Friday, August 29, 2008

Synchronicity & the contest cautionary tale

As I was blogging yesterday about book contests and assembling a list of those I might target with my new manuscript, it seems the blogosphere was alive with reports and responses to Stacey Lynn Brown's "Cautionary Tale" about winning a first book contest which ultimately left her with no published book (until another publisher came to her rescue).

Take a look at "Cautionary Tale" on Brown's blog and comments about it. Also see Marie Gauthier's comments. There's also an interesting discussion on her blog about what you can do with $250 - $500 if you elect not to enter contests, but self-publish.

I am considering self-publishing and spending the money on advertising, which few book publishers do for poetry collections. If you can sell 200-300 copies in advance sales, you can practically finance a limited first run without much outlay for the actual printing costs. You can then spend your funds to advertise and send mailings. Of course, selling advance copies requires an audience for your work. But if you have already published and have a modest following, plus friends, family and neighbors who like your poetry, it might be possible. It's an interesting thought, anyway. Probably I don't have time to ride herd on book printing and design, but there's always Lulu and the like.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Poetry Book Contests - makes you think


It's that time of year again - when multiple book contest deadlines seem to, well, multiply. Along with the average cost of subbing a manuscript to contests. I've heard poets say they've spent more than $500 to enter contests (I forget whether the person who quoted that sum had actually won a contest).

New Pages has a handy guide to upcoming deadlines.

Here's another handy guide, courtesy of poet David Alpaugh, author of the thought-provoking article published in Poets & Writers, "The Professionalization of Poetry." David is as handy with statistics as he is with words, as this excerpt from a new article shows:

1) A cursory investigation on the Internet turns up 158 full collection poetry book contests and 172 poetry chapbook contests. That's 330 contests a year--and though just an approximate figure, it's a conservative one.

2) If the figure holds at the current level there will be 3,300 poetry book contest prize awards each decade--33,000 by the end of this century.

3) Everything leads me to believe that the figure will not hold--that the current trend and history of exponential growth will continue and that the figure will double, triple, quadruple, perhaps even ten-tuple as technology proceeds.

4) We could easily be looking at over 100,000 poetry book awards by the end of the century! Each book chosen from hundreds, in some cases thousands, of entries by "distinguished" poet/judges--and published by supposedly selective, credible presses, trying earnestly to bring the best poetry available to the reading public.

5) How could a 22nd century English professor be confident that he had a handle on the best 21st century without carefully reading these 33, 000 to 100,000 "prize-winning" books? And how about the tens of thousands of books that didn't win prizes? How about the tens of thousands of self-published ones?

Certainly makes you think before shelling out the contest fees. Instead, you could spend that $500 to get your collection well printed. Since we all know we are our own distributors, and even Shakespeare and Whitman self-published, why not skip the middle man? Of course, those prizes look alluring. Every year the top prize amounts go up. As do the average fees. Of course, readers should be counted by their quality, not necessarily their quantity.

It all makes me thoughtful. And then my brain seizes up and I just want to read and write poetry and flee logic, at least for awhile go lyric.