Wednesday, July 1, 2009

hot publishing trendz part 2 (and poetry)

More things that are apparently hot right now:

HOT: Repentance. e.g. "You've been very, very bad! Here's how to be good!" This trend started with diet books, spread to financial books about "repenting" from your naughty subprime mortgage-taking ways, and is now manifesting itself in a "green" light: "you've been very, very bad to the earth"...

HOT: Abundance: "Wait, don't get rich—appreciate what you already have!" Weirdly, INTERN has been noticing that books about abundance tend to be in hard-cover with thick paper stock, to make them seem weighty and, you know, abundant...with pages...

HOT: Teenage detectives. Do they ever get old?

And now for something completely unrelated. What follows is a short (long?) discourse on poetry. You've been warned.

A while ago someone commented asking THE INTERN to talk about poetry and its market (or lack thereof). Like most writerly young things, INTERN too has had her fling with poetry, even going so far as to briefly intern at a prominent literary magazine.

Let THE INTERN tell you something about prominent literary magazines. This one was run out of the editor's basement, and consisted of two people: the editor, and the managing editor (a former intern of his). That's it. The internship consisted of riding around [city redacted] in the editor's red sportscar listening to art gossip, with the occasional bout of being told what to like. The poetry world, waaaaaay more than the book-publishing world, is extremely tight knit and patronizy. This can be a good thing (Young Poet gets taken under wing of Old Poet, Old Poet helps Young Poet write better and eventually get published) and a bad thing (often the only way to meet said Old Poet is to enlist in an expensive and, INTERN suspects, homogenizing MFA program).

Like book publishers, literary magazine editors often solicit poetry and fiction from writers they know rather than depending on the slush pile for content. But literary magazines are way more likely than book publishers to actually print stuff from da pile. And since they're not really trying to make money off your poem, they don't care so much about your bio—just whether or not your poem's good. Buuuut since literary magazines generally have tiny staffs, whether or not your poem's good often comes down to just 1-3 opinions. The editor at the lit mag THE INTERN interned at enjoyed giving first-time authors a leg up in the world—it made him tingle inside—and was prone to calling them on the phone and introducing himself as Prominent Editor ("*gasp* prominent editor? really? what a thrill to hear from you!"). The poetry world is full of heros and magnanimous patrons. INTERN is not sure whether this is happy or sad.

As for mainstream publishers, the Tragically Hip have it right on the nose: "Don't tell me what the poets are doing/Don't tell me that they're talkin' tough." There are lots of funky, interesting small presses out there publishing good poetry; big publishers generally don't wanna know what the poets are doing unless it's for a big-name anthology coming out around, say, Mother's Day.

INTERN loves poetry. Publishers don't.

That's about it.


  1. (Sorry for the silliness, somehow this came out as poetry.)

    Oh, thanks for this truth, though it may be depressing...
    so what's there to do except to be messing
    with some Big Old Poet's mid-crisis in life
    - which is damn sure to cause dismay to his wife
    and to my dear love - which, besides, I have tried
    on a smaller scale - and decided it might
    not be helpful, on account of more pain than gain...
    And besides, to think *that* will succeed would be vain.
    So what, alas, what is a young girl to do
    with poetic ambitions - except to be blue?

    Thanks anyway!
    poet :)

  2. Intern, would your analysis for short fiction be the same as for poetry? In terms of how incestuous the journals etc.

  3. Anon: actually, INTERN thinks "incestuous" is a little too strong a word for that, a lot of the patronizy/in-crowdiness seems to be well-meaning and not sinister like that word makes it sound.

    anyway, yes, INTERN thinks short fiction faces pretty much the same challenges as poetry, except poetry has it harder!

  4. this is a great site, but i have to disagree with a couple lines on this post:

    1) "literary magazine editors often solicit poetry and fiction from writers they know rather than depending on the slush pile for content."

    not true for all print mags, it depends on the mag. this isn't my blind optimism either. i too have interned at both a big ass nyc publishing house and 2 big lit mags. how they find contributors sits on a spectrum: paris review leans almost entirely on agents, pub house editors and associate editors to source writers for their issues; that is entirely what lit mag associate editors are for: recommending writers (often their students) to the top editors to consider. vqr sits in the middle of the spectrum, getting recs from these sources and from the slush as well -- editor ted genoways is a champ that way, he deserves huge credit. fence (yes, i know for a fact) is on the other side of the spectrum w/ rebecca wolf publishing from the slush nonstop, always has. as does alaska quarterly review, new england review and other big-name university-affiliated journals. i know it's shocking but it's true. call the editors. they'll give you stats. you, me, we can publish in these places. i have, and i know no one there, have no agent, and only send as slush.

    lit mags are of the same species, but there are subspecies w/in this group. can't beoverly simplistic about all their sourcing methods. (but fuck the paris review, closed door bastards.)

    2) "But literary magazines are way more likely than book publishers to actually print stuff from da pile."

    true, but largely because the big nyc consolidated houses don't have the same sort of slush pile: they only accept agented material. you can't just send ms to norton, grove or fsg.

    INTERN, since this is a kickass and helpful site, be clearer before making such blanket statements. i know it's complicated, but that's why it's interesting.

    thanks INTERN!
    Person X