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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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