Continuing Letras Latinas' profile of chapbooks, Thelma T. Reyna, author of Breath & Bone, shares advice for aspiring writers on publication, poetry contests, and working with a small press.
Why a chapbook on Finishing Line Press?
As I was looking through the Poets & Writers website, which is one I highly recommend to all authors, I clicked on the "contests and awards" button. (I'd recently begun writing poetry again after a long layoff from writing and publishing. Also, I'd briefly belonged to a local poetry reading group.) I saw Finishing Line Press' announcement of their 2010 New Women's Voices National Poetry Chapbook Competition (their annual event) and decided to challenge myself by entering it. I wasn't one of the finalists or the winner. However, they sent me an email that said they liked my book and would like to publish it. They referred to it as a Semifinalist. Of course, I was totally delighted and said yes. The book will appear this month.
Having a chapbook published counts the same as any other publication in an author's resume. Some authors have dozens of chapbooks to their name. Poets are the ones who most often turn to chapbooks, because chapbooks are perhaps most common for poetry than for any other genre. In today's difficult publishing industry, chapbooks are probably becoming more common and popular than in the past. (This is my perception, which I'd need to research for accuracy.) I believe this is because publishing a smaller book costs less for a publisher than issuing a large volume of writing. Most publishers I've noticed who issue chapbooks are the smaller, independent presses. Finishing Line Press, by the way, is highly reputable and has a strong history of publishing. So publishing a chapbook should also be a point of pride for an author!
There are quite a few chapbook contests out there, and quite a few small presses looking for writers, new and established. As I mentioned, Poets & Writers is a great resource for learning about all this. I subscribe to their emailed newsletter, so I can keep current on contests and new journals as well as new presses. Most authors should do this: keep up to date with what's out there. All this that I've mentioned is at the national level. But the same advice holds for regional and local websites, groups, and publishing opportunities. For example, close to my hometown of Pasadena, CA, is the "San Gabriel Valley Poets," who have their own contests, publish their own chapbooks, etc.
My advice to poets (and other writers) is to enter contests whenever possible. First: this creates a specific goal for the writer, to keep him/her motivated to write. Second: winningat any level (grand prize, finalist, semi-finalist, honorable mention, e.g.) is a boost to the author's reputation, for now the author can add these awards to his/her resume, or--in some cases--even have a seal or medal printed on the front cover of his/her award-winning book, depending upon the contest. This enhances the book.
Thelma T. Reyna, Ph.D. is author of the award-winning book, The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories (2009, Outskirts Press). Her short stories, poems, essays, book reviews, and other non-fiction have been published in literary and academic journals, literature textbooks, anthologies, blogs, and regional media since the 1970’s. Her first poetry chapbook, Breath & Bone (Finishing Line Press, 2011) was a Semi-Finalist in the FLP 2010 New Women’s Voices national competition. Dr. Reyna writes the blog “American Latina/o Writers Today” and is a guest blogger on the e-zine, “Powerful Latinas.”
Pre-order a copy of Breath & Bone at PayPal.com.