Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rejection Letters and Submission Fees: Doing Our Job

Few people in the position to select manuscripts for publication expect to earn the goodwill of the many more whose writings they decline. Rejection may become routine for writers, but it never feels routine. It never should. If it always stings, though, shouldn't there be some balm that's equally common? Apparently there is not.

What is a writer to do with a rejection letter? This problem is embedded in the standard process of submission. If one still submits on paper, s/he can always recycle returned pages in a fresh envelope, affix new stamps in the correct amount and send it off anew. If it's on an electronic submissions site, upload and get out the debit card.

If the writer wants to improve her chances at publication, it's hard to know what to do. Who knows why the manuscript was declined? Writers are rarely told a thing. Like a child whose parents are free to tell them only that, "No means No!" the author is infantilized by the publisher whose authority is equally absolute and baffling. Shall s/he revise? Is the work deficient? Or did an intern nix it before an editor laid eyes on it? 

Few writers learn much as the result of rejection. "Good luck with your career." "We receive more submissions than we can possibly publish." Did they read it, one aches to know.

For writers to be denied useful or revealing comment on their submissions speaks to irresponsible practices of publishers, whether we are asking for fees or not. Upper Hand Press asks for a $10 reading fee, and there are people who complain that this is not nice. Poets & Writers takes a position against this, but they do not have a position that suggests that publishers owe writers anything for the chance to read their work. 

Surely one reason editors can't comment to writers is the common practice of allowing multiple submissions: They are swamped. Writers too often submit indiscriminately despite publishers' requests that they do their homework before launching a barrage of manuscripts. 

Upper Hand requires exclusive submissions, and this undoubtedly limits our numbers for the good. From time to time we receive submissions that are very evidently shotgun efforts. I return these. If I am mistaken, the writer can always correct me, but so far no one has.  

It was with the deepest gratitude, then, and a sense that we are doing our job well that we received an email from a poet this week, directing us to a new, two-part post on her blog. In Gifted, Sheryl tells about meeting with me for drinks and discussion after Upper Hand Press had rejected her manuscript. 

While Sheryl writes about the things she learned through her contact with me, she can't write about the great value our meeting had for me. How often do publishers get to speak with the writers who approach them, to sound out their motives, why they wrote as they did, to discover the nature of their minds, where they see themselves coming from and going as artists, how writing fits into their lives as whole people. Such a discussion gives me more knowledge, more experience, and more empathy. It makes me a better, more sensitive editor and publisher. And it gives me a friend and writer to follow.

Sheryl's two posts, Gifted and Gifted (Continued) are gifts to me and to Upper Hand Press: We're doing what we set out to do. Thank you Sheryl!

Ann Starr

Saturday, September 5, 2015

From the Publisher

It sometimes takes others to point out obvious things about oneself. So it was this week, when a friend wondered why I keep three enterprises discrete. "The same mind is behind them all." He urged me not to compartmentalize so absolutely.

I have to thank Rick for bringing this to my attention. He's right. I have assumed that my careers as a visual artist, as a lecturer and teacher in medical humanities (Ann Starr), as an arts writer (Starr Review), and as the owner and senior editor of Upper Hand Press might signal fecklessness rather than fecundity!

Art-maker; art-thinker; authority-questioner; writer. To anyone wondering where Upper Hand Press came from; to the author wondering if this is a likely company to submit to, of course this is all relevant information.

Upper Hand Press will not publish books (or music) unless I personally love it. I publish books that excite me and music that stops my heart. I publish individuals who are deep and whole-hearted about their work, eager to collaborate in establishing their audiences and promoting their works. It is my happiness to midwife for exceptional artists and their creations. 

Publishing has the reputation for being a cruel industry, but I don't want to be that. I come to this as an artist who is learning to run a business. I hope that this makes me searching and respectful. 

The Press editorial board is composed of seasoned writers and teachers who take their time with the manuscripts I send them, always returning extensive and thoughtful comments. Few writers turned down by Upper Hand Press go away without feedback delivered in a personal letter from the publisher. 

How can any of us grow without thoughtful criticism from the people we ask to consider our work? How can publishers feel they are behaving responsibly without doing this? I believe deeply in the importance of art criticism in its most generous construction: Thus, the "rejection letter" must provide content that, at the very least, assures the author that the publisher is paying the attention s/he deserves.

So, in case there could be any mistake, Upper Hand Press has a mission, is a labor of love, and feels to me personally like the project that brings together my hopes to realize some good for the world of art and artists. It is a grand, creative enterprise. It is a work of art, always in process.

It's an expensive one. I have had many blessings of people to help me along the way, but the core investment is mine. In my mid-sixties I invested my IRA and more in the company. I keep my fingers crossed, my drive and idea-generator in high gear. Upper Hand Press is a force for the good, feeding imagination in the world.