Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why is poetry reading down?

Just as I started having epiphanies about literary journals, and just as I started blogging that for the first time in my adult life I was even reading new poetry on purpose (in contrast to it being assigned in a class), the NEA releases a new report saying poetry readership is at a 16-year low.

In a way this isn't surprising. Two of the key aspects that have tended historically to keep me away from contemporary poetry are those that also probably make me a cavewoman on the subject: (1) it doesn't usually rhyme and most of it is in free or blank verse (I love rhyme, meter and rules); and (2) it's often written as a word puzzle where the author knows the meaning, and the reader/listener is supposed to figure it out. That's rewarding for many, but I get tired at the end of a long work day, and so prefer things I can understand. Enter fiction, exit poetry.

However, to give poetry a better shake, I have been regally impressed with the work I've been reading in Ploughshares, The New England Review, The Georgia Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, etc. New and different journals came in today's mail, so I'll post soon about them as well. In other words, I may not be much of a poetry reader overall, but I've been gratified with the job the journal editors have done of finding words that are worth the work.

My latest theory has been that the literary journals will protect and even save fiction. To that I would now also add that they may end up being the salvation of poetry as well. All hail journals. If you haven't done so this week, subscribe to one! ;-)

(Image above from TattoosOne)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Shock waves?" No, I wouldn't exactly say that. . .

An item in today's Publisher's Weekly claims that the University of Michigan Press's recent decision to switch to a digital format for scholarly monographs has "sent shock waves through the academic publishing field." Um, I would add "or not."

Who would be shocked by this? Anyone paying attention to discussions of scholarly publishing over the past few years would know that the monograph is a serious point of contention because by definition it has a limited audience. At the same time, almost anyone who does academic research would argue that the monograph needs to exist. It needs care, protection, support.

The University of Michigan has always been a bit digitally precocious, for good or ill, and it likes to involve itself in electronic solutions early. Some fret that tenure committees won't accept books that exist primarily in digital form, and I can't speak for tenure committees to answer that question. But this has been a long time coming in some form or another, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in tenure bids, and also in scholars' future decisions to publish with Michigan or not. Here's the original piece:

University of Michigan Switching to Digital Format for Scholarly Monographs
-- Publishers Weekly, 3/24/2009 7:17:00 AM

The University of Michigan Press sent shock waves through the academic publishing field Monday when it announced it is switching to a primarily digital format to publish scholarly monographs. The press expects that within two years, most of the 60 monographs it publishes each year out of a total 140 new releases will be published only in digital editions. A POD option, however, will be made available for all digital books, said University of Michigan Press director Phil Pochoda. He said the press’s regional titles and its ESL list will continue to be released primarily in print editions, though select frontlist, as well as backlist, will be made available in digital formats as well as print. Print runs consequently will be more conservative, to cut down on returns. “We’re going to try to keep [initial] print runs close to orders,” Pochoda said, with more of a reliance on offset printing for smaller print runs.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When a publisher acquires a book, everyone isn't always on board

Publishing houses don't always agree on books, and that may include your book. Yes, your editor wanted it. That's usually a given unless your editor left and someone else took it over. But sometimes that editor prevailed over the skepticism of other editors, or of the marketing team, or even of the editor-in-chief. Sometimes editors get shot down in contentious acquisitions meetings, but other times they prevail. That still doesn't mean that everyone loves your book, and it could account for some of the ambivalence you feel from the publishing side.

Is this bad? I personally think it is neutral, and just part of the real world versus the imaginary one. It's like being hired at a company and fantasizing that everybody voted for you. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't, and sometimes you have to deal with the guy down the hall who applied for your job and didn't get it.

If you know going in that publicity is difficult, that publicists have a whole catalogue of books to love and care about, and that yours is certainly important, but not the only consideration in their day, then you can start to think constructively about how to work with your publicist. One editor in a recent edition of Poets & Writers suggested flowers. My personal style would lean more toward a terrific sandwich platter sent to the whole publicity team with a thank-you card. Either would be a great start. Along with this outreach, consider making a personal, 40-minute visit if you live close enough, or at least plan a phone conference with your publicist about six months before pubdate, armed with the attitude that you want to learn how to be the best author ever when it comes to teaming with your publisher to sell your book.

Gifts, thanks, and a terrific attitude? These will go a long way toward engaging publicists in your cause beyond routine efforts, and they can also overcome any in-house ambivalence that may have lingered around your (or any) book's initial acquisition.