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?