Friday, November 10, 2023

chaos and magic

 I am guessing that, like me,  most poets read articles about the trials and tribulations of fiction writers or non-fiction authors snorting a little to ourselves. Mostly, those are conversations we will forever be left out of, with pretty much no poetry publishing houses offering things like advances or serious promotion, largely since the money is just not there. A friend recently shared this great article on the deflated feelings that sometimes can accompany traditional publishing even if you do manage to sell a large-ish number of books to earn out your advance. That you put a book out in the world, even with a tiny advance, but not a lot happens after the book comes out, except a whole lot of work/expense on the part of the author. We poets are familiar with this, especially a couple books in. But somehow it still shocks other genre writers, how little you make on your creative product. How little anyone cares.How everyone is always on to the next thing. That maybe you should move on too.

In some ways, there's actually a lot of freedom. But also heartache. Since most poetry books that even sell comprise so tiny a margin in the overall publishing industry (which includes the biggies, the academics, the small presses, the micropresses) we don't have that much to lose. But then again, we don't have anything to gain. There is still, even with poets, a desire to help along the press and editors that had faith in your and you work. However small that may be. To do the work that gets books in hands. But it is frustrating when no one seems to be paying attention or listening. 

Of course, the upside is that in self-publishing the last few years, my sales figures are not all that different from the more recent traditionally published books. Maybe slightly less, but still solid for someone who doesn't really do in-person readings anymore, go hard on socials, or hire paid help for promotion. I've no one to apologize to or congratulate but myself. The pressure is off and those books, months and months later, continue to sell in tiny bits and spurts. Outside of the printing costs and shipping, I make a small profit. It's usually just enough to fund the next title and maybe some other nice little shop offerings like postcards and journals, which is pretty much the case with the chapbook series and the press operation in general for years. I can live with this, but it doesn't make it any easier to accept that I will never, even if I try my hardest, be able to make a living at writing creatively. The largest sums I've made have come from contest winnings and reading honorariums. Occasionally, when I still did public readings, I could maybe buy a nice dinner and round of drinks with the night's income. None of us are getting rich. Mind you, these were discounted books I usually had to pay something for beforehand to have copies to sell, but poet math is a weird science. 

One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don't suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange world. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen. I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, bit what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. so we will see how I fare.

Maybe it's chaos. And maybe its okay that it's chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won't. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won't. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It's terrifying and sad. But it's also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.

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