As part of National Poetry Month, Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit is hosting a blog tour involving poetry collections, poet interviews, guest posts from poetry readers, and some great poems and discussion (check out this post for the tour schedule). Today the tour is here on Caribousmom and I am delighted to offer my readers a fabulous guest post by poet Michael Meyerhofer about the perils of self publishing.
Michael Meyerhofer’s third book, Damnatio Memoriae won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest. His previous books are Blue Collar Eulogies (Steel Toe Books) and Leaving Iowa (winner of the Liam Rector First Book Award). He has also won the James Wright Poetry Award, the Laureate Prize, the Annie Finch Prize for Poetry, the Marjorie J. Wilson Best Poem Contest, and five chapbook prizes. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Quick Fiction and other journals, and can be read online at the author’s website. Meyerhofer is the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review.
WRITING ON THE WALL:
THE PERILS OF SELF-PUBLISHING
by Michael Meyerhofer
One of the most awkward things I feel I have to do as a Creative Writing professor is discourage my students from self-publishing. I say awkward because I know very well how impatient we writers are, how exciting it is to share your work with an audience, and how my warning sounds a bit like the town in Footloose that won’t let the kids dance.
I really, really, really hate doing it. It makes me feel anxious and honestly, slightly ill–specifically because I know it hurts a few students’ feelings, since they themselves have self-published or are considering it (and in many cases, they’re fantastic, promising writers), and it probably makes me look like a grumpy, judgmental crusher of dreams, rather than somebody who’s genuinely trying to look out for them. But I do it anyway cuz, dammit, that’s my job!
And here’s an example of why. I saw the ad for the Emerging Writer’s Contest from the wonderful and well-established magazine, Ploughshares. From their own guidelines: “We define an ‘emerging writer’ as someone who has yet to publish a book, including chapbooks, eBooks, and self-published works, in any of the content genres: creative nonfiction, poetry, or fiction.”
In other words–if you self-publish, or rush to publish a collection (because you’re in your early twenties and shouldn’t you already have a few books out by now?!), you can’t enter this. And this isn’t the only example.
There are the Fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing, specifically for those who graduated with their MFAs but haven’t published a book yet.
There’s the Yale Series of Younger Poets–and you’re eligible so long as you’re under 40 and, again, you haven’t published a book yet.
And, of course, there’s the Walt Whitman Award, another career-making opportunity for those who haven’t published a first book.
In fact, there are tons of first book prizes out there, plus plenty of emerging writer awards (just Google “first book prize” or “emerging writer contest”), all of which can not only get you published but be a big boost to your career. In the case of some, it’s OK if you have already published a chapbook so long as it’s under a certain number of pages and had a small circulation. In others, even that that will disqualify you. In ALL cases, though, it pays to take a deep breath, do your research, and weigh your options.
And don’t forget–while poems in a full-length manuscript can previously have appeared in journals or chapbooks, it can’t go the other way around. In other words, poems in a chapbook (self-published or not) can’t be sent to most journals, since they want First Rights. That’s just the way it is. And if you ignore that, you’re showing contempt for the very journals you want to publish in.
Of course, if you aren’t concerned with entering contests, don’t particularly care about winning a first book or chapbook prize, and genuinely prefer to go the more “underground” route, that’s perfectly fine. You still have to understand First Rights as it pertains to journals, but besides that, you’re free to do whatever you like. Here’s the thing, though: at the very least, you should know what you’re doing, weigh the potential costs and benefits, and make an informed decision. Otherwise–again–you’re disrespecting the biz by demonstrating that you don’t even care enough to learn its most basic rules before you break them.
And to my students who have self-published (or are considering it), it’s not that I don’t support or believe in your work. Actually, it’s the exact opposite. I believe in your work so much that I want to see it get the biggest audience it can! If I didn’t, I’d just smile, pat you on the back, and secretly be glad that another potential competitor just sold him/herself short.
Be sure to visit all the wonderful posts as part of this tour – get the links here.