As a follow up to yesterday's post, let me say how odd it is to find posts and tweets by others who did better with the Wilder prize than I did. The runner up made this tweet: "1st full-length poetry MS: 6 years submitting, various versions, 2 titles, 89 rejections, 4 finalist nods, 9 semi-finalist nods = 1 acceptance, #90 was the charm"
In response, Dave Bonta made this Facebook post: "I'm beginning to understand why so few of my poet friends were Sanders supporters: they don't see/understand poverty. 90 submissions of a poetry manuscript in a market where most presses only read manuscripts through paying contests implies an outlay of more than $2000. Few books will ever make that back in royalties. I understand doing this if you're up for tenure, but otherwise, it feels very much like vanity publishing - paying to get into print. Which is sad in a world with so many print-on-demand and ebook options for self-publishers. Not to mention the fact that very few publishers actually do adequate publicity these days. You have to do your own promotion regardless, including setting up readings and wrangling reviews."
Is it wrong of me to experience a bit of comfort that the winner had been submitting her manuscript for so long? It's not comfort in a vindictive way, but more in a camaraderie way, as I, too, have been submitting manuscripts for my first book for many years.
And yes, even longer than that, if we're being honest. The manuscript that I submitted isn't one I've been submitting a lot yet--but the one that I put aside was one that I have been submitting a lot, and that I am still submitting.
One reason why I LOVE the Wilder prize is that I know that my competition is women poets over 50 who haven't had a book published yet. If someone else's work is chosen, I'm happy that it comes from that demographic. It's much more discouraging to submit a manuscript, get a copy of the winning book which is often written by someone (often SO much younger and so much more male), and realize all the ways that mine is different (and often, frankly, I like mine better).
Dave makes a valid point about what we're spending. For years, I only submitted to presses where I would get a copy of the winning book. Now that's less important to me. Now I am only submitting to presses that I want to support, but those also have to be presses that do a good job with the physical book.
Dave talks about print-on-demand books, and he has a point. But after an experience of bungling a set of business cards, I'm hesitant to be my own book publisher--I don't want to have to come up to speed on all the decisions that print-on-demand might entail. I want a publisher to do that for me.
I'm certainly not looking to publish my book of poems because I think I'll get royalties. Once a poetry volume might have paid a bill or two by opening up other opportunities: readings or guest lecturers or visiting poets. Even before the pandemic, those possible opportunities would have been somewhat limited because of the demands of my full-time job. I am under no illusions about what is more likely to pay the hefty bills of medical insurance and the mortgage.
It's not poetry.
Once I might have hoped for a different kind of teaching job, but even before the pandemic, I am aware that my chances were slim, even with a book with a spine. I'm older and female and my PhD is a literature PhD, not a degree in some part of Creative Writing. As I wrote about last week, some part of me will always yearn for a teaching job at a school like my small, liberal arts college--but I'm not sure those jobs will survive our current economic crisis.
I also realize all the ways that this pandemic may change book publishing. A year from now, I may look back at this post and snort at all the vistas I didn't see/realize/understand.
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