Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Many Hats

by Amanda Earl

I am both a writer and a small press publisher. I work in both the erotica and literary communities. Like a few of my fellow OGGers, I submit work for publication and I also select work for publication. So I get to experience many different aspects of the publishing world. These varying experiences tend to alleviate any frustrations I might have about being published.

I'm not particular efficient or organized about sending either my fiction or my poetry out for publication consideration. If I see a call that resonates, I sometimes write something for it or find something in my files that fits the call or needs a bit of a rejig to fit the call. Otherwise I am quite content to plod away at my work, to read it  in public  in my home town as a featured reader or as part of the open mic. 

If I really want to see something of mine published in print in a timely fashion, I'll publish it myself in a limited edition that I send out to dear friends and attentive acquaintances. I believe in making my own opportunities. And I am not going to self-publish crap. It has to be well-designed and properly edited. I rely very much on my first readers, who are proficient at editing, and workshop groups, such as the Erotica Readers and Writers Association Storytime list.

I do have an ambition to have a poetry book published by a Canadian small press publisher that I admire some day, if the stars are in alignment. Currently I have two poetry manuscripts being considered for publication by publishers and I've had several rejections of book-length manuscripts so far. All this in a period of thirteen years of sharing my writing publicly rather than just keeping it locked up in scrawled journals. I'd love to have a collection of my erotic short fiction published by an erotica publisher that I admire as well. I also have a novel and a novella and a collection of linked erotic stories that it would be nice to see published, but I've done very little about it.

If publishing these works becomes a burning desire, I'll do the legwork myself and self publish. For the erotica, I still haven't taken the time to explore online self-publishing opportunities such as Kindle or Smashwords. I find the whole thing a bit daunting, frankly. When you're a small obscure fish, getting the word out about your work is a major challenge. I don't want to spent most of my time promoting my work.

As far as erotica goes, the publishing world seems to have changed a bit since my previous time involved. Between 2004-2007 I received numerous invited calls for submission based on my erotica published in the Erotica Readers and Writers Gallery and Treasure Chest. Since my return in 2012, I haven't had that too much yet, a little bit, but not as much. I've sent out a handful of submissions in response to calls and received only one acceptance so far, from Maxim Jakubowski for my story, "the Graffiti Artist," first published in 2012 on the ERWA Gallery and also in the Treasure Chest. The story will appear in the next "Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica." But perhaps this will happen in time. At the time of writing this, I just received another acceptance, albeit awaiting publisher approval.

Furthermore the length of time between my submission and an editor's response is longer than it was six years ago, and editors are communicating less than they used to as well.  But the wait time is still much less than for literary fiction and poetry  where even a submission to a literary journal can take a year or longer to hear about.

Is it possible that the FSOG phenomenon is causing erotica publishers to be inundated with submissions from every wanna-be E.L. James out there as Sacchi suggests in her post earlier this week? I suspect so. It doesn't concern me, but I can see how it might dishearten an emerging writer who wants to see her work in print. I was fortunate to have my erotica published by ERWA the first year I joined and by publishers such as Cleis Press, the former Alyson Books, Logical-Lust, Carroll & Graf etc only a short two or three years after I began writing erotic fiction or fiction at all for that matter.

The publishing world is very difficult. In Canada there are some small grants available to literary publishing houses to help them afford the expense of physical books but these grants come with very stringent rules and it isn't always possible to adhere to these rules, such as the Canada Council of the Arts' requirement that a publishing house has to have four books published in a year to qualify for funding.

As a small press publisher, I am sympathetic, nay empathetic to the difficulties publishers face with regards to financing and distributing literary works. I have been saddened to see some of my favourite publishing houses cease operations in the past few years and independent bookstores in my hometown are almost completely gone now. So I'm not particularly frustrated that I haven't been able to find a home yet for a lot of my work. It'll come in time, if it is meant to be.

In the meantime, just writing is enough to absorb my time and attention. To be honest, I'm not really sure I'm ready for all the folderol that goes with book promotion. And I think it is the responsibility of the author to help flog the books so the publisher can get back their investment at least. So I won't send out book manuscripts with a view to getting them published unless I believe I can commit to promotion, which includes raising money for touring, being available for interviews and self-promotion on my various sites and other people's sites etc. This is going to take me away from my writing, so really I'm not in any rush to be published.

I am in charge of two small publishing endeavours, I guess you could call them. One is Bywords.ca, which publishes poetry online by current and former Ottawa residents, students and workers. We have been running for eleven years and have received funding from the City of Ottawa to pay our artists, which have included poets, musicians and visual artists. We do a lot of other things, but this is the part that is germane to the current topic. We receive between 30 and 100 poems a month. We have a selection committee of between 10 and 12 poets who see the work alone. They do not see the names of the poets or their biographies. Upon submission, poets receive an automated acknowledgement e-mail with a user id and a password allowing them to make sure the formatting is correct, check for any typos and revoke the poem if it is accepted elsewhere. We have a three month evaluation period. If the poem hasn't been accepted within that timeframe, the poet receives a rejection e-mail.

I have found that these rejection e-mails have to be absolutely clear. Often simply receiving an e-mail from a publisher will cause a person to become excited and assume her work has been accepted. It is very hard to have to send another e-mail to the poet explaining that no, your work hasn't been accepted. We also don't offer editing advice. With 30-100 poems a month to read through, we simply don't have time. There are plenty of workshops and courses for those who wish to improve their writing.

The other publishing endeavour I run is AngelHousePress, which publishes poetry, prose and art online and in print via limited edition print runs of 50 copies of chapbooks, and receives no funding. We publish raw talent, rebellious text and ragged edges. We don't consider unsolicited manuscripts. Usually I happen upon someone whose work is exceptional and I want to publish it. I send them an invitation to submit a chapbook manuscript. A chapbook is a 32 pages or fewer booklet which is either stapled or sewn. It is usually published in small print runs up to about 200 copies. For AngelHousePress there is no committee evaluating the work, just me. I don't always accept every manuscript that I've asked to see. Sometimes I offer editing suggestions.

What frustrates me as a publisher is when people don't read the guidelines and send work that has nothing to do with what is asked for; they haven't taken the time to read through the website and get an idea about the publisher's esoteric; they don't know how to write a biography; they send links to their site and ask the editor to choose something;  they become upset when they receive rejections and send back mean and personal attack e-mails.

I urge every writer to be respectful and to pay close heed to the publication requirements of a publishing house or journal or what have you when you send work in. I also recommend that you query the publisher if you have questions after reading the guidelines and familiarizing yourself with their titles or magazine. I am very happy to answer intelligent queries myself. Don't forget that although these publishing houses are corporate entities, they are represented by actual people who are just like you. And some of the smaller presses are just one-person run operations. Many editors are also writers with their own stack of rejection slips and novels hidden at the bottom of their desk drawers.

My advice to those who have an urgent desire to have their work published is to slow down. Work with a group of writers you trust to help you refine your writing. Don't listen to or rely on family or close friends who will most likely be complimentary regardless of what you write. Learn about the publishing industry of the genre you are interested in writing in and at all times be respectful and patient. Don't take rejection to heart. It's going to happen over and over again.

After you've achieved a level that isn't causing you embarrassment, submit it. Once you have a few credits under your belt, you can always self-publish. Make sure the text is well edited before you unleash it.  If you have some kind of dream to be the next E.L. James, stow it and do the heavy lifting to make your work as strong and as unique as possible; don't think about blockbuster hits or bestsellers, fame and fortune. I realize this advice isn't particularly sexy or glamorous, but it's realistic.


The other piece of advice I have is to do more reading than writing. The more you read, the better your writing will become, the more it will be publishable, and even more important, the more it will correspond to your artistic vision.

4 comments:

  1. Sage advice there, Amanda. The position of the editor/publisher is to do the best job she/he can to ensure the product they put to market is the best they can come up with. If that includes choosing someone who will do the drudge work to promote themselves, all the better. If an editor has a choice between two theoretically equal works, why *not* pick the author with a good distribution base?

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  2. this isn't quite what i meant. all those terms "product" "drudge work" "distribution base" have no place in anything i do or believe in. it sounds like some kind of factory. but tours to share one's work with readers, being available for interviews to share insights about the work etc...that seems reasonable to me in order to be published.

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  3. Forgive me for agreeing with you in pragmatic terms. And I daresay that there's plenty of writers who would be scared shitless over tours, interviews, etc., taking those tasks way beyond drudgery.

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    1. heh. just reminds me too much of a former life of mine...one of many.

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