First, we must always practice generosity. Few things piss me off more than folks who take, who always want stuff from you, who are always, “Look at me! Look at me! Me! Me! Me!” and who offer nothing in return. There are many of these folks crowding my inbox, and I can’t tell you enough what kind of off-putting, bad etiquette this is.
So that is my Golden Rule: Practice Generosity. In fact, considering the impending Rapture (see Gustav Doré’s beautiful “Four Horsemen” above), isn’t it even more imperative that we practice Hesukristo’s Golden Rule (minus the piss off part):
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise (Luke 6:31).
Now, I’d recently come across an article on “content curation,” linking this to community building. I know, a lot of this is social media buzzword, but there’s some merit to the idea. Generosity and community are part of the same body, so let me refer you all to my Poetry Foundation post, Literary Activism and Practicing Generosity.
The term, “content curation,” makes me curious; it’s a new term for stuff I think I am already doing. I am thinking about how to articulate these things I do, as Anthem has invited me to participate in his Art of Hustle podcast. Also, one of my sisters, who is a marketing executive, has asked me whether in my line of work, it’s about Creation or Curation. I told her both, depending upon the project.
All is worth unpacking here.
Creation. Starting with the actual conceiving of the work, the project — and I know, some folks don’t want to sully the poetry by calling it a project. Well, I organize my poetry by project, and by project, I mean book project. So then, there’s the conceiving of the project from a germ of an idea into poems and a full blown body of poems. Here, think about whether more creative writing classes and workshops are warranted. Do you need more sets of eyes on your work, or are you confident in your own editing and revision skills (and it is a skill set). So, there’s the writing, the revising, the editing. Then there’s the forming of a manuscript from these, ordering, reordering, creating a foundation and building upwards from this, and/or determining a trajectory. Some writers first do chapbook before full length book. I think the chapbook can be a great “dress rehearsal” (as other authors have said) for the full length book. Though sometimes, the chapbook is its own complete body.
I was told by Eileen Tabios, when I started working on Gravities of Center, to begin strong and end strong. The question is how to create the movement from that strong beginning to that strong ending, and then, how to do this without filler. If a poem is like an engine, in which each part serves a function and there are no superfluous parts, then a poetry book should be like this too.
Beginning. I think of my books’ beginnings classically, as invocations to the muses, who/whatever these muses may be.
Ending. Could be a segue into the next book’s concerns.
The Hustle. There’s the something beyond creation or the creative work — the marketing, the hustle, the move from creative person to business person, when engaged in manuscript submissions, combing finely through all the literary e-resources for publishers’ submissions calls (this is when it’s helpful to have a RSS feed reader), manuscript open reading periods, what publishers want what kind of work and by when. This is all task oriented: composing cover letters, e-submissions (for example, via Submishmash), or stocking up on printer toner, reams of paper, and making frequent trips to the post office.
What would my advice be here, except to read submissions calls carefully, completely, thoroughly. I can’t stress this enough. I frequently post submissions calls on the PAWA blog and listserv, and I cannot tell you how many people backchannel me, asking me for various types of information, when the submissions calls clearly provide the contact information in them, i.e. the parties to whom those questions should be directed. Asking me is like shooting the messenger. Moreover, the kinds of questions people ask me can be quickly resolved, again, by simply reading the submissions call.
People, to be a professional is to be able to read guidelines, and follow directions without freaking out.
My other piece of advice would be about entering your manuscript into contests. It’s OK to do this, though it’s never been my preference. I do the publisher query and the open submissions period. That’s what has worked for me, not just in getting my manuscript through the door, but throughout the editorial process and into the distribution and marketing of the book. So with contests, and of course, with all publishers to whom you submit, choose these wisely, be discerning. Which publishers forward work more in line with your aesthetics or politics? Do you feel more comfortable going with an established press or with an upstart one, with which you can grow? Look at their distribution networks. Look at their production values. Don’t just go with what’s “easiest.”
I’ve heard of writers who feel totally screwed in varying degrees, by a contest they have won. Much of this being/feeling screwed can be attributed to the fact that there is little or no opportunity to establish a relationship with an editor or publisher to continue to grow and foster, when going the contest route. An outside judge has been paid to yay or nay your work, before cutting out and getting to the next gig, regardless of what the editors/publishers think, and you haven’t had to opportunity to introduce yourself to them.
Moreover, contest fees can add up to a lot of money better spent on things like rent/mortgage, groceries, et al. Still, these days, some publishers also have submissions fees, which I used to be fervently against. Recently, I’d heard a poetry teacher I know tell her students those fees are basically donations to the indie presses, whom we know are not swimming in cash. So one way to feel OK about parting with more cash is to think about it in terms of supporting the indie publishing industry.
And it’s precisely because I am tapped into so many resources that (1) people ask me for/about stuff all the time, and (2) it makes sense to share all of this information with others. The danger, of course, is taking on too much work, and losing focus as an artist.
Next blog post, post-Rapture, I will talk about Curation.
For now, it’s all about the Red Rockers’ version of “Eve of Destruction,” some Guns N’ Roses (they’re appropriate for the End of the World), Nine Inch Nails’ post-apocalyptic Year Zero, and watching again the Randy Savage vs. Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, in honor of Savage’s recent demise.