Monday, February 19, 2007

Markets and Method

This is more of a beginner’s reference, and I am well aware that the following would be better served with a series, or in sections, but let’s face it: You’re busy. I’m busy. Read on and go publish. If you’ve been printed in even four or five magazines, you probably won’t find this post very useful, as you’re already doing something right.

Listen, you have a handful of poems (or hundreds), and you’ve been putting off publishing them because it’s such a big deal. I know how it works. Every time someone notices you writing, they ask “So, are you in school?”. No, you explain, you’re just a writer. They then ask: “Oh really? What’s your book about?” because, though you’re a poet, most people will hear ‘writer’ and assume you’re a novelist, complete with a big black typewriter somewhere and a wastebin full of wadded up page ones, and when they DO ascertain you write poetry, will most likely assume you’re into falling leaves, flowers, rhyme, and break-ups. So you mention you’re working on some poetry and they get that blank face. “Huh.” the face says. Then they ask the one question you’ve heard hundreds of times, and that makes you want to decay into a puddle of shit right there in front of them:

I know, you’re tired of coming up with new excuses why you’re not published and you figure it’s time to get printed somewhere. You want to publish some poems. The process is simple. You find a magazine or anthology that you think wants what you write, and you send it. There are loopholes and procedures along the way, but that’s essentially how it works. Rights are important, but you don’t have to concern yourself with most of that world until money is involved. Until then, follow the magazine’s guidelines and send your work however they prefer. After that, wait around. Voila, you’re a struggling poet, instead of the previous ‘regular’ poet that just wrote a lot.

Where to find magazines in the small press? You might be tempted to buy a who’s-who book, or a step-by-step guide to publishing, how to be your own agent, etc... skip it. It’s dreck. It’s one of the only ways people can make money with their knowledge of poetry publishing, by explaining it to you for a price. If you want to pay to have someone else tell you how it works, take a class. You get credit for those. Otherwise, save your money for postage (you’ll need it).

Now, after you’ve ditched your ten-steps-to-print books, you might want to pick up something a little more useful. A market book. These are books that mainly list magazines and places that accept poetry. Many of these magazines not only accept poetry, they do it without grudge. Some even look forward to it and actively seek poetry, even when little is submitted.

The most common market book in book stores is the Poet’s Market. It’s published by Writer’s Digest, and has a large number of markets you can flip through. They set up the listings in a simple and keyed way so you’ll have some information on the magazines beyond their name and address. I’ve found they tend to check their sources pretty well. I get less return-to-senders when submitting to magazines I’ve found in the Poet’s Market. Of course, don’t submit blindly. You might read an entry in the Poet’s Market and think, “My stuff is perfect for this magazine. I’m sending right now.” Don’t be tempted to do this, it mostly ends in rejection. Instead, find out more. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes because most magazines have websites these days. They do so for several reasons. One of them is you and your poetry. Visiting these websites (or more than visiting) is free, and you’re writing for free, so let’s face it, you should study the magazine with a keen eye and up your chances of getting printed for free, too.

The Directory of Poetry Publishers is another popular market book, put out by Dustbooks. This one seems rife with problems for me. It generally lists more magazines and reviews than the Poet’s Market, and the way in which it is designed actually works a little better for me, but I’ve had trouble with this directory. I used it for a couple of years to unearth many magazines I wanted to check out, and about a third of the magazines I attempted to locate online or submit to turned out to be defunct. It’s embarrassing to receive a response from an editor’s wife stating that the editor, as well as the magazine you’ve submitted to, have been dead for five years. Most of these horrible situations can be remedied by looking the magazine up online. A good portion of them have some sort of web-presence (though I very much wish more of them would put dates on their pages, as you often can’t tell from a webpage if they’re still going when they have no dates anywhere. For all you know, those submission guidelines and samples were posted three years ago, and the magazine shut down shortly after). So, the Dustbooks Directory has much to offer, but use it at your own peril. I did find my way to some very good magazines through it, certainly.

Note: I know Simon Perchik submits via the Dustbooks Directory, and he’s one of the most prolificly published poets around. Publish in a handful of magazines and you will most certainly run into Simon in there somewhere, in addition to Lyn Lyfshin, Virgil Suarez, Taylor Graham, Michael Estabrook, and throngs of others. These people have been publishing for long periods of time. They’ve got the ins and outs down pat, and I’d bet they all have different tactics for publishing. If even three or four of these poets got together and published a book on the technical side of small press publishing, from their perspectives, I’d pay a fortune to read it. Until then, you’ve always got interviews you can take a look at. Though the tactics someone might utilize in getting their work out is only icing, really. It’s the work itself that will finally see print, not your cover letter, publication history, or the chart of magazines you’ve made from digging around.

If you don't feel like shelling out for one of these books, there’s also the link page method. Here’s the drill: Locate a magazine you like online, and that prints the sort of thing you write. Preferably a place you’ve published. Hit the links page for that magazine. Look for other magazines among the links (some list them in groups). Follow any that appeal to you and have a look. Read some poems if they’ve posted any, read the ‘about us’ link that most magazines have. Do you like these people? Does the magazine interest you? If so, while your there, go through the guidelines. If all is well, get the information you need and submit what you think will work best, when it’s time. And read what they print. It keeps you current on what’s going on with small press tastes and is a lot cheaper than buying loads of books by people you haven’t yet heard of. Subscribe to a few, if you can afford it (I’ll post more on the submission/subscription dilemma at a later point, as both editor and poet can get quite sore about it).

After you’ve obtained the info you need, go to the next magazine you found. When you eventually run out of magazines, go to the links page of one of the newest ones you found. There you go. Considering most magazines only link to things they’re into, on some level, this process of using link pages can take you through loops of magazines that have similar tastes or aesthetics. If you fit in one, you might fit in a few more they link to. Find out. You’ll never run out of magazines that you might be a good fit for you if you keep current and see who likes who.

Another way to find magazines, similar to the link page method, is by visiting a site or subscribing to an email newsletter that compiles lists of magazines. This hasn’t worked out so well for me, but I’m sure it does for others. To start you off, here are a couple of useful ones: , and Duotrope has a running statistics system as well, but I haven't felt it to be all that useful. Dee Rimbaud's AA Independent Press Guide is useful as hell. It's a good place to start if you need one.

There is something to be said for submitting almost blindly to absolutely everything you come across. I’m sure it works for some poets but it’s ill-advised, and requires a fucking ton of poetry. I don’t know... this tactic seems cold to me, and a little slutty. But hey, how you get your kicks is your business. In the end, it’s whether the writer, the editor, and the subscriber are all pleased with the outcome that matters most.

For most magazines, you’ll need a cover letter and possibly a short bio. You can find examples of these all over the internet. Find one you like and figure out why. Then write yours. You will change it over and over again as you go, and you’ll customize it often for certain magazines.

You should be aware that most poetry magazines, or magazines that handle poetry, dislike being thought of as a ‘market’, and who could blame them? You wouldn’t want to get email from these magazines addressed to ‘poem marketer’ would you? So remember, a list of magazines is only that. Don’t submit unless you know how they do things, and follow their guidelines. Editors are busy, and the simplest way to keep their endeavors running smoothly is by utilising some sort of system or regiment. When things step outside of that system, it slows them down and interferes with the flow. When you send to a magazine, do it the way they want to receive it. If they don’t want a cover letter, don’t send one. If they want a bio, include it. If you’re still confused, send an email. Keep it short.

Of course, the important thing isn’t that you submit to the biggest and best magazines around, because those are figurative ideas. You should submit to whoever you think could best utilise your work, whoever you think wants it, and doesn’t get on your nerves. Sending to the Atlantic Monthly, Colorado Review, and New Yorker right off the bat is great and all, but don’t forget the lady with the zine that’s hungry for a good poem or two, even if her mag has a circulation of twenty-two. I usually send my best to these smaller magazines. They deserve it. No one is paying them and they’re not making any money. Not many people are reading their magazine and it’s highly likely they won’t keep fighting against the thanklessness, exhaustion, and especially the slow, painful leak of money for too long (I’ve known a lot of writers that have quit for these reasons, as well), so the least you can do for these editors, whether they’re appreciative or not, is send them your best. Shit, you owe it to your self and work at large, anyway.

It’s wise to keep track of where you sent what. There will come a point where you won’t know, so keeping records is pretty key. Do this however the hell you want.

A note on statistics:

Having a record of responses and various magazines can produce some interesting statistics for you. I’ve been accepted by magazines wherein my odds were less than half of one percent, and I’ve been rejected by magazines that state they accept 90% of what they receive. The point is, stats are interesting, but they can be deceiving. I have a rather unhealthy preoccupation with the statistics of poets. I enjoy coming across someone’s personal site and seeing something in the way of a percentage and ratio or two regarding their vitae. It can be interesting to compare these people, as well. Writer A might feel great with a 17.94% acceptance rate over the last two years, but what if she runs into someone with a 38% acceptance rate? Is Writer B doing better than A? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe B has only sent out about 14 submissions in the last two years, whereas Writer A sent out just over 900. Who knows? Again, stats are of interest, but they mean very little. What means the most is whether you like what your doing, because odds are (with magazines shutting down left and right, small circulations, and larger circulations where primary readers are actually your competition), enjoying what you’re doing might be all you’ve actually got, as well as a hard drive full of poems and the occasional ‘you-have-talent’ email from an editor. This is supposed to be what it’s all about, not just getting your tiny-spined collection of 21 poems into Barnes and Noble for $14.95, wedged between Maya Angelou and that dying kid that writes the inspirational poems. That’s a great outcome, but not if you don’t like the process.

Money? I’ve made $90 bucks in the poetry world. I’ve spent around a thousand dollars on postage thus far. And about as much on exhausted printers and a perpetually vanishing supply of paper and ink, both cartridge and pens, printer paper and writing pads. Want to be a rich poet? Be rich first.

ray succre

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