As I’m encountering this truth, I want to warn you: this is not going to be a glamorous venture. Like any journey worth its scuffed shoes, publishing a book of poems is going to be some nitty gritty work.
Long and Winding Road
As I’m encountering this truth, I want to warn you: this is not going to be a glamorous venture. Like any journey worth its scuffed shoes, publishing a book of poems is going to be some nitty gritty work. I’d love to sit down at my laptop, stretch my fingers and begin typing as an upbeat pop song plays me into a montage where all the true work is done in a flash. Unfortunately, our lives are all the raw footage; we cannot cut right to the satisfying parts.
Fixing a Hole
In many ways I’m approaching this task like I would begin a woodworking project: before I can start sawing and nailing, I need to clean up the workshop. I need to see what materials I have on hand; I need to make a list—many lists—of materials I need, the bills I should pay, the errands I should run. I want to draw up some plans—a cut list, a sketch of how the materials, once cut, will join together to become a thing.
In other words: What do I want? What do I have? How do I get there?
For the project at hand, this means making a list of publishers who are publishing chapbooks, and highlighting the ones I’d like to have publish a book of my poems. Who are other poets I enjoy, and who has published their chapbooks? Some publishers hold contests for first-time or “emerging” writers with publication as the grand prize—I’ll need to consider if I want to focus on contests (or enter any at all)—can I afford the entry fees?
It means submitting individual poems to magazines. I want to be able to show publishers that I’m actively publishing poems—it doesn’t hurt to land a few bylines, to show an editor she or he is not alone in loving my poetry.
It means writing a query letter—or many. A query letter is sent to publishers who aren’t necessarily taking open submissions of manuscripts; a similar letter could be used as a cover letter when sending a manuscript to an open call for submission. I usually like to write one letter that I can tailor based on the situation.
It means organizing my poems into a system that makes them easy to sort, and therefore easy to find. For example, some of my poems are mere doodles and should not see the light of day: why am I still searching through them all to find the ones I know are good? For starters, I’m going to create a folder in my file manager for publish-ready poems. And once those are all in one place, I should begin to build workable manuscripts. (Again, I like to customize my manuscripts depending on the contest, editor, or publication—but I think it will be good to have some ready to go, so I don’t need to create a manuscript from scratch each time I find a contest I want to enter.)
Carry that Weight
This is a dangerous time for intrepid adventurers like me. It’s easy to get stuck in the bog of organization and planning, or to be intimidated by the mountain of legwork ahead. It can be a slippery slope: preparation can swiftly lead to procrastination.
Have you ever set out to clean a room, only to make it more of a mess? If we keep working, methodically, without fear, without excuse, the room will become clean finally; finally we’ll be affixing a stamp and dropping our perfect manuscript in the mail.