On Waiting for an Acceptance by Cati Porter

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.

For All Those Who Ask, What *is* Inlandia? by Cati Porter

Once again we are approaching that time of year when we give thanks for friends and family, take stock of what we have accomplished, and express appreciation for all those who have made it possible. So, thank you—we are all Inlandia.

A question I get asked regularly is, what is Inlandia? We have now been writing these columns for well over a year, and I don’t think we have ever addressed that directly here. Sure, you can make out who we are by the patchwork of topics covered here; what you see is what Inlandia is and does: many voices, all hailing from Inland Southern California, celebrating the region. But on the heels of what has been a banner week for Inlandia, I thought I would try to explain it in a little more detail.

The Inlandia Institute was established in 2007 as a partnership between the City of Riverside and Heyday, our co-publisher, after the publication of the anthology Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire. The idea was to found a literary and cultural center here in the Inland Empire that focused on the writers and readers of the region. Soon after, Inlandia moved into our own office, incorporating in 2009, and in 2012 Inlandia was granted non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).

Inlandia has five core programs: Children’s Creative Literacy, Adult Literary Professional Development, Publications—both with our co-publisher Heyday as well as a locally-produced independent imprint, Free Public Literary Events, and the Inlandia Literary Laureate. What does this translate to? Just this past year, Inlandia has:

– Served over 2000 children, including at-risk youth through The Women Wonder Writers program of the DA’s office, resulting in a collection of written work and a public reading and discussion; and in programs in Title 1 schools like Fremont Elementary, where we held a book discussion and gave all 200 fifth-graders and sixth-graders a free copy of Gayle Brandeis’ young adult novel, My Life with the Lincolns, thanks to a generous Rotary sponsorship.

– Served over 2400 adults through public outreach events like Celebrate Mount Rubidoux and the Mayor’s Celebration for Arts & Innovation, and by hosting free monthly author events during ArtsWalk at the Riverside Public Library, and writing workshops throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, including a Family Legacy Writing Workshop at the Goeske Senior Center.

– Published: No Easy Way, the story of the integration of Riverside schools, by Arthur L. Littleworth, a chapter integral to Riverside history; Vital Signs by Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado and Tom McGovern, which went on to win an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; and the Orangelandia anthology, which contains the fruit of Riverside’s citrus heritage. And launching this week, a new children’s chapter book, Tia’s Tamale Trouble, by Inlandia author and educator Julianna Maya Cruz.

Inlandia also undertakes special projects from time to time, like “Making Waves in Inlandia,” which chronicles the stories of the women’s environmental movement through oral histories and a very cool interactive component on our website, including a map of all the spaces saved by local environmental activists, and video interviews.

We also have two other interactive features on our website—a map that details the location of every Inland Empire site mentioned in our flagship Inlandia anthology (which, regrettably, is currently out of print—but we are working on a second edition! More about that in a future post). And, just this past week, with the publication of No Easy Way, we launched an interactive timeline, “Time Travel through Riverside’s School Integration History.”

Further, after the first of the year, we will be launching a six-part series of monthly public civic discussion forums featuring esteemed panelists and partner organizations, with the kickoff event at UCR’s Culver Center on January 31, 2015, at 1 pm.

One of the sound bites associated with Inlandia is, “celebrating the region in word, image, and sound.”

Planned projects include a new Adopt-a-School program which will bring literary arts education, taught by professionals in the field, to area schools; a Native American Voices conference at the Dorothy Ramon Center in Banning, featuring and celebrating indigenous peoples; a writing workshop at the Ontario Museum of History and Art celebrating black aviators in February, in honor of Black History Month. Not to mention our usual monthly Arts Walk series at the downtown Riverside Public Library and the free writing workshops held in six different cities throughout the region.

We are supported wholly through the generous donations of our members, supporters, and through grant funding from organizations like the City of Riverside, the Riverside Arts Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and Cal Humanities. But like any arts organization, we are constantly thinking of creative ways we can ensure continued funding while also making it fun for contributors. Last week, we participated in the county-wide Give BIG day of giving, and to all of those who helped us meet our goals, thank you!

We are also currently in the midst of a book fair fundraiser sponsored by Barnes & Noble. If you missed the kickoff event on Saturday November 22, which featured readings by notable locals Larry Eby, Isabel Flores, Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Julianna Cruz, and a flurry of contributors to the Orangelandia anthology, know that you can still participate through the end of the week by shopping online or in store (any Barnes & Noble anywhere, as long as you have Inlandia’s code: 11484482), through Black Friday. So if like most people at this time of year you are beginning to think about holiday gifts, give a gift to Inlandia when you shop at Barnes & Noble this Thanksgiving week.

From all of us at Inlandia, we give thanks for you this week, and every week, throughout the year.