I went with Jeannine and Lana to Hugo House on Saturday, for a Cranky-sponsored publishing workshop with Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo Press
. It was informative, although I think a lot of the advice was definitely from his personal perspective as a publisher, being actually in direct contradiction to what I've heard others say. Which I suppose should serve to remind me that there is in fact a live human being on the other end of the envelope, and not an evil (or beneficent) publishing machine. Anyhow ... highlights of what he had to say.
Send early in the submission cycle. In part, this is because an emerging issue will often develop a theme all of its own volition ... late arrivals may be undeservedly out, unless they happen to have matched the theme.
If you got ink of any description on a rejection slip, refer to it in your cover letter when submitting again.
(this seemed self-evident, but anyhow) Try to submit to journals that either fit your own aesthetic or publish a wide range of styles.
Don't hesitate to submit to good web-based journals. (Hey, Steve! He said, "There are some wonderful journals out there ...." and then mentioned Three Candles, along with a few others I don't recall.)
He's very much in favor of simultaneous submissions under all circumstances, from a pragmatic point of view. Do the math on 5 poems held by just one journal for 9 months to a year, considered against your production and projected lifespan ... (this is very depressing...) I do agree ... although I just can't seem to bring myself to transgress the rules with the places that absolutely forbid it. Yet. Even though the chances of two journals both deciding they want the same poem at the same time are infinitesimally small...
For book/chapbook manuscripts:
On contests: In his opinion (mine too, I think), running an ethical contest requires that the manuscripts be read anonymously. In theory anyhow, this levels the playing field by avoiding any nepotism and the name-recognition factor. When choosing what contests to enter, try to find out who the final judge is, do your research and (again) try to match aesthetics.
This struck me as a personal preference, but he said that he develops a fondness for a manuscript after he's considered it multiple times as a submission. I guess the moral is, don't hesitate to submit to Tupelo over and over; grin.
Another personal preference thing (because I'm sure there are some editors who would actually *bristle* at this) ... he likes some indication in a cover letter that the author does understand all the hard work that goes into promoting a book, and intends to pull their weight.
And one more PP: He likes a very brief synopsis in the cover letter addressing what the collection is actually *about*; this tells him that the author has actually given some thought to and understands her own work.
On length: Books -- 58 to 66 pages/Chapbooks: 16-32 pages
Make sure your poems are selected and ordered in such a way that they cohere into a *book*, not merely a collection. There should be some unifying element ... theme, style, imagery. Does each poem communicate in some way with the next? (This is my Achilles heel, I fear ... between my rate of production and scattershot subject matter, I may be 50 by the time I have even a chapbook together...)
Don't make the mistake of headlining poems in your manuscript just because they were accepted by a reputable journal. Placement (as above) must make sense in the broader context. Make your own assessment of what your strongest work is.
That about covers it, as far as my notes go anyhow. Oh, he also talked about the financial nuts and bolts of the distribution and sale of books, which was educational, but sort of a downer. I can't imagine small literary presses are in it for the money. He also encouraged learning the industry, so to speak ... reading the trade mags, going to conferences, meeting the people behind the mastheads. Same as any other discipline.
I am inspired to start sending out again, after having been in quite the rut. Great idea, Jeannine!