The Stubborn Market
by Paul Acosta
Who is interested in what you write? Lately there are no answers
Four years ago I stumbled over a passion, if not talent, for writing poetry.
At first I didn’t know what to do with it, except to write occasionally, and now almost every day.
Last year I began to think about publishing my poems. Should I try to? The following questions became the basic 5 Ws, and, of course, that one staggering H question.
I’d probably be locked up in my room right now, if it hadn’t been for one ambitious friend. His ambition and energy convinced me to go for it.
On my twentieth birthday, having nothing better to do, my mother and I ran to the book store where I bought the Poets Market. I read all the entries, publications, and comments by the editors. Now I find my toes are being slowly crushed against a door jamb of a very stubborn market, and I have more questions than I can carry around. I’d been told time and again that the poetry market is very hard to get into, but more curious than that is some of the policies involved that didn’t seem right to me. Being a beginner, I didn’t know how to pick apart right from wrong, standard or otherwise. But as a person I can sure draw some conclusions.
My first experience with questionable policies happened one month before I even got my hands on the Poets Market. Two other authors and myself sent a combined manuscript to a subsidy publisher. Big mistake. At that point I had no idea what I had done. Soon after, I figured it out and we all agreed to decline any offer. Within the month it took the editors to report we all split up to work on our own projects.
The editor sent me an acceptance letter, two contracts, and their catalog. In the contract, already signed by the editor, our book was to sell for $14.95 (our cut was 40%). It sounds great, huh? All we had to do was pay them $10,475! How stupid did they think we were? I wrote the editor back to decline the generous offer and try to get the manuscripts back. The returning letter made me laugh. They identified the math problem as being the amount of money. What was funny, though, was that the letter stated that those thoughtful and considerate editors would pick up the tab of a whole $2,000. In addition, those neat guys offered a payment schedule of $300 a month until the total amount was paid. I sent them another rejection. I didn’t want them to publish my book, especially after I thumbed through their catalog and noticed a biography about some lady’s rabbit.
Now that I knew a little better, I tried to set foot inside the legitimate market. But still a few policies confused me. What did it mean by membership/subscribers? Did I have to subscribe to get published? Isn’t that the same thing as paying to get published? Was there no escape? If the editors must get their contributors to subscribe, first they should tell them something about the contents; second, if they can’t afford it, they should not consider stating it in the first place. I can understand an editor’s wish for a potential contributor to purchase a sample copy, but to require a subscription leads me to believe that all they are interested in is the money and not the art involved.
Another policy that made me think was a reading fee. I have to pay for my poems to be read? Some of these publications pay higher rates, but I still couldn’t grasp the concept. Were they doing me a favor by reading my work? Are they messengers sent by the god of poetry to unleash their golden comments and expertise upon us beginning poets? If they need money for each poem they read, why do they exist?
After reading all the listings, I noticed that the majority of publications pay in copies, usually contributors’ copies. The first poem I had accepted was by a small press magazine that paid one copy. It came along with my acceptance letter, a sample copy. So now if I want to see my work I have to purchase it when it comes out. I can’t understand the policy of not sending at least one contributor’s copy. Whether it be one or twenty-five, at least something. Isn’t the main idea of getting published seeing your name in print? A byline? I can see no attraction to a magazine that doesn’t at least offer one copy. Where would they be without their contributors? Aren’t we allowed anything for our efforts?
Being a beginner means enduring all the subscriptions, reading fees, and sample copies (if at all) until you can get high enough up on that pile to be recognized by a paying publication. I’m avoiding all those debatable policies, but my rejections far outweigh my acceptance notes.