Booking It, Part 5: Nose to the Grindstone

Aug. 10, 2016 | Jeremy Benson

Image by Jeremy Benson
Booking It is a 12-part weblog detailing the work of trying to publish a book of poems by an established publisher by April 2017. Read part 1 herepart 2 here3 here, and 4 here.
Up to now, you and I have spent much time laying out the purpose of this project, how we might go about it, and what work it will entail, with a bit of soul searching and self-motivation along the way. 
But today let’s talk shop about what I’ve actually been doing to make this dream happen.
Sharpening the Ax
After looking through all the poems and scraps I have written in the last 10-15 years, I assembled a rough manuscript of about 20 pages. (Traditionally, chapbooks have 8, 12, 16, or 24 pages, but modern publishing isn’t so strict.)
This was not a new task for me: one writing workshop in college had a chapbook as its final project, a friend and I once put together a chapbook of poems and photography, and the last few summers, about 10 friends and I have participated in a chapbook exchange. Not to say this is old hat, or that the experience doesn’t feel fresh and exciting, on the contrary, it is still a challenge to know which poems to include and which beloved poems had to sit this one out.
I chose to build the chapbook around a theme—much like a musician would create a concept albumThis helped me to narrow down the poems that could be included, and as I arranged the poems into an order, it helped to give the manuscript a shape and flow. (Instead of a theme, I could have selected poems that have a similar structure; of course I could have just chosen 20 of my strongest poems, or even, if I was so brazen, 20 or so random poems. Still, I would want the order of poems to have a flow to it.)
The theme came more or less naturally; as I looked through my writing, I noticed a few motifs emerge, and I selected one that resonated with me to focus on.
Out to Committee
Once I had the rough manuscript settled enough, I sent it to a few trusted friends for comments.
Though I’m looking for general comments of any kind, in particular I asked them the same questions I was asking myself as I assembled, took apart, revised, reassembled: Are the poems strong? Do any need major revisions, or should be dropped? Is the theme cohesive—is it clear without being overwrought? Does the order of poems provide a kind of plot or emotional arc, and is it satisfying the way a book should be? Are there any typos, any at all, anywhere in anything I’ve ever written? Are you sute?
I also asked if they could suggest publishers who they think might want to publish the small collection.
Measure Twice
As I wait a few days for a response, I’ll make my own list of publishers to submit the manuscript to: 5 who are holding contests, 5 who are hosting open submissions (or accept unsolicited submissions), 5 who I can query, and 10 magazines who accept submissions of individual poems. For this project, this last one is an unnecessary step, although I think it’s important to show publishers that I’m engaged with the literary community, and trying to establish an active presence. The goal will be to submit to 5 publishers a week for five weeks—for now.
Anyhow, back to the grind.

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