why I turned down my chapbook acceptance

As a writer, whenever an email from a press sits in that inbox, unopened, you get a little thrill of excitement, scanning the preview for the expected “Unfortunately, we have decided not to . . .” or the unexpected “We would like to publish…”.

A couple months back, I put together a chapbook of poems. I published three chapbooks before publishing my two full-length books, and I enjoyed getting to know different publishers methods, the experience of curating a collection, and learning how to promote my work. It was excellent practice for a full-length, and they are nice little books on their own, I’d still say.

I know I’m a couple years away from finishing my current 3rd manuscript. I could scramble it together in the next year, but the book will be better if I sit on it awhile, so that is my plan.

Then I have these twenty-or-so poems on a different topic, that one day may be the seed of a 4th manuscript, but that I had no plans to do anything with for years…until I had an idea in the middle of the night for a chapbook and pulled them together, along with a few new poems. Excited, I sent them off right away: 1. to a very large contest (Rattle: I did not win.), 2. to a chapbook press, 3. to a smaller contest.

I didn’t expect it to get picked up anywhere, but #2 emailed me an acceptance last week. Ultimately, I decided to turn them down. I realized I shouldn’t have sent to them in the first place for much of the same reason that I am not sending out my book yet– I do not have much time to promote a chapbook. Now, with a contest, you get a fair amount of Immediate Promotion because you won a *CONTEST!* and it is exciting and people hear about it. But just being published quietly with a small chapbook press? That requires a lot of legwork to promote, legwork I don’t have the time to put in.

So, if the chapbook somehow wins the smaller contest, I will of course work to promote it as much as I can–I did just read PR for Poets (Jeannine Hall Gailey), after all– but this acceptance helped me to realize that I shouldn’t send to smaller presses / non-contest submissions right now, because I need a press or a contest that will come with a fair bit of promotion on its own.

Though I am glad to know my chapbook is up to the standard I hoped it was, I did learn that I should not send out my work if I am not ready, even if it is beyond ready. I need to make sure I have the space to promote and edit and do it due service if I plan to hand it off to editors. It is hard to wait on sending out poems, especially when they feel so ready and I’m so ready to share them with readers, but I need to do what is right by my publishers and by the Work itself.


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