From paper to Kindles to iPads to…hay?

This week, Lindesay Irvine of The Guardian describes how the first 300 copies of Margaret Atwood’s newest book are being printed on a new type of paper, made completely of recycled paper and straw (read article here).

Given her enormous influence in the literary world, it is heartening that Atwood chose this type of paper for this limited-edition run; with the growing popularity of e-book technology, one would think that paper-related technology would be at a standstill.  With this new breed of paper, we capture the feeling of the book in our hands, but halve the environmental impact.  If the price of this paper can be reduced to the price of traditional paper, we may have a revolution on our hands.

Anyone who has read Atwood’s many novels knows that she sits comfortably at the intersection of “literary” fiction and science fiction, and is a master of merging the best of history with what has yet to come. For those who still want to feel pages between their fingers – this may be the next big thing.

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Creating the book cover for “Between Gods”

The book cover for “Between Gods” is now on display on the publisher’s website here, along with blurbs and sample poems.

The cover was designed by graphic designer Terri Edillon, featuring artwork (“The World”) by German artist Catrin Welz-Stein. (The print is available for purchase here. )

My publisher usually designs book covers in-house, but I am fortunate to have a friend who works in graphic design, Terri Edillon, who offered her design services, as well as assistance locating an image that would reflect the themes in the book. Once I saw Welz-Stein’s images, I knew one of them would be a perfect fit.

Part of my attraction to this artist’s work is the process she uses to create art. She finds old images, and melds them into new content using PhotoShop. Throughout my poetry, I see the same kind of inclination: ripping ancient characters from their stories and placing them in a modern context, and documenting the metamorphoses that strike and scar us. “The World” – with its image of a woman in space, suspended by something we cannot see, dangling a planet purse-like from her hand – seemed to me the perfect image to represent the book. She is suspended between worlds, but it is not a powerless Icarus-descent. (Ok, that’s my 10-cent liberal arts-major analysis! I’ll stop now. )

Submitting poems to journals: the mathematics of yay or nay

Now that my book publication date is six months away, I want to see more of the poems in print before the book comes out.  So I am searching my Poet’s Market book for the right places.

Submitting poems to journals can be an agonizingly slow process. I have waited nine months for responses from two journals (one said yes, the other said no). When I send out poems, I record the date mailed, and I record the date I receive a response. My average response time is around four months; I’m not sure if that’s average for others, or what I could do to speed it up. Conversely though, I once received a rejection in six hours, but this journal’s rejection rate is 99.9% so I didn’t feel too badly.

So now I have a huge stack of printed-out poems on my kitchen table. I organized them alphabetically so I can find them more easily. But – which poems should be sent to which places?  Whenever you receive a rejection you always wonder: was it the poems I sent? Would they have accepted this poem instead? Or this one?

There are four factors in play:

the poem (Is it actually a good poem?);

the editors (Are they experienced? Do they really hate nature poems? Etc.);

the journal (Do they tend to publish poems anything like this poem?); and

the timing (Is your poem about snow when they are editing for the summer issue? Are there other poems about your subject already in the issue?).

For a poem to be accepted, all these factors must align.

That is why I don’t agonize about rejections; when you mind-read you can’t expect to always be right. And you’re grateful when you are.

D

Putting it all together: creating a manuscript

Now that I’ve emailed my ready-to-publish draft of “Between Gods” to the publisher this week (yay!), I’m thinking about what it took to get it to this point.

I’d been writing poetry for years, but hadn’t really thought about trying to put together a book until 2007, when the sad events at Virginia Tech took place. I returned to the campus and visited with a former poetry professor, who talked to me about the submission process for poetry. By that time, I had written many poems but had never sent one out to a magazine or journal. That fall, I began sending batches of poems out; by spring, I had received a few acceptances.

The following fall, I had several mornings a week to myself. I printed out the poems I had and weeded through them, picking out the ones that seemed, in some way, to belong together. Even though the poems were written over a period of fifteen years, about radically different topics, I could see that many of the poems focused on “between-ness” of one kind or another.  They were responses to pressure: battles between the id and superego, faith and skepticism, “Prufrock” passivity and action.  In light of this trend, and because many of the poems invoke spiritual elements, I decided the book’s title should be “Between Gods.”

“Between Gods” went through many drafts.  The most helpful resource for deciding how to put the book together was a set of articles by Alberto Rios.  In section two, he describes how to determine the order of poems in a manuscript.  After ordering the poems in some of the ways Rios suggests, I ordered them by “season” – for example, poems that are in some way regenerative would be “spring,” and so on.  The first poem in the book, “Thaw,” sets up the pattern beautifully.

The final step after establishing the order was additional pruning of poems.  Every poem had to, in some way, support the title.

After many months of looking at these poems over and over, I started to dread reading them and doubted the merits of each one. Then something happened when I put the right poems in the right order with the right title: I started to like them again.  I started to see each one as a supporting cog in the wheel.  Each poem needed to be there.

Shortly after I came up with this final draft, it was accepted for publication.  Now that it’s out of my hands – on to book two!

D

Submitting poems to journals: what’s your system?

I’ve spent the last three years researching markets for my slightly traditional, imagistic poetry. I’ve been published in a number of places and discovered some great writers and journals, but what I can’t help regretting is that much of that time could have been spent writing.

I’m getting better at targeting my market; in the beginning, like many people, I was “carpetbombing.” Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1) Most journals have samples online if you cannot afford to buy copies. I have also had success finding them in University libraries and independent (and occasionally chain) bookstores. If you cannot read samples, you might as well chuck your envelope and SASE into the circular file. Even if the journal does not have samples on their web site, if you Google the name, you may find poems that have subsequently shown up on Verse Daily, etc.

2) After you have published in a few places, read the “Contributors” section of those journals. These notes are a shortcut to where writers with similar styles are publishing, and where your work might be successfully received. Along the same lines, Duotrope.com tells you where writers who appear in one journal have also submitted/published their work.

3) The day that you receive your rejection slip for one batch, put that batch in the envelope (or email) for the next place, and send it. This removes much of the sting!

I still don’t have a good system for “batching” my poems. I do a lot of cutting and pasting into files. I have a spreadsheet with a list of all poems, and a list of journals to send things out to.

I’d love to hear ideas about how other writers manage submissions and leave more time for writing!

Getting started…

I’m a DC-area writer – you might have seen my work in DMQ Review, Notre Dame Review, Mannequin Envy or other  journals. After enduring the long process of sending out manuscripts – being a finalist three times in the Washington Writers’ Publishing House book competition, and receiving other praise but in thin envelopes – I was notified by WordTech Communications in March that my first book of poems, Between Gods, will be published in March 2012 by their Cherry Grove Collections imprint.

I’d love to hear from authors who have been through the publishing process.