitted by members of the audience. She said aloud where and why she would stop reading and take a pass. Here is the link to her own summary of the event, must-reading for anyone wanting know what stops an agent cold: Kristin Nelson's Pub Rant. Her list may surprise you. The good news: Everything that's wrong can be learned and corrected, so you can confidently proceed.
Published in Sanity Bubble 2011
Monday, 11 April 2011 21:06

Here's a Rejection I Like!

From Prairie Schooner, received Monday:

Although we have decided against using this manuscript, we were interested in it and would be glad to see more of your work between Sept. 1 and May 1. - Stephen Behrendt, Interim Senior Editor

Taped it up on the September wall-calendar page!
Published in Sanity Bubble 2011
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:11

Keeping Writers at Arm's Length

I spent December through March querying agents for our writing group's second book. Score zero. Or, better for my mental health, I can say, "I didn't find the agent who wanted us."

We're now sending the book proposal directly to publishers. More than ever, publishers' listings say, "We don't take "un-agented" submissions, or look at unsolicited submissions." No, not even a glance at a two-page book proposal.

It looks as if publishers think they benefit from a setup that keeps them apart from writers. Now, think: Does that make any sense?
Published in Sanity Bubble 2008
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:06

I'm A Happy Little Cheat

Adjusting for subject matter and experience, a writer friend of mine, age 60, is as good a poet and essayist as Elizabeth Bishop -- to whom she has been compared. She published a book of poems (having won a competition) in 1991. She has three more books in manuscript. I guarantee you they are stunning. For a decade she sent them to publishers, receiving rejections mainly because they're literary and won't make money. She's worried that when she gets old and dies the manuscripts in her file will be thrown away.

I said to her, "What good are they in your file drawer? How about self-publishing?"

She found this idea distasteful. Self-published books are "not legitimate." But then she complained that a poet friend whose book was accepted three years ago by the "legitimate" LSU Press now hears it is scheduled to come out in 2010.

I said, "The system is broken. We all moan about how the publishing world is insane. We have to do things differently. Look," I said, "a book is a book. If you self-publish at least you'll have a book. It'll have an ISBN so people can find it. You can give it to libraries. You can give it away. Somebody somewhere will read your book."

My friend says it isn't legitimate. She wants to be legitimate more than she wants to publish. And she is getting what she wants.

Me? I'm publishing another book! It's essays this time. I am happy that my illegitimate books get bought and sold, and are in print, and in libraries, and on amazon.com, and not in my file drawer. I'm a happy little cheat who beat the system.
Published in Sanity Bubble 2008
Wednesday, 04 July 2007 06:09

If Not Now, When?

"If it's good, it will eventually be published." Tess Gallagher said this to our class twenty years ago. It is true. (Cringe.) Yes, it's true.

I didn't want to wait for "eventually". I mean, Tess published her first book at about age 30, the age I was then. And I didn't want to take a chance that somebody who was somehow incapable of appreciating my work now would find it to be good -- "eventually."

I hate to be patient or advise any other writer to be patient, because they won't be. So I'll say "Have confidence," and "Keep writing."

You believe what you write is good, don't you? That it's literature? If it's good, it's like any other good literature, like Twain or Dickens or Dickinson or Cather or what have you: It'll keep! Have faith that one day you'll know exactly where to send it, or what to do with it, or that someone will ask for it. Keep writing because "eventually" will come. It will surely bring with it requests for other things you've written. "We'd like to see more of your stories -- do you have any?" "I heard you read your poems at ____. Want to do a reading for us?" (And at that reading is an editor, or someone who knows someone who publishes chapbooks, and if your poems are truly good. . .)

If what you write is good, "eventually" will come. So stock up now!
Published in Sanity Bubble 2008
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