In February 2013 issue of The Writers Chronicle, Ronald Goldfarb writes in his article “The Changing Publishing Landscape” that “we are asked now to market and design and edit our own books—writing, by itself, is not enough” (61). Though Goldfarb’s examples in his article suggest he’s talking about novelists and memoirists rather than poets, I’m curious about the effect of e-publishing and “do-it-yourself publishing” (60) on chapbook poets and poetry. What have publishers done to market, edit, and design poetry chapbooks and books in the past? Has this changed? What is the role of publishers in promotion for chapbook poets? As a poet who has had ten chapbooks published, do you get the sense that poets are being paid less in this “digital revolution” (58)? In your experience, how are chapbooks fairing in the digital revolution?
My chapbooks have spanned the last twelve years, and they’ve been published by the smallest of chapbook publishers as well as the largest and those in between. With none of my chapbooks have I been expected to do the designing or editing. It’s a good thing because I don’t have the interest or expertise in these areas. For all but one of the chapbooks, my publishers have graciously asked for my opinions about design, and all of them have sought my permission for editing changes. I especially appreciate the editing part, as I rely heavily on editors to catch mistakes. We all make them. In fact, one of my main objections to self-publishing is that there is no overseer to see the problems that we as authors don’t see.
Marketing is another matter. I get involved in that because I enjoy it and have a background in it. I also think it’s my duty, since publishers have invested time, money and energy to bring my books to life. So when one of them is released, I do announcements via an e-mail list I maintain. I send the book out for reviews and contests. I do release readings and interviews. I record the poems. I try to get radio shows.
I’ve never expected much marketing from a publisher after a book is released. I understand there isn’t enough payback for them for further involvement. Most chapbooks are as much a labor of love for the publishers as they are for the authors. They are usually a publisher’s way of endorsing an author’s work, making a chapbook acceptance more of an honor than a business arrangement.
My first chapbooks were published before the Internet exploded, and there was little or no marketing on the part of publishers. With the last several chapbooks though, publishers have assisted by listing the books on their websites and sending them to a few of the bigger reviewers. This publisher involvement seems to be increasing as online opportunities increase.
The bigger chapbook publishers are more able to invest time and energy in advertising and in assisting their authors after publication. Finishing Line Press was very helpful in providing explicit marketing strategies for my ninth chapbook, Wild as in Familiar. Silver Birch Press, who just released my Coffee House Confessions, is playing a much more active part in marketing than earlier publishers. Mine is their first chapbook, and they are giving it the same status and treatment as they do all their other books.
Concerning money, I do think that chapbook authors are in a better position now to make more than in the past. A good deal of the reason is Internet exposure. I just received an e-mail from someone in Russia who wanted to buy Coffee House Confessions because she sees reviews of it on the Internet, and two writers from Canada have expressed interest in reviewing the book. This hasn’t happened in the past.
And then there are Kindle books/e-books now that are more affordable than hard copies, thus making more purchases possible. Also, the advertising possibilities with blogging and social media such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. provide endless opportunities to advertise, which can’t help but increase sales.
As for chapbooks in general, I believe they are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. I’m seeing more and more chapbook contests and publications. I’m personally enamored with chapbooks as a means to share my work–so much that I’ve lacked the motivation to get my first full collection out there. A chapbook always insists upon itself when I assemble about thirty pages of poems on a given theme.
In “ABR and Chapbooks: A Personal View” Rochelle Ratner writes that “reviewing chapbooks strikes me as an experience akin to seeing a monologue,” due to the lack of tension and subtext. She argues that poetry books have sections and that “these sections show the poet in slightly or vastly altered states, creating tension, giving the reviewer a handle. Without this handle, the best most reviewers can do is what I’ve come to call ‘plot summary’.” Despite Ratner’s disparage of chapbook reviews, I’m delighted that your newest chap has been reviewed well, that it has been reviewed at all—even poet and newly named Poet Laureate of L.A., Eloise Klein Healy mentioned in her recent Nebraska Lit Girl Hour interview the difficulty of getting your poetry collections reviewed. I’m curious about this difficultly. Are chapbooks not reviewed due to lack of tension and subtext, or is it something else—a limited press run, placing chapbook reviews, the number of poetry collections published verse the number of reviewers, etc.? I’m curious about your thoughts—what makes or does not make a chapbook reviewable? Can a chapbook have tension and subtest? If “plot summary” is a “genre” of chapbook reviews, what are other genres? Is it the role of chapbook poets to also write reviews of other chapbooks? If it’s not our role, than who should write them?
Each of my chapbooks, except for the first one, has garnered multiple reviews. (With the first, I didn’t know enough to even send it out for review.) The chapbooks have all been theme oriented, and I haven’t encountered any criticism for that. Nor have I found getting reviews difficult in the small presses.
My experience and observation tell me that timing and progression of order are important when both submitting a chapbook for publication and for review consideration. If the person being asked to judge a chapbook is already familiar with the author’s work and likes it, the chances of getting accepted or reviewed are much greater. Sometimes poets ask my advice for getting their chapbooks “out there,” when the poems in the chapbooks haven’t been individually published. I tell them to stop thinking about getting a collection published and start getting credits for the poems, thus establishing themselves with publishers and reviewers. When editors receive a chapbook or request to review one that contains poems that either they or publishers have published, those editors are much more likely to at least read and consider a review.
I don’t yet have a full collection, but I can’t see why chapbooks would be any harder than full collections to get reviewed if quality of content is the consideration. Poets usually choose their best poems when having to assemble only twenty-thirty pages. So quality should be higher in chapbooks, and I think it often is. I don’t know how many full collections I’ve read where only a small percentage of the poems get a star (my way of evaluating a collection), whereas the ratio is usually higher with a chapbook. It would also seemingly be easier to interest a reviewer in a chapbook, since they require far less reading time.
I don’t understand how a themed book could automatically be categorized as lacking tension and subtext. It’s possible to develop a strong story-type tension when themes are artfully developed, giving reviewers much to work with, even if they are writing about plot summary. But there can also be many styles of poetry inside a themed collection that give a reviewer fodder–mixing the poems with different forms and syntax and presenting the same subject from multiple angles, etc. It all comes down to how good the poet is at making a theme varied and interesting. I just finished reading The Blue Hills–Poems after the Life of Maud Gonne, 2011 winner of the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Award, a contest for which I was a finalist. This chapbook by Lucinda Grey is chock-full of pathos, politics, mother and man passion, sickness, death, war . . . there’s not much in terms of tension and subtext that isn’t in this entertaining, 29-page collection.
If chapbooks are harder to get reviewed, the reason could be appearance. Most are stapled, spineless with more flimsy covers than full collections. This is usually negative for bookstore placement, and maybe the pamphlet-like quality is a factor for reviewers too, as is maybe the limited-edition aspect. There’s an upside, though, to having a book published in limited edition that some may not realize, and that is the increased value when a book is officially declared out of print. Mine are priced from $65-$125 each on the online collectable book sites. I’m not sure how this relates to reviews–perhaps inversely in that good and multiple reviews are important for that inflationary effect.
Who should write reviews? My answer is anybody who finds pleasure in it and who is credentialed in some way to do it. I used to write them but found the process stressful, so now I give back to poetry in other ways. However, when I did do reviews, I liked that feeling of contributing in a tiny way to what constitutes good poetry in our era. I get the same feedback now when I judge contests. I encourage other writers to get involved with either or both of these activities. They are important to the writing world.
In his easy “Finding, Unifying, and Revising the Body of our Work” in Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems, Robert Miltner discusses revising “for unity” (24) as “we assemble a collection of our work that will be unified, compelling, and generate interests from editors or readers” (31). Of your ten published chapbooks, I’ve read four—Wild as in Familiar (Finishing Line Press, 2011) on nature, Stroking David’s Leg (Foothills Publishing, 2009) on travel, Red for the Funeral (San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival, 2010) on funerals, and Coffee House Confessions (Silver Birch Press, 2013) on coffee shops—and I’m curious about your thoughts about selecting poems for a chapbook manuscript and ordering those poems in a sequence that offers readers, as you note, a “strong story-type tension” that is “theme oriented.” For example in Stroking David’s Leg, the persona begins in the “sensory overload” (5) of travel, but returns to the United States in the final two poems, after learning to see through tourist traps, upstanding and appreciating the function of foreign appliances like the bidet, communication and reading the communications of body language, surviving theft and overpriced venders, and facing the constant and unexpected surprises of traveling abroad. Readers feel your keen observation and cross-cultural savvy while they learn something new about traveling aboard by the end. To me, in Stroking there seems to be a clear narrative arc with linked by themes and a subtext of exploration and discovery. Because all your chaps are themed and Stroking has such a strong story line, I’m curious if you think chapbooks can get away with not having that narrative arc, that story, and subtext that offer an interior logic driving the poems one, by one to the end. If such a chapbook lacked those, could that chapbook still be unified and compelling?
I don’t think a chapbook requires a narrative theme to be unified or compelling. It can still be cohesive and reflect varied aspects of the author’s or someone else’s life, a particular concept, or the poems might be related by a certain rhythm or mood. And some themes aren’t really themes at all; the poems just have a kind of esoteric bond.
One of my chapbooks, Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, from PWJ Publishing is a 53-page collection of poems that have won First Place prizes in contests. The binding element was just sitting there waiting for me to see it, and the poem choices were already made for me. The poems are all over the topic board–from nostalgic Montana, to poems about losses of different kinds, love, sex, infidelity, menopause, old age, the homeless, humor, politics and war. There are even a couple of haiku. Did the collection work? Reviewers thought so.
Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, radio host of Accents, talks about making a chapbook of your orphan poems–poems that just haven’t fit into collections. She suggests putting them together to see what happens. That’s the kind of innovative thinking that creates scintillating yet subtle themes for collections.
Chapbooks can contain even stronger poems as a whole if they aren’t themed at all however, because the poet is free to use her/his best work, unrestricted by boundaries. Chapbooks are easy sites to showcase our best work because it’s fine to use poems that have already been published one or more times. When following a theme, we sometimes end up using lesser-quality poems to carry out that theme. In non-themed books, the unification could feasibly be the higher caliber of work, and as far as compelling is concerned . . . well, what could be better in a collection of any size than a poet’s best work, assuming the poet is good. Having said this, I’m very drawn to themed collections for my own work.
For one thing, they are easier to assemble than a group of random poems. There’s a definite art to putting together any collection. Logical progression and organization are essential to a satisfying read, so it’s important to get it right. I start by first deciding what poems to use, usually choosing more than what I’ll end up with. I like to use poems that have already been published. I actually have a “business plan” for each of my poems. If I think a poem is good enough, I put it on the contest circuit for a few months before submitting it for regular publication. I usually don’t even consider a poem for chapbooks until it’s published at least once. This process gets the most mileage out of each poem.
After I’ve chosen the poems for a given chapbook, I print each one on a separate piece of paper. I read them through and begin pairing, grouping and eliminating. I do this many times, often spreading the sheets out on a table, kind of like puzzle pieces. I do this procedure over a period of weeks or months until I feel good about the way the collection reads. I can’t accomplish this on a computer because I need the tactile aspect. Pivotal decisions are the first page or two and the last page or two. It’s so important to hook a reader fast and to leave her/him with a strong impression. On small matters of organization or indecisions, I rely on my editors once I have them. Often they see things I don’t see or see them in a different, better way.
Tell me about your process of writing the other three chapbooks—Wild as in Familiar (Finishing Line Press, 2011), Red for the Funeral (San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival, 2010), and Coffee House Confessions (Silver Birch Press, 2013). Did you write each collection individually and than move onto the next or did you just write poem—not obsessively say about funerals or nature—but then discovered in looking through your poems that you had thirty-plus poems about the visitors to coffee shops.
I’ve never set out to write a particular collection. I just write whenever and whatever my muse tells me to write. She’s a tyrant, and I’ve learned not to argue. At nearly any given time, I’m working on several poems at once and usually all on different topics. That works out well because if I have a stumbling block in one, I can move on to another and let my subconscious work on the problem.
When I notice I’m getting several poems on a certain subject, I start thinking collection, and try to nudge my muse in that direction, even though it might be months or years before the collection is complete. Right now, I can see the seeds of two possible new themes sprouting in my work.
What current projects are you working on?
I’ve put together a full poetry collection, and this time (there have been many previous times), I’ve just recently submitted it to a few contests. The manuscript began last year as a chapbook and had achieved finalist status in two contests when I realized I had enough poems on the theme for a full collection. The chapbook version is still floating around in contests, so now the full-collection is as well. I thought I’d see what happens. The more I think about it, the more I’m rooting for the chapbook to get published first. It could serve as a nice steppingstone to a full collection later–yet another positive attribute of chapbooks.
I presently have an additional chapbook in contests too. Plus, a new chapbook manuscript is near completion. And of course I’m writing single poems whenever my muse blesses (or obsesses) me with them. Oh, and one of my pen names has a chapbook coming out later this year, and that’s great fun.
Where can we hear you read next?
I’ll be a featured reader at Michael Hathaway’s (Chiron Review) Poetry Rendezvous in Kansas in the first part of August. I’ll also be teaching a poetry workshop for that event.
I can be heard fairly often reading a poem or two on Thursdays on PoetsWest at KSER 90.7 FM at 6:30 p.m. in the Seattle area. The programs are simultaneously broadcast via streaming by going to http://www.kser.org/ and following the Listen Live links.
Number of chapbooks you own: I don’t own many because I donate most poetry books after I’m finished with them to a small press editor who sorts them and sells applicable ones to college and university libraries. The funds contribute to the support of his magazine.
Number of chapbooks you’ve read: I have no idea how many I’ve read; it would be a lot though. I read almost exclusively chapbooks in the poetry genre now because I’m visually impaired and can’t handle long collections.
Ways you promote other poets: One of the best ways to support other poets is to buy their work, so I buy as much as I can of both individual collections and poetry journals. Because my reading power is limited, I rarely read all of any publication, but I skim through and read samples. It’s especially important to support the magazines, journals and anthologies, in order to insure that our publishers stay in business. Most of them break even at best, and that’s not including their time investments.
Another way to support our publishers and indirectly support poets is to enter publishers’ contests. The fees are often what keep them afloat. I do plenty of that.
I teach writing/poetry workshops and sometimes donate it to libraries and other non-profit organizations, as in the above-mentioned Poetry Rendezvous. I’ll be doing that at the Los Gatos California Library in December. When I teach privately, I use a sliding scale for writers/poets and allow them to pay what they can afford.
I watch for poetry that I like and that fits into Lilipoh, the magazine for which I’m Poetry Editor. I use an “invitation only” policy for choosing the poems, partly because I prefer to publish poems that have already been published. I feel that excellent poems deserve a wider readership, and so many publications require first copyrights.
But my pet poetry project is an annual high school poetry contest that I started nine years ago and continue to sponsor and judge in my Montana hometown. The contest now encompasses junior high as well because the junior high students wanted to be part of it. I work in tandem with the high school English teacher there. It’s so very exciting to witness the progress that these students make from year to year and to be a part of giving them the gift of poetry.
Where you spend your poetry earnings: Money from poetry has always taken on a special significance for me. I at least thought about framing the dollar bill prize I once received from a Lucidity contest. I typically separate poetry money from other money, even that made from my nonfiction books. I think it’s in a different and higher category because poetry itself means so much to me.
I’m long over desiring more things, so I usually spend the money on experiences. That invariably involves travel. Travel feels to me like the perfect way to spend poetry money because the act of it nearly always creates new poetry . . . and so it feeds back into itself.
Inspirations and influences: Poetry came to me late in life and through the backdoor of children’s picture book writing. Of course, my initial exposure was in high school; I read one Shakespeare poem and decided I hated poetry. I didn’t read any poetry after that for nearly forty years. I did write in other genres, nonfiction books, essays and children’s picture books. After I learned from my children’s writing mentors, authors SuAnn and Kevin Kiser, that poetry didn’t have to rhyme, I decided to try it. I used the same rules and style that I used when writing for children. How much I loved it was, and still is, maybe the biggest surprise of my life.
I knew from writing in other genres that I needed a strong cover letter with acknowledgments to get poems published. I decided to try to get credits through contests, so that’s what I did for the first year. At the end of that year, my poems had won over sixty awards and Poetry Forum’s chapbook award. Since editors and contest judges seemed to like what I wrote, I just kept writing in my same style without reading other people’s poetry.
I felt like an imposter and was so unsure of myself that if I read other work, I just knew I’d feel intimidated. So for years I didn’t; I just pressed ahead in own way. Two editors, Harvey Stanbrough (Raintown Review) and Robert K. Johnson (Ibbetson Street), mentored me and gave me not only valuable advice but self-confidence. I got in a couple of years’ worth of heavy poetry reading then, but because of the vision difficulty that ensued, most of my inspiration comes not from other poets but from the world around me: life experiences (both others’ and my own), acute observations, being a good listener, travel and an understanding of human behavior which I owe to early studies in the social sciences.
Residence: I live in Northern California but spend extended periods of time in other parts of the country, especially in Montana, Taos, Port Townsend and NYC.
Job and education: I’m a full-time writer and papermaker. I have a Bachelor’s Degree with emphasis in Sociology and Psychology. I find this degree to have been a wise choice for a writer.
Bio: Ellaraine Lockie is a widely published and awarded poet, nonfiction book author and essayist. Her recent work has been awarded the 2013 Women’s National Book Association’s Poetry Prize, Best Individual Collection from Purple Patch magazine in England for Stroking David’s Leg, winner of the San Gabriel Poetry Festival Chapbook Contest for Red for the Funeral and The Aurorean’s 2012 Chapbook Spring Pick for Wild as in Familiar. Her tenth chapbook, Coffee House Confessions, has just been released from Silver Birch Press. Ellaraine serves as Poetry Editor for the lifestyles magazine, Lilipoh. She is a frequent judge of poetry contests and will be judging Voices Israel’s 2013 Reuben Rose Poetry Competition.
Selected Works Cited
Goldfarb, Ronald. “The Changing Publishing Landscape.” The Writers Chronicle, February 2013.
Miltner, Robert. “Finding, Unifying, and Revising the Body of our Work.” Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems.
Ratner, Rochelle. “ABR and Chapbooks: A Personal View.” American Book Review.
Alvarado, Melissa and Wyatt Underwood. “Nebraska Lit Girl Hour Presents Eloise Klein Healy.” Blog Talk Radio. March 2013.