Whether you’re just starting out as a poet or have been writing poems for years, you’ve probably thought about getting published. Maybe you’ve got a list of poems and are ready to build a collection, but you’re not sure how to do it. Maybe your collection is ready to submit, but you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve submitted a collection but haven’t gotten a response.
In this three-part series, we hope to answer some of the questions you have about what it takes to craft and publish a collection of poetry. Curious about the perfect length for a poem? How many poems should be in your collection? The barriers to getting your collection out into the world? Where the publication of poetry is headed?
To answer these questions and more, we went straight to the source: independent presses.
This article is all about you—the poet. We asked the presses the following questions:
- In terms of length for individual pieces and manuscripts, what’s the sweet spot?
- Do you gravitate more towards content or style when selecting collections?
- How should poets approach compiling a manuscript?
- What causes you to pass on a collection?
What you learn may surprise you.
In terms of length for individual pieces and manuscripts, what’s the sweet spot?
Jane’s Boy Press: Chapbooks should ideally be 25-35 manuscript pages. Full length collections should be at least 50 pages, and no more than 100, though exceptions can happen. If you’re just getting started, you want to have something that is tight and your best work. You won’t baffle editors with sheer bulk of work if you submit a bloated manuscript that is padded out with your secondary work or rough drafts. (Some publishers, by the way, can print even shorter chapbook manuscripts. We’re limited by the printing service that we go through.)
dancing girl press: We’ve published chapbooks in length anywhere from 12-40 pages, mostly since the high end is about as thick as you can get and still use a saddle staple binding. I love chapbooks for their relative brevity, the tightness of them, the ability to read one in a single sitting. I also like the super-shorts, under 20 pages, since I tend to write a lot of these myself. This length is also really nice for like a single long poem chapbook.
BlazeVOX: In very general terms, a chapbook runs about 20 to 50 pages while a full-length book of poetry is between 65 and 110 pages. We have published longer books of poetry, for instance we recently published Stephen Ratcliffe’s sound of wave in channel, which is a one thousand-page poem that spans two five-hundred page volumes. So there are all shapes and sizes of poetry books out there. As for individual poems, there is no real sweet spot. If the poet feels their poem is complete and fits on one page that is wonderful, and if another poet feels their piece is like Stephen’s and it spans a thousand pages that, too, may be the way to success.
Damaged Goods Press: When a manuscript is being considered, we don’t think in terms of individual pieces, but rather, the collection as a whole. Some of the work we’ve published has been full-length books that contain only 5 long poems and some full-length works have single poems on each page. Piece length is really arbitrary, but if the book works as a cohesive narrative, that’s really the “sweet spot.”
Litmus Press: For us, it really depends on the manuscript. We’ve published poetry manuscripts from 60 pages to 200 or so pages. But I’d say an ideal range is 80-120 pages.
Another New Calligraphy: Most of our books are somewhere between 60 and 80 pages, with 64 probably being most common. I’ve published shorter work, but anything significantly so needs to deliver a potent message in its limited space. There are also a few longer works I’ve helped poets break up into smaller pieces.
Black Lawrence Press: There is no sweet spot. Just like some novels want to be a tight 120 pages while others sing their way through 500 pages, poetry manuscripts and poems themselves can be small perfect gems or epic, expansive howls.
Dusie Poetics: I have published poetry books well over 100 pages, and much slimmer poetry books of 48 pages or so. I tend to think 60-80 pages for a poetry manuscript is standard, but I enjoy being surprised.
Redbird Chapbooks: I think the sweet spot for a chapbook is two-fold… Thinking of more standard sizes, a page is generally well suited to poems of 20 to 30 lines or less. In terms of overall manuscript length, we ask our authors to keep their possibilities to 26 pages maximum.
Prolific Press Publishing: The chapbook program at Prolific Press shoots for 20 pages of poetry or fiction, not including front matter etc. Full-length poetry manuscripts ought to be 60 to 110 pages of poetry (about 100 pages is very common). Fiction books should not exceed 120K words.
rinky dink press: Our format limits us to 40ish words per poem and 5-6 poems total, so our maximum is our sweet spot!
Sarabande Books: It varies. A mix of long and short is good. A poetry MS should be 50-65 pages roughly. An essay MS anywhere from 90 pages to 250.
Unsolicited Press: Length doesn’t matter when it comes to an individual poem. Chapbooks need to be around 25-30 pages. Collections, at least 40 pages. Just don’t send us every poem you’ve ever written.
Kelsay Books: I think that many readers like to read poetry off and on, so smaller poems that are two pages or less seem ideal to me. I also think a variety of subjects helps make it more appealing.
Rose Metal Press: Whatever it takes to get the job done is our informal rule. We work intensely with our accepted authors to get their manuscripts in the best possible shape, a process that involves a great deal of back-and-forth. Through this process, sometimes individual pieces and whole collections accordion–they get longer, they get shorter, longer, shorter and so on until the book as a whole reaches what feels like its’ ideal form to achieve whatever it set out to achieve.
Do you gravitate more towards content or style when selecting collections?
Damaged Goods Press: Honestly, it’s both. Content and style work together to make something unique and interesting. Sometimes it feels like there is a battle going on between choosing one or the other when considering a manuscript, but it shouldn’t be like that because style can and does impact content and vice-versa. Our writers are all different, with a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences, and that shows in the catalog we’re building. It’s hard to articulate precisely what gives a collection the “it” factor when it comes to selection, but aesthetically, we tend to favor language and stories that aren’t being published in bigger journals and larger presses.
Prolific Press Publishing: There really needs to be a balance. The book ought to have great content that engages the reader, but I don’t think that can happen without the writer bringing his/her personal flair to the work. We can edit for grammar, proofread the language, and suggest edits, rewrites, and discuss plot-points and characters, but if the writing doesn’t have flair, the project is destined to flop.
Readers are in a good place right now. They have more to choose from than ever before, more venues for free or dirt-cheap reading material, and as a result, book buyers expect to receive a reading experience that is jam-packed with value. That requires both content and style.
Another New Calligraphy: Style is very much a deciding factor, but the content is ultimately what draws me in. I try to publish collections focused around themes I can connect to and grow from, as I hope an audience will. I hate to see writing with a valuable message lose it under a lot of stylistic trickery.
Jane’s Boy Press: We definitely look at content first—we want poems that move us and make us want to read them again. We want to be able to relate to the feelings and circumstances conveyed in them—which, contrary to popular belief, means they need to be very specific. No one is moved by “Something happened to someone at some point and there were feelings.” Human empathy affords us the ability to relate to specificity. The more general something is, the less likely it is to reach any part of us, no matter how wonderful the style.
rinky dink press: Our tiny format really limits our stylistic options, so if there’s something that we’re really drawn to that doesn’t fit our 3x4ish dimensions, we’ll sometimes reach out to poets and give them some alternative formatting options. That said, we love great micro-prose (prose poetry) as much as micro-poetry, so we’re always excited to see both. Ultimately, we want narratives/observations that make us gasp or laugh or say “fuck, I wish I would’ve written that!”
Black Lawrence Press: I wouldn’t say that we focus more on content or style. We certainly have plenty of titles on our list that are content-driven and plenty of others that are style-driven. Mostly, we’re looking for skillful, exciting work.
Redbird Chapbooks: I believe one of the real advantages that we have as a press is that we have multiple editors whose preferences and perspectives are varied. Each of our editors select the work that resonates for them – and they each have the final say on what we’re going to publish. This means that, in any given year, what we publish may vary widely in terms of theme, form, and voice. There could be anything from haiku to sonnets or free verse… and the subjects could range from the whimsical to the visceral with everything in between. It really depends on our editors – what speaks to them – and the possibilities we receive.
Personally, as a reader and editor, I tend to gravitate towards content and like collections that have a clear and authentic voice. The form, for me, needs to support the content. We have other editors who tend to gravitate towards more formal poetry, or prefer a certain aesthetic, or prefer poems along certain themes. These preferences tend to help us maintain variety and to appeal to a wide audience.
Unsolicited Press: Can you have one without the other? I’m not sure you can. But, if I were to parse this out, solid content with poor style can be mended…I don’t think you can say that about “stylistic” poetry masking bad content. Again, can you have style without content? Content without style?
dancing girl press: It is totally a toss-up here…I love a book that can take a completely ordinary subject matter and stylistically turn it on its ear. I also really love quirky & weird subject matter. I love surrealism, the supernatural, pop culture mash-ups, science-inspired writing. Found and appropriated texts. I always say that I love those sorts of manuscripts that take the reader to weird places, but with such authority, you have no choice but to follow.
Kelsay Books: I consider both elements. If it is well-written, but the content is too political, or abstract, we may not accept it. If the manuscript is without proper punctuation, we often reject it. I tend to like eclectic collections that are not themed, but it depends on the poems, and if they are interesting, that is the primary concern.
Rose Metal Press: If by style you mean, in part, structure, then because of our hybrid mission, style is first and foremost. If a submission is not hybrid, then no matter how worthy it is, it’s not a fit for us. In terms of content, we gravitate toward intelligent accessibility: books that are challenging but welcoming to a general reader, and that feel generous in their attitude toward their audience. Our book Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar, for instance, is a speculative memoir about their experiences growing up as a Somali-American brother and sister in the Midwest in the 1980s, but it’s also full of heady research and meditation on the over-arching ideas of monstrosity and other-ness. This blend of human connection with academic material is a solid example of the blend of content we often find ourselves drawn towards; books that are not afraid to make their readers reach a little bit, but that also help them do so.
Sarabande Books: The two have to work together. I would shy away from a collection that is pure research, or diary-like. Nor would I want language that sounds super intelligent but is all surface.
Dusie Poetics: I appreciate all kinds of poetry, but I typically gravitate towards poetry more experimental in form.
BlazeVOX: The short answer to this is that we view a good poem as work that should be championed. A good subject for a poem does not necessarily make for good writing. Just as the style or form the poet chooses to express their poem independent of a good subject never makes for an enduring work. Being located in Buffalo, NY our philosophy has always been influenced by the poet Robert Creeley’s assertion that “form is never more than an extension of content.” Although this is the central polemic for Charles Olsen’s Objectivism, it is a good observation point to consider the many styles of poetry sent to us for consideration. What this quote means to our editors is that the style, form or method that the poet employs to bring out the subject of their poem is always an opportunity for the unexpected to happen. So we are on the lookout for work that presents a combination of style and content to bring out something new.
How should poets approach compiling a manuscript?
Jane’s Boy Press: Think of it like a mixtape (or playlist for those of you who don’t remember mix tapes). Lead with the strongest “track.” Let the poems naturally lead into one another. When you’re making a mix, you don’t suddenly put all your ballads at the very end. You try to have the mood and feel of the songs build on one another, and ebb and flow naturally to provide more impact. If there’s a story to tell with the poems, then arrange them to tell that story (but remember, not all stories work best linearly). When in doubt, print all the poems out, sit down on the floor, and arrange them around you, then begin experimenting with the order from there. Ask friends for advice if you’re still struggling with it. (And, in some cases, when the poetry is strong enough, we have accepted a manuscript with the note that we would like to work closely with the poet on sequencing).
Sarabande Books: I suggest starting small. Don’t even worry till you have at least sixty solid poems. Then, think of the individual poems as constellations, groups of poems that seem to belong together, that lead into one another. These will form the building blocks of a manuscript. Then decide where to start. The opening third of the book should be stellar, as well as the closing five or six pieces. Shuffle your constellations around till you see a narrative, a progression from one place to another: light to dark, dark to light, etc. In the end, whether it’s poetry or essay, we want a book to tell a story.
Unsolicited Press: A poetry collection doesn’t need to be themed, meaning that all poems don’t have to be about love. But poets, as they put a collection together, should ask themselves if connective threads tie individual poems together. Poets should see if poems speak to one another. If they antagonize each other. The poems just need to make sense in the collection together. The reason for this is readers of poetry are very discriminate. They see connections (or lack thereof) that many writers didn’t consider when compiling collections. Poets should be prepared to answer readers — they should know that there are underlying themes, tones, etc. Even if the intention of theme wasn’t there, it’s important for the writer to be aware that the readers will find them. They always find them. Remember, writers publish for readers; they don’t publish for themselves. Art is a shared endeavor.
Redbird Chapbooks: Poets should make sure there is something that ties the manuscript together. There needs to be some sort of cohesion – an image, a theme, a thread, a building block. They should proofread, check for typos, and follow publishers’ guidelines. If it seems like a poet hasn’t put in the time to make sure their manuscript is finished or they don’t follow guidelines, they are giving an editor an easy excuse not to consider their work.
I think poets should worry less about whether or not an individual poem is a favorite, or is strong, or has been published before, and more about how it works with the other poems around it. Order of the collection is important – starting and ending with strong poems helps a collection stand out.
I feel it’s important for poets to work in community – share ideas, ask for feedback, see what is and isn’t working for readers whether that’s in an individual poem or a collection. As poets we need to realize that what we intended may not be what our readers interpret.
Another New Calligraphy: My personal preference is for a manuscript to tell an overall story, rather than representing a general overview of a poet’s work. These can take a narrative form or explore the topic from different angles, adding up to a detailed impression. The experience these manuscripts can provide really sets them apart from other writing.
BlazeVOX: A poetry manuscript takes quite a bit of thoughtful work to accomplish successfully. It is more than a gathering up of recently written poems. There is an art in the ordering of the individual works. The intellectual beauty occurs in the reader’s mind in how the poet creates a fully developed idea through the building blocks of the poems that make up the text. There must be a running thematic command that bridges all of the pieces together. Sometimes that takes the form of an arc, in others it resembles a circle and in others it is a well-structured discussion, in others the poet directs the reader to a specific point. But no matter the framework the collected poems take, it must be a compelling thread that runs from the title to the last page. If this sounds like a hard rule to follow, I am fond of saying that all rules are made to be broken. So do feel free to experiment, as a break in traditional structures can make for an exhilarating read.
rinky dink press: Given our micro-length, the more cohesive the better. It’s not always necessary to “theme” a manuscript, but I’d say this is a case when it’s beneficial. The “set-list/album order” approach doesn’t work as well when you’re only playing with 5-6 pieces of around 40 words each.
dancing girl press: I think it’s always helpful to find the poems that hang together, even if you don’t have a cohesive project you are writing from the beginning, sometimes groups of poems begin to constellate into groups that make sense—either thematically or in subject matter.
Prolific Press Publishing: Focus on the body of the work, the poems. Write, wait, and by “wait” I mean to step away from the work for a time, in order to get some creative distance from the work. Then revisit the poetry before returning to edit, wait, edit; it’s a process that shouldn’t be rushed. Once you have polished the poetry, consult with a decent poetry editor if you know one, and then send works to various journals. If your manuscript has some acknowledgements, you are probably going in the right direction.
Be sure you compile poems in your manuscript that work together. You are submitting a collection, and the collection as a whole ought to have a cohesive meaning.
I can’t tell you how many times I receive lackluster manuscripts that are little more than a grad-student’s creative writing assignments from the previous year. The poems are often peppered with obvious writing prompts, and sometimes the student will actually include breadcrumbs, like “Final-assignment.docx” as the filename of the submission. The result is hard to stomach, a hodgepodge of mixed beans.
Know that we will read the poems carefully. Don’t use the lower case “i” because some other poet did it, and don’t include formatting that jumps all over with no apparent reason. Don’t break lines unless you know why. We are poetry experts. If we can’t see a good reason for what you are doing, then we will pass on the project. In short, do the work. Do it well. No tricks or imitations.
As far as mechanics, if you want to impress our editors, consider submitting using a five-inch page width (in MS Word) instead of a full-page width. Use Times New Roman 12pt font for poetry submissions. That way you and your editor can see the line breaks as they would actually appear in print.
I digress. Focus on the body of the work, the poems. If you do that, and then compile everything in a way that makes sense, your prospective editor will appreciate your professionalism. Follow the guidelines and present a thoughtfully designed manuscript. If your manuscript looks lazy, it’s assumed you are too, and that’s not the way to win over a publisher.
Rose Metal Press: All killer, no filler. Poets–and hybrid writers–should make sure that every individual piece they include in a manuscript is absolutely essential. If it’s not, they should consider re-writing it to make it essential, or cutting it completely.
Black Lawrence Press: It’s very difficult to answer this question concisely. I’d advise poets to think about the amount of time, attention, and craft they put into writing a poem. At least that much should go into working on the order of the poems. Often, poets can feel that they are too close to their own work to suss out the structure and properly organize the narrative arcs. When this happens, it’s good to consult with a trusted fellow poet.
Litmus Press: We look for a sense of internal logic and architecture in a manuscript. A collection of discrete poems and a serial work will have very different approaches to the question of logic and architecture, and we’re most interested in how the author has conceptualized and realized this formal and structural question. As Barbara Guest writes, “there is an invisible architecture often supporting the surface of the poem…” and the book itself.
Damaged Goods Press: From an editing standpoint–it should be simple. A manuscript will be broken down into parts during the editing process and so the simpler the source file is, the better and easier it is to work with. Avoiding the use of hard to read fonts, lots of tabbed indentions, and table of contents set up for navigation make the editing and book designing process easier. Using page breaks to separate poems/prose pieces will suffice because at the end of the day, the file you submit for consideration will look nothing like the edited print-ready book file.
Dusie Poetics: I would suggest poets sit with their work and not be afraid of editing it and potentially welcoming change, which is where the magic can happen.
Kelsay Books: Start with a collection of previously published poems and compile them into a word document. Then carefully check that everything is polished, the em dashes, the quote marks, periods in the correct place, the epigraphs are all lined up consistently, and the font is a very traditional font that editors can read easily. Left justify the verse. Follow all the guidelines.
What causes you to pass on a collection?
rinky dink press: A lack of cohesion. Sameness. Status quo diction and convention. A manuscript that only contains 2-3 strong pieces. When you’re publishing 5-6 micro-poems within a micro-collection (a mere few hundred words in total), every piece has to resonate.
Damaged Goods Press: Typically, if the collection is very similar to something we’ve already published, theme/narrative-wise, or if it doesn’t have the lyrical/image-rich/experimental aesthetic we’re looking for, then we’ll pass. I think it should go without saying, that if you are not queer and/or trans then we’ll pass, but we actually get submissions from straight cis folks all the time, insisting that their work is so good that it shouldn’t matter what their orientation or gender identity is–and we’ll pass with the request they don’t submit again. Though honestly, most of the time, we get amazing work from so many people, and just don’t have the financial and human resources to publish more than 3-5 books a year. I wish we could take on more, and maybe one day we will able too, so when we say our decision is based on limited resources it’s not a means of letting people down easily, but the truth of what we have to work with.
Jane’s Boy Press: Generally, we’re most likely to pass on a collection when the author either has obviously not taken the time to acquaint themselves with the type of work we publish (such as when they submit language poetry or extremely abstract poetry when our publishing record—as well as our guidelines—indicate we prefer more accessible work), when the submission is filled with errors (typos, misspellings, lack of proofreading), or when the author does not follow our basic submission requirements (incorrect file types, submissions that are far longer or shorter than what we specify, etc.). And if the publisher’s guidelines make it clear that you probably have the wrong place, don’t expect to be an exception. One three different occasions, I have received submissions with cover letters that began, “I know you only publish poetry, but I really think you’ll enjoy my (insert novel/memoir/cookbook—yes, that’s right, a cookbook).
Prolific Press Publishing: We often receive submissions from fiction writers that haven’t properly had their work edited. We don’t require that writers have their work professionally edited, but when it’s obvious that a writer has submitted a manuscript too early, before his/her work is polished, I tend to pass on it. We’re not interested in a first draft. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t accept a really great manuscript that needed some edits, but if a writer is lazy on the front end, it’s likely that he/she is going to be lazy in other areas too. Writers expect me to work hard and to be professional. I expect the same from the writers.
The most obvious answer, found universally across all presses in the world of publishing, is that a failure to read and follow the guidelines will result in a rejection. It almost goes without mentioning. Follow the guidelines.
Unsolicited Press: Oftentimes, what causes us to pass on a poetry manuscript is a blatant disregard for the genre. What does that mean? A collection submitted that has no glue…nothing sticking the poems together. Obviously that doesn’t mean we want “theme” collections-that would be terrible-but we want to see that the poet has conscientiously put together a collection. It shouldn’t feel like an MFA thesis. It shouldn’t feel as though the poet fumbled through a folder labeled “Poetry” and copy/pasted everything into a new document and slapped on a title. The collection should feel meaningful. We receive a lot of submissions that violate this coveted code. On another note, we also receive poetry submissions with 500+ poems in a collection. We would never publish something of that volume. That’s not how collections come together.
Rose Metal Press: We occupy a distinct position in the publishing landscape in the sense that our mission focuses on the publication of literary work in hybrid genres, including prose poetry, flash fiction, novels in verse, image-and-text collections, novellas-in-flash, collaborative projects and other approaches that defy easy categorization by the traditional genre labels of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama and so forth. So the biggest thing that causes us to pass on a collection is a lack of formal or structural hybridity; like if someone sends us (which happens more often than you’d imagine) a straight-up lineated collection of individual poems, then of course we pass. But if something really is hybrid and fits our mission statement, then we’re eager to consider it.
Sarabande Books: Evidence that the author has never read a collection of contemporary poetry or short fiction. Repetitive tropes that are largely unintentional. Language that sounds like Facebook posts. A lack of grounding in the heart (emotions) or an obsession with the self (I centered). No narrative arc, no progression. No clear themes, little detail and imagery. No engagement with the world.
Black Lawrence Press: Every year, we publish between 24 and 26 books. These titles are culled from our annual contests and open reading periods. There’s a lot that I love about my job as an editor, but perhaps my favorite thing is calling authors to let them know that we’ve selected their manuscripts for publication. Conversely, one of my least favorite things is how frequently we have to turn down manuscripts. We receive over 5,000 manuscripts to review every year, so given the limited space in our production calendar, we have to say no a lot. There are a myriad of reasons that we turn down manuscripts, but there are a number of pitfalls that, with a bit of work, authors can easily avoid:
-Make sure that your cover letter is free from typos.
-Familiarize yourself with the press before submitting. We frequently receive YA submissions (we only publish books for adults) and cover letters that begin “Dear Sirs” (even though the majority of our staff and all of our senior editors are women).
-Have someone you trust proofread your manuscript before sending.
-Make sure that the first pages of your manuscript are incredibly strong.
Another New Calligraphy: The first thing I’m looking for in a manuscript is originality. Common themes often appear, but are they creatively explored? Conversely, does someone working in a more experimental style have something to say? I’m much more interested in a fresh perspective of the everyday than something consciously provocative.
dancing girl press: When I’m reading manuscripts, I am looking for those books which hang together really well as a project, more so than just collections of disparate poems. Sometimes we get manuscripts that are good writing, but the poems are sort of randomly thrown together. We have a really strong submission pool, and it’s hard to make final decisions, so I tend to say yes to the things that are more tightly focused. I am also looking for those things that surprise me—in form, in subject matter, in tone.
Redbird Chapbooks: There are two primary questions we ask all of our editors to consider when reviewing manuscripts, whether the collection is poetry, prose, multi-genre, or an illustrated work. First, is the collection engaging and well written? Second, does it have a cohesive theme or statement? If an editor can’t answer yes to both of these questions, then we ask that they pass on a collection.
Any poet can put together a couple dozen poems, but if the poems don’t speak to or with one another in some way, the collection is going to fall flat.
Kelsay Books: Although we are open to working with newer poets, the deciding factor frequently is the number of previously published poems in the collection, and how well-written the poetry is. We prefer to spend our time on the layout and cover details, so it is essential we work with poetry that has no typos, grammatical errors and is highly polished. We like poets who have websites and are actively engaged in the poetry community.
Litmus Press: We publish 2-5 books a year, so we end up passing on a lot of worthy manuscripts. We are an independent, feminist, nonprofit literary organization, and we publish new poetry, hybrid works, translations, experimental plays, and other non-mainstream works. Our decisions about what to publish are based on the quality of the work, of course, and also how the new work lives within the context of our other publications. We look for work with a strong sense of avant-garde lineage, contemporary awareness, and something surprising—work that moves our thinking about what is possible in writing ahead, out of comfort zones.
BlazeVOX: There are many factors considered and weighed when we accept a manuscript. To paraphrase our mission statement, ‘BlazeVOX [books] publishes innovative fictions and wide-ranging fields of contemporary poetry. Our books push at the frontiers of what is possible with our innovative poetry, fiction and select non-fiction and literary criticism. Our fundamental mission is to disseminate poetry, through print and digital media, both within academic spheres and to society at large. We select for publication only the highest quality of writing on all levels regardless of commercial viability.’ With that in mind we comb through the thousands of manuscript submissions we receive each year with the hopes that they will energize the audience that we have cultivated over the nineteen years we have been publishing.
Once we receive a manuscript we place it in a large pile to read and see how well it aligns with our catalog. We sift out genre fictions like YA, MG, murder mysteries and space operas that are better suited for other publishers. This is not to say we do not admire these types of writing, our mission is to publish specific works that fall within our field. Once we gather up manuscripts that fit our parameters, the real work begins. We publish between 25 and 30 books a year and that leaves hundreds of fine manuscripts we cannot publish. The causes vary widely as to why we pass on a collection. Sometimes a manuscript does not resonate with our editors or sometimes we see manuscripts that are good but not in its best final form to make a book. Many times the manuscripts are collections of recent poems without consideration to how the individual poems fit together as a whole. Mostly, we have to pass on a book simply because we do not have the time or the money to make more books than our budgets allow for. We have lost a lot of fine books, but thankfully other presses are out there to take them on.
Dusie Poetics: At this point, we primarily solicit submissions because we are a micro-press. We typically publish 2-4 books a year.
If you liked this interview series, then you may also like Natalie Gasper’s other series on literary agents answering your burning questions.
Stay tuned for part two, which addresses the barriers and challenges small presses face.
Thank you to all the presses and people who contributed their time and insights for this article.
Bill Ripley founded Another New Calligraphy in 2009. In addition to publishing an extensive catalog of books and albums, he has produced the subscription-based monthly zine Shepherd’s Check, programmed the live music/reading series Pish Posh, and compiled the supplementary audio/text artifact PCM Grapheme. Another New Calligraphy recently launched the online journal Impossible Task. Bill is an elementary educator currently transitioning to the field of social work, where he intends to continue working with vulnerable youth in a therapeutic context. He and his wife live in Chicago.
Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. She co-edited the anthologies Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner and Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A&U. She is the Executive Editor at Black Lawrence Press, an independent publisher of contemporary poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. She lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband and daughter.
Geoffrey Gatza is an award-winning editor, publisher, and poet. He is the driving force behind BlazeVOX, a small press in Buffalo, NY and was named by the Huffington Post as one of the Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry. He is the author of many books of poetry, including A Dog Lost in the Brick City of Outlawed Trees (Mute Canary 2018), Apollo (BlazeVOX 2014), and HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage 2009). Most recently his work has appeared in FENCE and Tarpaulin Sky. His play on Marcel Duchamp was staged in Philadelphia and performed in NYC.
Caseyrenée Lopez is a queer poet, editor, educator, and publisher. They are the author of the new gods (Bottlecap Press, March 2018) and heretic bastard (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, August 2018). Their chapbook when does our blood become a crucifixion is forthcoming from Ghost City Press in summer 2019. In addition to writing, Caseyrenée edits Crab Fat Magazine and publishes poetry and experimental work by queer and trans people at Damaged Goods Press. They tweet nonsense and hot takes @caseyreneelopez.
A writer and book artist working in both text and image, Kristy Bowen is the author of a number of chapbook, zine, and artist book projects, as well as several full-length collections of poetry/prose/hybrid work, including SALVAGE (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and MAJOR CHARACTERS IN MINOR FILMS (Sundress Publications, 2015). She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio. A new book, SEX & VIOLENCE, is due out next spring from Black Lawrence Press.
Susana Gardner is the author of full-length poetry collections [lapsed insel weary] (The Tangent Press, 2008), HERSO (Black Radish Books, 2011) and CADDISH, (Black Radish Books, 2013). Her latest book, Somewhere Upon a Time / Oceanids & Dreampomes is forthcoming. Her poetry has appeared in Jacket, How2, Puerto Del Sol, Cambridge Literary Review and Chicago Review, among others. Her work has also been translated into Icelandic, Italian and French as well as featured in several anthologies, including NOT FOR MOTHERS ONLY: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing (Fence Books, 2007) and in the forthcoming CITY AND SEA Anthology from Frequency Writers, Providence, among others. She lives on an island off the New England coast where she tends books, writes and curates the online poetics journal and experimental press, Dusie.
CJ Southworth founded Jane’s Boy Press in the fall of 2014 with the goal of offering a platform for new, emerging, and established poets to publish their work. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from St. Lawrence University and a PhD in Creative Writing from SUNY Binghamton. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and was the 2015 winner of the Allen Ginsberg Award. He has published more than 50 poems in journals and magazines such as Assaracus, Paterson Literary Review, and Main Street Rag. His fiction has appeared in Jonathan and Glitterwolf. He currently teaches English at SUNY Jefferson Community College.
Karen Kelsay is an editor, poet, and managing director of Kelsay Books. She is also the founding editor of The Orchards Poetry Journal. Karen belongs to the Rock Canyon Poets in Utah Valley and has been published in over 300 magazines and journals.
m/ryan murphy is the Managing Editor at Litmus Press. They live in Brooklyn, NY via Mississippi. They were named a finalist for The Poetry Project’s 2018-19 Emerge–Surface–Be Fellowship & host a monthly reading series called Earshot. They have a forthcoming chapbook entitled void of pronouns from Damaged Goods Press. Some of their work exists in or is forthcoming from Entropy, The Felt, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Anomaly, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Bone Bouquet. The rest explores nonhuman rights, caesurae, queerness, and language’s existence beyond the confines of the page. Virtually friend them @mryanmurphy.
Glenn Lyvers is an award-winning writer and editor living in Johnstown, PA. He has edited over 150 journal issues and more than 60 books. He has been widely published and enjoys supporting fledgling journals. He serves as the Masthead for Prolific Press, a small publishing house in the USA, where he oversees the publication of a group of literary journals in various genres, a full publishing platform, and an international chapbook series. More about Glenn Lyvers, his books, biography, awards, and association to the arts can be found at https://glennlyvers.com/.
Sarah Hayes is a writer and visual artist working in the forms of poetry, creative non-fiction, digital photography, collage, and the book arts. She earned her MFA from Hamline University and currently resides in Saint Paul, MN. Her chapbook, The Heart of Everything That Is, was published in 2014.
She serves as the Executive Director for Red Bird Chapbooks, where she also edits and designs books and gets to discover new authors. In her past life she has been a transportation executive, a number cruncher, and an airplane mechanic.
rinky dink press is a Phoenix-based publisher of single-author micro-collections in microzine form. Not only are we publishing socially resonant poetry, we’re publishing it in a radical container (a microzine), one that resists the status quo and the rules of the establishment, one that’s redefining indie publishing within the world of poetics. Accordingly, rdp privileges DIY design practices and community-based distribution via art walks and festivals. Our mission is to get poetry back in the hands of the people, and our format and price ($1 per micro-collection) are making that possible.
Founding editor Rosemarie Dombrowski: https://rdpoet.com/
Co-editor-in-chief Shawnte Orion: http://batteredhive.blogspot.com/
Abigail Beckel is the publisher and cofounder of Rose Metal Press. She has worked professionally in publishing for more than 17 years at publishing houses such as Pearson Education, Beacon Press, and Blackwell-Wiley Publishing, and as a magazine editor for United Business Media. She is a published poet and prose writer and lives near Washington, DC.
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her most recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (Spork Press, 2018). She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay. Her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is forthcoming from Penguin in 2020.
Sarah Gorham is a poet and essayist, and most recently the author of Alpine Apprentice (2017), which made the short list for 2018 PEN/Diamonstein Award in the Essay and Study in Perfect (2014), selected by Bernard Cooper for the 2013 AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. Both were published by University of Georgia Press. Gorham is also the author of four collections of poetry— Bad Daughter (2011), The Cure (2003), The Tension Zone (1996), and Don’t Go Back to Sleep (1989). Other honors include grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and three state arts councils. She is co-founder and editor-in-chief at Sarabande Books, an independent, nonprofit literary publisher, now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary.
S.Stewart is the managing editor at Unsolicited Press, a small press that publishes creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction.
NATALIE GASPER is an internationally performed poet whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Write Launch, The Hickory Stump, The Remembered Arts Journal, Noon by Arachne Press, and ellipsis…literature & art, amongst others. She works as an interviewer and reader for The Nasiona, and is an editorial intern with a prominent New York literary agency.
Featured image: Photograph by Teddy Tavan on Unsplash.