So, possibly you remember that I mentioned I was entering a few poetry competitions. Probably you don’t, because that was a while ago. The first competition I entered was a free competition from United Press, to which I entered three poems. Today, I received a letter from them.
I didn’t win. Which is a shame, because £100 would have been nice, and might even have fed my book-buying habit for a little while. But, they wanted to publish one of those three poems (“Broken King”) in their anthology, Do The Write Thing.
See, at first, I was pretty excited about this. The fact that it was only one of the three showed they had actually read them and it wasn’t one of those things where everybody wins, you know? And I guess, if I were going to choose one of the three that I thought was most likely to get anywhere, it would’ve been that one, so they had taste.
But I’m not sure about agreeing. Seems to me they’re getting a pretty good deal out of this. The published poets don’t get royalties, but we can buy an anthology at a discounted price, which is still more than I can afford. And at that sort of price, who is going to buy the anthology? So it’s not like it’s wonderful exposure and will make the world rush to buy my collections from Amazon. But I guess the real deal-breaker, if I decide not to go for it, is the fact that when I glanced at the proof they sent, I saw they’d removed all the punctuation from the ends of lines and put capital letters at the beginning of each line, too.
Now, hang on a minute. “Minor grammatical changes to match the rest of the book” is all very well, but that punctuation was important. The capitals or the lack of them were important, too. Without them, the poem hardly makes sense. So yeah, I could mark them all onto that proof (and correct the two major typos in the first stanza) and send it back, but the fact that they took them away in the first place means I can’t even trust that they’d read my corrections. Therefore, the few people who read the anthology are going to be something that’s only half my work, and which doesn’t reflect my poetic style at all.
(My poetic style involves a lot fewer capital letters and a lot more semicolons. I LIKE SEMICOLONS.)
All of that considered, plus the fact that I can’t afford to buy the collection myself, means that I’m really wondering what I get out of all this.
I’m flattered that they chose my poem as part of their anthology. I really am. The whole point of entering competitions was less for the financial benefits and more to convince myself that I’m actually something approaching a half-decent poet, because no matter how many reviews I get on Amazon I’m still too insecure to believe that anything I write is actually any good. So thanks, United Press, for reassuring me.
And the copyright stays with me, so I could put it in a collection or enter it into another competition (provided that one didn’t require poems to be unpublished), which means I’ve got nothing really to lose by saying yes. But I’m a cautious writer, probably because I read too many blogs about people getting terrible book deals or whatever, and I’m downright uncertain about this one because I don’t like the idea of them making money out of me in that way.
I don’t think I’m being snobbish. I work for free every couple of days when I write for this blog. I am constantly giving away my writing and not asking anything for it. But the difference is that I’m giving it away to readers because I want them to have it, and at no point is there any transfer of money, from anybody to anybody else. There’s no middle-man profiting from my feminist rants and overly detailed analyses of TV shows. Giving my poem, for free, to a company so that they can publish it and ask me to pay for the collection — that rankles. I don’t like it. It’s fishy.
It doesn’t help that, looking on their website, I can see that they offer paid ‘self-publishing services’, because that sounds a lot like a vanity press to me. I know, I know, you have to pay someone when you’re self-publishing, unless like me you design and format the whole thing yourself. (And it nearly drove me batty when I had to format for Nook and Kobo, so if I’d had money I would almost certainly have paid someone else to take the burden.) Maybe I’m leaping to conclusions.
But if they’re not 100% legit and well-respected, then I can’t even say, “Oh, I’ve been published by these guys,” because no one will care. Which means there really is no point whatsoever in saying yes, because if I keep that poem to myself, I can enter it into other competitions and see if, eventually, it earns me a bit of cash.
I don’t know what to do. I was excited to receive a letter that validated my existence as a poet, and I’m probably totally overthinking this, but I spent most of my early adolescence reading writing magazines and online advice about publishing traps you shouldn’t fall into, and it’s left me paranoid. (And by ‘early adolescence’ I mean this is how I spent the first half of 2009 because I didn’t have many friends. I was thirteen when I first looked at the Writers & Artists Yearbook in the library. I was invested in my career as a writer, okay?)
Anyone got any advice or been in this situation before? I’d love to hear what you think.
There’s also an unambiguously positive side to all this, which is that the letter came just in time to remind me that one of the other competitions I was going to enter (I wrote the closing dates on my calendar) closes tomorrow, and fortunately I managed to submit an entry about half an hour ago. That one I did have to pay for, but hey, the first prize is £600 so it’s always worth a shot, right? Think how many books I could buy with that. Not that I’m counting my chickens or anything.
I doubt I’ll complete the challenge I set myself in Competitive Soul-Selling (the post I linked to earlier), which was to enter five poetry competitions by the end of the year, but I’ve brought my total up to two, and that’s better than one. So we’ll see what happens from here on in.
And, you know, now that you know there’s a possibility I’m a legit poet who can write things, maybe you want to check out the collections that I do get money for and which have the punctuation where it should be. Well, if the formatting worked. Which hopefully it did. Man, I spent ages on that. :)
I look forward to hearing all and any advice you can throw at me in the comments!