Friday, April 29, 2005

Ambiguous rejection & fun with manuscripting

I realized today that the problem with submitting one's work via email or web form (and thus receiving an emailed response) is that it's a lot harder to tell whether you're getting an encouraging rejection or just a regular one. When you get a paper rejection slip with "try us again" inked on it, you know that not everybody got that same note and you take heart a little. (Unless, of course, you're at that point of being sick to death of getting little inked notes and no acceptances, in which case it makes you gnash your teeth a little.)

But with email, unless you've had emailed rejections from the same journal before & know what their standard wording is, it's hard to know whether "The poems have gone through many hands, with interest" is just a continuation of the apology for holding the work so long (six months, in this case) or whether it means they really did kind of like the poems. Argh. Oh well, I'll choose to take it as mild encouragement, because I need that right now, and also because this particular journal is one I'd really really love to get into. (Plus, at the end it's signed "The Editors" but then it has one editor's name in parentheses -- so I'm going to pretend that means this note came personally from that editor and is not, in fact, the standard rejection form email. Or rather, that it started off with the standard rejection template but that this editor added stuff to be encouraging.)

Ah, the mind games publication -- or the hope thereof -- makes us play.

This weekend I want to finalize the new(ish) chapbook ms. and get it sent off to one or two contests -- especially since I got a rejection for the older ms. this week (it's still out to one place). I'm a little tired of the whole contest idea right now, but putting together the manuscript is a good exercise and teaches me something about my work, and I probably won't bother doing that without the incentive of having somewhere to send it, so contest submission it is. That, I think, is one of the few ways in which the actual writing (which is the important part) does intersect with submitting and publishing (which is the hobby part), and one of the few ways in which the publishing part actually does the writing part some good. I would write poems no matter what, even if some god descended from the heavens and told me that I was fated never to have another poem accepted anywhere again. But would I bother putting together manuscripts? Probably not. Putting poems together in book (or chapbook) format is, for me, a way of organizing the poems and presenting them for other people -- they already have plenty of context and narrative arc or whatever in my own mind, I don't need to put them in any order to get that for myself.

Although the process does teach me something about my work -- the last chapbook ms. I put together made me realize I do have a couple of overriding themes over the past couple years or so, and made me feel like I am writing towards something & not just haphazardly strewing poems. I don't think I'd bother doing it without the eventual goal (cross your fingers) of publication, but that doesn't mean I'm not glad to have done it/to be doing it.

Which makes me wonder why other people put together manuscripts -- would you do it if you knew it would never ever get published? And what have you learned from the process of organizing a ms. (or writing towards one, for those of you who consciously write towards one specific project at a time)? What does the "book process" give you as a writer? After putting together a first book that you're happy with (whether it gets published or not), do you feel differently about your writing? Does your poetry change at that point?

Is trying to get published a guilty pleasure? I think I've come to the conclusion that it is one of mine. Hee.


Charles said...

Annie, I felt so accomplished when I finished putting together Little Burning Edens. And I still do. To me, it feels like such a solid, cohesive piece of work that I can't think of those pieces out of that context. And reflecting on it gives me a new sort of encouragement—a self-encouragement, I guess.

So, yes, I will continue to put manuscripts together because they do show me that I'm working toward larger goals in my writing. I haven't published anything substantial yet...but I feel optimistic about it right now.

jeannine said...

Dear Anne,
Yes, I can blame one person for my manuscript work - I took a summer workshop with Erin Belieu who said to me, "You should have a book you're sending out." Before that it had never occurred to me. And putting my work together - there's a way to organize your obsessions, and putting together a manuscript really makes you see your work in a different way - from higher ground, I suppose, on macrolevel. And every contest entry is a chance to get it a little...righter.

Emily Lloyd said...

A guy in my MFA program said that if he knew he'd never get a book published, he'd quit that day. I couldn't believe it. For me, ordering, writing, etc. (not that I've done so much of it) is, in its own way, pleasing to me...writing a poem that I'm proud of is just so wonderful (and rare). In college, I hated (honestly) getting As for papers I knew were pieces of crap. I feel the same way about poems. I've regretted sending things out that got accepted but that I wasn't proud of. I'm embarrassed by my own chapbook, which was less an organized piece of work than a dumping ground for everything I'd considered passably good that I'd written. It was not thought through. The contest was a regional one with no entry fee, so I figured why not?

On e-submitting: oh, heck, I love it. No fecking stamps necessary! And I actually got very encouraging e-ink from, of all places, the New Yorker. (Just like the chapbook, I guess: e-submitting was free, so I figured why not? Much better when it comes to submitting poems than a whole manuscript)

My problem with publishing is this, I guess: I have poems that other people dig, but that I'm not proud of. I have poems that mean more to me. I've been too often tempted to submit the ones others dig but that I'm not proud of. I just got a rejection from Shampoo that actually made me relieved...I didn't really want that poem out there, I just wanted to be in Shampoo. My goal now is to try to be truer to myself, to not send because I want to get published, but to send because I love this poem...

jenni said...

What does the "book process" give you as a writer?

It helps me see how much I'm repeating myself, also to see what areas i've skimmed over. I look at the book as a form itself with many different possibilities and ideas for innovation.

After putting together a first book that you're happy with (whether it gets published or not), do you feel differently about your writing?

yea, i think i do. i'm more aware of how one poem contextualizes another, how a poem can be weak on its own but strong in a given context of other poems.

Does your poetry change at that point?

it changes with every new poem i write, regardless.

the machinist said...

Anne--I know exactly nothing about putting together a manuscript. Never done it before. Good luck--I'm anxious to see it!

That said, I like the idea of working towards 'something,' whatever it may be. For the first time, I feel like I'm doing that, and it's nice. So if that is anything like working towards a ms., congrats!

Anne said...

Mmm. Good stuff to think about -- thanks, guys!

Emily, I have the same issue -- there are poems I'm especially proud of that other people never seem to appreciate. I've come to the understanding that for me, there are poems which are important in my own development as a writer -- poems that are breakthrough pieces for me, that are hard to write, that make me want to throw up in a good way. But more often than not, those poems' importance is in how they advance me as a writer, and the later poems -- ones I could never have written without the experience of having written the breakthrough ones -- are often the ones other people appreciate. But it might be different from your situation in that the later poems aren't ones I'm not proud of, per se, they just aren't as important to me as the "big" ones are.

Anyway. I feel pretty strongly that manuscripting (if it wasn't a verb, it is now!) is one of the things I need to be tackling now. That, and figuring out revision. So I'm always interested in hearing what you all have to say about your own manuscripts -- I'm learning a lot from you guys!