You’ve written a lot of poems, many have been published in various journals, ezines, and anthologies and you’re ready to publish your first book. How do you organize them into a collection? How do you choose a title, a book cover? How do you format them into a document? I hope this will help someone. I was given this task when a judge for the Mississippi Poetry Society (MPS) chose my poetry submission and selected me as MPS 2014 Poet of the Year. I had no idea how to do any of these things and had a quick deadline. I hope this will help you. I will add more hints as I remember them and time allows.
In Jeffery Levine’s post, On Making the Poetry Manuscipt Mr. Levine offers 27 things to keep in mind. Here are my own:
- Choose your poems. As poets we often write about the same things in different ways. I didn’t realize I had several poems that used a lot of the same words or thoughts until I started making a collection. Do they have the same voice?
- Think about what your book is “about,” and think of the entire book as a poem itself. To organize the poems, some suggest grouping them by the time frame (and creative period) in which they were written. I tend to group mine by subject, but find that often they fall into the same general period of time in which they were written.
- Another way to organize them is to spread them all out on the floor. I know this is a lot of printing, but this really helps me, since I am a visual person. It’s impossible to see all your poems at once on the computer (unless tiny) and it’s time consuming scrolling up and down, copy/paste, etc…
- The first few poems should establish voice, what your book is about, and credibility. I had a hard time with this, as I thought my best poems fit chronologically later.
- Another thing to remember when arranging your poems is mood and images. I would not have more than two “downer” poems in a row before having a little relief with humor or an upbeat poem. I gave a group of poems, arranged from dark to light, to a critic once and he wouldn’t read past the dark ones. He said no one wants to read depressing poems. Yet a LOT of people who read those poems told me they were my best because they could relate, they could feel the pain, so I do not agree with him. BUT I will limit the number of them in a row.
- Read your poems out loud. I especially like to read the end of one and the beginning of the next to see if they fit together.
- Rewrite if necessary. In reading poems I’ve already published I find a word here and there I want to change. It’s OK to do this. You should own the copyright, so go for it! I’m all about rewriting!Weed out unnecessary words, abstractions and flowery words. Ezra Pound in Don’ts by an Imagiste said, “Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.”
- A new author should have some blurbs on the back cover. Did you meet someone famous at a workshop or book signing that might do you a favor? That’s how I got mine. It never hurts to ask. Just don’t do like I did and wait until the last minute.
- Line up a friend photographer or artist for the cover pic. If you don’t have one, look on facebook for local photographer or artist groups. Luckily my photographer sister made the 2 hour trip to Red Bluff and got a pic for me! Do NOT get a picture off the internet without written approval!
- If you have time and patience, figure out how to make your own cover or fork out the money and pay someone. I’m okay with my createspace cover maker cover, but I spent so much time (and I was on a deadline) and spent about $70 on 4 proofs (fastest shipping is what cost so much) that I could have paid someone to do it for me. Next time I will!
- Find a place to submit or publish it yourself. I was lucky enough to be chosen by the Mississippi Poetry Society as Poet of the Year, so they were the publisher, but I had the task of choosing where to have it published… and the daunting trial of formatting my book. After talking to several authors, I chose Createspace because 1) it’s free, 2) the giant Amazon will get your book online as soon as you approve it. 3) You can still sell it elsewhere. They provide a free ISBN (I had one from MPS, though).
- You do not have to pay for a Library of Congress Catalog number.; it’s free. You DO need to go to that website about a month ahead of time and apply. If you do not have a publisher like I did, it is a different route. Whatever email you give them is the one they will send the info to, so be sure it is one you have access to or that of a person you have informed about this!
- Format your poems following the guidelines for where you are submitting. If you use Createspace, for a 6″ x 9″ set your margins to .76″ all around with a .25″ gutter and mirror margins for the whole document… at least that worked for me. Put your page numbers in the middle on the bottom and you won’t have to worry about the mirror problem. When you want to start new numbers go to page setup and choose different new page. I can’t tell you how frustrating this was. I wanted to add blank pages in between sets of poems but never figured out on Word 2013 how to do it without messing up the page numbers.
- Use a well-known author’s book as an example for acknowledgments, table of contents, etc…
- Spell check and have friends check for any grammatical errors. When you have read a poem a zillion times it is hard to catch your own errors. I think this should be done ahead of time, and I’m sure I need to watch this: abstractions, flowery words. Ezra Pound in Don’ts by an Imagiste said, “Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something. “Now you may see the book falling into sections. Once again you may want to reorder them. If you think a poem is weak, leave it out. Your book should be 48-64 pages. Mine was 70 pages counting front & back material.
Choose a Title
- Levine suggests the title come from the title of a significant poem or line of a poem in your book. I had the hardest time with this!
- According to Cinders in Titles you do NOT want to choose for your poem or short story, the abstract words like Love. Hate, Death, Life, Friendship, or Emotions like Sad or Happy should not be used as titles “because they are generic, and inspire nothing in the reader. They are dull. And they are EVERYWHERE.”
- Get opinions. I ran different titles by Facebook friends, coworkers & family. Everyone had their own opinion, but they may make you see a title in a different light.
- Print out a title page and see how it feels.
- Is there another book by this name? I like to Google potential titles and see what comes up–wouldn’t want my book to be confused with someone else’s book. I had thought about naming the book Devil’s Due, but decided it was a misleading title. Then here is a movie just released with that title. How strange is that? Pay attention to these things.
- Think about the cover–are you going to have a related photo or drawing, or will it be abstract? I decided on a poem that seemed to bring it all together–From the Depths of Red Bluff and another that placed the poems Where Muscadines Grow. I could see a beautiful country scene with a winding dirt road, or a closeup of muscadines. Unfortunately they were out of season and no one I knew had a picture.I could also picture beautiful Red Bluff (Mississippi’s Little Grand Canyon) on the cover. People either loved or hated the latter.
- Consider connotations and double meanings. I asked ONE more literary friend with great insight to talk it through with me. After discussing connotations & how Where Muscadines Grow sounds like Where the Red Ferns Grow, and how another choice I had that mentions God might make some people think it was a religious book, we then discussed “Red Bluff“–That sounds like a history or tour guide book, we decided. Plus the word “bluff” is meant as a canyon in this instance, and might be misconstrued as its other meaning. She did like the connotations of the color red, (heart, blood) and said it made her think about rivers, Mississippi, even Indians. Most of all, she said it made her curious about what was in the depths of Red Bluff. So, I decided on the full name, From the Depths of Red Bluff .
- For heaven’s sake!! MAKE YOUR OWN COVER or PAY SOMEONE. No one told me you HAVE to do this in order to have the price on the back cover, an industry standard.
I recently came across this post– Poetry Out of Nowhere: National Poetry Month Flash Mob on Kate Messner’s blog. One stanza of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells” is in our 5th grade music books (I teach elementary music), and I always read the entire poem to the class. I love the rhythm of it, as well as Poe, of course. This reminds me of a type of group reading called “choral” reading. To read “The Bells” and for more comments, click here.
So many people tell me, I want to get published, tell me how. I give them the link to Part 1 of my series on Poetry Submissions (which also works for stories). Often it boils down to this: the right time, the right place, with the right poem or story. If you are rejected it might not be because it wasn’t “good enough,” but simply because it didn’t fit that particular issue or the theme of that issue. Some things to check to make sure you get it right:
- Read a previous journal or sample if available. This will give you a feel for the style they prefer–rhyme, free verse, spoken word, confessional, etc…
- Also check the genre–such as fantasy, dark, experimental, or general.
- Make sure you follow the guidelines. Sometimes editors are very picky about this and will throw out a submission that did not follow their rules.
- Obviously you should check when the issue for which you are submitting will be published. For example, don’t submit a poem about winter when the issue is coming out in July, unless the theme is on winter.
- If your work is not accepted, read it again to see if there are any mistakes. Submit somewhere else suitable using the guidelines above. If it is rejected 3 or more times consider revising it, remembering to “cut it ’til it bleeds,” and “show don’t tell.”
- Finally, don’t give up! You’ll eventually hit the “write” time, the “write” place, with the “write” poem or story!
Ebooks and Self-Publishing
Some of us are being carried kicking and screaming into the e-revolution. I wrote this tongue-in-cheek poem, Empty Margins Rekindled, when the Kindle appeared on the market.
I think, or at least I hope, that there will always be print books. But in this world you either go with the flow or get stuck in the mud. Technology is constantly changing and improving and so must we as writers. I have yet to take the plunge to self-publish (other than the few poems I have on my blogs). In my research I came across these answers to my question.
Why are more and more authors self-publishing e-books instead of using traditional publishers and instead of self-publishing in print?
Let’s face it, self-publishing has had a bad reputation in the past—it’s what you do when you can’t get a publisher, which implies that the author isn’t “good enough.” Anyone can be an “author” by publishing themselves, but a “real” author—one worthy of the title—is chosen by a publisher. But now, with the advent of ebooks and the technology to read them, things are changing. Authors don’t have to pay the high cost of print publishing with ebooks, nor do they have to worry that bookstores won’t carry stock. Self-publishing ebooks puts the product directly from the author into the hands of the consumer. New and established writers alike are taking advantage of self-publishing and the e-book revolution.
Popularity of E-Readers
E-technology is so new that we haven’t even decided the proper way to write these “e” words—is it Ebook, eBook, ebook or e-book? It seems these books and readers have become popular overnight… or over Christmas 2010. People must have received millions of iPads, Kindles, and Nooks for Christmas presents. According to USA Today, a week after the holidays is when e-book sales surpassed print. (I, on the other hand, bought my granddaughter the entire hard back series of Harry Potter.)
Economics for Established Authors
There are financial reasons why many previously successful authors are now circumventing legacy print publishing houses and going on their own to Kindle, iBookstore, Kobo and other e-services. The Telegraph reports that Amazon Kindle e-books are outselling paperbacks. In a Newbie’s Guide to Publishing’s post Ebooks and Self-Publishing – A Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, J.A. Konrath discusses with New York Times best-selling author Barry Eisler the reason he turned down a $500,000 offer. Eisler says, “I think I can do better in the long-term on my own.” Konrath, who has sold over 1000,000 self-published ebooks, was #9 last year on Kindle with his novel Shaken.
In the Freakonomics article Who’s the Biggest Loser in E-Books? Dubner states that, according to a bulletin by Authors Guild, authors actually lose royalty money by publishing ebooks instead of print, while their publishers make more money. The article cites actual examples…another reason to self-publish your e-book.
In The Next Web post, “The Economics of Self-Publishing an Ebook,” Blake Crouch, a successful mystery novelist, became interested in Amazon’s Kindle store. He self-published his short story collection and was amazed at how many more copies he sold compared to traditional publishing.
Launch of a Career for Unknown Authors
Some unpublished authors self-publish their ebooks to break into the traditional publishing world. USA Today tells how e-book self-published
author Amanda Hocking sold more than one million copies, earned over $2 million, and landed a 7-figure deal. The article states that she gained global success by using “aggressive self-promotion on her blog, Facebook and Twitter, word of mouth and writing in a popular genre — her books star trolls, vampires and zombies.” Hocking was able to set her own price. She keeps 70% profit from a $2.99 book (the online bookseller takes the remaining 30%), but she only keeps 30% of each 99-cent book sold.
Downside of Self-Publishing
Smashwords, an e-book publishing and distribution platform founded by Mark Coker, offers free samples and 85% or more of profit goes to the publisher/author. (See EBook Publishing: Introduction to Smashwords for a simplified intro to Smashwords.) One lady testifies that she downloaded her book and the profits just rolled in. But when Coker is asked Will I sell a lot of books on Smashwords? his reply is an honest “probably not,” some won’t sell any while some will sell thousands. Strangely enough he states that, “Although ebooks are the fastest growing segment of the book industry, ebooks still only represent about one tenth of overall book market in the US, and less in other countries.” This seems opposite to what I’ve read online. As with any self-publishing venture, the burden is on the author to promote and market their own book. While “Smashwords distributes books to most of the major retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store,” and offers promotional tips and author pages, it is ultimately up to the author to publicize and promote their books on social networks, blogs, etc… This point is reiterated in Publish Your Own Ebooks explains the reason why Hocking chose to take the deal instead of continuing to self-publish. It wasn’t that she couldn’t make more money by self-publishing the rest of the series, but because the business end was time-consuming, taking away from her writing time. To summarize, you must have the time and energy to devote to the promotion of your work if you choose to self-publish ebooks or print. Each writer must weigh the pros and cons and decide for him/herself!
A friend posted this on facebook, “How to Conduct a Successful Book Signing Event” by Sally Watkins http://bit.ly/91kYlT via @JohnKremer. I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but some of you may find it useful.
Another friend and prolific magazine writer, Cheryl Wray posted The Joys and Hazards of Book Signings on Writing for Dollars. She is the author of Writing for Magazines (McGraw-Hill), a popular guide for freelancers, and has published over 1000 articles in magazines.In this article she says to
1) Be sure the bookstore is prepared for you, has a table set up. Have posters set up in the store.
2) Do your own press releases in the local newspapers, have posters around town.
3) Make eye contact with customers and appear friendly. A freebie (bookmark or candy) with contact info is also a good idea.
4) Ask bookstore manager if you can sign your remaining books.
5) Keep in touch with the bookstore.
The Waiting Game. I waited for over a year on an option once; another time I got a response in 2 days. One submission has been out for 9 months and they won’t respond to my query. ??? It all depends on where you send your work, and sometimes, to a much lesser degree, on when you send it. How long until publication? How often does the journal/magazine publish? Where do you find the answer to these questions? Are more publications worthy of waiting for than others?
Statistics of Best American Poetry This book was my Bible for where to submit when I first started making submissions. Now, not so much. Duotrope, Newpages and Poets & Writers are the places I haunt for journals that are better suited for my poetry.
Choosing Where to Submit By Reported Response Times
Here is Jeffrey Bahr’s compilation of Publication Response Times. I often go to Duotrope to check out the latest response times in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Now you have to pay to use Duotrope, however. There is so much information at Poets & Writers that I didn’t realize there is an advanced search within Literary Magazines. You can discover the percentage of unsolicited submissions published in each magazine and its circulation. NewPages has a list of literary magazines and gives their response time, publication frequency, as well as many other facts. Here are Ten Literary Journals that Respond Within a Month.
Is When You Submit a Factor?
Yes! Autumn Sky Poetry offers this advice, “If you don’t want to wait a long time to hear about the status of your submission, send us your poems the last week of the month prior to our issue release. That way you will only have to wait, at most, two weeks. ” Check out when your publication is set to print. How long is that from the deadline to submit? Some take longer than others. Do your research.
Should You Query?
Read the guidelines and see if the publication lists their average response time. Most will even tell you to query if you haven’t heard from them within a certain period of time. It is possible that submissions, or their responses, get lost in the mail or email. This happened to me twice. You won’t find this out if you don’t query, however. Many places will acknowledge receipt of a submission, but not all. I hate to bug editors and tend to wait out the alloted time. Then I query.
“The Waiting is the Hardest Part,” as Tom Petty sings. But it’s just part of the writing life. Gordon posts that Maybe We Should Just Stop submitting to those journals who seems to take forever responding. Check out Writerly Ways – A Tirade Against Literary Journals where Ahmed gives four reasons why Literary Journals tick him off. Literary Rejections on Display is a blog with several writers’ veiwpoints on response times, not to mention copies of actual rejections. It’s a place to unload and maybe feel you’re not all alone in Rejection Land.
I hate waiting, but I hate keeping a poem in limbo even worse. My advice is to submit to places that take simultaneous submissions OR places that have a fast response. Then it’s exciting to open your mailbox or email and find out you have an acceptance!
This is Part 5 of a series I started in May. Here is Part I: How.