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Poetica~Place articles are informative as well as promotional in support of chapbooks and Middle Island Press.

The Reality of Poetry Publishing

Poets are dreamers, so reality is sometimes unfortunate, but it is as it is.

Most poets who are newly beginning to spread their wings into the realm of publishing are dismayed when they realize that getting published isn’t free unless the poets do all of the work themselves. About 75 % of those who approach me are under the impression that design and listing (not to mention the ISBN and bar code–a $50 cost) are complimentary services in a hopeful world of selling enough books to split royalties of a best-seller. Unless, miraculously, poetry becomes the hottest selling genre in books, or one is the niece or nephew of a book reviewer for The New York Times, such magic likely isn’t going to happen.

I’m just being frank here.

A very small percentage of poets might win a contest and get published for free, yet they pay entry fees–usually $20-25–and publishers who hold contests can rake in a few thousand dollars, make a nice profit, and upset a lot of non-winners. That’s beneath my personal ethical standards, so I won’t be making money by hurting people’s feelings.

Still there are some–usually seasoned poets–who understand that nothing in life is free and everyone has to make a living, and “where your talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation” (Aristotle). So I’m grateful for my repeat clients, some of whom have published through several small presses before settling in at Middle Island Press, and of course I welcome the new poets who are just getting their feet wet and are accepting of reality.

I’m also willing to share my knowledge and understanding of publishing with those who have questions, and to offer suggestions, but most people simply walk away and hope for a miracle of some sort. ”Aha!” one man said to me as though I were a deceptive villain. There are all kinds of people in the world. There are all kinds of poets and all kinds of publishers. I rate myself among the most talented (having been told so by designers and editors with decades of field experience) and probably among the lowest priced, because in all honesty, I’m not out to profit from an unpleasant literary reality, but I am glad to have such a pleasant, luxurious career, however modest the means.

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(Middle Island Press specializes in poetry publishing. We also do short-story collections–all with 100% annual royalties to our authors–and we are proud of our many titles and the poets/authors who dream them into being.)

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2017 in Articles

 

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On the Ordering of Poems

(By Christina Anne Taylor)

We’re all familiar with the saying “variety is the spice of life,” and the same can be said for the way in which poets order their poems within manuscripts for poetry collections. My personal preference resembles, by theme, a bag of trail mix, which I’ll explain in a minute. Firstly, a few common approaches:

  1. Alphabetically by title
  2. Chronologically by date of creation

These alleviate the soon-to-be-published poet of wringing hands over which poems are favorites and where to put favorites and so forth; however, it’s my personal opinion that the flow of content is most important, and one of the greatest threats to a collection of poems is redundancy.

As Kathleen Raine said, there are those who pen about a different subject with each poem, and there are those who know their favorite themes and pen about the same subjects over and over again. With the former, the voice, the lexicon, the overall structure can be consistent throughout the book without boring readers; but with the latter, the bag needs to be shaken up a bit. Here’s how I do it:

Say you have four recurring themes: love, nature, children’s poems, and miscellaneous poems.

  1. Create a table with the themes as headings.
  2. Go down your list of poems and place the letter “L” (for love), “N” (for nature), etc., as it applies beside each poem.
  3. Go back to the table and place a tick-mark under each heading as you scan down your list of poems.
  4. Count the complete number of poems, and count the number of tick-marks beneath each heading.
  5. Do a bit of percentage math. (We’ll keep it simple.) Say you have 80 poems total: 20 are love poems, 40 are nature poems, 10 are poems for children, and 10 are essentially “miscellaneous.” You can see that nature poems are half of your collection, love poems are a quarter, and the other quarter is divided among maternal and miscellaneous poems.
  6. Create an ordering pattern that coincides with math results. The above would result most logically as proceeding through the book as follows: nature, love, nature, children, nature, love, nature, miscellaneous; repeat throughout the collection.

What to do about which poem to place where? We know that if you use all of your best poems at the beginning of the book, it begins to fall flat mid-way through. Likewise, it’s foolish to save your best for the end, because then you’ve lost the reader before even getting to the good stuff. With that in mind…

  1. Get another sheet of paper with three columns titled: beginning, middle, and end.
  2. Place your BEST poem of the most prominent theme as the first poem, your best poem within the second theme as the second poem, etc., at the top of the “beginning” column.
  3. Hopefully “second-best” is excellent as well. Go to the end and structure the last few poems of your book with the “second-bests” in theme-order. Draw a line through each poem title as you work them in.
  4. Now jump to the middle with the best of what remains, and then work your way down the list of poems and take turns adding to the beginning, middle, and end columns until all poems are accounted for.
  5. Paste the three sections together.

Now you have a logical order by theme. Order your manuscript accordingly, and then give it a thoughtful read. Look for the following possibilities of that dreaded redundancy (variety being “the spice of life” and all).

  1. You might notice overuse of certain words too close together, such as “passion” or “morning.” Choose a few substitutes (minding syllables, feet, alliteration and all else as much as possible). “Morning” can be “dawn” or “day-spring” or “sunrise.” Spice it up a bit. The thesaurus is a wonderful tool!
  2. You might find certain styles too close together, such as three sonnets in a row when there are only five in the collection. Swap and trade if necessary.
  3. There might be too many shorter poems to the left with long poems to the right. It’s my personal opinion that it’s best to have longer poems on the left. Not only does it look right but it feels right.

Try this: Read a poem while holding it in your left hand and looking to the left. Read it again from the right hand and look to the right (or if on screen, simply turn your head and read from the peripheries). You’ll notice something that’s very telling about our neuro-wiring. You probably absorb more “deeply” what you see to the left! I do.

After you’ve gotten redundancy in check, read the collection again and continue relocating and refining until the end result is a feeling of something fresh and new with each “bite”: a peanut, a raisin, an M&M, a peanut, a raisin, an M&M. It’s time-consuming, but you deserve to let each subject or quality juxtapose against its neighbor to keep things spicy, and your readers are worth it, too.

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(Christina Anne Taylor is the publisher, editor, and graphic designer at Middle Island Press.)

 

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Articles

 

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My View on Poetry Editing

(by Christina Taylor of Middle Island Press)

When I began publishing, I took more editing liberties than I do today. I changed words for the sake of sound, I shortened lines, even completely rewrote them. Most poets were in agreement with my changes and some were not, so the first quality that I recommend that poets look for in editors and/or publishers is EXPERIENCE.

Through experience, through reading many manuscripts while simultaneously getting to know clients more personally, we (editors) tend to soften our critiques, especially in this day and age in which the Internet allows a voice to everyone and we realize how passionately people desire to share something of themselves with readers. We (poets) fall in love with our own creations because we love ourselves; we value our personal experience and our expression.

That considered, I am an editor who believes that ALL poetry is worth sharing.

Whether people will listen isn’t guaranteed, but those who share their poetry share it from the heart or from the gut. Formal or structured poetry is a bit different as I personally see it, more often than not, as passion filtered more heavily through the mind; passion (or mere “content”) diluted to give prominence to structure for the sake of the structure’s merit. That’s okay, too, and much easier to critique or edit, because it resides in a world of poetic rules: iambs, feet, meter, structure.  As for the rest–those who come from the heart or the gut–I just let them speak their own way, and I’m happy for their courage to let their thoughts stand on their own without leaning on structure.

It’s not easy critiquing love letters. It’s not easy critiquing impassioned rants against the world except to illuminate facts. Yet in the professional literary realm, I must “clean up,” sweep commas, hang apostrophes (as “they” say), and I leave it at that whenever possible, because my voice isn’t anyone else’s voice, and poets have a need to share their own voice.

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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Articles, Literary News

 

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Book Promotion: Success Is Not Measured in Numbers

(by Christina Anne Taylor)

I just read an article about book promotion that got me thinking. It was an encouraging article overall, but I got hung up on the word “failure.” Let’s consider this:

Firstly, failure and success are relative and subjective measures, and while dreaming big draws the blueprint of possibility, dreaming big more often than not results in disappointment. If we always measure ourselves against the nearly impossible, then where is contentment? Take that dream property, for instance. We can fill in the visual details and hope that wishful thinking (perhaps “The Secret”) really does bring results, or we can spend life wanting that which the Fates have not woven into our life tapestry.

Secondly, is it about winning the race, or getting the prize? I suppose it depends on where our heads are. Materialists or people in need of money or recognition want the prize. Others are contented with simply winning their own personal “race” which is just fine at any pace. We can do extraordinary things without someone handing us a prize for it.

Thirdly, many of us feel the impulse to strive toward both quantity and quality in deeds, but we cannot always expect quantity or quality in results. Stuff happens. Life has its own zillions of agendas. An author might be doing a book-signing at one store when there is a big book sale down the street that swallows the crowd, or perhaps an author chooses a genre that isn’t popular and writes not for sales but for the love of expressive imagination. Maybe we just smile at the wrong people sometimes. There are countless external factors involved in all of life, and that includes book “success” (again, success being relative)…

Let’s try and settle more often for simply getting words in print, because “success” might come a hundred years from now when “the right person” is dusting an old library or sorting through boxes of books. Regardless, a published author’s mama is always proud.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Articles

 

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The Fine Qualities of Chapbooks

Writers focus on BOOKS—period. They can go on writing for years without ever having heard the word “chapbook,” one of those specialty words that every writer and reader should know, because it has both practical purposes and special qualities.

Speaking of practicality, chapbooks are a charmingly effective way for poets to organize their hoards of poetry by theme or by time-frame. Many “major” poetry books are of poems sectioned according to which “minor” collection they originally belonged in. This contributes to the charm of chapbooks and bolsters their value as early editions of poets’ work.

There are also many readers who appreciate being able to sit with a beverage in a cozy nook and read an entire collection in one sitting. (Gratification in an hour, and then over to Amazon.com or a reader’s favorite blog to pen a book review!)

Furthermore, publishing costs through chapbook publishers are remarkably reasonable considering the quality—hundreds less than standard book publishers; perhaps thousands less if one is not expecting a thousand books. There are a few very low-cost chapbook publishers, but I don’t recommend that route for anyone. I can only assume that they use standard copy paper and manage to take enough shortcuts to make a not-so-impressive presentation.

Finally, chapbooks have a “made with love” quality that is a must for poetry. It makes them more gift-suitable than standard books as they appear to be hand-made as opposed to machine-made. They are printed in very small runs, monitored closely for perfect alignment. They are folded and stapled individually, and then trimmed a few at a time. Overall presentation is very crafty.

Chapbooks have been made for hundreds of years, and they do seem to be arriving in fashion among poets as they educate themselves on the benefits of publishing via chapbook publishers.


Middle Island Press is the home of The Chapbook Queen,
Christina Anne Taylor.
(“Cats don’t sell their services; they sell themselves.” –Wm. Burroughs)

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Articles

 

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Unique Layout & Presentation: How To Get It

Layout from a bird’s eye view has been one of my fortes in life, from landscaping to interior design to page design. As a maker of chapbooks I have realized and worked within what I would consider “the standard” for some time now, and I am anxious to play with design a bit more. Fortunately, today’s experimental style of poetry allows for this, so if you seek unique presentation, let your words speak not just to the ears, but to the eyes.

Just keep a few things in mind:

Chapbooks are generally no larger than 5.5” across x 8.5” down and, depending on the printer’s print capabilities, they are often smaller. What’s your preference? Keep it in mind as you mentally fill pages.

Shorter lines and shorter poems allow more design creativity. Haiku poems work great for flexibility, as do poems with just a few syllables per line.

Extreme variations in line length or poems with one or two very long lines will throw the margins way over to the sides of the page. It is to be avoided as the white space looks forced rather than creative.

Spaces that set thoughts out like distant clouds allow “zen space” (as one of my current clients puts it). Love it.

You may provide your own design with compatible files that can be pasted to each page. If it’s creative and unique, then I would be glad to package it.

Better yet (from my perspective), bring your words to me in a standard format but give me license to step outside—perhaps way outside—“the standard” so your words may be multi-sensory in an engaging sort of way.

Visit Middle Island Press.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2013 in Articles

 

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How To Get a Better Book from Your Publisher

(by Christina of Middle Island Press and The Red Salon)


It’s true that not all publishers are perfect. That’s where each author comes in and does his/her part to shape this malleable wave of publishing companies, and it’s clear to me that authors don’t spend enough time making requests and/or suggestions for improvement by the marginal quality of much of what is newly in print – not the words, mind you, but in the physical product, the books. If I (as both a publisher and a poet with words in print) were to offer five quick suggestions for getting better books from your publisher, they would be:

1) If you don’t see it, ask for it. This applies to fonts, margins, paper type, everything. In some cases, publishers hire printers and might not be able to offer more without a price, so results might be more successful (and financially reasonable) with micro-publishers that do their own printing.

2) Communicate your vision with utmost clarity. While mind-images never translate perfectly from one person to another, poets of all people should be able to paint a clear picture for a publisher, right? Nevertheless, expect some disparities unless you are highly telepathic or create your own concrete example to send to the publisher as a reference.

3) Trust your publisher. This applies in general but particularly applies if your vision is vague and you are open to suggestions. The publisher likely enjoys the design process most of all, so be patient and see what they come up with.

4) Don’t just sweep. Scrub! Rewind to manuscripts. I cannot stress enough that no editor is perfect. I have found blatant errors in work that has been run by at least three people. If you don’t want typos in your book, then it’s best not to have them in your manuscript, so send it to a literary friend for further “scrubbing” before sending it to the publisher.

Last but not least…

5) Respect the publisher’s schedule. We get busy. Our minds get clouded in a swirl of must-dos. Work always looks cleaner when it is not rushed as though the product on a factory assembly line, and it is more likely to showcase “designer’s marks” and other such elements of unique presentation.

So not all publishers are perfect (so sorry for them) but authors can do their part to improve the process from manuscript submission to printing and beyond, and therein improve the overall quality of books. Whose words are worth it?



Middle Island Press is one of America’s best poetry chapbook publishers.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Articles

 

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