So on Friday, I was on the Cal-train to Stanford reading Poets & Writers when I should have been memorizing Portuguese vocabulary words for a test which I subsequently failed. (I was studying the wrong list anyway. This is what happens when you combine too many activities all at once.) Anyhoo, the article that pressed my panic button was an interview with Rebecca Wolff, the editor of Fence Magazine. The interviewer asked her a fairly inoccuous question, “Think fast: poet or editor?” to which she replied, ”[Laughs.] That is a fucked-up question right now. That is like the worst. I would have to say, right now, I have been demoted to editor, but I’m working hard at figuring out how to become a poet again. “
There is a real simple reason why this made me panic: the last thing I want publishing to do is subsume or overwhelm my art. My friends Bobby and Lee Byrd have certainly made similar comments (e.g., “You know what publishing has done to our ability to pursue our own writing, right?”), not to mention comments by some of my own writers for Labor Pains and Birth Stories. I tried to calm myself by reminding myself that I’m not embarking on something that I can’t, to some extent, control or contain–that I can keep the publishing load light by not publishing too many books, that I can stop at any time if my writing is adversely affected (this is the same thing I told myself when starting a Ph.D. in African History at Stanford), that I’m not doing this to make a living but just to get books out that I want to see published. Okay, most of that is bullshit even while it’s true. But nevertheless, I started desperately and mechanically writing in my journal (instead of memorizing Portuguese vocabulary words) and here are some of the things I promised myself. I’m sure that those who are more experienced than I am will perhaps laugh at these promises and think to themselves, “Just wait. She’ll see.” Maybe they’re right. But I’m a pretty determined gal when I need to be.
Manifesto or, more appropriate, Promises I Have Made To Myself During Weak Moments When I Panicked About My New Business and Wondered To Myself, “What The F*** Am I Getting Myself Into?”
#1 Write First Thing Every Morning Before You Start The Business Day
I’ve actually been pretty successful at this for a number of years now, though there have been stretches in grad school where even an hour or two every morning has been impossible.
#2 Don’t get Too Caught Up In the Book Business.
Okay, yes, books are my life and they will soon be even more of my life. But why should I panic every time I open Poets and Writers Magazine? In fact, why the hell should I even read Publisher’s Weekly? Ha-ha, okay, I’m just kidding about the last one, but I think the general point is that I shouldn’t spend everlasting moments on everlasting details that will never be finished anyway so at some point, one needs to say, “Enough. Time to break open that bottle of wine.”
#3 Learn Balance. Getting Into This Racket Was About the Creative Life To Begin With.
This one is key and reflects the truth I mentioned above. I’m not doing this to make a living, though I hope that will be a side benefit. I’m doing this, in part, because my own creativity demands a greater involvement with books and the book business, an outlet that isn’t satisfied just by writing.
#4 Slow Down and Start Small.
I mean, it’s impossible for me (financially or otherwise) to do anything BUT start small. But sometimes I forget that and I feel like there are one hundred million books-to-be-published screaming for my attention, all of them which should have been published two months ago. Maybe I’m building an empire or maybe I’m just building a little sand castle, but either way, it’s gonna take awhile…By the way, sand is awfully slippery and it gets everywhere and then it’s impossible to get rid of…
#5 Forget all the piddly little things.
Actually, sometimes the piddly little things count, like the moment this afternoon when I discovered that I had listed the wrong ISBN numbers on the thousands of postcards I printed and have been handing out to bookstores, publicity people, strangers, friends, you name it. There’s just one little number wrong but damn it, that hurts. Still….There are little things that maybe don’t matter. Like reading PW, ha-ha!
#6 Make the ezine manageable…an organic part of the whole.
Actually, this is critical. I want the family and fertility ezine to be a natural extension of the publishing company and to actually feed the publishing company…
I’m going to stop before I prove that yes, I should have been diagnosed with OCD, like most artists…
- Alaska's Fiddling Poet
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- Catalyst Book Press
- digital imaging technology
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- Ken Waldman
- literary contests
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- small press
- Steve Almond
- the artist's life
- the artist's list
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- traditional publishing
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- writing & publishing