wow my facebook and blog and email have been abuzz with much po-biz discussion. thanks for everyone’s engagement. since facebook is only semi-public, i wont quote fully from what people wrote there–so my response here will paraphrase some of the discussion there.
as one facebook friend points out, the audience for poetry in the united states is very small. tiny. i would add that the cultural and governmental support for poetry (and the arts in general) is shrinking–despite the Obamas’ best efforts. so yes, most people who read poetry and buy poetry books are other poets. this is not true for all poets of course: there are some poets who read no poetry at all…and i know many non-poets who have bought and read my work (probably cuz I’m so damn sexy).
all this makes running a sustainable press a difficult thing, especially if you aim to publish experimental work, and especially if you aim to publish writers of color, and most especially if you aim to publish experimental poets of color.
most publishers i know aren’t here to make a profit, they’ll be happy (no, ecstatic) if they can break even. most small publishers lose money; hence the joke that a publisher is not “non-profit” but “anti-profit.”
as all of us who work in publishing know, the recession hit hard. many small publishers folded because even poets just couldn’t afford to buy each other’s books anymore. the publishers who didnt fold decided to publish fewer titles to ride out the downturn.
does the fact that this culture does not support poetry mean we give up? does the fact that so many poets are under or un-employed mean we stop supporting each other? does the fact that we will never make money as poets or publishers mean that we sell out and get real jobs?
we must TRY! (shout out to David Brazil and Sara Larsen for lodging that word in my brain–it’s the name of their journal, pictured above).
and that brings me to the PoeTRY Contest. these contests are merely creative ways (we are creative writers arent we?) to sustain publishing poetry books. they are not the only way, but they are one possible and thus far effective way. to put it more bluntly: many publishers could not exist without the fundraising capacity of the PoeTRY contest.
the reason for my last post, and the reason i wanted to post ken’s email, is to dispel the myth that the PoeTRY contest is some kind of profit driven scheme. publishers dont fill their pockets with the contest fees…almost every penny is put back into the press or into its labor. which is to say, almost every penny goes back into publishing more poeTRY.
so why is the poeTRY contest so successful as a fundraising tool? 1) the thought of a well-respected poet choosing my manuscript is validating. 2) i don’t have to have any personal relationship with the press beforehand to have a chance. 3) i know (or at least you’re just been educated) that my hard earned money will go to supporting the press. 4) it’s an honor to be a winner even if i feel sad for those who lose. 5) it guarantees book publication!. 6) it guarantees a royalty prize (good since many small presses don’t offer any royalties at all). 7) it’s good publicity and prestige–most small publishers have no marketing budget–but often presses with contests can then afford a few ads 8: if you desire a career in academia, it looks good on the CV. 9) everybody’s doing it–even Anis Shivani!
i wish all poets were required to work either as interns or as readers or as screeners or as mail stuffers or as editors for a small press. hell, all mfa programs should require some kind of editorial experience component so they can understand all the work that goes into sustaining a poetry publishing venture in the United States. i, for one, am sick and tired of all the poets out there who bitch and moan about the publishing world and those who submission-bomb publishers and journals that they’ve never read or supported in any way and then cry foul when their work is rejected. to all these people: TRY working in publishing. TRY and see what kind of creative ways you can come up to sustain this venture. TRY and experience what it’s like to edit, publish, distribute, market, and promote SOMEONE ELSE’S book of poems.
i’ve TRYd it. in several different capacities. some things i’ve done to sustain (and not original ideas at all, but ones that have worked for me): 1) small print runs. 2) Print on Demand technologies. 3) Pricing books at $10-12. 4) Free paypal service. 5) Free Blog website. 6) marketing via free social media. 7) Sex appeal. i havent run a contest yet, but i think i might TRY.