This week I opened my email to find an acceptance for my poetry collection, “My Skies of Small Horses.” This is the moment that so many people wait for—sometimes briefly, sometimes forever. The acceptance is from a press—WordTech Editions—that I have long admired from a distance as I’ve watched other friends like Judy Kronenfeld publish with them. But the road to book publication is often a winding one, and mine is no exception.
This particular book began as my thesis for my MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. I had high hopes when I began submitting my manuscript soon after graduation. After all, I had found a publisher for my first poetry collection, “Seven Floors Up” (Mayapple Press, 2008) before I even entered the program. Now, with credentials, shouldn’t it be easier? But only after five years of trying am I finally going to see it in print.
Over those five years, I submitted my book over forty different times—sometimes to the same contest year after year, other times to presses whose aesthetics I thought matched my own, changing it slightly each time, adding and subtracting poems based on editorial comments, feedback from other writers, or just a gut sense of what works best. I tried on different titles for the book, different section titles, reordering the poems, trying to find the book’s most perfect form.
What I discovered? It’s easy to second guess your first impulse, and it’s equally easy to overlook flaws that other readers might see because you’re too close to the work. It’s taken countless critiques and rejections to get my manuscript to where it is now. And there is always the issue that good poetry is almost entirely subjective. Was it fine the first time out? Could it still be improved? Maybe, and probably!
As those five years dragged on, I kept coming back to the question, how was waiting for a publisher better than publishing it on my own? There is no one right answer. Seeing my work rejected was often painful, but publishing it too soon would have been equally so.
Waiting for a publisher, for me, meant that I spent a lot more time with the poems and made changes to the overall manuscript, that I otherwise may not have if I had gone straight to self-publishing. I could have saved time and money and had a book in print five years ago, but what I have to show for those five years, having waited, is an honorable mention, four semi-finalist nods, and one finalist—so, a little closer every time, and more time to submit work to journals, which is like vetting the poems—knowing that someone else finds value in and appreciates the work validates all the hours spent.
Self-publishing can be a viable option for those who can’t or don’t want to wait, or who, like me, have waited to no avail and have grown tired of waiting. The most important thing to consider is whether or not you have examined all of the options and revised the book to some form of finished that you feel good about.
Before the acceptance last week, I had in fact given some thought to self-publishing. There is something appealing about being able to control the overall aesthetic experience of the book, and most publishers are not willing to allow you to micromanage the process. But for me, waiting has meant that I now will have the support of an independent press whose experience outweighs my own.
As an editor and publisher as well as a writer, I’ve seen the system work from both sides, and am hopefully the wiser for it. Which is why it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to create new publishing opportunities, in order to bring more writing into the world.
In my time with Inlandia, we have expanded our imprint from books published solely through our publishing partner Heyday to adding independently published Inlandia Imprint books. I am grateful to have a great Publications Committee and volunteers who help select and prepare works for publication, and who have helped to shape the vision for publishing with Inlandia.
With the success of our first book of poetry—Vital Signs by Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, and because of this expansion, coupled with my own love for poetry, I am beyond thrilled to announce that we are launching a poetry book competition.
The Hillary Gravendyk Prize is a poetry book competition with two winners—one drawn from a national pool and one from a regional (i.e. based in Inland Southern California). Each will have it’s own $1000 prize and book contract. Chad Sweeney, poet and faculty member at Cal State San Bernardino, will judge the inaugural contest.
The submissions window opens February 1 and will close April 30, at the end of National Poetry Month. For guidelines, please visit: http://inlandiajournal.org.