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Puffery: Why Am I Doing This?

Poet George Drew at MVSU

Puffery? you ask. We asked our friend George Drew to give our website visitors some insight into the book promotion process, and being a poet, he responded in poetic fashion…

That many of you might, in the heat of compositional battle, ask, Why am I doing this? I’ve no doubt. And after having won the war and you have your brave new book in hand, what then? How do you get the world to pay attention? Well, you send out emails to all your contacts, you take out advertisements, you get your baby reviewed, you do radio or tv spots, if you’re so lucky, and of course you go forth bravely and do readings, whether you like doing them or not. And in the midst of all that labor, you ask again, and again, Why am I doing this?

Certainly it isn’t for fame and fortune: We all know how fleet of foot those are. Why then indeed? Perhaps the reason is more basic than you generally take time to think. Perhaps it is because…

OF PUFFERY

Once I saw a book entitled Just What the World Needs: Another Freshman English Text, or something to that effect. I easily can imagine someone reacting likewise to this book:

“Oh, dear, another book of literary puffery!” Why, then, risk it? I’m not an essayist of any note—no Lewis Thomas, Loren Eiseley, E.B. White. I know I’m not precisely because I know and love the work of these and others of their pedigree so avidly. They’re full bred; I’m mixed, which has its benefits. Whereas I can’t aspire to their elegance of style and thought, I can to a tenacity that’s mine and owes no allegiance to any but my own gut feeling, genes and mental grasp. Why this book? The work exists, that’s why. It’s mine, and I wish to let you in on it. And that’s as close to noble as I get. The rest is skin and blood and bone: I’m damned tired of first having to locate and then lug around in a bulky black binder all these pieces when I want to read them to an audience, as I sometimes do. A single slim—and I do mean slim—volume is much less strenuous, thank you. It’s really that simple. Still, since it also will exist,

I hope you find some pleasure in this book. If so, that’s good; if not, who knows? There might one day be just what the world needs: a Puffery II.

Drumming Armageddon, poetry by George Drew

Guest Post by George Drew author of Drumming Armageddon

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Dress Code for AWP20 in San Antonio

AWP20 ad with Madville/Kestrel events

What should you wear to AWP20 in San Antonio this year?

For those who do not know, AWP is the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and their annual conference is coming up:

#AWP20 Conference and Bookfair

San Antonio, TX
Henry B. González Convention Center
March 4–7, 2020

Key Dates

Materials to View/Download

Social Networking

[I wrote the following observations following #AWP17 in Tampa, though it feels like I started writing them at #AWP16 in Washington DC. I hope my attempt at sarcasm offends everyone equally, but no one gravely!-KD]

I’ve just attended the 2017 Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference with some 13,000 students and faculty from writing programs and universities around the United States in attendance. I sat among representatives of small presses in the cavernous hall that housed the book market. Everyone was trying to attract students to their writing programs, authors to their submission pages, and buyers to their books. Meanwhile, a profusion of recent MFA and PhD grads schmoozed and congratulated one another comparing notes about the dismal state of the academic job market and reminiscing about grad school. Many had job interviews in hotel rooms scheduled around the trendy off-site readings and parties, though with the advent of the Skype interview, the formerly nerve-wracking AWP interview is not now the right of passage it once was. Still, the young guns found their old friends and discussed who had landed increasingly rare tenure-track jobs and who was still on the market and spending hard-earned adjunct wages to be there. They compared the climates of their respective universities—politically and meteorologically. They drank too much and slept too little, while seasoned faculty members chaperoned grad students—the target consumer group for the massive book fair and the audience for the panel discussions and readings in and around the conference.

I sat behind a crenellated battlement of books I couldn’t even give away and watched people stream past for all three days of the conference. White male Boomer-aged professors wore sports coats and jeans, grey pony tails and earrings the fashion accessories of choice. The African American tenured men favored bright silks and glistening shaved heads. All wore “cool” more comfortably than their female counterparts, who, apart from the tastefully professional African American women, appeared to be either crones or mutton-dressed-as-lamb. Since I fall on that spectrum myself, I feel qualified to comment. The crones gossiped a little too loudly, hair in awkward tufts, mascara smudged, while the mutton-dressed-as-lamb draped chic, risqué clothing over skeletal frames a little too casually, their entourage of graduate assistants shielding them from direct light.

The newly tenured wore uniforms of respectability, tattoos covered. Button-down shirts and sweater vests for the men and blouses over cigarette-skirts for the women with stockings and sensible pumps. The millenials dressed in predictable gender-blended variations, hairstyles their most obvious concession to fashion. Extravagant undercuts and outlandish color declaring their lifestyle choices. Students showed facial-jewelry, body art, and outlandish clothes, while professors favored short buzz-cuts.

And there were poets everywhere. At off-site readings, I listened to angst-ridden verses about sex—childhood abuse, and low self-esteem. Young poets marveled that anyone would have them and ended in despair. Old poets read about their mortality, exploring the seasons through metaphor inevitably resigning themselves to the inevitable. Veterans read in the staccato rhythm of gunfire ending abruptly. Despite the repetitive themes, the abundance of creative writing programs has brought about a renaissance in poetry, but knowing how difficult it is to sell poetry, I expressed my dismay at this situation to Michael Gills—a seasoned fiction writer and professor in jeans and cowboy boots. He set me straight explaining that, in his view, all these programs obviously turned out far more writers than we need, but each of those new writers is also a voracious reader. It’s a kind of writerly-readerly circle jerk.

At the end of the day, when selecting what to pack for AWP20 in San Antonio March 4-8, remember who the audience will be. And remember what you are there for. If you want to sell books, dress like someone who belongs on a university campus. “Business casual” is always safe, but if something more casual is appropriate for your audience, then wear that. Be yourself.

What will the weather be like?

We can guarantee that the weather in San Antonio, Texas, is warmer than where you come from. But it will be early march. You shouldn’t need more than one of the following: a light jacket, blazer, hoodie, or cardigan. Bring light weight clothes you can layer. We predict that we’ll all start shedding layers by lunchtime.

Generally in March, San Antonio maintains an average daily high temperature between 71 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 25 degrees Celsius), while the average low temperature ranges between 48 and 54 °F (9 to 12 °C). 56% average humidity. San Antonio tends to get about nine days of rain most years during the month of March. Be sure to have a look at the forcast a few days ahead of your departure for San Antonio.

Where can you find Madville Publishing at #AWP20?

We’ll be in the Bookfair in San Antonio this year, at booth number 1658 alongside our friends at Kestrel Journal of Literature and Art.

A close up of the AWP 2020 book fair map showing Madville's booth #1658 in Sponsors Row

 

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Neon Moon Reading Raised $250 for Casa Juan Diego

By the Light of a Neon Moon: Poetry Out of Dance Halls, Honky Tonks, Music Halls and Clubs

Janet Lowery and Meg Spesia smile for the camera under a blue and white sign reading "Casa Juan Diego 4818 Rose Entrada"
Janet Lowery with Meg Spesia, a Catholic Worker from Chicago now working at Casa Juan Diego in Houston.

With support from the English Department at the University of St. Thomas, Houston, on Wednesday Oct 16th in the Art Gallery on campus, poet Janet Lowery hosted a reading of poetry from By the Light of a Neon Moon, the anthology of poems she edited for Madville Publishing. With the help of the Montgomery Arts Council, fiction writer Cliff Hudder, and 2011 Poet Laureate Dave Parsons, a reading from the anthology was also delivered on Thursday October 17 at Lone Star College, Montgomery campus.

By the Light of a Neon Moon: Poetry Out of Dance Halls, Honky Tonks, Music Halls and ClubsSales from the anthology at both readings amounted to $250.00, all of which was donated to Casa Juan Diego, a House of Hospitality in Houston which provides food, clothing, and shelter—both long-term and short term—to immigrants and the homeless. They accept donations of food, clothing and other items on their premises on Rose Street and online through their website.

Poets from the anthology who read at UST with Janet Lowery included Katie Hoerth,  Lesley Clinton, Winston Derden, and Dave Parsons. Poets reading at Lone Star with Dave Parsons and Janet Lowery included Houston poet Winston Derden and poet Karen Head, editor of the Atlantic Review.

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The State of Publishing in “The Great State”

Gemini Ink Logo

Edit: Sorry if this blog post “The State of Publishing in ‘The Great State'” is coming to you twice. We had a website glitch, and lost some posts, so it’s being reposted.—Kim 😉

Presentation by Kimberly Parish Davis for Gemini Ink Writers Conference: Negotiating Place, July 21, 2019. San Antonio, Texas.

As an independent Texas Press, Madville’s Kim Davis attended Gemini Ink’s annual writers conference in San Antonio and participated in a panel discussion with Katie Hoerth, editor-in-chief at Lamar Press, and Edward Vidaurre, director at Flowersong Books. What follows is the part of the conversation that Kim shared.

About Madville Publishing

We publish literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. We publish approximately 12 book per year, and we’re trying to make one of those books an anthology each year. Our first anthology is our dancehall poetry collection, By the Light of a Neon Moon. That collection was, in fact, inspired largely by a poem editor Janet Lowery and I heard Katie Hoerth read at a book launch for the Southern Poetry Anthology: Texas. It was put out by Texas Review Press, where I used to work. (See page 27—“The Bullrider”). Janet and I noticed that at that reading we heard not one, but three poems that somehow related to dancehalls, and we thought it would be fun to do an anthology with dancehalls as the unifying theme. We were very pleased with the poems we received, which included the work of three former Texas Poets Laureate. In the collection you’ll find a lot of Texas writers, but we also received poems from well-known poets all over the country, and the music in their dancehalls isn’t all country and western. I’m thinking in particular of Gerry LaFemina here, who wrote about Punk Rock clubs. We even received one lovely poem from India.

So, my background is in the University Press environment, and at Madville Publishing we handle our acquisitions in a way that is very similar to the way it’s done at a university press—we get independent reviewers to read the manuscripts we think are promising before we accept them. Our mission is to present language in a playful, imaginative way and to encourage a love of the written word—regionalisms and all. English is our first language, but we adore code switching and idioms from around the world. We publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that straddles borders. While our authors generally hail from the English-speaking academic community, our audience extends beyond the narrow confines of the academy into the popular market, particularly with regard to our fiction, where we have a tendency to stray into adventurous, fantastic, and dystopian realities.

As I lay tossing and turning, unable to sleep a few nights ago, I went to work on what I would say to you all about the state of the publishing industry in Texas, but I can’t talk about the specific case for Texas publishing without discussing the industry as a whole. This past week I had lunch with Texas author and educator Clay Reynolds, my fellow Madville Publishing board member, and this was our main topic of discussion. We agreed that the industry is in chaos everywhere. We also agreed that covers sell books. Forget what they always told us about not judging a book by its cover. With the rise in importance of the internet, visual appeal is of paramount importance. You have to attract readers’ attention with something pretty before they’ll buy the book.

Rising above the competition

And it seems like more people than ever are writing—recording their stories. The difficulty is that there are many of those stories that are heartfelt and important only within a limited sphere, perhaps within a family. Often these books are not thoroughly edited and may not be commercially viable. I thought I was helping a friend to write the story of his life for his family, but our first book, An Englishman in Texas, has taught us some things about judging a memoir. It is the story of one man’s unusual and interesting life. I thought it would make great fiction, and I spent ten years working on this book with the author, Ron Kenney to produce it. Ron didn’t want his life fictionalized, he wanted the real story with pictures. And Ron has proven to me that passion on the part of the author is a key driver of sales. This is one of our better selling titles. And here’s the reason: Ron Kenney is a dynamo—even still today at 88 years of age. He is full of energy and speaks to groups all the time. He’s a publisher’s dream because he enjoys getting out and promoting his book. So, that is a thing we look for when we are deciding what to publish. We ask the question “Will this author help us to sell his or her book?” And you can’t always predict which authors are going to help you. We like to see a marketing plan when we are considering acquiring a manuscript.

Memoir and the abundance of travelogues

Memoir is popular, and if you can get hold of a memoir that has a good hook as well as an author with a following, or who has the potential to develop a following, you’re onto something. After Eat, Pray, Love came out, I started meeting people everywhere who pitched their travelogues to me. I had to tell nearly all of them that ship had already sailed. But there’s always an exception, and I think you’ll see that when Kate Saunders’ Stand in the Traffic: A Himalayan Adoption Story comes out. Katie spent a year in Kathmandu adopting a child. She lived through a revolution, and a variety of Third-World experiences that most of us can’t imagine. And she has a following.

You’re probably not going to get rich—no matter how you publish

Writers today, whether self-published or published with an indie or even a Big-5 press, need to understand that it’s a long, long shot to think you’re going to make any moneywith your writing. It is important to have a bigger reason than that to write. I’ve met a lot of social activists who talk about the state of our world through their poetry. It forms their platform, gives them something to say when an opportunity presents itself to stand up and speak. That sad fact speaks to the state of publishing everywhere, not only in Texas.

Why we love spec fiction at Madville

I learned from a long-time editor friend at Texas A&M UP, Thom Lemmons, that you have to have a mix of popular and scholarly or in our case literary work if you want to keep your press in the black. And that suits us fine, because we love spec fiction at Madville, and a lot of people are expressing themselves this way because we’re all feeling the need to escape from things we don’t like in the world today. Fiction also illuminates social situations without pointing at them directly. Our current fiction titles include No Evil is Wide by Randall Watson, a Houston author and professor who is better known for his poetry, is set in a near future after chaos has set in. Its central theme looks at what happens when a person’s soul has been destroyed. Then we have The Autobiography of Francis N. Stein, with a fantastical protagonist who is the last descendent of the Frankenstein wretch. This story, while it plays with Mary Shelley’s format, also brings into focus modern-day issues and looks at a cast of disenfranchised characters with a white patriarchal politician as the bad guy. And we’re currently in the last week of our current submission period for inclusion in The Runaway Stories Anthology. Short fiction or nonfiction of up to 5000 words.

There’s one other voice needs to be preserved. It’s not a popular voice, but it’s a voice that contains humor and down-to-earth logic that I think it would be sad to lose entirely. The voice of the redneck. I admit it, I’m the daughter of a misogynist bigot. He died January 1 of this year. But in spite of his womanizing and his indiscriminate use of the N-word, he wasn’t all bad.

The other type of voice we love and want to preserve

Let me back up just a little bit and tell you a little of my personal story. I ran from Texas when I was 18, and I stayed gone until I was 37. That was 1997, when I returned 7-months pregnant with an English husband, a two-year-old, a dog, and two cats. I’d worked all over the world for mostly wealthy white Europeans. I spent all those years away trying not to sound Texan, or even to admit I was from Texas. I was ashamed of my Shit-Kicker background. Along the way, though, I met another yachtie from Missouri who loved his accent and his heritage. He taught me it was okay to be the child of rednecks. He taught me that, in fact, there were a lot of stories there that only I could tell—stories worth reading. And of course, the language plays a huge part in those stories. Often, it’s a turn of phrase, rendered well, that makes all the difference. Witness our Sam Pickering’s The World Was My Garden, Too, in which Sam combines his 67 years of classroom experience with a Tennessee gift for language to observations of every-damned-thing he encounters. Sam doesn’t like to mention it, but he’s the guy who inspired Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets’ Society.

So, how do we see the state of publishing in Texas? We see it flourishing. We meet talented authors everywhere we go, and they are eager to help us sell their books. I haven’t mentioned every fabulous book in our current catalog. There isn’t time, but you get the gist. I hope, like us, y’all are just fine as frog’s hair.

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Why Do Writers Need Websites?

Old typewriter keyboard with www keys side-by-side

It’s all about creating a brand

Authors need websites dedicated to their work. This foundational building block of brand creation is essential in today’s world where if you want your work to find an audience, you have to roll up your sleeves and do the bulk of the publicity yourself. This may seem obvious to self-published authors, but it is also true even if your book is published by a big-five publisher. You may think that if a traditional publisher buys the rights to your work, you’re home free, but that is not the case. Publishers’ budgets no longer stretch to a lot of publicity or advertising.

This is true for writers of all sorts. Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, or magazine articles. The Internet is now the first place your audience or prospective publisher will turn when they want to find out about you and your work.

You’ll want to have a website even before you sell your book. It’s ideal to include a link to your website in your signature for query letters to agents and publishers, for example.

Here are the essentials:

Purchase your domain name

(www.yourname.com). It costs about $15/year, and you should do this immediately, even if you are not yet ready to use it. If the name you want is unavailable, come up with an easy to remember variation. If you wait to do this, you may have a hard time securing your desired name, and it may be very expensive.

.com is still the most popular, but people often elect to purchase the .net variation as well so there will be no confusion or lost website visitors. (It is easy to make both domain names resolve to the same website.)

Avoid using dashes or underscores in your domain name. That gets very clumsy when you are giving radio or t.v. interviews.

A Writer’s Website should display the following information:

 

  • Author’s BioSee Best Practices for Writing Author Bios. Note that for your website, you can list ALL the awards and publications. Just keep a shorter version for publication with books and articles.
  • Clips—If you seek freelance work, you need clips. This term “clips” derives from the practice of collecting newspaper and magazine clippings to demonstrate a writer’s published work. These clips may be scanned copies of published works, such as copies of pages from anthologies Your clips may also include links to your articles that have been published online.
  • Samples of your writing—use this term if you don’t actually have any published clips. You need to put your best work on display but be aware that first publication rights are gone once it appears on your website, so the sample you use can only be sold as a reprint later.
  • A Blog—excerpt from: Should You Blog? And If So, What Are Best Practices? by Jane Friedman on the Writers Digest website:For fiction writers and poets, a blog should exercise your creative muscles and let you write in an unpressured way. Sometimes it can help you stumble on insights, as well as new friendships. However, for an aspiring writer, you have to be careful it doesn’t detract or replace the “real” work of writing the book or the manuscript. For nonfiction writers, blogs can be an essential part of your marketing and promotion—the author platform that helps you get published in the first place.

     

  • Sales Pages for your published work. It is not necessary to have an entire online shopping cart. Your publisher or POD vendor will have a page you can link to. You may even be able to earn a few extra pennies from each sale if you sign up for affiliate sales programs. Amazon and B & N have affiliate programs, for example.
  • A calendar to show any upcoming publication dates, book-signings or events you plan to attend.
  • Links to Social Media This is a big subject all its own—just know it should connect to your website.

The least expensive way to get started

I recommend authors with limited resources start by signing up for a free blog like the ones at http://www.wordpress.com. You’ll end up with an address like http://yourname.wordpress.com. You don’t even need a domain name, but if you have one, it’s a simple matter to “forward” your yourname.com domain name to the WordPress address. Your domain registrar will be able to talk you through this.

For just a little bit more

I prefer to purchase domain name registration together with the economy hosting from a well-known registrar www.godaddy.com or bluehost.com. ***BEWARE, GoDaddy will try to sell you all sorts of things when you check out. When you get started, don’t buy anything but the domain name. You can add those other services as needed, but you’ll be wasting money if you don’t understand what you’re buying.***

Kimberly Davis holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and a BA from Columbia College-Chicago in Arts and Entertainment Media Management. She is currently the Director at Madville Publishing, where she solicits literary poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. In addition, Kim has been designing websites for 20 years. See her portfolio at Sublime Design Studio.

Contact her at kpdavis@usa.net to speak to your group.