As some of you know, my poetry publisher Write Bloody has begun accepting manuscripts for their 2010 reading period. The submission deadline for this year is March 30, 2010. Full submission instructions HERE.
In preparation, here are some tips for getting your submission shined up and ready to present. The following represents my thoughts as someone who successfully jumped the hoops last year and has no stamp of approval from the Write Bloody editors. Many of the thoughts are geared toward spoken word artists who may be less practiced at putting poems on the page. Also, WB accepts short story submissions, but I don’t write short storie. This post is for the poets. So, there you go.
Step One, Intentions. If your main interest is in winning poetry slams, making a name for yourself and having some cool merch to sell, this may not be the time for Write Bloody. You could continue to focus on writing and performing poetry while producing your own book to sell at shows. If, however, you have a sincere interest in connecting with a reader through the medium of ink, if you are excited by the challenge of making poems work on the page, considering line breaks and stanzas, punctuation and consistency and working with an editor, then submitting to a press is a great idea.
Step Two, pull books off your shelf and look at them. Consider the contemporary, non-spoken word poets you love and take a hard look at how their poems function on the page. Dissect a few. If you aren’t interested in this kind of analysis, refer back to Step One. If you are chosen to be published, you will be doing this type of work for months.
Step Three,choose your five poems. Here are my best suggestions:
- Show range. Submit short poems and long poems. Consider a range of themes, forms and voices. Display your consideration for how a poem looks on the page. Be inventive.
- Edit them again. Pretend that you are encountering the poem for the first time, having never heard it aloud. Ask yourself, “what does this poem do?” Also ask this, “Does this offer anything new to the literary world?” “How do I stand apart from the 300 other submissions?”
- Avoid cliche in writing AND appearance of your poems. The following tips are taken from Karyna McGlynn’s workshop handout titled, “Karyna McGlynn’s 30 Publishing Tips for Slam Poets.” Karyna was on slam teams for Austin and Seattle and went on to get an MFA at University of Michigan. She won the Kathryn A. Morton award for her new book of poems, “I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl,” on Sarabande Books.
4) Don’t capitalize the first letter of every line. This is one of those annoying rules of thumb I give my students, and then immediately encourage them to break. Here’s the thing. Automatic capitalization is a little archaic, and it’s one of the immediately recognizable hallmarks of amateurish poetry from poets who haven’t read anything more recent than Robert Frost. That doesn’t mean that great contemporary poets don’t sometimes do it. I know one very talented experimental poet who capitalizes every single line of every single poem. When challenged, he simply said, “if it was good enough for Yeats, it’s good enough for me.” Well, okay then. All I’m saying is this: if you’re going to do it, have a good reason for it. It must be a deliberate choice, not a default setting. And never ever blame Microsoft Word. It’s very easy to disable the automatic capitalization feature.
5) Don’t center flush. See above about “annoying rules of thumb.” Again, this technique is archaic, often a hallmark of amateurish poetry, and is also likely to annoy many readers. Despite all this, you can do it (to great effect sometimes), just have a reason why you’re doing it. Does it benefit the poem? Is the poem asking to be center flush? Or right flush? Or shaped like a starfish??
6) Use punctuation. See above about “annoying rules of thumb.” Punctuation—when used correctly, and even when used in a deliberately experimental manner—is your friend. Punctuation is what brings your voice to the page. It instructs the reader how to hear the words in their head—where to pause, where to breathe, where to place emphasis. Some poets are able to get away with not using punctuation. Some do this to introduce deliberate ambiguities. Others have developed a technique in which diction, line breaks and stanza breaks take over the duties of punctuation. But, again, as with most of my annoying rules of thumb, the decision to go without punctuation must be a deliberate aesthetic choice made in the service of your poem.
7) Don’t use a lowercase ‘i’ (as in “i stood in the street with no name”). See “annoying rules of thumb.” The lowercase ‘i’ is often co-opted by young poets newly obsessed with e.e. cummings, or by those who think that the lowercase ‘i’ is a poetic symbol of the insignificance or impotence of the self. Again, this is a rule I encourage poets to break, but usually only in poems in which nothing else is capitalized either, including proper nouns. It looks stupid when your poem follows all the normal rules of capitalization except for the ‘i.’
8) Don’t write like Prince. RU going 2B a puBLished pOEt if U wrIte like THis? Nope. Well, probably not. Smatterings of this sort of internet/e-mail speak can sometimes be used to great effect (often ironic) when mixed with higher diction, but for the most part, try to keep your spelling/punctuation/capitalization as reader-friendly as possible. I also encourage poets not to write like Emily Dickinson. In other words, don’t suddenly capitalize Words which aren’t usually capitalized in the Middle of a Line. Poets’ reasons for doing this are often very similar to their reasons for using lowercase ‘i.’ Many feel that by capitalizing “Death” or “Moon” they infuse it with extra meaning; this is simply not the case.
9) Don’t put copyright symbols or copyright notifications on your poems. This isn’t a rule of thumb—it’s a hard and fast rule. Nothing makes you look like more of a paranoid and pompous amateur than that little © symbol, or “copyright 2006 by Karyna McGlynn.” Editors aren’t going to steal your work—trust me. And, even if they were going to, your little © wouldn’t stop them. But remember this: people only steal things of value, and—hate to break it to you—poetry doesn’t have much value in our society. No one’s secretly going to make a killing off your poem about your dead dog (no pun intended). In fact, in the world of poetry publication, you’re lucky if you can give something away. Remember that your poem bears your copyright at the moment you compose it, so be professional; don’t announce your copyright to the world.
10) Don’t use a weird font. Stick to a simple classic serif like Times, Times New Roman, Garamond, New York, Goudy Old Style, Perpetua, Palintino Linotype or Georgia. There are lots of people who would argue this point, but I maintain that poetry always looks better in serifs—sans serifs (e.g. Ariel, Verdana, Century Gothic) are better for display/advertising/headline purposes.
Step Four, Phone a Friend. Find someone whose opinions you trust who is also submitting and buddy up. You can read each other’s work and offer detailed critical feedback. You can also hold hands when the winners are announced. Submitting your poetry to a contest can be stressful and discouraging. I wouldn’t have gotten through the process without Robbie Q, whose book “Spiking the Sucker Punch” is a gorgeous collection of poems. We traded manuscripts and then traded real talk about the poems.
Step Five, Cover Letter. I’m sorry to say I don’t have a lot to offer here. I didn’t need a cover letter for my submission last year. But, I have written query letters for literary agents and can offer a few important points. Be professional. Proof read. Don’t be goofy. Demonstrate an understanding of how to contextualize your work among modern poets. Don’t list minor slam-related credentials, they aren’t impressive. Indicate your willingness to tour and promote yourself. Look polished.
Step Six, Online Presence. If you are serious about becoming successful, you should be polishing up your online presence. For Write Bloody, the press wants to know that you are a poet who can tour, promote yourself and sell books. Most books of poetry are still sold hand-to-hand, so don’t assume that your book will be in every Borders and your work is done. You will need press photos, a web site, a mailing list and whatever other cleverness you can cook up to get noticed. Start now, so that when your name shows up at the top of the submission pile and someone at Write Bloody googles you, they like what they see.
GOOD LUCK EVERYONE! I can’t wait to see who we add to our Write Bloody family this year.