Poets have always been trouble makers – in many places they have been arrested for stirring the pot a little too vigorously – or in the “wrong” direction. But – even poets can be guilty of staying inside their safe boxes. Whether that box be the safety of tenured academia or a local “scene” – keeping their subject matter safely in the wheelhouse of current politics or what established publishing houses deem publishable.
If you look at contemporary poetry publishing for younger folks today, you’ll see some pretty stringent parameters. First, a collection must have a specific theme and a story arc. Novels in verse are pretty fashionable but even assemblages of pieces that are not exactly a single narrative thread are expected to revolve around a lone theme. Anthologies too fall into this box – one distinct theme no free association allowed.
If a poet is fortunate enough to get a manuscript published and the pieces are illustrated – the poet just about never has any say in who the illustrator is or how they will interpret the words.
Well, change often comes from outliers or folks who don’t know any better.
Sara started her career by self-publishing – something that was looked down upon back then, but it proved to be a successful way to get the established publishers to look at middle grade poems that actually talked to kids as if they were people. Selling 40,000 books out of the trunk of your car will get some attention. Today self-publishing doesn’t carry the same stigma at quite the level it did in the early 90s but a good amount of “traditionally published” crew still looks down their noses at it.
I came to this through performance art and poetry slam – a supposedly radical arm of the poetic universe – but in many ways it is just as strident in rules and regulations for practitioners.
So – this brings us to our latest project: Dreaming BIG and Small. It’s a collaboration between the Sara and myself as well as an artist friend of ours Scott Pickering. We’re breaking a few rules on this one. Both of us have award winning books published the traditional way but we’ve decided to go back to the DIY route of self-publishing this one. There’re a few other brave souls out there who have found stepping away from the traditional publishing houses is the right route for them – Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell come to mind with their Pomelo, Poetry Friday series (where a few of the poems in this collection have been previously published.)
So Broken rule #1 – we’re self-publishing.
Broken rule #2 – the collection is eclectic – the poems are snippets of life from various points of view. There is no clear and easily definable story arc. Each piece can stand alone, and the book can be read from front to back, back to front, or jumped around. It’s sort of like real life in that way.
Broken rule #3 – We selected our own artist – notice we are not calling Scott and illustrator because we did not deliver a whole manuscript to him and ask him to draw to it. Rather we browsed through his Instagram feed at pufftube1, matching existing pieces to some of his work, writing new pieces for some and then yes, we asked him to specifically come up with art to go with some of our poem – it was an organic, unruly and totally creative process. Which is exactly why it could never have happened with a corporate publisher. This isn’t to say we would never work with an established publisher again – this idea though called for an outside of the box approach. Now once it’s out in the wild and a bigger publishing house would like to acquire it we’re open for discussions – hint, hint, hint.
Broken rule #4 – We laid out the book with a printer/publisher. We had creative say in how the images and words would interact. We sat at the computer of Jane Herwell at StreamlineCle, a local print shop as we moved images around, came up with loose categories for section titles, swapped out one poem for another and copyediting the work.
Broken rule #5 – We’re paying for this ourselves. There’s no author’s advance involved in this thing unless you want to talk about an advance from our own bank accounts. This is a little financial leap of faith on our part. Now, the way this breaks out – we will make a lot more per copy than we would were we getting the 3-5% royalty traditional to commercial publishing but we have the total outlay of the project in front of us. We paid Scott up front – we believe artists deserve to be paid for their work. The whole idea of asking someone to work for “exposer” is distasteful to us. This is our leap of faith we don’t expect anybody else to jump of the bridge with us for free.
Broken rule #6 – We are doing our pre-sales via Kickstarter. Now this is a bit more common way of funding lately – but it’s still considered low brow by many of the hoity toitier literati. Originally, we had planned on dipping into savings to get this thing done but our dear friend artist and writer Karen Sandstrom suggested we try Kickstarter. Karen has a background as a working writer – former book editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer who dropped out of that life to go back to art school to become a professional illustrator. She’s a rule breaker too. So, we decided to try and recoup almost half of our production costs via the crowd funding source. We are in a true partnership with our readers. We’re also gambling on ourselves – if we don’t hit the goal it all goes away and we’re back to square one.
We think this is a good deal – this is a great little book A good mixture of poems from funny to sad, simple to complex, hitting on themes that are human and honest with artwork that is deep as well as playful.
So that’s what we’ve been up to – how about you?