Better Than a Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick


In case you didn't know, a standard way to publish a book of poetry is to submit your manuscript to a contest. One of the most prestigious prizes is Yale Younger Poets (which I am now too old to enter), but no matter what the level of prestige, the system is pretty much the same: you send 50-70 pages of poetry, a check for $25.00 (or thereabouts), and a self-addressed stamped envelope. You then wait six months to a year, at which point you usually get your SASE back with a xeroxed sheet of paper telling you who won. Occasionally in the list of finalists, you'll notice your name, and wonder why they never bothered to tell you that you were a finalist.

A lot of people consider it a racket; there is even an "American poetry watchdog" website that "exposes the fraudulent ‘contest,'" and there is also a Council of Literary Magazines and Presses that has set up rigorous contest-judging guidelines so that there aren't fraudulent contests to expose. Anyway, the whole thing is costly, demoralizing and time-consuming, but it's also how the system works, so I sent my book to half a dozen contests earlier this year.

Here's an email message I got yesterday:

Dear Holly,

I am writing to congradulate [sic] you on your finalist status in the 2006 Small But Respectable Poetry Press Prize. Please confirm that you have received this email, and that your manuscript is still available for publication. Also, please provide your summer contact information, as we will be expecting a decision from the judge by Labor Day. This is very important: if we cannot contact you within 2-3 days of receiving word from the judge, we will have to give the prize to the runner-up manuscript, so be clear on the best way to reach you.

I forwarded the message to a friend, who wrote back and said, "I don't want to be a wet blanket, just a wet hanky, but shouldn't an editor know how to spell congratulate?" Yeah, it's true, there's a horrible misspelling in the message, but I didn't even notice it at first: I was too busy being mildly optimistic and not the least bit offended that someone out there thinks my work is better than the work of a bunch of other people.

This is by no means a guarantee they'll publish my book, but it's better than getting my SASE back with nothing but a single xeroxed sheet in it.


Don't you wonder what kind of critics are looking at your work and judging it? What I've read of your poetry is fine.
I've been publishing some, but I gave up on it when I got my web site and could just post stuff for people to read. What I write has no general appeal,anyway. One of these days I'll get up off my lazy butt and put some of my short stories together and self publish them.

Oh, I wonder all the time about the fact that someone out there likes to print a lot of stuff I can't stand and so often rejects my work. Blogging and self-publishing have a lot to recommend them, but I'm still in academia and I have to publish or perish, and I also just want to publish a book. I like books as artifacts, and I want (at least) a couple of my own.

This reminds me of a poem I submitted to some I-can't-remember-their-name publisher of poems en masse when I was in college. I was SO excited to receive a letter saying my poem had been selected for publication!

I was enjoying my heady experience until my then-mentor and respected professor informed me that I was just one of 50,000 other aspiring poets who were also going to be published in this anthology. I was deflated.

But then the book itself arrived. And, yeah, mine was one among a bazillion other poems, but I didn't care. I'd been published.

I debated "Goodwill-ing" my copy of the anthology in my most recent move, but then decided to keep it anyway. Aside from my self-published master's thesis and the two copies of the same that reside in the stacks and archives at the Graduate Theological Union, who knows when I'll ever be published again?

Well done Holly. Mild optimism is the perfect spring forecast.

Leave a comment


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.12

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Holly published on May 23, 2006 12:58 PM.

What's a Materialist to Say about Categorical Errors? was the previous entry in this blog.

Someone Else's Sense of Humor is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.