Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to get your fiction or even poetry published

Hudson River hero Chesley Sullenberger has demonstrated once and for a key publishing principle I've emphasized for years. He just got a $3 million book deal for a quickie about his splash landing on New York's iconic river, and his agent scored a tagalong coup. The publisher will also issue a volume of his inspirational poems. This is a variation on what I've said to authors since at least 1997: if you want agents and publishers to care about your fiction or your poetry, make some money for them first on a commercial nonfiction project. Many publishers will please a moneymaking author by agreeing to publish fiction, even if it doesn't "earn out," as long as the author's nonfiction is a steady plus for the team. Poems are a longer shot, but if your nonfiction earns enough (and Sullenberger's probably will), it's possible.

Personally, I'm no more likely to read Sullenberger's poems than I was to ponder the musings of that sweet but ubiquitous kid, Mattie Stepanek, and his Heartsongs series. But he'll surely find an audience -- perhaps enough that the poetry will do well. And who knows? Sullenberger might surprise me and become a meaningful addition to my poetry reading life (I'm still campily fond of Rod McKuen, and I'll defend him to the death, me hearties), but whether he does or doesn't, he got what he wanted from a publisher by bringing home some bacon for them first.

The above image of Rod McKuen is from Life magazine.

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