Category Archives: Guest Blog Post

12 Suggestions for Post-Ought Literary Magazines

Simeon Berry
Guest Blog Post by Simeon Berry

I don’t have all the answers about the growing divide between print and online magazines, but I do have a few suggestions:

  1. Advocacy of contributors is important. Those of us who were publishing in the 90s didn’t really expect it, but now we’re getting used to it. Guernica is a fine example of a journal who gets the content out there on social media.
  2. If your magazine has a social presence (which isn’t really optional any more), it should have personality. Your social feed should not be a welter of press releases. Those feeds get hidden faster than the people on Facebook and Twitter who only self-promote or thank others for following/publishing them.
  3. For the love of God, please stop driving authors to post terrible photos of their pages online. It just makes the print-only magazines look (rightly or wrongly) like dinosaurs. Rattle (who releases their entire print issue online in stages) and Song Cave (who makes their chapbooks free to download after the edition sells out) are pointing the way.
  4. Make each piece directly linkable by authors. Scrolling through an entire issue of minuscule text is going to lose you readers.
  5. Leverage the power of print to handle exotic text formatting and/or the ability of the net to provide additional content and functionality.
  6. Magazines only have as much prestige as authors think they do. It seems like the majority of well-established authors haven’t migrated to online magazines because they don’t feel like they need to. This is a boon to print-only journals, but it has an expiration date. Up-and-coming writers are beginning to look to journals for what they can offer in a very practical way, rather than who they publish, because online journals are mostly serving their needs better and allowing them to stock their online library of content. The work that less-established writers have online is ending up being the determining factor for whether or not they get readings, solicitations, etc.
  7. Make sure your magazine looks as good as it can on a smartphone and that the work is searchable by Google. See above comment regarding practical considerations.
  8. Make print journals more than just a way-station for poems on their way to becoming a book. I don’t know exactly how to accomplish this, but I’m sure that lots of editors are thinking furiously about it.
  9. Similarly, make online journals more than just annexes to a writer’s Facebook or Twitter feed. I’m also unsure about how to do this, but it needs to happen. (Hat-tip to Rob Arnold for this observation.)
  10. If your magazine has institutional support, either in the form of funds or teaching relief, start thinking about how you’re going to replace that support if it’s withdrawn. This happened to big name magazines, and no one is safe, especially in the age of the corporate university. If you think your prestige is going to save you, think again. Online publishing isn’t free, but it’s much cheaper than print, and college administrators are going to be asking editors why they can’t switch to that model as budgets shrink and online magazines get more prestigious.
  11. We may not like them, but submission fees are here to stay. More and more magazines are using them every year. It’s an easy and labor-free way of generating revenue for magazines, and it stems the massive tide of submissions that come over the transom without fees. In the past, I always felt guilty about sending to a magazine that I didn’t subscribe to and now I don’t, thanks to submission fees. Plus, online magazines don’t really have an effective subscription model in the same way, and I think the past decade has shown paywalls to be very limited in their effectiveness. If you don’t think a magazine has value, then don’t submit. Right now, because the field is so choked with online magazines and the technology/strategies of those magazines haven’t really started to sort out the wheat from the chaff, it’s not as big an issue, but it will be.
  12. All this stuff is happening very fast, so be prepared to forget what you thought you knew. On that note, feel free to quarrel with me! I’m looking for solutions.

About the Author:

Simeon Berry lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. He has been an Associate Editor for Ploughshares and received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. His first book, Ampersand Revisited (Fence Books), won the 2013 National Poetry Series, and his second book, Monograph (University of Georgia Press), won the 2014 National Poetry Series.

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Part-time Faculty: Contingency Becomes Collective

Guest Post by Jean Waggoner

Jean Waggoner

A writing colleague who is a recent MFA graduate, recently posted a social media link to an article titled “Professors in Homeless Shelters: It is time to talk seriously about adjuncts,” along with the grim remark, “Now is the perfect time see an abundance of articles like these, right when I’m about to be searching the job market.” In that linked Salon article of March 17, Becky Tuch called adjunct abuse “one of higher education’s great sins” and asked why the Association of Writers and Writing Programs isn’t talking about it.

In the very last weeks of those specialized graduate programs for which college teaching is a logical career path, students might be cautioned, “It could take as long as eight years to secure a full-time, tenure-track job.” Try twelve. Try 15. Try it’s never going to happen! Try invade an area without a glut of ivy league universities and you may find that elusive job if you have an ivy league Ph. D. – but it will pay only $35K/year. Look for a different career! Maybe you could become an ad man?

Nobody wants to talk about it – not even the exploited adjuncts. The President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) shocked listeners in November 2011 by saying on Brian Lamb’s PBS program that only 15% of America’s professorate held full-time tenured or tenure-track teaching jobs. Data are hard to come by, since wherever the legal limit of part-time faculty is around 66% of total teaching faculty (a figure long surpassed almost everywhere), the excess can be disguised by creative accounting. The disgruntled adjuncts can be dismissed with the pop culture admonition to the exploited, “You’re just not trying hard enough!” Creative administrations (like Citrus College’s in Los Angeles) offer interviewing techniques workshops to help drive home the point: “You weren’t the one in 500 applicants winner of that rarely offered full-time [but already-spoken-for] job in your discipline? It’s your fault! You’re no good! Be glad for the crumbs you’re getting.”

AAUP was in the vanguard, realizing that an impoverished part-time professorate lacks the means to belong to professional associations or subscribe to their expensive publications. Most members of this “adjunct” or “contingent” majority have neither the institutional support to attend professional conferences nor the status to apply for grants to fund their own research. Most are shut out of professional development and not even invited to department meetings in their disciplines. Being part of America’s new faculty majority is the social equivalent of working as a day laborer. Of course, an association of writing programs is not eager to broadcast such news.

The class-divide between the have and have-not faculty increases by the year. In the California community college system, for example, a part-time teacher would have to teach three times the annual load of a full-time faculty member (spread over a three- or four-campus commute, though) to have earnings at the bottom rung of a first year salary without the benefits. Since state budget cutbacks have all but eliminated summer school teaching (full time faculty take as proprietary overloads what little remains), there is no longer even that much opportunity to reach a middle-class income for this “other” 85% of faculty, many of whom actually shoulder committee work, volunteer their time to meet with students outside of class, do (unfunded) research, get published and effectively conduct themselves as real faculty, despite glaring disparities in both compensation and respect. In actuality, many part-time teachers treat the profession with more dignity than evidenced by their full-time opposites. “I thought that was a janitor” is a remark not applied to part-time faculty, the ones moving down the halls with their rolling luggage carts, dressed at least as professionally as the clerks at the local super market.

Plenty of complaints are lodged against “freeway fliers,” “road-scholars” or whatever the underbelly of the professorate is known by, as happens with any marginalized group. Adjuncts are out of the room and easy to blame for whatever ails the academy – and nobody wants to take the card-turning blame for their exploitation. It’s easier to talk in broader terms, as cultural studies philosopher Henry A. Giroux did in “Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation,” a March 20 article for Moyers and Company:

The transformation of higher education in the United States and abroad is evident in a number of registers. These include decreased support for programs of study that are not business-oriented; reduced funds for research that does not increase profit; the replacement of shared forms of governance with rigid business management models; the lessening of financial support for academic fields that promote critical thinking rather than an entrepreneurial culture; the ongoing exploitation of faculty labor; and the use of purchasing power as the vital measure of a student’s identity, worth and access to higher education.

American universities are becoming all-administration institutions, places where society’s elites can provide high-paying jobs for each other’s children at institutional expense, and where “faculty labor” is done by dangerous thinkers, highly suspect as purveyors of democratic ideology, who can now, in increasing numbers, be worked to exhaustion and controlled by threats of job loss. After all, the desired product is transfer or a degree, not knowledge transmitted by commie pink-o nuts who still believe in the Enlightenment and haven’t yet learned that the Constitution is evil or adopted Cretinism in regard to the theories of Darwin. In the tightening grip of this administrative vise, full-time professors argue for more full-time jobs, sensing a looming threat to tenure. For part-time faculty, campaigning to get two or three more faculty elites on campus is beside the point. Organizing for better part-time wages has become the priority.

Unfortunately, the system is stacked against contingent labor communications. Adjunct names, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers are neither listed in catalogs nor shown on department web pages, in most institutions. “Professor STAFF” is the schedule name of the shifting minions. Few campus activities provide specific adjunct gathering places or occur when adjuncts are able to attend. Contingency has meant isolation. Nonetheless, a gathering awareness is spreading via social media and occasional news items shared among energetic advocates for the new faculty majority. Isolated individuals are learning strategies touted in the business press. Speaking about social media and branding in a March 17 Forbes interview, Harvard Business School Professor Mikołaj Jan Piskorski noted, “Once firms recognize that consumers want to connect to each other, they can develop social strategies that do exactly that under the umbrella of their brand.” Contingent professors are finally coming into their own “brand” awareness and social platform strategies.

Some of the ongoing and emerging “brands” for contingent faculty advocacy are New Faculty Majority (http://www.newfacultymajority.info/equity), The Adjunct Project (http://adjunct.chronicle.com), Adjunct Justice (http://adjunctjustice.tumblr.com), the California Part-time Faculty Association (http://cpfa.org), COCAL – international/local (www.chicagococal.org) and the Save CCSF Coalition (www.saveccsf.org). In the last couple of years contingent faculty have gotten increasing television, blog and press coverage and even a modicum of national political attention, when Maria Maisto, President of New Faculty Majority was invited twice to speak before Congressional committees on our issues. Some of the comments following on-line articles have provided first-rate discussion of our work and its value, as can be seen following NPR’s ” Part-Time Professors Demand Higher Pay; Will Colleges Listen?” of February 3 (http://www.npr.org/2014/02/03/268427156/part-time-professors-demand-higher-pay-will-colleges-listen) – along with anti-intellectual, derogatory remarks, of course.

Although quite a few contingent faculty are moonlighting from full-time jobs in K-16 or other professions, and many, including housewives and retirees, do not want more than part-time work, growing numbers are joining unions or seeking their representation, sometimes calling on labor organizations outside of the traditional educator ones. Much work needs to be done and seemingly insurmountable barriers must be brought down, but there is also growing hope in solidarity. Contingents are getting to know each other and to know that eighty-five percent of American faculty can NOT be dismissed as the “You’re just not trying hard enough” losers of pop psychology.

About the Author:

Jean Waggoner is a part-time faculty advocate who has taught English and/or English as a Second Language at various California community colleges since the mid-1990s. She is co-author with Douglas Snow of The Freeway Flier and the Life of the Mind, a 2011 book exploring part-time faculty and marginalized scholars’ lives. She co-leads writing workshops and contributes to Riverside Press Enterprise blogs and columns for Inlandia Institute of Riverside, California. Jean has produced poetry, short stories, fine arts reviews and articles that have appeared in a variety of publications and is currently editing an American issue for Rosetta World Literatura, a literary magazine associated with Istanbul University. She is able to “fumble around” in a number of foreign languages, including Turkish and once mastered an Azerbaijani class with writing in Cyrillic at UC.L.A. Jean lives in Idyllwild, a mile high town above Palm Springs.

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MFA Update – Poet in New York

Guest Post by Christopher Soto

Christopher Soto Photo

A few months ago I wrote on this blog about my pre-MFA experience (traveling and writing before beginning my studies at NYU). And now, if it’s alright, I’d like to update you on how my first semester went… I intend to focus on detailing the poetry culture surrounding the MFA program at NYU.

So, the program is situated within the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House. The house is located in the heart of Greenwich Village with a plethora of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bookstores around. Aside from one “Master’s Class” offered to undergraduate students (and taught by Marie Howe this semester) there are no other undergraduate classes or departments using the Creative Writer’s House. Thus, it’s only your poems and your MFA cohort occupying this private Greenwich Village townhouse, along a quiet tree-lined street off Sixth Avenue. So cute!

Some of my favorite memories from this semester have been merely writing and reading in this house. I find myself delving into books of poetry, next to a classmate in the common room, our attention only broken by the footsteps of Sharon Olds walking down the stairway. She will comment on the weather or the shine of the freshly polished handrails or just say a quick “hello” before we, students, immerse ourselves back into our books.

Anyways, in NYU’s MFA program a full course load is 8 credits per semester (one craft course, one workshop course). Classes are usually held Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. This semester I took Charles Simic for my workshop (on Monday evenings) and Major Jackson for my craft (on Tuesday evenings). Each class meets once a week for three hours, so the course load is not too overbearing. Most everyone in the program is very self-motivated and has great passion for poetry. So the light course load is seen as an opportunity for independent study, not an opportunity for laziness. It is a place where intellectuality and creativity are cherished and encouraged. So the seats are usually filled before and after scheduled classes with students doing independent work.

The program staff, and faculty, and your classmates will let you know about journals that are accepting publications, upcoming readings in town, books that you must read, fellowships and retreats that you should apply for, they will help you workshop your poems outside of class, anything you need. I have found the community of poets at NYU to be extremely hospitable, informative, and also pretty damn diverse (for academia).

In my cohort there are people of different genders, sexualities, races, ages, economic classes, from geographical locations, everything! It seems as if everyone comes from vastly different lived experiences, is writing in different forms, and emulating/challenging different parts of the poetry cannon. We support each other in our diversity and promote a culture that celebrates each other’s differences and similarities.

When not in class, or doing independent work, students often congregate at the plethora of readings at the Writer’s House. The readings hosted by the MFA program usually occur every Thursday and Friday evening and bring in a menagerie of your favorite poets.  You’ll find yourself sitting next to Philip Levine listening to Yusef Komunyakaa recite poems, or chatting with Sherman Alexie over wine and cheese in the reception area after his reading.

On Friday nights, there is also the student run reading series at the KGB Bar. So after the Writer’s House events on Fridays, people walk over to KGB together for some drinks and to mingle in a bit more rowdy of an environment. Those readings are usually filled with more grunts, and moans, and heckles and laughs than the prim and composed readings at the Writers House. But both are equally enjoyable. NYU students also frequent readings at Columbia, the New School, and throughout the other boroughs of NYC. Oh, and there are also sporadic panels/presentations/classes by visiting poets and publishers on Friday afternoons.

Many students also run their own reading series, or journals, or work for a publishing company or any variety of other literary organizations. Some students also get involved with Washington Square Review, the literary journal at NYU.

After a few weeks in the MFA program, it will begin to seem as if every writer (and publisher) lives within a few miles of you. And for the most part, it’s true. Several times, I’ve found myself finishing up a book and looking at the author bio to see that they live in Brooklyn. Several times I’ve emailed such poets and met up with them for lunch. There is so much community to discover and explore in NYC, I find it quite invigorating.

Lastly, I’d like to close this article with advice for prospective MFA students at NYU (or any poet seeking candidacy in another MFA program or any poet trying to “make it” in NYC or…). Remember that you are not building a network, you are building a community. You are excited to meet all of these poets and publishers because you appreciate their work and share a mutual admiration for the craft of poetry. Remember to not use people as a means to an end, to not look at them for their “network.” Remember that (even with your MFA degree and fancy new poetry friends) you will likely not be making money off of poetry. You will likely not become famous because of your poetry. But in the odd chance that you do become “famous” and make “money” off your poetry, remember that isn’t what you went into your MFA for. Remember that you went into your MFA to learn more about poetry, to be around other people who were also passionate about poetry, and to write the best damn poems you could.

About the Author

Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latin@ punk poet who is concerned with dismantling patriarchy and white supremacy.  They are currently curating Nepantla, an e-journal dedicated to queer poets of color, in collaboration with The Lambda Literary Foundation. They have work forthcoming from Columbia: A Journal, Acentos Review,  Anti-, and more. They are an MFA candidate in Poetry at NYU.

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Living My Addiction

Guest Blog Post by Nadine Maritz

IMG_Nadine_Maritz

A while back Martin Ott asked whether I’d be interested in doing a blog post about how My Addiction Blog (M.A.) fits into my life. I was  honoured to do a review and interview on his novel The Interrogators Notebook – earlier in the year. Martin’s book was an intriguing journey flowered with excitement. It’s therefore an even bigger honour to be able to do a guest blog on something I feel this passionate about.

The Story Behind M.A

M.A.started off as an addiction to writing created from reading. Like many people, I finished high school (a time where I loved reading and writing), started work, got married, had kids etc. At the age of 29, I found myself getting more and more depressed by the monotony around me, and I turned to reading, something I used to love but left behind when life got in the way.

At the time, I found that the more I read, the more I had a passion to create my own story. So, I woke up one morning and started typing up a storm. After about a month, I had my first draft done and was emailing it off to every Tom, Dick and Harry I could find on the internet. Needless to say I was filled with dread when I started receiving return emails saying nope, no and hell no.

I was devastated that no one shared my passion. The reality made me sit back and ponder the way forward. So, I withdrew my submissions (the ones I hadn’t received comments about) and started looking for an editor. I ran through my draft and realised my own horrible flaws. I started editing the plot, reading up on other authors’ journeys and listening to other people’s stories. In doing that, something changed within me—instead of being passionate about getting my work out there, I became passionate about mastering the art, sharing people’s journeys and acknowledging the roads they travelled by.

Where at first I just wanted to become famous and known, I grew into understanding what it took to be out there, to get your story published—to market and grow your brand, your work. So instead of just concentrating on me, M.A started moving more toward keeping things real for everyone else on this journey with me. I wanted people to know that it wasn’t just a case of writing a story and, slap bang, you get published. I wanted people to understand how the process works. I desired to introduce people to the different types of genres and different authors. I wanted to connect aspiring authors and readers to the differences within getting published around the world. Today, I strive to create that connection. I endeavour to create level footing for authors, readers, directors, musicians and screenwriters alike.

And that’s M.A today.

Where it fits into my life every day? 

When I sit back and reflect on where it started, I am happy and overjoyed to share my journey and growth. Because even though I am a full time worker, a mother and wife, M.A is ultimately a reflection of me. I wake up every day with the ultimate goal of sharing people’s dreams and aspirations (and sometimes I add a bit of my own). When I meet these people and share their work, I am always overwhelmed with honour at being allowed to build these remarkable relationships and add wonderful people to my existing support group. Throughout my journey, I haven’t met one person who hasn’t managed to inspire something within me, something I can put toward my own work, my own life.

Do I still write?

Of course, I chisel away on the overall story every day. I nag, quarrel, deliberate and negotiate with my editor constantly.  For me, the key in telling my story is not about being impulsive and instantly inspired. Instead it’s to take the time, measure up your plots, create your story, build your art and live.

Inspiration:

Writing is something that evolves and moves, like the ocean. Novels are stories you build and carve. An inspirational woman summed things up quite simply recently—your thoughts and words are what create your world. I tell myself this every day, and I encourage everyone I know to test the theory. Don’t just taste the murmur on your lips. Say it. Understand it. Live it. I can guarantee that you’ll be astonished to discover the change in your perception.

About the Author

On a normal day you would find Nadine Maritz racing up and down the streets of The City of Gold, Johannesburg, South Africa while co-ordinating work, kids and life. She sees herself as a celestial being that has mastered the art of multitasking on many a level. When she doesn’t escape to new worlds whilst reading, she interrogates fellow authors, screenwriters, publishers, directors and musicians on her blog with interviews on their passion and lifelong journeys. Every now and then she gets asked to do a general review or hoist an opinion which she gladly sucks up and adds to at all times. She is a lively participant on various networking sites and blogs.

In-between the midst of her chaos she manages to slip away and create a different world that’s categorized as urban fantasy. She is an inventive writer that grew up during the apartheid era which created interesting influences on different cultural levels. She has always had a love for writing and reading and made the leap of novel-writing in her late twenties.

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How to Query a Poetry Press

Guest Post by Janet Holmes

Janet Holmes

Last month, I got an email from someone I don’t know and posted it on Facebook.

It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

Questions: Are you guys currently receiving submissions for publications?

How much will it cost to assemble a book of poetry?

Do you guys provide copyrights?

Do you also provide art covers? If so, how much will that cost? Can I provide my own?

I edit my own poems would that be okay if I do all my editing myself?

I have this thing were I don’t want people editing my work only myself.

After the book is finished being published and all, will I be having all royalties? or is it 50/50?

I look forward in hearing from you soon.

Someone in the comment stream objected that I was “mocking” this correspondent unfairly, suggesting that he was “a kid” who didn’t know the ropes. In my defense, I didn’t use the fellow’s name, and I answered him in email, suggesting he was looking for a self-publishing company. But this commenter thought I should do more by way of communicating with would-be authors about how one goes about submitting a manuscript, and Martin Ott has invited me to elaborate here. So here are a few pointers.

1.      Know to whom you’re writing.

This correspondent went to the effort of looking up our email address, but could have taken the extra step of seeing who is on staff. Otherwise, use simple business etiquette. Some women, though I’m not one of them, prefer not to be called “you guys.”

2.      Learn something about the press before you write.

Most if not all presses will have a web presence with information about submissions, current and previous publications, and something about the press history and mission. The person you’re writing to will probably just point you to this information if it is readily available elsewhere. Do your homework.

3.      Read a book from the press—or at least look at one in a store.

It should go without saying that poets read books of poetry, but if you’re submitting to a press you’ve never heard of before, how do you know they’ll respond to your work? The best way to find out is to see what they’ve already published. If you like what you read, then by all means, query. At Ahsahta, we include a poem from each book in our catalogue on our website, so people can read a bit before they decide whether to buy—or whether to submit.

4.      Show in your cover letter that you are familiar with the press.

Often, someone will write to us because they’ve admired one or more of the books we’ve published. It’s good to know that they are knowledgeable about our tastes and our list, and that the accompanying manuscript will likely be somewhere in our ballpark.

5.      Know what publishers do.

Because it can be relatively inexpensive to produce a short run of books, self-publishing is popular among people who want to do their own editing, layout, cover art, and other production tasks. A publisher won’t charge you for these things, but a printer (or self-publishing company) will. There are many businesses set up just for this purpose, and not all of them work the same way. Just use “publish your book” as a search term, and you’ll be led to CreateSpace (an Amazon.com company), Lulu, and many other companies who will be happy to walk you through the process and charge you appropriately.

Publishers, however, are in it for the bigger picture. First, they don’t publish every manuscript they get. There’s a rigorous editing process that serves two purposes: it ensures that the publisher can afford to publish all the books that are accepted (since the authors are not paying for the publication), and it also provides a standard of quality by which that publisher will be known.

A publisher will register your copyright, typeset your book, design it, provide a cover with or without your input, market it, distribute it, and in most cases pay you a royalty when the book has sold copies. The degree of your involvement in these processes will differ according to the publisher. There is no need in a query letter to ask about any of the routine things a publisher does—that’s for later, when the book has been accepted.

6.      Know what the publisher wants.

The publisher may have a policy of looking at an entire manuscript or only a 10-page sample; some will only want the query letter itself (or no query: see below).

If an entire manuscript is solicited, you will want to provide one to the length specifications for the press—in most cases, 60 to 80 pages of poetry. The poems should be ordered the way they will appear in the book, with a table of contents, acknowledgments, and an author bio. A publisher does not want you to send hundreds of poems so that they can choose the best ones; they want to read only your best work.

If you are entering a contest, pay attention to the rules. If the rules say not to put your name on every page, don’t do it. If they say don’t include a bio or acknowledgments, don’t include them. The rules are there for good reasons, and not following them can get your manuscript tossed aside.

If the publisher just wants to see a sample of your work, send the best poems you have, perhaps with a paragraph describing the book if it is a larger project.

7.      Respect the publisher’s guidelines.

Many publishers work several years in advance, and may have a backlog of books they’ve promised to publish. For that reason, they may not be reading unsolicited manuscripts at all. Before you go to the trouble of writing a polite and businesslike query letter, check to see whether the publisher is open to receiving them. Ahsahta and many other publishers no longer look at paper copies of manuscripts, but use Submission Manager or Submittable or other software to manage their workloads. If we aren’t currently accepting manuscripts, the Submission Manager will be closed.

Readers might be surprised how often I get letters similar to the one I’ve quoted above. So if the person commenting on my post is correct, and more communication is necessary, I hope this will help.

About the Author

Janet Holmes is Director and Editor of Ahsahta Press at Boise State University, where she is also a Professor in the MFA in Creative Writing program. Her latest book of poetry is The ms of my kin (Shearsman).

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What I Learned as a Publishing Intern

Guest Post by Anna L. Davis

Anna photo

What I Learned as a Publishing Intern

Ten years of writing from home, querying and plugging away at word count while breaking up sibling fights, can wear on the nerves. I wanted to learn more about the writing industry. I wanted to get out of the house, but still have time for my family. So with some hunting I found the perfect job: a part-time creative writing internship for Henery Press, a local mystery and suspense publisher.

The catch? It was unpaid.

After a conversation with my tolerant (and steadily employed) husband, I agreed to the job. Thus began my semi-formal instruction in book publishing. Oh, I knew a bit about publishing before I took the internship. I worked as an editor for the college paper, blogged regularly, even self-published a nonfiction book a while back. But much has changed since then, and this hip new publisher taught me what it takes to create and market novels in today’s volatile market.

I worked with some cool people out of a loft-style office in an artsy urban environment. We read through submissions and talked books while drinking coffee and jamming to Pandora (or sometimes the strains of hip-hop drifting up from the street below). We went to writer’s conferences and told people we worked in publishing. It was terribly exciting stuff for this write-from-home mom.

I learned more about publishing in six months interning, than in the previous ten years of trying to make it on my own as a writer. But I didn’t earn a dime. And this is perhaps the most important lesson gained: money should not be a writer’s goal.

Don’t get me wrong. Publishing is a business – a risky one. There are costs involved, and if you get a book published in today’s market, you better be out there doing everything possible to get that book moving off the shelves, not just for your own career, but also for the publisher who took a chance on your writing.

Creative writing should be about something deeper than money, though. In his book On Writing, Stephen King said, “Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no… I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

When we as writers come to the blank page, we must set aside concerns about sales rankings and reviews. As writers we must focus on the words, not the money. We should sit at the keyboard and ponder the push and pull of sentences, the cadence of lines that spark emotion.

Yes, publishing is a business. This I know well. But writing?

Writing is for pleasure.

About the Author:

Anna L. Davis is a Dallas-area novelist who writes about flawed people, brain implants, and bio-surveillance. Read more about her internship at Henery Press on her blog, Invisible Ink.

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Poetry and Professional Life: Balance? What’s That?

Guest Post by Victoria Chang

Photo Victoria Chang

When asked to write a blog post on juggling professional life and a life in poetry, the irony of course, is that I am too busy to add yet another thing (however small) onto my plate. The very same week my self-imposed deadline for this blog post arrived (too fast), my own third book of poems, The Boss, came out from McSweeney’s Poetry Series, I was just starting a new project at work, we had just brought home a new puppy, our two kids (7 and 5) had summer camp 30 minutes each way, and I was on my way to do a slew of readings for my new book in San Francisco!

Plenty of people throughout history and in real-time have schedules like mine, and even worse. People often talk about Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot, who both were successful at working in business and simultaneously writing poetry. I read somewhere that Stevens, an insurance lawyer, had his assistant type up his poems that he wrote at work and that he liked to work because it gave him discipline and regularity and he didn’t need to worry about money.

But there aren’t a lot of examples of people who have successfully juggled work (especially in business) and the literary life, especially in the case of women and/or mothers. Plus I think that there’s a stigma, especially in poetry, if you work in anything commerce-related. I think it can be perceived as crass and non-artistic. I can think that poetry and a professional business life are not mutually exclusive, but if the “establishment” doesn’t think so, I’m out of luck…

…or am I? The thing is, if you write poetry that others want to read, establishment or not, if you say something important in a way that is arresting or different, or even something non-important in an arresting way, I still am an optimist and a purist and think that all the juggling of time is worth it in the end.

At the end of the day, I think everyone needs to think about what’s important to them and how they want to live their lives and just do those things, however much time each activity takes and no matter how hard it all seems. And not worry so much about what others think is “normal” or “conventional” or even “acceptable.” If that means writing poems once every two years, versus the prescriptive two hours each morning, then so be it. Your actions will show you what you want to do.

Our 7-year-old daughter finished a two-week writing camp a week ago and told me that a boy teased her for only writing half-a-page. After reading the boy’s 5-page description of his trip to Disney Land, I had to explain to our daughter, who had thought of a fiction story using her imagination, that age-old cliché: “Quality is more important than quantity.” I believe that and try to live that every single day with everything that I do, and that goes for poetry too.

Sometimes I watch our new dachshund puppy let his nose lead the way. I like to think I have something to learn from that little guy. I let my nose lead my way and try and block out all the other white noise.

 About the Author:

Victoria Chang is a poet and works in marketing and communications. She has an MFA and an MBA.  Her third book of poems, The Boss, is just out from McSweeney’s. She lives in Southern California with her family.

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To Be a Poet

Guest Post by Christopher Soto

Christopher Soto Photo

“Dad, I want to be a poet.”

He didn’t understand what I was trying to tell him and, honestly, I didn’t understand either.

We were sitting together at lunch in downtown Long Beach when I told him that I would not be taking the job at his company after my graduation from college. Instead, I would be dropping my double major, graduating early, and moving to San Francisco to write.

“I want to be a poet.”

In San Francisco I shared my room with a queer latino photographer and a cute french boy. We lived in the basement of a three story house, in the hood, with fifteen other people. I spent my nights drinking beer and reading about anarchy. I spent my days recovering from hangovers and writing about the juvenile detention center where I once volunteered.

I finished writing my first novel in that house and, somehow, I got a phone call from Deborah Landau at NYU while living there too. On the phone, I was offered admission to the MFA program (emphasis in poetry) at NYU. My decision was made quickly.

“I want to be a poet.”

After living in San Francisco for a number of months, I decided that I needed more writing material, more life experience. I wanted to backpack the country! And so I left all my belongings, pulled all my savings, and took to the road– spending time around Rhode Island, New York, Illinois, and eventually Tennessee (where I learned how to garden).

I spent a month in the woods of Tennessee, sleeping alone in a tent, using my jacket as a pillow. I woke to new mosquito bites and the sight of hippies shitting in the trees. My meals were plucked with my hands, my showers taken from the stream, and I never felt so free.

“I don’t want to be a poet.”

Sitting at a bone-fire below the naked sky, I realized that I didn’t want to be a poet anymore. I didn’t want anything. We were reading excerpts from our journals as if there were auditoriums of people surrounding us. And we knew that the degrees, teaching jobs, and publications would never make us more of poets. We already were poets, words fluming with the smoke.

Earlier this year I gave up a job and a double major. Then I gave up a new city, my belongings, and my savings– to travel, to write, to learn contentedness. I don’t want anymore. I am not an aspiring or emerging poet. I am a poet.

In the Fall of 2013 I will begin my MFA at NYU and I will continue writing in this fashion- as if nothing exists except for the poet and the poem, as if my poems understand all that I am willing to give in order for them to exist, as if they would never ask me to give everything. And we will be free together.

About the Author 

Christopher Soto is a queer latino poet from Southern California who published his first chapbook, How To Eat Glass, with Still Life Press in 2012. He is currently an MFA candidate at New York University.

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The Job that’s Moved Me

A Guest Blog Post by Marianne Kunkel

author photo Marianne Kunkel

Who am I to write about the benefits of global-mindedness? The last time I stepped out of America was to buy Cadbury chocolate in Canada. Before that, my parents moved our family to Merida, Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula. I was three at the time and, without putting much thought into it, enjoyed our house on the beach, daily swims, all that fresh fish. I was a purposeless traveler. I was, like most children, a freeloader.

Now that I have my own source of income and keep my own schedule, why does it feel so difficult to travel outside the country? I have a passport…somewhere. I have the necessary vacation time…almost. I’d like to visit…someplace. It doesn’t help that as an American I am constantly validated for my attention inward; it’s enough that I speak English, I’m told, that I can discuss U.S. politics at parties, that I have a solid knowledge of contemporary American poetry. Having a passion for global issues can feel a little like owning a motorcycle; people definitely think it’s cool that you have it, but no one’s expecting it of you.

In the summer of 2011, my curiosity about the world was an endangered animal heading toward extinction. That’s when I got my job as managing editor of Prairie Schooner, whose tagline at the time was “writing that moves you.” Cute, I remember thinking, studying the logo of reading glasses with bicycle wheels for lenses. I began taking direction from the journal’s new editor-in-chief, Kwame Dawes, running our Nebraska office while he occasionally flew to Scotland, Haiti, or Hong Kong to promote his new book. Kwame travels as casually as other people eat sandwiches.

Even from my office chair, quickly—and I mean quickly—my awareness of the world sputtered to life. I fell in love with poems sent to us by Marilyn Hacker, poems by Jean-Paul de Dadelson that she translated from French into English (these appear in Prairie Schooner’s Spring 2012 issue). I rang up Irish bookstore owners to ask if they’d carry our Winter 2011 Special Irish Issue. I co-curated a womb-themed issue of FUSION, the journal’s new international poetry/art e-zine, with poet TJ Dema from Botswana. I was just doing my job, but Prairie Schooner was doing something important, necessary, and exciting: this 87-year-old journal nestled deep in the heart of American literature was calling and being called into the world.

The next spring, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Chicago, I took a break from worrying if in twenty years I’d be the successful poet I longed to be and sank briefly into memories of kindergarten. Wasn’t it great to spin a globe and skid my finger along the surface? Wasn’t that how I learned the intricacies of the Asian continent? This became the basic design for Prairie Schooner’s new mobile app for smartphones, “Global Schooner,” which launched this month: a spin-able globe mapping the homes of every author we publish each year. There are pinpoints for Nikola Madzirov in Strumica, Macedonia; Meena Alexander in Kerala, South India; Sherman Alexie in Seattle, Washington; and so on. Some pinpoints come loaded with audio, video, and text excerpts of published work. And a separate globe called “Guide to Customs” offers something especially cool: international authors answering the question, “What makes you hopeful or fearful about the world today?”

When I get to Japan, which I planned to do this summer for my 30th birthday but which I had to postpone because of my acceptance into a summer writers’ conference, my friend there promises to introduce me to many foods, historic landmarks, and clothing stores. I will take hundreds of photos but probably feel too busy to seriously read or write. Writing is not un-conducive to travel, but there’s a funny relationship between the two activities. The writing often happens after leaving a place and having time to reflect. This is why literature about countries beyond our own can add so much meaning—emotional, political, environmental, etc.—to these places, even ones we’ve already visited. Prairie Schooner’s newest FUSION presents Iranian poetry through the theme of “secrets” and, wow, I promise you you’ve never experienced the country like this before.

To download Global Schooner on your iOS device, click here. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/global-schooner/id612496796?mt=8)

To explore Prairie Schooner’s secrets-themed FUSION with Iran, click here. (http://www.prairieschooner.unl.edu/?q=fusion/secrets)

About the Author

Marianne Kunkel’s poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Rattle, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the Susan Atefat-Peckham Fellowship and author of The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press). She is the managing editor of Prairie Schooner.

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So You Have a Poetry Manuscript…

Guest Post by M.E. Silverman

Silly Isabel with Dad

So you have a poetry manuscript – now what? This is a question I have been wrestling with like Jacob with his angel since 1994 when I entered graduate school at McNeese State to study with John Wood and Robert Olen Butler. One would think it should be much easier, now more so than ever before! There are 4500 magazines according to Duotrope and so many presses, both independent small presses, bigger presses and the university affiliated ones, yet it is not uncommon for a poetry manuscript contest (really the only way to get published) to have 500 to 900 manuscripts to read and judge. Recently, I won 2nd place in a chapbook contest with a new press called Emerging Literary Journal. Before that, my manuscript, which has been constantly changing over the years as new poems get added and old ones get edited or even removed from it, was a semi-finalist in 3 or 4 contests.

So you too have a “good” manuscript, ready for publication with a large number of them published in poetry journals (more print than online) and in anthologies. How does one get to the published stage without going the self-published route? How to become the bride and not a bride’s maid? Here are some things to think about:

Get as many eyes on it as possible. Go to conferences, apply to writing colonies, be a part of reading and workshop groups, anything that could be helpful. Meet editors, writers, publishers and be open to suggestions and critiques. A good place to look is The Shaw Guide or Newpages (Writing Conferences Page) for more information on these places. There are a growing number of online workshops too which I really like including Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Writers Studio. Some writers even have online writing workshops like Kim Addonizio, Deborah Ager, and Susan Browne. I personally have never taken any of these but have heard good things from others. Also, it is important to have a solid group of constant, reliable and trustworthy readers. If you don’t, go to the local college and see if you can form one by talking to the campus magazine or the writing professors.

Living in rural Georgia, none of these things are easy to do. After earning my MFA in 1997, I sort of walked away from it, stopped writing, and became disinterested in the whole process. So I know first-hand what to do to get back into it. First, I took some writing workshops online. There are several affiliated with magazines and for a small fee ($200 to 400), I got to work with an instructor for a few weeks and to hear feedback from a small group. I also looked for writers with several books published who critique manuscripts for a fee ($300 to 500) by searching through Google and looking up writers I have read. This really helped me to see what others see who might be contest judges and have experience in the field as not only writers but instructors. I had not had a line by line and page by page critique since I was a graduate student, and my writing (and my “voice”) had definitely changed. Then I contacted my local college and found a few professors who write poetry. I formed a Poetry Party Group to meet at a coffee shop once a month to talk and edit each other’s poems. I also subscribed to AWP’s magazine (The Writer’s Chronicle), which is such a great resource for interesting articles and their section on latest submission calls, conference calls, and grant opportunities. Yes, Newpages is helpful too but I find The Writer’s Chronicle to be my primary source for this information. I used to also regularly check Duotrope as a source of information but now they are subscription based and I do not wish to pay to participate for this information.

One final thought: I also read, read, and read some more. I mean I read a lot! I try to pay the presses directly by ordering through them to support the presses, especially the smaller ones, and the authors. If I couldn’t afford the books, I used the library.

Here are a few sites that might be helpful that I recommend:

Some Ideas on Order & Creation:  http://jeffreyelevine.com/2011/10/12/on-making-the-poetry-manuscript/

Manuscript Tips: http://winningwriters.com/resources/advice/ura_tips.php#.UZDRGrXvt8E

Thinking Like an Editor: http://www.pw.org/content/thinking_like_an_editor_how_to_order_your_poetry_manuscript_0?cmnt_all=1

Two manuscript conferences I highly recommend: Colrain and Tupelo

About the Author

M. E. Silverman is editor of Blue Lyra Review. His chapbook, The Breath before Birds Fly (ELJ Press, 2013), is available. His poems have appeared in over 70 journals, including: Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, December, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Mizmor L’David Anthology: The Shoah, Cloudbank, Neon, Many Mountains Moving, Pacific Review, Because I Said So Anthology, Sugar House Review, and other magazines. M. E. Silverman was a finalist for the 2008 New Letters Poetry Award, the 2008 DeNovo Contest and the 2009 Naugatuck River Review Contest. He is working on editing a contemporary Jewish anthology with Deborah Ager forthcoming in 2013 from Bloomsbury.

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