Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Oh putting together manuscript #2…

How many of you, my friends, know how hard it is to land a publisher for poetry book #1? How lucky I felt when Whitepoint Press said yes in 2016 to “Imperfect Tense”–the imperfect version of a manuscript I had been revising for 10 years.

How many of you know that unless you are in the “Blessed” category of loyal and flush small or large presses, that its perhaps DOUBLY hard to get your second book of poetry published.

*do you hear the violins…….

Well, I am up for the challenge. Poetry book #2.  For the most part, my lucky response is: I don’t care if this book, as it stands, gets published.  After all, my job doesn’t require or expect me to publish poetry. I don’t “need” it….and yet.

I put poems together in a book manuscript because I love it, because the poems are like my own bone structure and when the first batches found a spine and a cover, it was like giving birth to a part of myself.  I celebrated.  I had a first birthday.  Then a second.  Now a third.  But a book of poems ages very fast and the celebrations are generally only for the newly born.

For the last 2-3 years I have hatched new poems, more of them, more constantly, urgently–but I take out most of the adverbs (as my students know).  And now I have a new book of poems! And it seeks a publisher.  My first publisher is so small and not taking a look at anything until January.  I can wait.  But what if there’s another press to take a gander between now and then? What if my small press doesn’t want this new book? How does one find a new publisher? It’s worse than buying a car….

You look at (groan) contests.  You pay (double groan) fees of $20-50 per shot, so that a small underfunded press can afford to sort through 1000s of other manuscripts who want a chance at the one publication or three that press may do per year in the genre of poetry.

How many contests do you enter? Which ones? I try to know the press, to like or love the press, to find hope that they may produce a pretty book on good (enough) paper with a lovely cover design.  I try to find lower submission or contest fees.  I try to match my poems with the press vision or with presses who have published poets who I feel a kinship to or editors I might know.  I miss deadlines.  I prepare for rejection, rejection, rejection.  Thanks but no thanks. I steel myself against feeling personally declined.  I reason: there are just too many darn good poets in the world; it’s just not the right fit, the right time, the right trigger, the right title, the right order, the right craft, the right mood, the right the wrong the in between anxiety that the poems are not good. Not good? Not good enough?  Not enough.  Not yet.  Not here. Nahhhhhh.

Read them again. Re-read them.  Read them outloud.  Take out some poems, make some edits, write some new poems, reorganize.  Wonder: am I cutting the poems like a man cutting his own moustache until it’s woefully uneven or gone?

If you are a poet with a book, published or unpublished, then you know what I’m talking about.  Here goes nothing and everything. I hope it won’t take another 10 years…..

I’m all ears for your stories and sage advice!!!

One response to “Oh putting together manuscript #2…

  1. Laura Johnson August 2, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    I went to the TESOL conference in Athens a few years ago and heard you speak about how to teach poetry to ELs. I enjoyed your talk and was inspired by your position and credentials. I went back to school finally and advanced my degree. I now hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University (2017), and my first book of poetry will be published by Kelsay Books next year. I can’t wait to get that “spine and cover and give birth to that part of myself.” I also love teaching poetry to my English learners.
    You might look into Kelsay Books. I know a couple of poets who used them for book #1 and went back for book #2. You can take a look at their beautiful book covers on Amazon.


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