Category Archives: Publishing

10 Years, 10 Books, 10 Lessons

2020 is nearly here. As we reach the end of a decade, I’m grateful for the events that took place over the past ten years. For my kids growing up and becoming teenagers. For my divorce and remarriage. For a writing career that finally took flight. This seems like as good a time as any to contemplate the lessons I’ve learned from publishing 10 books in 10 years.


Book 1: Captive, De Novo Prize Winner, C&R Press, 2011
I graduated from the now-defunct Masters of Professional Writing Program at USC in 1997. I wrote and published extensively in magazines (hundreds of them) but my first book escaped me. The manuscript for my first book Captive was a finalist or semi-finalist for 20 different poetry prizes before it won the De Novo prize, C&R Press.
Lesson: The power of perseverance. 

Book 2: Poets’ Guide to America, Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012
In the Spring of 2009, one of my best friends John Buckley let me know that he was starting to write poetry seriously and we decided to experiment with lines back and forth. Soon, we had a concept for a book: poems that take place in all 50 states. We ended up trading lines and ideas. John made me a better writer. He was a virtuoso of strangeness and Americana. We riffed on each other in a partnership that spanned nearly a decade.

Lesson: Writing can be fun.

Book 3: The Interrogator’s Notebook, Story Merchant Books, 2013
A book that came to life over a decade of workshopping it in my LA fiction writing group was accepted by an agent at William Morris. After a thirty page treatment and another draft, the agent left the business and I began looking for a publisher. At the time, I was working with Ken Atchity, a producer, on a film project and he convinced me to publish The Interrogator’s Notebook on his press so that he could pitch the film. It was championed at Paradigm Agency. and attached to a well-known Hollywood writer and director who wrote a pilot. It was pitched by Skydance Television and I still have hopes of the project being revived for screen.

Lesson: Sometimes it’s OK to not take a traditional path in publishing.

Book 4: Yankee Broadcast Network, Brooklyn Arts Press, 2014
My first word as a kid was Batman, allegedly watching from the Adam West TV show. Like many Gen Xers, I grew up with the heavy influence of television as did my writing partner John Buckley. We created a universe tied to our childhood and delved into parallel reality of TV shows we invented. It was a lot of fun and the funniest book I’ve written in a genre that can take itself too seriously.
Lesson: It’s OK in poetry to embrace pop culture subject matter. 

Book 5: Underdays, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015
After my separation, after getting whooping cough and getting laid off, after bottoming out and rebuilding my life, I took dozens of old poems and braided them with new lines, my older self conversing with my younger self. Unlike Captive, this book won the Sandeen Prize within months of sending it out.
Lesson: It’s OK to embrace hard times and dig deeper in your work. 

Book 6: Interrogations, Fomite Press, 2016
Similar to my first book Captive, this short story collection was a finalist for a half dozen fiction prizes before Fomite Press published it. I generally write one to two stories a year and the 20 stories in Interrogations (all published in literary magazines) span over two decades. So many memories and snippets from my life find their way onto these pages, including the short story that prompted me to write The Interrogator’s Notebook. 
Lesson: The power of perseverance (important enough to list twice). 

Book 7: Spectrum, C&R Press, 2016
A scene from the first chapter came to me as a dream in college. I wrote the first chapter at University of Michigan. I wrote the novel as my thesis at grad school at USC. The story of cloning haunted me so much that I wrote a second draft, then a third draft a decade later. I grew up reading and loving science fiction. The long creation process was worthwhile. This is my only book where I haven’t had a negative review.
Lesson: It’s OK to let your writing develop over time. 

Book 8: Lessons in Camouflage, C&R Press, 2018
The third time’s a charm. My third solo poetry book covers similar terrain as Captive and Underdays, weaving poems of war and familial strife, illuminating truth in difficult times. Even though this book did not win an award like my first two solo poetry collections, it’s the better book. It’s taken me over 20 years to get here and in publishing this collection I feel like I can move on to new projects.
Lesson: Writing is a craft and it takes hard work to get good at any craft. 

Book 9: Fake News Poems, BlazeVOX Books, 2019
In 2017, I decided to write a poem a week using a news headline as the jumping off point during the first year of the Trump presidency. The rules where simple: I had to write one poem a week (n matter how I felt) and no rewrites after the fact. I wanted to catch a moment in time in these news poems, and I selected subject matter that reflected my own life as much as the world around me.
Lesson: Taking risks is part of writing. 

Book 10: Sharks vs. Selfies, Eyewear Books, 2021
The last few years I’ve come to realize in all the genres that I work in – fiction, poetry, screenwriting – that telling stories is what motivates me. Sharks vs. Selfies is a book of prose poem. The process of writing them is the most I’ve felt like my true self as a poet. It combines my imagination and love of weaving tales with a craft I’ve spent decades struggling to perfect. It’s a new direction and I’m excited for what the future will bring.
Lesson: Trust your feelings as a writer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Poetry, Publishing, Writing

Jason Sanford’s Terrific 12 List of Best Sci-Fi Magazines

I was recently searching online for a list of top sci-fi magazines and couldn’t find one I liked. However, noted sci-fi author Jason Sanford just tweeted the list below and I thought I’d post it as a resource. I’ve appeared in one so far (Asimov’s) and I’m setting my sights on the others.

– Martin Ott

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing, sci-fi, Uncategorized

To All Those Writing Late Bloomers Out There

Yes, for those of us who have taken awhile to mature as writers these lists can be annoying: Best Writer’s Under 40, Most Promising Debut Writers, Yale Younger Poetry Prize Winners.

Some of us take longer than others to publish a book. Here is by no means an exhaustive list of what I wrote, sometimes with collaborators, before publishing my first book in 2011:

  • 500+ Poems
  • 30+ Short Stories
  • 6 Novels
  • 12 Screenplays
  • 1 One Act Play

It took me nearly 15 years after graduate school to publish a book. But it took less that 5 years after that to get to 6 books published (or soon-to-be-published).

What has been the difference in my recent publishing success? Simple: I have gotten better as a writer.

I have many writing friends who have the talent and material to get a book published, but have yet to break through. I am convinced that they will, but there is some level of luck involved.

My book “Captive” won the De Novo prize, C&R Press, after being a finalist 20 times in poetry book competitions. I never wavered in my writing, my reading, my submissions, or my belief in myself. This is where understanding yourself and what motivates you as a writer becomes important.

I love the process of writing. It is a part of my life. It is my hobby. My passion. My outlet. My greatest love (outside of my family and friends). While I understand that publishing and readership are arrows on the path to becoming a better writer I have also, at times, been motivated by self-competition, external competition, jealousy, accolades, a need to create art, obsession.

One of my favorite self-mantras is that “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” Writers at every age should feel encouraged to continue working in their craft. Success, if at all, may not come or may not come to the level we believe. As long as we believe in our work, we will get better and others will eventually take notice.

Martin Ott

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing, Writing Tips

Best Writing of 2014 – Roundup

Even as I find myself reading Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s Song that doesn’t mean I haven’t carefully been tracking the best of 2014 writing lists that have been appearing. Please enjoy this roundup and I hope you take the opportunity to support your fellow writers. Happy holidays!

Martin Ott

Academy of American Poets | Standout Poetry Books of 2014 

Africa Is a Country | Recommends Best Books of 2014 | 2014 Best Books of the Year: Literature and Fiction

The Atlantic | Best Books I Read This Year: Staff Selections

The Atlantic | Best Television Episodes 0f 2014

A.V. Club | Best Comics of 2014

Books Live | The 16 Best “Bests Books of 2014” List

Book Riot | Five Book Culture Heroes of 2014

The Boston Globe |  Best Poetry Books of 2014

Bustle | 7 of the Biggest Book Controversies This Year

Bustle | 19 Small Press Books You May Have Missed in 2014

Buzzfeed | The 28 Best Books by Women in 2014

Buzzfeed | 19 Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

Dazed | Best Literature of 2014

The Economist: Books of the Year: Page Turners

Electric Lit | Jeff Vandermeer’s Favorite Fiction of 2014

Electric Lit | 25 Best Short Story Collections of 2014

Electric Lit | 25 Best Novels of 2014

Flavorwire | 50 Best Independent Fiction and Poetry Books of 2014

The Guardian | Best Books of 2014: Year in Review

The Guardian | Best Science Fiction Books of 2014

The Huffington Post | 11 Books Strand’s Booksellers Loved Most in 2014

The Huffington Post | Best Books of 2014

The Huffington Post | 2014 Best Books for Women

Hypable | 10 Best Books of 2014

Hyperallergic | Top 10 Art Books of 2014

io9 | Best Science Books of 2014

io9 | The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2014

Kirkus | Best Fiction Books of 2014

Los Angeles Times | David L. Ulin’s Best Books of 2014

Mother Jones | Best Books of 2014 

New Hampshire Public Radio | Best Overlooked Books of 2014

New York Public Library | Best Books of 2014

The New York Times | 100 Notable Books of 2014

The New York Times | Best Book Covers of 2014

The New York Times | David Orr’s 10 Favorite Poetry Books of 2014

The New Yorker |  Best Books of 2014 

Newsweek | Favorite Books of 2014

NPR Books | Maureen Corrigan’s Favorite Books of 2014

Oprah (via HuffPo) | Best Books of 2014

The Philadelphia Review of Books | 14 Poets for 2014: The Year’s Best Books

Publisher’s Weekly | Best Mystery Books of 2014

Publisher’s Weekly | SF/Fantasy/Horror: Best Books of 2014

Shelf Awareness | Best Books of 2014

SFGate |  Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2014

Slate | Authors’ Favorite 2014 Books

The Telegraph | Best Books of 2014

The Telegraph | Best Young Adult Books of 2014

Time | Top 10 Fiction Books

Up the Staircase (Ocean Vuong) | Best Online Poems from Women Poets of Color (2014)

Wall Street Journal | Best Books of 2014

The Washington Post | 5 Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books of 2014 

Leave a comment

Filed under News, Publishing

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 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).


Filed under Guest Blog Post, Publishing, Uncategorized

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.


Filed under Guest Blog Post, Publishing, Uncategorized

Publishing Spotlight: Interview with John Pitts

Writing has a lot of facets, and one of them is the brand you build as you look to find an audience for your work. The publishing landscape is shifting, and can be confusing. I’m glad to be able to share an interview with one of the best and brightest names in publishing: John Pitts.

Martin Ott

How did you first begin your career in publishing?

They used to call publishing the “accidental profession” and there’s some truth to that in my case.  I joined the Peace Corps right out of college and taught high school level EFL in Niger.  When that ended after two years, I moved to Boston with half an eye to getting a job at one of the publishers there.  It took nearly two years but I got my foot in the door at Houghton Mifflin as a publicist and then moved to Doubleday two years later, eventually making the switch to marketing.  It’s a very rewarding career that I highly recommend to anyone who likes the company of books.

What is the biggest challenge facing the publishing industry today?

I would say eBooks are challenging in a number of ways.  The downward pressure on price threatens the profitability of publishing for both traditional houses and for authors.  Just as journalism as a career is being threatened by the expectation that news and similar content be basically free, so are author/publishers threatened by the expectation that eBooks be very inexpensive.  Also, for obvious reasons, self-publishing an eBook, or publishing directly with a retailer such as Amazon, is a much more viable option for writers these days.  I still firmly believe that publishing houses offer a tremendous amount to authors in the form of editorial, sales, marketing and publicity value.  A lot of resources and “man hours” go into the successful publication of a book in a very competitive market.  All that said, we are selling a lot of eBooks.

What attributes are most helpful and least helpful in an author when you are working with them to market a book?

These days, authors have to do more than just write the book and turn it in.  It helps tremendously if they understand and embrace social media, if they have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, GoodReads, etc.  Plenty of the older authors don’t have any interest in playing this game, and that’s fine, they’re established.  But up and coming writers can really benefit from being a player.  It really enhances the marketing process if we feel that the author is our partner in the effort, working with us to solve the problem of reaching the right audience.  Least helpful?  Some writers come with the pre-conceived notion that publishers don’t know what they’re doing and I can sense that right off.  Not at all helpful.

How do major publishing houses look to capitalize on eBooks?

We publish eBooks right alongside print books and we’re selling a growing number.  One of the great things from the author/publisher perspective is that readers of eBooks read more books, in part because they’re less expensive but also because they’re so easy to acquire.  So we welcome the challenge, and it appears that, at least for the moment, we have risen to it.

How has the decline of the brick and mortar bookstore affected publishing and marketing trends?

The #1 problem is “discoverability.”  The common assumption is that as much as 1/3 of book sales have traditionally come from people browsing through a bookstore and making unplanned-for purchases.  So as the number of physical stores declines (for example, Borders went bankrupt a few years ago and, poof, 500+ stores disappeared, and nearly 20,000 people lost their jobs) the opportunities for serendipitous purchases also declines.  We spend much less these days on point of sale material, for obvious reasons.  Additionally, much of marketing and publicity takes place in the digital space because that’s where the audience is. We still take out ads in newspapers and magazines, run TV spots and send authors on book tours, though less and less.

How has the popularity of young adult titles with mainstream audiences affected the book industry?

I don’t handle young adult titles, so I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but I have seen anecdotal evidence of this sort of cross over.  For example, I market John Grisham’s adult titles, but not his Theodore Boone books, which are aimed at the YA audience.  Many of his adult fans also enjoy the YA novels and they’re quite vocal about it on Facebook.  I’m so impressed by the quality of YA literature these days and my assumption is that it nurtures good readers who will continue the habit as adults.

Any advice to writers looking to publish their book?

Persevere. Believe in yourself. Write every day. Work on your craft.  Get an agent.


John Pitts photo

John Pitts is Vice President, Director of Marketing for Doubleday, a division of Random House. Inc.  He has being plying his trade for more than 25 years, marketing the works of John Grisham, Walter Mosley, Gore Vidal, Chuck Palahniuk, Thomas Cahill, and Margaret Atwood, among many others.  He lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interview, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

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:

Manuscript Tips:

Thinking Like an Editor:

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Blog Post, Poetry, Publishing, Uncategorized

From the Big House to the Small Press

A Guest Blog Post by JoeAnn Hart

JoeAnn Hart photo

In 2004, while still writing my first book, Addled, a novel that pits animal rights against a country club, I won the PEN New England Discovery Award in Fiction. That led to an agent, which led to Addled’s sale to a New York publishing house in 2005. The book business has changed so much since then, it might as well be a different geologic era instead of just a few years, so making comparisons between my experience with a Big House then and at a Small Press now isn’t quite fair. But I’m going to do it anyway.

A Big House has prestige, pull, and distribution – fantastic attributes ­­– but it can be as impersonal as factory farming. Except for some general editorial notes from the editor who bought my book, I was so distanced from Addled’s production that I showed up at the Big House office with my revised manuscript in hand, only to find out it had been delayed a year. No one had told me. During the ensuing wait, my Big House was bought out by a Foreign Big House, so that the week Addled finally launched in 2007, the reorganized company was moving to new offices a few blocks away. Cases of my book held the doors open for them.

Bad timing, but the Big House had already done its due diligence when it came to sending out review copies, including to the few online reviewers operating at the time. Addled had many lovely words said about it, but the best thing they did for Addled, (which has a great cover), was put it on the front of their spring catalog, which might have been the last of their paper catalogs. Unfortunately, a pretty face couldn’t help sales. It was in and out of bookstores in a matter of weeks and it was all over in three months. Addled didn’t do well enough for the Big House to justify buying my next book, a story collection based on real estate ads, even though the editor said she wanted it. Oh well. I had another novel in me and I wrote it. My agent loved Float, which confronts the dangers of  plastics in the ocean while still managing to be a comedy, and sent it out. And she sent it out again, and again, then threw in the towel. There was interest, but no one would touch it because of Addled’s sales history. It was over, once again.

I asked my agent if I could send it out to contests, and she said sure (or more precisely, her associate did, into whose care I had been transferred). In the same breath, I also did a regular submission to Ashland Creek, a small press in Oregon that specializes in environmental literature, and they took it. Unlike the Big House, there was no advance, which is usually the case with small presses, but writers get a bigger share of royalties. And more attention. If a Big House is a factory farm, a small press is a petting zoo. The editing was specific and went right to the point, making me think deeply about the interaction between detail and theme. There’s no money to speak of for marketing at a small press, but there wasn’t at the Big House either. I supplied my own jacket photo for both. I wasn’t expecting, nor did I get, a book tour at the Big House, but it was a surprise to find out that the sales reps had to clear readings (they don’t want a lesser author to compete with their best-selling authors), and the answer was either “no” or too late in coming. I’ve been told that Big Houses don’t have sales reps anymore, but readings are still controlled. With Float, I am free to book as many readings or events that will have me. The philosophy about the lifespan of a book is also different at Ashland Creek, and I suspect at other small presses. They expect to sell Float over a period of years, not a single season, and not dismiss it if it doesn’t catch fire right away (read: does not get a NYTBR, which can only happen within three months after release).

As for social media circa 2007, everyone knew potential readers existed out in cyber-land, but no one knew yet quite how to reach them. Now every author, whether with a big house, small press, or self-published, is expected to be fluent in Facebook, Twitter, and Mail Chimp, as well as WordPress for blogging. I have my own website blog which is issues-based, where I write about plastics in the ocean. I also do a more meditative blog for Newfound Journal, an Inquiry of Place, where once a month I ponder on my place here on the coast. Then there is guest blogging, as I am doing right now, and these blogs usually concern the writing life.

Would I have sought out a small press if a Big House had taken me? No. Haven’t I just mentioned prestige, pull, and distribution? Having said that, the lesson I’ve learned is that those fine credentials mean little if there is no enthusiasm behind the book, and enthusiasm is such a delicate thing. Without a hard-core marketing campaign, it could not stay alive during Addled’s long publication delay. Now that I’m with a small press, I know what it’s like to feel that enthusiasm. It does not seem like a lesser option, just a different one. I feel as if we are in it together, and that Ashland Creek loves my book as much as I do. What else but love of the written word could make someone start a book press in this day and age? It’s like taking up falconry. But they, and all the other amazing small presses of the world, might just keep the book industry afloat in these stormy times.

About the Author

JoeAnn Hart is the author of the novels Float and Addled, and her short fiction and essays have been widely published. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but she can be easily found on Facebook, Twitter and

1 Comment

Filed under Book Marketing, Fiction, Publishing

Amazon on the Brain

This week, I have had Amazon on the brain for a number of reasons. I have had conversations with a book editor discussing the merits of listing a new poetry book exclusively on Amazon vs. other methods. Then, the next day I had a similar conversation with my manager, who is trying to convince me to give Amazon exclusive one-year rights to my forthcoming novel Interrogator’s Notebook.

Of course, I feel like a hypocrite. I swore off using Amazon for almost a year, and even trumpeted the merits of local bookstores in this very blog. And now as an author looking at his first three books coming out this fall, in each case Amazon has become the most important distributor for my work.

To make matters more complicated, Amazon is now planning for the future with more warehouses and quicker delivery. Is Amazon helping the lesser-known writer with a more even playing field for the digital distribution and ownership of their work? Or are they in the middle of creating a book churning and chucking apparatus that will later flex its muscles in ways we cannot imagine? Or both?

Martin Ott

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Poetry, Publishing