What is Published?Edit
By David Taub
The first time I ever saw some of my work in print, I was thrilled. I was not paid any money, and it was nothing earth-shattering, but someone else deemed my writing worthy of including it in their 'newsletter' publication. It encouraged me enough to want to repeat the experience. Over a period of time I saw my poetry, and a wide range of 'articles' accepted and put into print to be read by others. I diversified by submitting my work to several different non-paying publications and soon had a 'portfolio' of work. What was very encouraging was also seeing letters by readers commenting on my work. So I KNEW that my work was appreciated by others!
With encouragement from some professional writer friends I had, I eventually took the plunge and found my way into several different magazines and got paid for the work! I had joined the ranks of 'professional writers'! This had become an addiction and in fact a career. It finally dawned on me that I was viewing my work in an entirely different way. At this point, then, I am going to suggest what some would consider quite controversial and probably upset 'purist' writers, in particular - Poets!
Have you ever stopped and thought how publishers, as in main-stream (Hard-copy) publishers, really look at writing to form a book? It is simply a money making 'product' and a money making venture. Publishers, for the most part are simply an 'assembly', marketing and sales process line. The 'raw' material is produced by the writer, they then package, promote and sell. In truth, unless the actual individuals within a large publishing organisation have themselves written stories and or poetry, you can hardly expect them to see or understand the 'creativity and 'emotional investment' - that "It's my baby" feeling - that a writer experiences. If you are fortunate enough to 'get in' with a large publisher, make no mistake about their world-view. Whilst you, the writer, are proud of the content and all you put into creating, the publisher is thinking bottom-line profit and (maybe) long term investment. CASH.
And another thing - on the whole I am not convinced that most publishers are really risk-takers. Not when it comes to unknown authors who knock on their doors directly. In fact, to get anywhere near a decision- making 'editor' in the big organisations is almost nigh impossible. Hence the world of 'literary agents' and the world of 'who knows who'. If you don't believe me, try simply phoning and asking to speak directly to an editor. Chances are that some secretary will tell you that someone will get back to you, or an overburdened answer-machine will faithfully record your message for a secretary to ignore and erase.
As far as poetry in particular goes, it is the small-press publishers and poetry magazine publishers that have really kept poetry alive over the recent years. In almost every instance (from my experience) these editors, publishers and all those involved, have a genuine interest in the content and quality of the material. Many of those publisher - editor - owners, that I have spoken to, are happy if they simply financially 'break-even'. This applies the world over!
Repeatedly I have been asked by newcomers to poetry, "How do I get published?" (and they mean 'in print' as opposed to being posted on the internet) The question I have to ask is "How much effort do you want to make, and how seriously do you want to get published?"
It really is about time a certain myth was dispelled. The chances of putting a 'book-sized' quantity of poems together, sending them with an accompanying letter to a publisher, and expecting an offer of cash in return, is less likely than winning the lottery! So perhaps if you viewed your poems and writing as a 'product', and then applied various 'business principals', you might make some progress.
On making a 'new product', it requires 'investment and marketing costs'. On the whole, magazines and small press publishers will consider the work of their own subscribers first. That does not mean that because you subscribe, you can automatically expect your submitted work to be accepted. But by subscribing, you have the double benefit of reading and learning about what sort of material and quality you need to work towards. Also you have a better chance of seeing one or more of your submissions accepted and published.
There is an exception to that rule, and it is a different category of 'publisher'. The 'Vanity' publisher who I loathe and despise with a passion. They are easy enough to spot with some experience. (And it should also be understood that vanity publishing is not the same as self-publishing.)
You submit a poem and they write back ecstatically telling you how marvellously wonderfully talented you are. All you need to do to actually see the poem in print is to pay a large amount of money for their very expensive anthology, which it will appear in. For more money they will print your bio. For more money they will present it in a framed plaque. For more money you can get a musical toilet-roll holder, complete with a roll, whereby each sheet will have your masterpiece printed on it. (OK - the toilet-roll holder product, I haven't seen advertised..... YET). Does any particular organisation, you have come across, sound like this? If you want to test out an organisation who you suspect is a vanity publisher, simply write the worst possible piece of writing you can manage. If you want to avoid embarrassment, submit it under a false name (two can play dirty!) and watch the response. You will still be heaped with praise and the promise that you also stand to win additional large cash prizes, when you KNOW it was not fit to be printed on that toilet paper for the musical holder. (I have written a separate article - part 2 in this series - about this, titled " Help needed – desperate for a rejection slip.")
Another route, which some mistakenly think of as 'vanity' publishing, is self-publishing. This is where you pay someone to print your book as you want it to be laid out and presented. How reasonable a quality, and what quantities you want printed, will determine the cost. Then it is down to you to promote the books and sell them. Many good authors, who have gone on to become independently published, have taken this route. Before you consider such a thing though, I would still strongly recommend you start with the magazine route. If after a reasonable period of time and persistence, you never get any magazine to accept your work, perhaps it time to be honest with yourself about how good your writing is.
Effort, Persistence, InvestmentEdit
In just about any walk of life, any career, rarely does success come over night. It takes effort, persistence, investment, time, and being good at what you do. In fact it also means being better at what others do IF there is a lot of 'competition'. Like a job application, if twenty apply, the selector will choose the best, based on a whole number of factors. The first obvious factor will be that the applicant can do the job! As for poetry.. well everyone who can put a number of lines on paper thinks they are a poet..... right? or should I say :
Everyone who thinks they can put a number of lines on paper thinks they are a poet.... right?
Copyright David Taub , 1999
First written for Internet Poetry Magazine: Issue 2, 1999
David Taub is a member of : The British organisation 'National Union of Journalists' (NUJ); The Florida Writers' Association; Columnist for the UK magazine 'Poetry Now'; Freelance writer for various UK and USA magazines; Co-author of Language of Souls (listed on amazon.com)