On Poetry Manuscripts and Small Presses

Authors Publish posted an article entitled The Truth About Poetry Manuscripts.  It’s a good read, especially for new poets.  Especially if you don’t have much in the way of a community or training program.  By this, I mean, you don’t have a mentor who’s showing you the ropes.

I’ve read a few chat groups lately where people have really gone off on the idea about reading fees and basically calling all reading fees scams.  I won’t post those because some of them are pretty over the top, but a few of them really feel like those posters have limited experience in the field.  I’ve posted my thoughts on reading fees earlier, so I won’t rehash them here.  I do think that above article is an important read.

I’m fortunate enough to be working with two small presses right now–Aldrich Press and Finishing Line Press.  In the former case, I did pay a reading fee (lower than what is mentioned as normal in the Authors Publish article) and in the case of FLP, I entered a contest.  In both cases, I didn’t think much of paying that fee.  Why?  Because running a small press is a really hard thing to do.  Like running a dojo, it’s not something I want to do, but I’m sure glad someone is.

Both presses put out a good amount of material a year, and that means they need to work a lot, besides being working writers and artists themselves, and there isn’t a lot of money or elbow power to go around.  It’s a rough job and I’m grateful for everything they are doing for me.

Poetry is not a big money business.  It’s a business of love.  Poets love poetry and poetry publishers love poetry.  Print runs for poetry books and chapbooks are small, maybe a few hundred or a thousand copies for most titles.  Word for word, poetry is pretty expensive.   There are, after all, less words in a poetry book than in a novel or non-fiction book.

So if you’re a new poet, it’s something you need to think about as you get started and to budget for when the time comes.  And promotion.  As a poet, you definitely need to know something about promotion.  One of the best parts of my MFA experience was working at the university press, which was just getting started when I arrived.  My adviser was the running it, and he gave me a real education in it.  That’s how I know I don’t want to do it.  And that’s also how I know that the people who bring you those small press poetry books do a lot of work, deserve a lot more credit than they get, and earn those reading fees.

Thank you to Karen, Leah, Christen, and all the rest of the staff at both Aldrich and FLP. I really appreciate everything you’re doing for me.

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