From 03/23/2009, stuff I’ve been thinking about and talking about for a while now:
I am wondering how much of a need there is in our communities to talk about that writer’s life, taking writing workshops at community colleges and via organizations such as Kearny Street Workshop’s IWL, Kundiman, VONA, navigating the world of artist residencies and fellowships, thinking about applying to MFA programs.
Then there’s submitting poems to magazines and journals, writing cover letters, creating and maintaining a CV, compiling, revising and editing manuscripts, navigating the whole manuscript submissions madness. And then there’s handling the book contract, and working with a publisher’s editor(s). [Addendum: I think there is and has been a great interest, albeit a nebulous one, in the local Filipino American writer community in publishing, though little concrete guidance in actually going about doing so. Here I mean regarding manuscripts, but also and more importantly, researching publishers (and even where to go to find lists of publishers, who accepts submissions and when, what kind of work certain publishers publish and how to decide what is a good fit between writer and publisher), how to write a query, how to compile that submissions package. Another couple of things to talk about here are (1) to contest or not to contest, and (2) self-publishing, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of these two options. Here already is the assumption that writers already have full length manuscripts that are ready to be published. And in many cases, this assumption needs to be unpacked and rethought.]
So that’s two things: what concrete steps to take to develop one’s writing, and then what concrete steps to take to get said writing out there into the world. I realize the above is quite print-centric, but that’s my focus and specialty. Others would be able to say knowledgeable things about the life, world, and work of performance poetry.
Actually, a third thing: the life of a writer as pertains to publicity/promotion, and as pertains to gigs, venues, and the possibility of honoraria, how to go about handling these in a way that honors community and honors the time, labor, and efforts of the writer.
I wanted to say a few things about last week’s PAWA workshop on submitting work for publication. It was an intense three-hour session, during which I almost lost my voice just speaking for that long a stretch. I am grateful for the thoughtful, positive feedback I’ve received.
We did indeed go through the nitty-gritty of finding prospective publishing venues, deciding which publications could be a “good fit” for our work, reading submissions guidelines very thoroughly; we went over what to include in cover letters and the value of being concise — I showed them a couple of my own cover letters from 2006 and 2008; Brian Komei Dempster gave a “how to submit for publication” workshop via KSW back in 1999 or so, and he told us to feel free to use his cover letter as a template, and so at last weekend’s workshop I did the same. We talked about simultaneous submissions, and finding ways to track and organize our submissions. I told them some writers have spreadsheets, some use Duotrope, and that I do neither, but keep all my submissions as individual, uniformly titled doc files in a file folder on my computer.
We talked a bit about book publication, self-publishing vs. “traditional” publishing, writing query letters and composing the “elevator pitch,” the value of working with editors, how the ideal process is completely transparent, and how all of this should always be manageable and common sense. Here, I referred them to Sesshu Foster’s recent blog post:
Advice on publishing
1. Give people poems if they ask you; give readings if they ask you to read. That leads to publication.
2. Look at the acknowledgments page in the books of poets you enjoy. Identify journals and magazines where they publish.
3. Subscribe and read literary journals and magazines that seem interesting. How else will you know what they publish?
4. Be creative and open-minded about sharing your poetry. Poetry can be a way to create community wherever it may be.
if you contact small presses yourself, and make that happen, then it’s more like having friends publish your work. you have a press who will more likely stand behind your book, keep it in print, distribute and market it for you, and give it more credibility for reviewers. small presses represent independent voices, artistic (aesthetic) visions, and democratic politics, and when you publish with a small press you associate with their values, and they support yours. (so there’s feminist presses, radical presses, local regional presses, artsy presses, avant garde poets’ presses, anarchist presses, university and intellectuals presses, etc.—that’s why i am happy to publish with city lights, of course.)
I was so glad to read this, as an affirmation of what I believe about publishing and community. For sure, I did keep cycling back to what Rigoberto González once said — that information on how to publish, and where to publish is easily accessible. What’s more important to think about is our activism and community building. What are we doing with our writing and publication? How are we building community as artists? How are we forging connections with others? I then told them that answering questions about who we wish to reach with our work, who we envision as our readers, usually is a good indicator of where and how we would like to publish. Our circles do grow though, in ways unforeseen.
When asked why they wanted to publish, one of the participants said that he wanted to produce for his children a written record of where he’s been. This is writing to forge connection. At a recent Filipino American author event at USF, Pati Navalta Poblete told us she started writing The Oracles: My Filipino Grandparents in America (Heyday Books), so that her children would know where they came from. This is some of the most pure and sincere motivation for writing and publishing, I think. It is the opposite of folks whose core identity is purely Poetic Industrial Complex, and truth is, I don’t know if they really exist. I think most of us are in the middle, navigating the industry sanely, and working to reach the folks most important to us.