Category Archives: Publishing

‘Almost Rain’ — new poetry from Simon Perchik, available now!

Almost Rain by Simon Perchik

Almost Rain by Simon Perchik

Two months ago I was approached by Diane Smith, the founding editor of Grey Sparrow/River Otter Press (who published my book), about editing a book of poetry that she was considering publishing. I agreed, and within the hour I had an eighty page poetry manuscript with a familiar name on it — Simon Perchik.

Simon Perchik is an American poet who has been writing poetry since the 1960s. And when I say he’s been writing, I mean writing: with over 20 books credited to his name, he is one of the most widely published and prolific poets of our day. Repositories of his work and correspondence reside in the Library of Congress Rare Book Collection, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection at Yale, and the Avant Writing Collection at Ohio State University. In short, he’s a pretty big deal.

And I got to edit his work. Talk about pressure.

Themes of loss, loneliness, and longing are prominent in Perchik’s work, which thrusts the reader into a world of turmoil somehow still filled with beauty. What the poet accomplishes best is the conveyance of mood — to read one of these poems is to become one with the speaker; to feel the his pain, his joy. To put it bluntly, Perchik is the kind of poet that I one day hope to be. His poetry is the kind of poetry that someone can read, and reread, and reread and come away with a different interpretation each time; a new layer.

This poem, from the end of the book, is emblematic of the rest of the work within the monograph:


These waves still surface, not sure

it’s her lips that open and close, kept moist

though you can’t hear her voice

scented with rotting wood, weeds

and bottom sand—you row this boat

left, right, swinging your arms

half moonlight, half almost makes out

the words rising from empty shells

and the dress you first saw her in

—you need more arms, clear summer nights

from that inch by inch love song

heavier than these overgrown paths

no longer listening for her forehead

that once anchored the Earth

and water too knows what it has

reeling from a gentle stroke, another

another, facing the sky

it leaves behind, caressing her hair

her breasts, her shimmering—some nights

you can hear her, one by one

—some nights it’s colder, colder.

If you’re a reader of poetry looking for a book that capitalizes on over 40 years of training and practice — a careful honing of skills — then this is the book for you. It is a collection by a poet at the pinnacle of his career; a lifetime of expertise distilled into one beautiful tome. And to top it all off, it’s accompanied by the haunting art of Peter Ciccariello, who’s artwork has been featured in such notable publications as Poetry Magazine and the cover of Rae Armantrout’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Versed.

Some say that life begets life. I say that poetry begets poetry. Pick up a copy of Almost Rain today and bring some poetry into your life!


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Crafting the perfect book submission

'Piles of Books' by ollily/Flickr

‘Piles of Books’ by ollily/Flickr

When seeking publication, it is easy to feel as though everything is out of your control. After all, everything is out of your control — as a writer, the only thing that you control is your writing (and even that is an arguable point). But we can all agree that it’s true that whether or not a publishing house picks up your book is completely out of your hands. Or is it?

In reality, there are a lot of things that you can do to increase the likelihood that a publisher will want to pick up your book for publication. And it really boils down to a pretty simple idea: if you want a press to publish your book, it helps if you’ve done most of the work for them. What follows below is a step-by-step guide to helping a publisher want to publish your book, based off of my own experience as a published author who has worked for two (and a half) publishers over the past few years.

  1. Edit your book. This should really go without say, but it needs to be said nonetheless. If you want a publisher to take you seriously, make sure that the work you send out is the absolute best work that you can produce. Read through it multiple times to make sure that you’re not missing anything. Make sure that the concepts flow properly; make sure that there are no spelling/grammar/punctuation errors (this is a REAL turnoff for most presses); make sure that your submission is formatted correctly. This isn’t to say that your book won’t be edited once it’s picked up by a press (it most certainly will be) but it shows the editor that you took the time to fix what needs to be fixed. And hey, it’ll save them some time once the book enters the proofreading stage — when a single editor is working on 20 or 30 projects all at the same time, even saving so much as an hour’s worth of work becomes a big deal.
  2. Target your submissions. You will save yourself a lot of time, paper, postage, and headaches if you follow this one step and none of the others — target your submissions to relevant presses. If you’ve written a murder mystery, submit it to publishers of murder mysteries; you’re not going to have any luck with a publisher of textbooks. If you’ve written a textbook, veer away from publishers of popular fiction. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many writers do absolutely no research on a press before submitting their work. And go on their website to see how they like their submissions formatted — some like things done differently than others, and they are usually pretty strict as to what they will consider (if they say to send the first three chapters double-spaced, send them the first three chapters double-spaced and nothing else). You do yourself no favors by submitting blind, or by blatantly going against their wishes.
  3. Do some market research. Before an editor decides to publish any book, he’s got to convince the publication committee (the people responsible for the press’s bottom line) that the book will indeed make money, or at the very list break even. A big part of this process is compiling some market research. What’s market research? Simply put, it’s data that will help a publisher predict whether or not a book is going to sell, and how many copies they can expect it to sell, and compiling this data can take a bit of time — so if you can even do some preliminary research to help the press out it can be a big boost to the likelihood of your book being picked up. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but this is the standard market research a press likes to have done before agreeing to publish something:
    • Competing Titles (similar books published by presses other than the one you are submitting to)
    • Comparable Titles (similar books published by the press you are submitting to)
    • Author Sales History (the author being you) — if you’ve written a book in the past, tell them how many copies were sold to illustrate you already have a following
    • Author Associations (what organizations you belong to that you can use to promote your book) — alumni, professional, social organizations, etc.
    • Target Audience (who is going to buy your book and why) — you want a specific target audience that is broad enough to ensure the possibility of large sales
  4. Avoid artwork if possible. If you’re submitting a photobook or a book on art history or some related topic, then feel free to disregard this step. but if your work does not directly relate to art, heed this warning: including plans for artwork with your submission can severely reduce the likelihood that your book will be published. Artwork will impact almost every step of the publishing process: it impacts layout, it impacts cost (which means they will either make less money on each copy sold, or they will have to increase the cover price, which in turn means they will likely sell fewer copies), and it quite simply adds a lot of extra work for the press. Obtaining rights, photocopying images, formatting images to the correct dimensions, ensuring artist credit is correct…having a large number of images can add hours — days of work to a book project. The presses I have worked with have turned down many, MANY projects simply because the submissions made reference to artwork. If you’re dead set on including artwork, completing the tasks below will work in your favor, but I still advise against it:
    • Send digital files of artwork, no solely physical images. Most presses prefer .TIFF files due to their higher resolution and the fact that they do not degrade with each “save”. Generally speaking, the higher the resolution (ppi, or pixels per inch) the safer you are — but around 300 ppi for photos or 1200ppi for drawings is a good estimate.
    • Accompany the submission with an “Art Log” — an excel sheet that assigns each image an identification number (ex.: Fig.1.3, where “1” corresponds to the chapter number and “3” means that it is the third image used in Chapter 1), a brief description, a size, whether or not the image is in the public domain, and where in the book the image will be used (chapter/page). The identification number in the art log should be equal to that image’s file name. You will also want to submit physical printouts of each image, marked on the back with its corresponding ID number, but make sure you send the digital files as well.
    • If you are using artwork other than your own: gaining the permissions to use the artwork ahead of time will save the press a lot of time and many headaches. If the image is not in the public domain, you will need to contact the image’s creator or the creator’s agent/representative to gain rights — and be forewarned, this often can, and does, cost money, especially for more famous works.
  5. Include a SASE. If submitting a hard copy submission, include a self addressed, stamped envelope or you might not hear anything back at all. If you expect to get your full submission back with any rejection, specifically tell them that you want it back, and include enough postage for the weight of the package or it’ll get shredded or recycled. Stamps cost money, and if a press shelled out free postage to respond to each submission they received they’d go out of business. Not only that, but it’s also the polite thing to do. Better still, tell them in your cover letter that they can notify you by email (and make sure to include your email address) — this will speed up response time greatly.

Really, that’s about all you’ve got to do to dramatically increase the odds of your book getting published. Simply put, publishers and editors are human beings, which means that on some level, they’re lazy. Doing as much work for the press as you preemptively can will make a big difference. It won’t be the only consideration (quality will always, hopefully, be top priority) but it’ll certainly help you edge out the competition; victory is in the margins.

When presented with an almost-there project that’ll take a lot of work vs. an almost-there project that’ll take almost no work, which would you go with?

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Grey Sparrow seeking submissions!

Grey Sparrow’s logo

Grey Sparrow seeks submissions on a rolling basis — meaning that you can submit anytime (which is absolutely wonderful). They are, however, currently awaiting submissions — particularly of flash fiction (under 1,000 words). If you’ve got any work done, now would be the ideal time to submit, while the editor is actively seeking it out!

The call, from Grey Sparrow Press’s facebook page, below:

We’re a little low on submissions… Possibly because it’s the summer, but always receiving quality work–could use flash.

So get out there and submit! Submissions details here.

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Grey Sparrow’s Summer Issue now complete and ready to be read!

“Cutting Wire” by Grey Sparrow’s 2013 Summer Issue guest photographer Tracie Van Auken.

The Summer Issue of Grey Sparrow is finally done and can be found here. This issue features work by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and photography by guest photographer Tracie Van Auken, as well as work of fiction and poetry by new and established writers. Take a look today and learn something new about the world!


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An introduction to Vanity Presses: what they are and how to avoid them

“Mirrors” by Mark Santa Ana/Flickr. Playing off of the word vanity, of course.

The promise of publication is one of the most enticing promises to an aspiring author (beaten only, perhaps, by the promise of fame and riches). But the promise of publication can also be one of the most dangerous promises for an author to stumble upon — a verifiable sirens call — because it is ofttimes a promise offered by the prostitutes of the publishing world: or, as the rest of the world calls them, vanity presses.

A vanity press is a press that preys upon the author struggling to make his dream of being published a reality. Vanity presses usually present themselves as a company that would like to help you make your dreams come true: they tell you that they see merit in your work, that you deserve to be published, and that they can make that happen. There is a catch, though: they can’t do it for free.

While they can come in a variety of forms, there are two common business models behind these presses. The first deals with single-author books: the author must pay for the entire editing process — editing, printing, distributing, marketing, and any of a slew of other “services” that they claim to offer. This is the primary way that the press will make their money — not by selling your book to any audience, but by selling you their services. The second model involves anthologies of multiple authors, where there is usually no charge for editing and printing. This model almost seems legitimate, until you realize that the primary way that the press makes money off of these books is by selling copies of them to the authors themselves (or, as an added profit, to the friends and families of the authors) at an extremely marked up price.

Hence, the term vanity press: they are presses that cash in on the vanity of aspiring authors who just want to see their names in print, and who will gladly jump at the opportunity, even if it involves shelling out cold hard cash for a book that they will never see any profits from.

But the worst part of it is, in my mind, that these presses will publish anything. In the case of an anthology, you can find some pretty decent poetry paired up with poetry reminiscent of the limericks scrawled on the bathroom stall at the local A&P. That is, perhaps, the biggest ego crusher the unsuspecting author who is thrilled with his first publication will face when he receives his $30 copy — while his work might have been good enough to place in an actual publication, he finds it next to poetry that looks and sounds like something a cat threw up.

Believe me, I know the feeling. My first publication was at the hands of a vanity press.

Under the premise of “scouring the internet for the best new online poetry,” this particular press told me that they wanted to publish one of my poems that I had posted on a poetry forum. As a twelve year old, I was thrilled, and I gladly signed the contract and ordered two copies (one for my grandmother, of course). And when my copy arrived only a month later, I was virtually ecstatic — they chose my poem to be the first poem in the book. My poem was the introduction to a wonderful literary endeavor.

And then I found out that my uncle had also had a poem accepted for the same book, and when I flipped through his pages I was dismayed to find that his poem opened the book, and that mine was actually nowhere to be found. That was when I realized that I had been gypped. It was a crushing blow that left me unable to send any of my work out for years (which is actually fine by me, because the angst-ridden poetry from my tween years was — I do not exaggerate — god-awful).

But I do have to say that I’m (sort of) thankful for the experience, because it has made me a more careful writer. Because of my experience with a vanity press, I now don’t send anything out as a submission to a press that looks anything other than professional. I no longer let my eagerness to have work published overwhelm my own sense of common sense.

I do want to say, as a quick aside, that for some people a vanity press is a perfectly legitimate business endeavor. If you truly only want to be able to say that you have had a book published, and don’t mind the fact that you will never receive any money or real gratification from the endeavor, then by all means go for it. For some, that’s enough.  Most writers, though, would benefit from some quick rules that help them differentiate a vanity press from the more legitimate presses.

  1. They Charge a Fee: A vanity press will generally require the author to pay for the cost of reading, editing, and producing the book, and will then charge exorbitant prices for copies of it.
  2. Lack of Scrutiny: A vanity press will publish truly anything. They’ll gladly publish the novel that you slaved over for years, that is actually almost ready to be published by a bigger name publisher, and in the same fell swoop publish a photobook of various piles of dog feces.
  3. Lack of Profit: As you are the press’s primary source of income, you can pretty much say goodbye to any thoughts of receiving an advance or royalties for your book. If the press does sell to people apart from you, they’re generally going to keep any of that extra profit for themselves.

I do want to draw some distinctions between vanity presses and do it yourself publishing, though, because they can be very similar. While DIY publishing is completely paid for by the author, the author also keeps all of the profits (apart from printing costs). And while some DIY publishing projects have been astronomically horrendous, there have actually been a good number of very successful books published and printed entirely by the authors — no publishing house involved. While DIY publishing isn’t for everyone, it is a viable option, and it is certainly a better choice than a vanity press if an author ever wants to potential to earn profits from their work.

Here is a handy chart from The Open Publishing Guide illustrating the differences between a vanity press and the DIY publishing model:

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

Image credit to The Open Publishing Guide

What about you? Have you ever had any experience with a vanity press? Have you ever been swayed to sign away your rights and the potential of future profit just to have something published in your name? How did you recover from the blow of knowing that you were duped (or have you yet to recover)?

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Poetica Magazine call for submissions

Poetica Magazine's Holocaust Edition

The beautifully haunting, tentative cover of Poetica Magazine’s 2014 Holocaust Edition

Poetica Magazine is a great literary journal I recently found that publishes poetry and fiction, in addition to occasional themed editions and chapbooks. Though the journal refers to itself as one of “Comtemporary Jewish Writing,” it is open to submissions from people from all walks of life:

“We publish original-unpublished works by Jewish and non-Jewish writers alike. We are interested in works that have the courage to acknowledge, challenge, and celebrate modern Jewish life, beyond distinctions of secular and sacred. We like accessible works that find fresh meaning in old traditions that recognize the challenges of our generation. We evaluate works on several levels, including its skillful use of craft; its ability to hold interest; and layers of meaning.”

With three print editions a year, there are a lot of opportunities to find some great writing that falls into the broad theme of “Jewish life”. And, with so many editions, it becomes easier to submit — you don’t need to wait for a one-month period that comes just once a year. You can find Poetica‘s guidelines here.

Additionally, if you’ve got any poetry, or fiction that is centered on the Holocaust, you can submit to the 2014 Holocaust Edition. But there’s a catch — the work must have been publicshed elsewhere first. This is a great opportunity to those writers out there who have had a book published and would like to get a sample of their work to a wider audience, which is a huge deal. The official call is below:

Only previously published works will be considered.

Works previously published in Poetica will not be considered.

Please submit 1-10 pages with acknowledgment page:

list the name of publication, edition, year published.

Writers must hold all the rights to their work:

please include a statement with the submission.

And submitting to the Holocaust Edition does, unfortunately, have a price — $10 per submission. I’m usually a big hater of publications that require a reading fee for submissions, but for this one I think I’ll break my own policy and send something along — there are a few pieces from my book, Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer, that might place nicely in the edition.

I hope you’ll take a look at the journal, consider submitting, and pick up a copy today!

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Yale University has requested an annual subscription of Grey Sparrow!

Grey Sparrow Press’s beautiful logo

I know this might not sound like a big deal, but Yale University has requested an annual subscription of Grey Sparrow! Believe me when I say that this is tremendously great news for a small literary magazine — when Yale notices you, you know you’ve made it big.

Grey Sparrow is a literary journal published by Grey Sparrow Press, which was established by Diane Smith in 2009. Since its inception, Grey Sparrow Press has published both online and print editions, with a current policy of publishing one annual print edition that aggregates the best submissions from the entire year. In addition to this, Grey Sparrow Press has spawned a separate press — River Otter Press — for its book publications, which include Bones Buried in the Dirt by David S. Atkinson; The Northwoods Hymnal by Luke Hawley; and my own book, Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer, which was actually River Otter’s first publication.

(I should note that there are two books that were published by Grey Sparrow Press before River Otter was created — Overwatch by Allen Gray, and Shenanigans! by Joseph Michael Owens)

Both presses are open for submissions on a rolling basis, so if you’ve got anything to submit, you can do so anytime! River Otter Press accepts single-author books of poetry and fiction, and Grey Sparrow Press accepts everything from poetry to fiction to creative nonfiction to flash. Take a look today!

I really can’t convey how thrilled I am to be a part of such an amazing pair of presses as this! Congrats, Grey Sparrow, for your ivy-league subscription!

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