Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Poet, writer, editor L.M. Browning talks about publishing poetry and poetic prose


A longtime student of religion, nature, and philosophy, L. M. Browning has received Pushcart nominations, written a series of contemplative poems, and released a full-length novel. Besides her prolific work as poet, writer, and artist Leslie is co-editor and partner at Hiraeth Press (Independent Publisher of Ecological titles) and Associate Editor of the bi-annual e-publication, Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics. She’s also Founder and Executive Editor of The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature and Founder and Lead-Editor of Homebound Publications.

Mary Harwell Sayler: Wow, Leslie, that’s an impressive list! I could chat with you for hours, but readers will probably want to know about the literary presses and journals you represent. Tell us about the unique perspective of each.

Leslie: At Hiraeth Press our publications reflect the ideal that falling in love with the Earth is nothing short of revolutionary and that, through our relationship to wild nature, we can birth a more enlightened vision of life for the future. We are passionate about poetry as a means of returning the human voice to the polyphonic chorus of the wild, and we produce nonfiction books as well.

MHS: What does “Hiraeth” mean?

Leslie: The Welsh word “hiraeth” encapsulates the spirit by which we strive and hope the books we publish will inspire. A direct translation might be something like “intense longing to belong,” though a more literary reading and a look at its role in medieval Welsh poetry reveals that it is a deep longing of the soul for one’s original homeland. Here at Hiraeth Press we believe that our collective human homelands are the still-wild places of the Earth. We long for a more ecologically and spiritually sane world and believe passionately that poetry is a form of activism on behalf of the more-than-human world.

MHS: Yes! I’ve always believed we’re to be caretakers of the earth even when we “subdue it” – a biblical phrase that led some to put-down and stomp rather than lovingly tend. I had not thought much about an “intense longing” to connect with all aspects of creation, however, until I discovered Hiraeth Press and realized I had a whole manuscript that connected with this theme in my book Living in the Nature Poem. I’ve talked about that before and surely will again, but right now, let’s hear about Homebound Publications.

Leslie: Homebound is my own endeavor. I refer to it as the sibling of Hiraeth.

Going back to go forward is the philosophy of Homebound. We recognize the importance of going home to gather from the stores of old wisdom to help nourish our lives in this modern era. We choose to lend voice to those individuals who endeavor to translate old truths into new context. Our titles introduce insights concerning mankind’s present internal, social and ecological dilemmas.

The stories humanity lives by give both context and perspective to our lives. Some older stories, well-known for generations, no longer resonate with the heart of modern man, nor do they address the present situation we face individually and as a global village. Homebound chooses titles that balance a reverence for the old wisdom while at the same time presenting new perspectives by which to live.

So often in this age of commerce, entertainment supersedes growth; books of lesser integrity but higher marketability are chosen over those with much-needed truth but small audiences. Homebound focuses on the quality of truth and insight present within an author’s writing before any other considerations. We seek books written by soul-oriented individuals putting forth their works in an effort to restore depth, highlight truth, and improve the quality of living for their readers.

MHS: Readers of The Poetry Editor blog will especially want to hear if your publications are open to poems and, if so, what types you hope to find.

Leslie: Hiraeth Press is accepting poetry submissions with a $10 entry fee for our Wild Earth Poetry Prize until December 1, 2012. Each year we choose 2 selections from the entries and offer the authors a publishing contract, 10 complimentary author copies, and a generous 30% royalty contract. The winning authors will also receive a feature spread in Hiraeth Press’ biannual journal, Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics.

As for Homebound Publications, we are currently open to query letters only. We have filled our publishing schedule for 2012-2013 but are always on the lookout for a project that is exceptional. Authors are welcome to submit a query letter outlining a project and their publishing experience (if any.) If the project sparks our interest, we will request the full manuscript.

It is our intention at Homebound Publications to revive contemplative storytelling. We publish introspective full-length novels, parables, essay collections, epic verse, short story collections, journals, and travel writing. For fiction titles our intention is to introduce a new mythology that will directly aid mankind in the trials we face at present.

MHS: What makes you seriously consider one poem or manuscript over another?

Leslie: It is a matter of the right alignment of talent, character, and professionalism. Personally, I look for poetry that is polished, approachable and insightful, but other factors go into my decision too. I look for a professional—a writer who understands the business of writing; one who is organized and level-headed. You would be surprised how much about a writer’s character and work habits can be gleaned from a proposal. Did the author follow submission guidelines or submit blind? Did they proofread their proposal or send it off in haste? Is the proposal laid out in an organized manner or is it jumbled and incomplete? All these things tell me a little about how authors approach their craft and whether this person is someone who would be easy to work with or high-maintenance.

As a small publisher I work with my authors very closely for upwards of 4 years. As such, I look for someone with whom collaboration would be a joy rather than a hassle. Honestly, I don’t care if an author writers a bestseller. If they are going to be a trial I would rather take a pass. I opened Homebound Publications to give voice to deserving writers neglected by the mainstream—to ensure that the mainstream isn’t the only stream (as our mission states.) If I am going to put in hundreds of hours helping authors develop their project and their career, I want to know I am working with a person of kindness and quality.

MHS: Good idea. After you decide to publish a book of poems, what are the next steps authors can expect in the publication process?

Leslie: If I had to break things down I would say there are seven “stages” in our process:

1. Review of submission
2. Acceptance and contract negotiation
3. Proof-reading and copyediting
4. Interior and cover design
5. Pre-publication promotion
6. The release
7. Post-publication promotion.

The review of the proposal is pretty much self-explanatory. We receive a proposal from a prospective author, and the manuscript makes its way around the editorial table. At the end of each season we hold a general press meeting where we decide on our titles for the forthcoming year(s).

After a manuscript is accepted a contract is drawn up. The author is sent the contract and has a few weeks to review it. During this time the lead editor will be available to the author for questions regarding the contract. I always like to give authors plenty of time for this step; I want them to feel comfortable and fully secure in their decision.

After the contract is signed the manuscript moves into proofreading and copyediting. In Homebound two separate Associate Editors read the accepted manuscript and put forth corrections at which time we [the editorial staff] contact the author with our proposed revisions and begin the process of putting together the final draft.

The next step is cover and interior design. In Homebound and Hiraeth we like to give our authors input regarding the design of their cover. (Most publishers do not include their authors in this phase.) We speak to the authors and try to get an idea of the vision they have in their mind of the final product. We then search for suitable artwork, gather 5 or 6 possible images, and share our suggestions with the author. Once a piece of art is agreed upon, our designer sets about the task of laying out the cover. When he/she is done the author is sent the mock-up and gives us feedback. This process continues until a final design is agreed upon.

While the manuscript is being typeset and the cover designed, the promotion of the book is being devised. As a small publisher we don’t have the resources for a nation-wide ad campaign, but this doesn’t mean we skimp when it comes to marketing. We do everything we can to promote our books. For example, we:

Arrange interviews and reading events.

Post previews of the book on our homepage and social media.

Design media kits.

Execute e-campaigns in the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia.

By the time the release of the book comes along, marketing has been underway for at least 2 months. Most authors regard the publication of their book as the end of the road, but actually it is the beginning of the project. When the book is released we pass along a great responsibility to our authors, hoping they will take their book and run with it. At both Homebound and Hiraeth we give our authors a generous royalty (well above the standard 7-12%) because we expect them to work with us to promote the book and ensure that it reaches as wide an audience as possible.

MHS: Poets and writers sometimes turn to self-publishing because they want to retain control over their work. In what ways does a small press give them more voice or involvement than a larger publisher might?

Leslie: Whether or not a publisher is a help or a hindrance, depends on which publisher you choose. You are correct – signing with a large publisher entails giving up a great deal of control over your project without any assurance of wide-scale success, and the same can be said for indie publishers. As a writer, I have worked with small publishers and had little control over the final product. At Homebound and Hiraeth we are publishers, but everyone involved in the presses are also working writers. As such we have sympathy for our authors; we understand that they have put significant time and effort into their project, and they deserve involvement and as much of the profits as we can give them. We genuinely want our authors to be happy with the final product.

Self-publishing is sometimes the proper course of action, especially if your book has a small audience, but self-promoting is a full-time job and can be the end of your career if you don’t know how to present yourself. The key to self-promoting is to let your work speak for itself; it is not selling yourself.

Self-publishing used to be the kiss-of-death in the publishing world. Of course, Kindle-direct publishing has changed the face of the industry. While there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing, the philosophy has arisen that publishing is a right not a privilege and more and more authors are deciding to skip over a publisher in order to retain more rights and keep more of the profits. In the end, however, I think having a publisher can be an asset. Publishers stake their reputations on your talent, they expose you to their established audience, and your editors can use their connections to expand your network. But in the end, it all depends on who your publisher is. The fact that Homebound and Hiraeth have established such wonderful reputations among writers and reader alike is one of my great sources of pride.

MHS: Besides editing, you write poetry and nonfiction too. When you submit your own poems or manuscripts, do you mention your editorial work or does that work against you, for instance, if the editor holds you to a higher standard?

Leslie: I mention my editorial work; whether or not it works for me or against me has yet to be seen. Some who review my work may feel that my experience as an editor gives me an understanding of the process ahead and will therefore make me easier to deal with as a writer. Others might look at my CV and conclude that, as an editor, I will seek more control over the project than a writer with a different background and I will therefore be a pain.

As for whether I hold myself to a higher standard…. When I choose to publish my own work through Homebound Publications—the publishing house that I own—I am forced to hold myself to a higher standard. As Lead Editor I can publish anything I want. This is a wonderful freedom but also requires me to push myself—play editor to myself, as it were. As a writer who owns a publishing house, I could publish 1-2 books a year, but the quality wouldn’t be there. One of the greatest flaws in the independent publishing industry is that books are rushed into publication before they are ready. Looking back on my early works, I criticize myself harshly for my haste. While proud of what I produced, I know now that I could have made my work tighter—more refined if I hadn’t rushed the manuscript into print. Now a more seasoned writer, I tend to take things slower. I would rather release a book every 2-4 years and have the text be strong than take a thin draft of a vague idea, package it, and start selling. It serves only to hurt my own career in the long run.

MHS: Well-said. Thank you so much for your excellent insights, honesty, and information, Leslie. Before we close, is there something you especially want to say to other poets, writers, or editors?

Leslie:
To editors I would say: Set marketability aside and choose a manuscript based solely on merit.

To other poets and writers I would like to say: Don’t seek approval from editors. Don’t look outside yourself for affirmation that your work is good. Decide yourself whether you are pleased with your work and your chosen messages. Then, no matter the rejection you might face in your career as a working writer, you can forge ahead undeterred by those who cannot appreciate your vision. Remember, editors don’t always make decisions based on the merit of a manuscript but its marketability, so their feedback doesn’t always reflect your talent but rather their sales prospectus.

One of the difficult parts of my job as an editor is sending out the very rejection letters I hate receiving as a writer. I deal with rejection in-stride, just as every writer must learn to do, and I try not to let negative feedback diminish my belief in my own voice.

MHS: And such a lovely voice too! Many thanks, Leslie, for letting us hear what you have to say.

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Get news from Hiraeth Press on their June 15, 2012 publication of Living in the Nature Poem by Mary Sayler.

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