My First Book of Poetry: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Independent Presses (Part III of III)

Frances Justine Post

Beast by Frances Justine PostI am not ashamed to tell you that my debut book of poetry, Beast, was rejected 70+ times over an approximately 5 year period before it was finally accepted and turned into an object in the world this past January. When I counted up these numbers after the fact, I was shocked. I was also a little proud of my previously unacknowledged combination of hope, persistence, self-delusion, and/or insanity. I'm not sure which of these words describes my persistence in the face of rejection the most.

I am not ashamed to tell you that when I got the email from Augury Books, I stared at it in shock and befuddlement, thinking it was a mistake. After all the hours of revising and writing and submitting, I had never actually considered this moment, the moment when someone finally said "yes."

I have been lucky. I have had individual poems published, I have received awards, I have gotten good workshop comments and support from my professors, but someone was finally saying "yes" to what felt like my entire vision of the world. I was never actually sure that it would happen. If you are feeling this same way, I would like to offer advice in the hopes that, like me, you can thicken your skin and persist in your belief in your writing.

Part III: Where to Submit

There are many, many independent presses out there, and it is up to you to seek out the publishers who might work for you. You can start with the Poets & Writers database of small presses or with blogs like this one that list open reading periods. From my years of submitting, the good presses who treated my work with respect and integrity really rose to the top of the heap. I will share these presses with you, but keep in mind this is by no means a comprehensive list. I included:

  1. The presses that stand out because of the quality of the books they publish and the grace with which they handle the fraught process of submission.
  2. Presses who have free open reading periods. If you can, support the hard and often thankless work they are doing by buying a book directly from them. For each press, I recommend two to three of their recent publications.
  3. Presses with entry fees below $20.
  4. Presses whose entry fee gets you a book or two.
  5. I have organized the list by the month of their open reading period, starting with...

April

Octopus Books
FEE: $12
WHEN: April 1 to April 30
BOOKS: Sorrow Arrow, Emily Kendal Frey; Someone Else's Wedding Vows, Bianca Stone

Copper Canyon
FEE: $35 (includes two free books)
WHEN: March 10 to May 1
BOOKS: Bangalore, Kerry James Evans; They Don't Kill You Because They're Hungry, They Kill You Because They're Full, Mark Bibbins BONUS: They seem to give lots of submitters excellent feedback, which is rare and kind.

Coconut Books
FEE: Free
WHEN: April 1 to April 30
BOOKS: Dork Swagger, Steven Karl; The Arrow, Lauren Ireland

May

Augury Books
FEE: $10
WHEN: May 1 to July 31
BOOKS: Beast, Frances Justine Post (Obviously, I have to recommend myself!); The Family Cannon, Halina Duraj (Augury's first foray into fiction!); Mantic, Maureen Alsop

June

Black Ocean
FEE: Free WHEN: June 1-June 30
BOOKS: The Constitution, Brian Foley; The Self Unstable; Elisa Gabbert Brooklyn Arts Press
FEE: Free WHEN: June 1 to June 30
BOOKS: Dear Mark, Martin Rock; Aphoria, Jackie Clark

Publishing Genius
FEE: Free WHEN: June 1 to June 30
BOOKS: Scarecrone, Melissa Broder; Night Moves, Stephanie Barber

Black Lawrence Press
FEE: Free
WHEN: June and November
BOOKS: O Holy Insurgency, Mary Biddinger; Instructions for Killing the Jackal, Erica Wright

July

SpringGun Press
FEE: $10 reading fee or $15 and receive a book from their catalog
WHEN: July 1 - August 31
BOOKS: The Silhouettes, Lily Ladewig; The Flasher, Adam Peterson

September & Beyond

Sarabande
FEE: $10 or purchase a book from their catalogue
WHEN: September 1 to September 30
BOOKS: The Night We're Not Sleeping In, Sean Bishop; Hustle, David Tomas Martinez; Thrown by Kerry Howley

H_ANGM_N Books
FEE: $10 or $15 with a book from their catalogue
WHEN: November 1 to March 10
BOOKS: Dear Corporation, Adam Fell; Right Now More Than Ever, Nate Pritts

Canarium Books
FEE: Free
WHEN: February 1 to March 31
BOOKS: The Waste Land and Other Poems, John Beer; Great Guns, Farnoosh Fathi

Now, dear readers, get out there and write. Whip those manuscripts into shape. Make them gleam. Make them invincible. Make them ferocious. Sharpen their fangs. Then start submitting. You will get rejection letters, oh yes you will. (Remember when I told you that I got 70+?) But remember they are representative of your belief in yourself which is a beautiful thing.

Take those rejection letters and mourn for exactly 3 seconds, then get rid of them. Pulp them and make them into new paper for new poems. Shred them and give them to the birds to nest in. Let your puppy tear them up like she always wants to. Burn them while making yourself s'mores, then listen to this song...

...AND DANCE ON THEIR ASHES.

Through all of this, remember that what matters is that you be fearless and write fearless poems. The world needs you to say the things it cannot say for itself.

This is part of Francis Justine Post's 3-part series. Click here to read "Part I: Putting Your Manuscript Together." Click here to read "Part II: Submitting Your Manuscript."

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