First Post of 2014: Thoughts on Publishing, Publication Advice

Well, we’re halfway through January, and I’ve finally decided I have time to blog.

First, I am in what I call publication limbo. I’ve submitted my manuscript to one editor, and am waiting to hear back. What to do in the meantime? I am not doing a submissions blitz, and it’ll take however long it takes. I mean to be selective.

In the meantime, I am thinking of picking up another poetic writing project. I haven’t thought too deeply about this to actually nail down what this project would be.

It’s not like I don’t have a project of some kind on the table. This year, I am editing the Pinay poetics anthology I’ve been thinking about for the last few years. I’m just waiting for submissions to start rolling in. I’m glad this anthology will be a PAWA project. Let’s see what we can continue to build with this org. We have a lot of good people there; we’re just generally overextended, working, teaching, doing our art, trying to run an org. It’s a lot of multi-tasking, but I believe we’re doing good things.

Anyway, more on publishing. There’s an interesting conversation happening on my friend’s FB wall, re: vanity/subsidy publishers. In his case, one publisher in particular, which I won’t name here because I have no experience with that publisher.

My friend’s question though, very interesting. If a publisher requires you to pre-sell a certain number of books before they actually get to producing your book or chapbook, is that a vanity/subsidy publisher? But let me back up. Is there any difference between vanity publisher and subsidy publisher? As far as I know, a vanity publisher is one which requires as a contractual term that the author to pay for production costs (and other costs, such as publicity, etc?). I don’t know, but I am guessing it is also primarily the author’s responsibility to market and distribute. In traditional publishing models, it’s already a lot of work for the author to push their own product. Imagine if there’s no one else shouldering this task.

OK, if publishers do require you to pre-sell as a contractual term, then they (should) straight up state that as part of who they are, what they do and how they do it. This way, you make informed decisions as a potential author. I’m not saying anything radical or new here. The FB conversation has just got me thinking more and again about the publishing industry, and how we navigate it. Or how we choose to navigate through it, where we place ourselves within it. And most importantly, whether we choose to learn about how its various components work, what different ways it works, and then how it works as a whole. And also what the consequences are of choosing certain types of publishers over others. If you decide to self-publish, for example, and then find out your self-publication does not qualify you for certain awards, fellowships, positions, etc., these are things you should have already researched and considered before making your decision.

Lots and lots of emerging writers presume I possess insider knowledge, and thus have asked me tons of questions about publishing, and once I open my mouth to answer, I seem to be speaking some kind of alien language. Can I talk about the publishing industry without using any “jargon,” and are these terms really jargon — open reading periods, contests and prizes, query letters, manuscript submission guidelines, distributors, and then researching which publishers publish what and whom.

(It might be time to hold another PAWA publishing workshop, but we see how few people actually come through for those; I wonder if we held it as a “clinic,” if more people would attend.)

In the past, I would do my best to dissuade Pin@y aspiring authors from self-publishing. I would do this because of the usual complaints we hear from Pin@ys about Pin@y books being hugely unavailable, invisible, easily dismissible — i.e. seemingly non-existent and not taken seriously. These days, I want to say that perhaps technology is making my arguments irrelevant. Wouldn’t it be something if that were true. There are too many Pin@y writers I know who seem to me to be rather frustrated with the state of their publication.

These days, when people ask me about publishing, I ask them first, who is your reader? Who do you want, who do you envision reading your book? What are your goals as a writer, and for your specific publication project? And actually, I’ve become more reticent about giving advice. For full length poetry collections, my opinion and experience favors traditional publishing models over self-publishing; given what I wrote in my previous paragraph, I am biased against vanity publishing. In other words, I have my own publishing value system. Rather than talking shop, rather than manufacturing pithy bits of “wisdom,” I just encourage more writers who haven’t already, to think hard about what their publishing value system is, and have that inform their actions.

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Poem: To Survive an Apocalypse, a Girl Needs Light and Power

To walk unharassed, solar lanterns, flashlights, firewood, a firearm
To call for assistance, chargers and batteries, a mobile phone holstered to her hip
To get to safety, gasoline, siphoned into cans from unattended cars

In lieu of starvation, she will break and enter, she will steal her daily bread
In lieu of being sold to pedophiles and pimps, she will scavenge scraps and supplies
In lieu of rape, she will stand watch tonight, so that her sisters can sleep