Sitting on my desk is an invitation to renew my subscription to Poets and Writers, a magazine I have loved and hated over the years. I have treated it as my bible, my oracle – tell me how to get published! Teach me all your secrets and ways! And I have burned with jealousy when new voices, that is, the same white, nerdy, khaki-wearing writers who had the luck or the moxie to be in the right place at the right time, or have somehow broken the glass ceiling, grace the cover.
In recent years, I’ve felt dismissed and insulted by P&W, as well. Their grudging admission that self-publishing exists – and is a booming business – feels akin to acknowledging that the gardener has a family and that the maid might have a social life. It’s there, yes, but no one wants to know about it.
I have published several ways, besides my lifetime of newspaper and magazine articles, my years in journalism. My poetry collection, Amaryllis, was published by Scarlet Letter Press, and the remaining boxes of the press run sit in a corner of my hallway. It sold copies at my launch, and via local book stores, and still sells at readings. But unless I want to pay for the privilege of consigning locally, this little gem will eventually fade away. If you buy it off Amazon now, I walk to the box, select a copy, and mail it to you. When they’re gone, they’ll be gone-like-the-dinosaurs extinct. But P&W respects this.
I self-published my two Doris Diaries women’s history collections: I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do and Reaching for the Moon. These are the real diaries of my great aunt, who was a flapper in the 1920s. Her diaries are hilariously flip, sassy and charming. Since the actual diaries are part of a family trust, I wanted to maintain control of their destiny. I did all the research, writing and transcribing. I paid for editing and publicity. I used iUniverse for the publishing because they would format and manage some of the other publishing duties; the books are available on any ebook platform and also through Ingram or Amazon. The two books are the result of years of dedicated research, study and effort. And both have won numerous indie publishing awards.
But they’re self-published. And I can’t tell you how sneeringly the work has been treated. Reviews refused. Book events turned down. Although Doris, my late auntie, has a growing fan base on Twitter and Facebook as well as in the Portland, Ore. Area where the diaries were written, I have been unable to get bookstores to carry them (even though they have full return via iUniverse). Even Powell’s, the book mecca of Portland, with its warren of aisles, as detailed as a stack just for Portland, Oregon, diaries and autobiographies, wouldn’t take them.
My newest novel, Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, is repped by Booktrope, a hybrid publisher who walks and talks like a trad pub and acts like an indie. That is, I get high caliber editing, design and marketing from my dedicated team and I don’t pay a penny for the privilege; but all books are POD (print on demand) and ebooks are heavily favored. It’s the best of both worlds, and I love it. Booktrope respects me as an author, which is more than I can say for iUniverse, whose reps seems to call on a weekly basis attempting to milk me of more money (good luck with that). Not sure how P&W feels about Booktrope yet.
I’m not an Iowa grad, that is, I have not gone through the much revered Iowa writing program. I do, however, have a journalism degree and a master’s in English, both of which have given me many years of fruitful creative work as well as the means to make a living. Somehow, against the dictums of the canon and the ivory tower, I managed to be named our city’s poet laureate, without ever appearing on the cover of Poets & Writers. Despite the toffee-nosed attitude of P&W, sneering down at the lowly who weren’t selected as a Yale Younger Poet or winning a week at Yaddo, I’ve somehow managed to make a career and a name as a writer.
So do I send in my $9.95 or not?
I’ve been debating. Because I am sick, sick to death of the snotty attitude toward indies. Yes, there’s a lot of indie crap out there. But hello! – traditional publisher are putting out hardcover volumes by Sarah Palin and Snookie and the Kardashian machine all the bloody time. How is that any more respectable than independent publishing? How does that make indies less worthy?
A few years back, I threw off the yoke of verbal oppression in my work – that is to say, I stopped “submitting” my work for “acceptance” or “rejection.” I send in my work. It suits the need or it doesn’t. No harm, no foul. And certainly no rejection. My self-worth doesn’t hang on some random (house) editor’s mood that day.
So can I extrapolate that to my subscription to P&W?
I can — at least, I’m willing to hang in another year to hope for the best. I’ll send in my check. I love the classified ads in the back of P&T, showing me who’s open to manuscripts, nudging me to apply for a retreat. For those alone, the subscription is of value (I don’t believe one should just go to the web site and take for free). I will follow the Four Agreements and not take it personally when, once again, P&W grudgingly admits that some authors are doing well as indies, and don’t need the sacred kiss of the Big Five to succeed.
But it would be nice – wouldn’t it? – if the old guard would be a little more open to the changes in the industry that are coming.
One Reply to “To Subscribe or Not?”
Nice post, Julia. I, too, have a love/hate relationship with P&W and have subscribed/unsubscribed many times over the years. I.e., when I notice that my pile of unread P&Ws has grown too high, I let the subscription lapse. I have never understood why I rarely feel like reading them, why it’s always so easy to put off. Maybe because of the smugness and self regard you describe? Or maybe just because not enough of the content seems that interesting, to me…
I still think it’s a fine publication, tho, and may possibly resubscribe next time!