I COULD JUST SCREAM: I submitted Wake to BOA Editions during its open reading period earlier in the month. Today I received an email stating that they wouldn't consider the manuscript for its Continuum series because Better To Travel "doesn't count" as a first book since it was done through iUniverse. BOA suggested I enter the book in their "first book" prize instead. My response: absolutely-fucking-not.

I'm proud of Better To Travel and I refuse to relegate it to non-existence because of a short-sighted set of rules. The book has sold nearly 1,000 copies, was nominated for local and national awards and reviewed in national magazines, including a cover mention in the Lambda Book Report. I worked my ass off to promote the book and was invited to readings all over the country because of it. But at BOA, it "doesn't count."

BOA is home to many of my favorite poets (and friends) like Cecilia Woloch and Richard Garcia. I have always been impressed by their books and the poets they choose to work with, but, as I suggested in my response, it is time for BOA and other publishing houses to change the rules. Indie and micro-presses are publishing the most interesting poetry these days and by unique voices. The old "self-published" condemnation is a gatekeeper still in place at many publishing houses and magazines. What are they scared of? It's more likely who are they scared of...mainly old contributors who want their poetry from familiar names (or those vetted by those names) and editors who are just looking for the next MFA casualty. Wake up.

We keep hearing horror stories about how small presses are in financial trouble, are being gobbled up by larger conglomerates and that poetry is either dead or nearly dead. The scenario I just outlined is one of the symptoms of a much larger problem. However, the problem is not only being solved but circumnavigated by the indie and micro-presses who are fed up with tradition and rules and are changing the world of poetry publishing in this country -- one chapbook and POD-published book at a time.

Speaking of wanting to scream, Dana Gioia's commencement address at Stanford last month made me vomit in my mouth a little. Tania Rochelle has the perfect response at her blog...and love and thanks for the shout out.


Anonymous said…
Maybe i dont know enough about the publishing world but isn't Better To Travel on Amazon and available anywhere in the world? To dismiss it completely is crazy! Maybe if it had shitty reviews and never sold many copies but if I were entering my first book into a contest and you won it, I would be pissed off.

Peter said…
I agree with you totally.
Better to Travel is a bona fide first book. BOA is being short sighted. And wrong!
Reb said…
You sold 1000 copies!?! I bet a lot of BOA's titles don't sell nearly that number.

p.s. Please share your book selling secrets!
Collin said…
More than four years of straight up hustling, Reb. I was very fortunate that when Better To Travel was released it was one of the opening night events at the Atlanta Literary Festival. We sold nearly 200 copies that night alone and it was off and running.

A number of Barnes & Nobles stores stocked the book and put it on permanent re-order. The book was also available internationally on Amazon.co.uk and other sites. If you go to the iUniverse site, you will see it has a logo with Reader's Choice next to it. That means it sold more than 250 copies via retail. That designation went up in the first month or so after the book was published back in 2003.

The book continues to sell and tiny royalty checks still arrive from time to time. I basically whored myself and shoved a copy into everyones hands and took it by hand to bookstores all over the southeast to sell on consignment.

I was also incredibly fortunate to already have name recognition in Atlanta because of being a journalist for so long and having written a couple of plays that won some awards and were produced locally. I built an email database, had a website up and running a year before the book went out and also got the blog started quickly. It's all about momentum.
C. Dale said…
Have you told BOA this? That the book has already sold 1000 copies? I mean, I don't see how they can't consider it your first book. Many books published at literary presses take 7-10 years to sell 1000 copies. And I agree with others, if someone entered the first book thing and lost to you, there would be an uproar. This is not good. BOA is being ridiculous here.
Collin said…
C. Dale...Yes, I told them. Twice. But why should quantity be the measure? If BTT had sold half that amount, by industry standards that's still considered a "bestseller" for poetry. Hell, Time magazine suggested last month that you only had to sell 30 copies to be a bestselling poet.

I'm not looking for special treatment from BOA or any other press. Wake was submitted to be judged on its literary merits, not how many copies the previous book had sold. The number of copies should be a moot point. The fact that BTT was published, reviewed favorably on a national level and recognized for its merit should be the only criteria. I don't want to be selected by a publisher because of how many books I've sold -- I want them to the publish the book because they like the work.

I just want to get past the whole self-pub argument. I'm seriously tired of having it over and over again with people who just don't realize that times they are a changin'.
On a side issue, have been and read Tania R and the Gioia address - and quite agree about that closing poem. Effing awful.
I bought BETTER TO TRAVEL on amazon.com after hearing about it in the Lambda Book Report. I love the freshening crispness and honesty of the invention and rhetoric. Your blog post was the very first time that I realized that you self-published it through iUniverse. This fact fills me with joy: Walt Whitman self-published the original edition of LEAVES OF GRASS. Sometimes we have to do it ourselves and have faith in our work. (Regarding two of my old manuscripts: after 13 years of trying to get them published, I've decided to place them online under a creative common license if they don't gain a book contract by the spring or summer of 2008).

BETTER TO TRAVEL more than qualifies as a first book.

However, I would go on ahead and submit WAKE to any and all contests to which it qualifies, including the BOA's first book competition (just so you see if it wins!).

Those kind of bombing the system tactics (submitting to every contest and setting aside $150 a month for three months to do so) are often the only way that even good, strong poets who don't have the mysterious quotient of clout or some inside-help (inside where is often a real question) or champion gain publication.

Increasingly after 1995, poets gain a publishing foothold only after winning a contest. Getting published often requires a wily sense of gaming the system, and discretion, especially since the system often encourages such gaming to "get ahead." Any and all tactics seem viable to me.

I am in solidarity with you and I wish you blessings always.
C. Dale said…
Collin, No, I wasn't trying to say BOA should give you special treatment. I was just pointing out the absurdity of their claim considering your previous book's sales. Times are changing, but this seems to be more about idiocy than times changing.
Collin said…
Thanks, Jonathan and C. Dale. Now that I've slept on it, I don't feel nearly as pissed. I can't let stuff like this interfere with getting Wake out to other presses and contests, not to mention the writing I'm doing now...which is flowing. Wake is going to find a home. I feel it in my bones. And that will be the victory.
Scott said…
If I were running that contest, I would disqualify anyone with a first book published via a contest or "open submission" period that required a reading fee. And I'd disqualify poets whose books were published by a press with which they had a connection--or if, say, the manuscript was picked up on the recommendation of a former professor. Why should self-publishing be viewed as less honorable than any of those more common scenarios? But then, why look for logic in the insular nooks of the poetry world?
Hi Collin,

I just posted about David Wagoner self-publishing his book MAD HAT on my blog--


I think we're at an odd place in history where we are redefining publishing. What's interesting is that had you had a friend create a small press (say just to publish you), buy an ISBN, and publish your book it would be considered "published," but it seems the act of you taking care of it, makes it "self-published."

I do think BOA has the guidelines in place so that they aren't flooded with poets who published their first book on their own and perhaps, the quality of it isn't up to standards (think book made to hand out at a family Christmas or the "hobbyist poet" who is still writing in the style of Shakespeare); by stating it needs to be published by a press they are creating a filter for themselves. However, in your case, given the amount of sales, awards, etc., there's a difference. Perhaps, there should be an exception to poets who have used different publishing means and proven themselves as published poets. That each manuscript/poet is looked on an individual basis.

Actually, I can see both yours and BOAs side on this. I understand why they have their guidelines in place and I understand how it can negatively affect poets whose first book is just as qualified to be considered a "first book" as others who have gone through more traditional outlets.

Ultimately, I have no doubt your book will find a home.

Anyway, I appreciate your post on this, it again opens the conversation (in my mind) is how artist/writers/poets connect with their audience and the changing world of publishing. Thanks for that.

This does seem like craziness (to put it mildly) on BOA's part. I'd say it's their loss. There are definitely a lot of other presses out there -- and no doubt plenty of editors who would be better to work with on your second book, anyway. Good luck! Matt
Dan Vera said…
I really hate this short-sighted shit. Just burns me. What is it about the poetry community that puts in these arbitrary rules. Whitman would've been disqualified by these rules. It's just horseshit.

Okay. That's not fair to horses who I'm sure excrete material of more substance.
Anonymous said…

I think these attacks against BOA are unfair.

Most presses would not have even contacted you and gave you an explanation. They would have just discarded the manuscript and gave you a form rejection. You may not have liked their explanation, but they went to the trouble to give you one.

A lot of magazine editors don't even go to that much trouble even.

Steve Fellner
Collin said…
Thanks everyone for your comments on this issue, including the ones who disagree.

Don't get me wrong. I think BOA puts out great books by fantastic poets (as I stated in the original post), but I am frustrated to learn that one of my favorite go-tos for good books of poetry is using such passe rules to judge what is read and not read. I hope that this will one day be corrected.
I met and spent time with Thom Ward last year at the West Virginia Writers Confeence- he certainly didn't seem like someone who could not be moved by a reasonable argument- I hope you can resolve this in a positive way. We seem to be in a real shake-up with publishing and what that means.
Stay with it, Collin. The right house will pick it up.
Anonymous said…
my, aren't we living in some weird times right now?
jenni said…
Almost a 1,000?!

You simply r.o.c.k.

I mean really. Don't let this get you down.
It's completely Orwellian: "A book is not a book."

What a bunch of crap.

Clearly designed to enforce hierarchies--to use language to determine their value as book publishers and to deny others that position.
po said…
God that is so annoying. BOA is one of my favorite presses too - now they've just come down a notch. 1K copies IS, as someone said earlier, probably more movement than some BOA poets have seen. I am sorry. That sucks.
Sorry about that - it posted my comment before I could say who I was...I'm not po', just Poet with a day job...
Alan Bluehole said…
Hi Collin,

Just wondering why, after the success of your self-published first book, you feel the need to publish with a "major" house rather than DIY. Maybe you've addressed this before, but it seems like you did it the right way the first time around.
Robin Kemp said…
Oh, Collin, don't even give it the time of day. 1000 is a decent number for any press. If you hand-sold them, that should tell them you're willing to push whatever they'd publish.

I would be graceful about it, move on, and let it be BOA's loss. They have their reasons, which apparently don't mesh with yours, and there are a world of other presses that I'm sure would be happy to give your work a look.

BTW, an MFA is not a bad thing to have. I still believe that you would learna hell of a lot from the right program match, should you ever choose to go for it. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep an open mind.

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