There’s a pretty interesting discussion going on in list serve world regarding small presses, independent presses, and self publishing. This last item really is the sorest point of contention, given the apparent stigma of “vanity publishing.” I don’t know so much what the difference is between “vanity publishing” and doing DIY. IS there a difference? How is each term defined?
One point being discussed is publishing houses and prestige, and under what circumstances is it important to be published by a prestigious publisher. I wonder how prestige is defined or determined, first of all. Still, the part of this discussion that’s most interesting to me is this: if your intent as a poet is to get your work out into the world, to reach your perceived readership, audience, and/or communities, then whether or not your publisher is prestigious should not be so important (in grad school, one of my professors said to me that whether a publisher had an effective distribution system in place was more important). If a major part of your publishing career revolves around university tenure, then landing book contracts with a prestigious publisher is more of a concern. But not all poets operate within that system.
Again, I am conveying all of these discussion points still unclear on the definition of “prestige” and “prestigious.” For now I am assuming it has something to do with not being DIY, certainly not being “vanity press.”
I wonder whether it’s about editorial filters, mechanisms by which your work is processed through someone else’s machine? I am not trying to say that we don’t need others — colleagues, mentors — to read our work, aid us in any radical revision, or in the very least clarifying any muddled spots, refining or fine-tuning or polishing our work, all this after we’re certain we have publishable, full length manuscripts.
Certainly, there are poets who adamantly refuse any editorial advice or input, claiming their work to be exactly as it should be. I can’t really say anything about these poets. While I wholeheartedly believe in hearing the editorial advice of trusted colleagues and mentors, I do not believe in allowing others to determine your voice for you, or allowing others to coerce your voice into their voice.
As well, I distinguish “prestigious” and “nationally recognized,” as I’ve discussed before, e-world is enabling us to traverse local community.
As well again, I question whether it’s the sheer quality of manuscripts which secures book contracts with publishers of any level of prestige. I am much more apt to believe what is deemed publication worthy has more to do with what is familiar and what is currently vogue, hence its marketability, which is interesting in an industry that is known to not generate much if any profit.
But let’s not polarize the industry into “highly prestigious” versus DIY. Something else that’s being discussed is the independent publisher. A few things I am thinking:
- Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Books. Did he not start out publishing his friends, colleagues, and himself. Today, Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books is an internationally recognized institution, not just of Beat Poetry or San Francisco Poetry, but American Poetry, and even World Poetry.
- Henry Rollins and 2.13.61. Rollins is also an institution, as far as punk rock is concerned. And so he’s come into the publishing world with cultural and economic capital, and with high profile personal and professional connections.
- Viggo Mortensen and Perceval Press. Before Viggo became a highly visible and wildly popular Aragorn, I understand he was a regular on the Santa Monica poetry scene, and he’s generally been known as a multi-genre artist, so it makes total sense that he would found this multi-genre arts press.
And regarding major publishers and high profile/celebrity poets, is the poetry they publish any good? Some examples:
- Billy Corrigan’s Blinking with Fists.
- Jewel Kilcher’s A Night without Armor.
- Alicia Keys’ Tears for Water.
- Jill Scott’s The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours.
(Mind you, the only one of these books I’ve read is Jewel’s, and I didn’t think it was particularly well-written.)
I am just trying to unpack some of the assumptions of prestigious being bigger and better, and independent/small being, well, small.