And Sometimes You Say No

And Sometimes You Say No

Perhaps I’m getting cantankerous in my dotage, unwilling to admit that I can’t expect good things to continue coming my way, and should consider settling for what’s offered. After all, the age reel isn’t rewinding, and my inbox is not exactly buzzing with publication offers. There are more funerals than weddings in my future. I limp. Each day is indeed a blessing but my remaining minutes do not feel unconstrained. Far from it.

A few months ago I received an acceptance email from a chapbook publisher affiliated with a literary journal that had published one of my poems. The chapbook is strong, I think, and I felt good about the acceptance, until I read the one-sided contract. You can guess which side received the greater benefit. I emailed a reply asking for clarifications, and received one back the next day. To sum it up: the publisher would deign to publish me, but I’d bear responsibility for all promotion beyond their announcements on social media. Furthermore, their standard policy was to provide no review copies, and I would have to meet their minimum pre-publication sales order in order to be published. I could deal with these annoyances if there were hope of some payment, but in this case payment would be limited to 12% of the initial print run, which would likely run from 40 to 100 copies. So let’s say I was one of the fortunates who merited a 100-copy printing (which, to be frank, is on the low end). My total payment would consist of twelve copies, out of which I would need to provide any copies sent to reviewers, leaving me with oh, let’s say nine or ten to sell at readings. Chances are after a couple of readings, I’d have no chapbooks remaining, and would need to purchase additional copies from the publisher if I wanted to sell more. But under their terms, I’d receive only a 30% discount. Bear in mind that bookstores generally require a 40% discount to sell a book – they have to make something on the transaction. The publisher’s price was $14, so each consignment sale through a bookstore would net a loss of $1.40 per book. Uh, no. I may be a poet, but I can add and subtract, and I will not a) pay a publisher to publish my work, b) lose money merely to see my words in print, or c) work for free (I’m willing to do my part, but the publisher must also function as more than just a printer).

What to do? Stay on the same track? Submitting to publishers, and then on the rare occasion a manuscript is accepted, peruse the publisher’s terms and sign only if they’re agreeable? Self-publish? I haven’t wanted to take on the headaches of self-publishing, but am leaning in that direction more and more. I have two chapbooks scheduled for release during the next year, and am grateful to the publishers for offering good terms to their writers. But after these are in print, what course should I take?

61 thoughts on “And Sometimes You Say No

  1. I appreciate your sharing this Robert. I feel like this is a world I’m on the edge of. I’m not sure if it’s discouraging or “the way it is”. I tell people and I’m sure you have, I don’t write poetry for fortune and fame. But you want to reach people. I can certainly understand that when you work as hard as you do at writing, you should have some compensation (money?). Hmmm. I’ll be looking at other comments here…

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s not so much the compensation as the feeling of being taken advantage of. Those publishers who assume no risk whatsoever, who rely solely on the writers to promote and sell, and who won’t sell author copies at a discount allowing a minimal profit at the very least, are doing just that in my eyes. There’s a difference between publishing and printing, and I consider these so-called publishers to be more like printers.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I formed my own little publishing imprint for a while. I published a chapbook of my own work and published other people’s as well. The problem with self-publishing or or using a small publisher is promotion and distribution. Bigger publishers have distribution networks, and media links and trying to replicate this is difficult and can take a long time to build up. While self-publishing has a good and noble heritage if you want your work to get out there it will take a lot of work. My first (and only) collection was published by another publisher, but it was left to me to do all the promotional work and even send review copies out. I think my book sold about 100 copies in the end. The main problem with publishing poetry books, that if you self-publish or use a specialist publisher, which are the only choices for a lot of poets these days, it is often left to the poet to do the promotional work. It sucks, but that is the sad reality of it. If you can find a publisher that can help promote your work that would be great, but I don’t know how many there are that still do this. I live in another country so I don’t know what your poetry market is like there, but here the situation isn’t wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Most chapbook publishers don’t have distribution deals. The larger small presses that distribute and market well are thus far not interested in my work. I was approached by one of these, but in the end the publisher lost interest. I’m aware of how difficult selling poetry can be, but have a decent track record of sales, and am willing to work at it. But I’m not interested in becoming a “volunteer” employee for publishers who don’t reciprocate. I’m done with one-sided deals. Having said that, while I’m contemplating self-publishing chapbooks, full-length books are another matter. I won’t take that path.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Dink Press, Silver Birch Press, Platypus Press and the Origami Poems Project have all been stellar. They’re all very different, but are professional in their respective approaches.

    Like

  4. What you report is ridiculous, Bob. I strongly encourage you to try self-publishing. I belong to the Open Heart Project, an online mindfulness/Buddhist community founded by New York Times bestselling author Susan Piver. She grew so weary of and disheartened by dealing with publishers that she has just self-published her latest book, “The Four Noble Truths of Love,” and seems to be effectively mobilizing those of us who value her work to get the word out. Maybe you could, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am by no means knowledgeable about poetry, Robert, but have recently self-published a memoir with Amazon. After a number of rejections from agents, whose comments were that I did not have a large enough author platform, I gave up. I found an excellent cover designer and a formatter, and voila, I have my story in print. Like you, I had no desire to be a “volunteer employee.” But it does make me wonder just what agents and publishers do for their cut. I’m not in it for fame and fortune either, but am pleased that my name and story are out there. Best of luck to you. I really like your poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I appreciate today’s post so much, Bob, and echo most of the above comments. Much to think about (being in the same boat so to speak) – thanks for this!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have self-published all of my books, which have been 5 throughout the years. I felt that since I have to do most of the marketing and I wanted a long lifespan for my books I may as well self-publish. I haven’t had any regrets at all! You write lovely poetry!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting read – good mind-setting info. I will again someday dig into publishing options … my sense of it all is to delay till I am ready to do the promoting … your feedback here firms up those inclinations!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hold out Bob! Your words are worth it. Finding a publisher is like finding a partner. Say no to anyone who insults your worth. ‘Buy me a drink. Tell me I’m beautiful and don’t expect a thing without a serious long term commitment.’ 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I will. I’m too stubborn to accept a crappy offer just to get published. The question now is whether I should self-publish chapbooks or continue submitting to small presses. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s value in rejection – it causes me to examine a manuscript with a different eye, to seek its flaws. A dilemma…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good. I’ll be taking notes on your process as I’m starting my book this summer and plan on submitting to publishers. I think your publishing route depends on your goal; is it just to get your work and word out there or is there a separate goal related to a publishing house? I know it’s lofty but I want the latter. For one I can’t afford self publishing and two, I’m old fashioned and that’s been the dream since about 4th grade.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I suppose I have multiple goals – with chapbooks, it’s more about having publications to take to readings and conferences/workshops, to sell to or swap with others. Many bookstores don’t stock them, and even when small presses have distributors, the chances for any unknown poet’s book to be chosen by a store are slim to none. They’re difficult to place. So self-publication makes sense. With regards to a full-length book, I still have dreams of a good placement, and have no desire to rush and throw one out there. I’ll be patient with it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Makes sense if you’re touring and speaking to have products to sell. I’m hearing layers of goals. If you self published your way to get on someone’s radar perhaps it could lead to an anthology of your greatest hits. Then once you’re in with a publishing house there’d be opportunity to write your book. Ta da. There’s your plan Bob haha. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

        • I for one will buy your book when it’s published! And yes, I appreciate the idea of working toward a dream. Think big. I’ve led a charmed life, and have had some success in multiple areas. But part of that “charmed” success was due to what some might call overreaching, attempting to touch something “unattainable.” Ha! If you don’t try, you won’t achieve.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Aww thanks Bob and likewise. I think those of us who dare to dream big and live far reaching lives wouldn’t feel alive thinking, doing, being or giving any less. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  10. With a little work you can do much better than that at Office Max or Office Depot. The last set I got printed was 20 copies and had a hundred pages with a clear plastic cover and spiral binding. With my max perks card and a coupon discount they came to around $9.00 each! I get them printed full half size with a black and white photo cover. It is a great way to self publish.
    Dwight

    Liked by 2 people

  11. That’s daylight robbery! I would go down the self-publish/self-marketing route Robert. The self-publishing might be a bit of a pain but the marketing is just a case of remembering to blow your own trumpet as loud as you can – something that most people find difficult. Good luck whichever route you decide to take, your poems deserve to be read :O)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. wow – interesting info and I do not have any advice except to say that it is a complex area – for many artists from painters to musicians to poets….
    and in my experience – if writers have to self-publish and keep switching gears to market and all that – is it not like a fish trying to climb a tree and then getting back into the water to swim.
    hmmmm

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marketing for a publisher and marketing for oneself are two separate things, in my opinion. In the former, you’re performing labor to assist the publisher in selling your book, sometimes with little or no reward. In the latter, you’re working to sell your book, and will reap what you sow. But marketing is more than mere promotion, something many authors and publishers don’t seem to understand.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. A very interesting article Robert, and after reading your first paragraph, I think we must be twins in another world….. I admire your persistence and hard work at getting your work published.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The industry is so frustrating these days. All the burden of “risk” has been shifted to the artist, and publishers only want the next “best seller”, which must (in their minds) resemble something that already exists…which is the antithesis of the artist and the creative process. I, for one, don’t understand the nuance and complexities of “self-publishing”…and, the endeavor is so labor intensive, it swallows up time that could be spent actually creating. Such a headache! But, of course, I wish you well as you navigate this new age. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I want to self-publish for the first time as soon as my schedule allows it. Just recently I saw a good interview with an expert around the book fair. They said if publishers want money to print YOUR work you should avoid them. They are not interested in publishing your work. But this is just second-hand advice. Personally I’m struggling with the whole self-publishing because it takes a lot of time and consideration. Working full-time doesn’t allow me to do it. But publishers of poetry seem to be gems in the sand as you describe it and then my range is pretty limited at the moment. But I guess you will figure something out as I’ll do. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is part consolation, part inspiration and I wish you will find a good path.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree – if publishers require money to publish you, they’re not really interesting in publishing. They’re interested in money. Having said that, there are cooperative endeavors worth looking into, but those resemble partnerships.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi Robert,

    As a fellow writer I empathise with the idea of getting crappy offers. We’re not willing to allow a publisher to make the money we should be making from our own creativity.

    I think the take away point from your post is that it is awesome that you are getting offers, you are in demand and you’re obviously damn good at what you do. This can only affirm your reluctance to take whatever offer however unbalanced it is, now you know you’re good.

    It is only a matter of time before the perfect (or near perfect) offer does arise and you’ll snap it up without hesitation.

    – Luke

    https://yourlifeyourstory.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

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