I was published once; my poem was on page one hundred seventy two, between a quaint poem about a dog and a pretty little poem about a rainbow. I’d entered my twenty carefully metered and cleverly rhyming lines of pure genius into a poetry contest whose prize of a thousand dollars was most certainly going to be mine.
Quite simply, the scam operates on the collective vanity of a large population of amateur poets, like myself, who believe that they are much, much better than any of the other vain, amateur poets who might consider entering their largely ill-conceived scribblings-labeled-poetry into such a frivolous contest. The flawed logic continues that each solicited poet should enter his or her work on the merits that he or she has nothing to lose, and everything to gain: a large cash prize, recognition, getting _published_.
I selected one of my favorite poems of the time (I had entitled it “A Change of Heart”), whittled it down from forty lines to what I felt to be a more sleek and svelt version (and, consequently, to fit the contest restriction of “twenty lines or less”), and mailed it off. That stamp was the best investment I could have made at sixteen years of age, I felt, and was sure to provide about a million percent ROI.
A few weeks later, I received a letter stating that I had not one the grand prize, but that I had earned a close second in that they were going to publish my little bit of profound poetic inspiration in their upcoming “Poetry Anthology,” and that I should be proud, because this was a “Real Honor.”
Published! The word sounded spectacular. And, because I was an award-winner, I could purchase the Special Edition Poetry Anthology for the largely discounted rate of $72 + S & H, and even receive discounts on multiple copies, if I wanted to buy them for my friends and family to show off my new-found notoriety. Newly armed with a checking account, I gladly parted with most of its contents and purchased a single volume, “Sure to be an heirloom!”
It wasn’t until I received and opened the Special Volume that I realized what had happened to me. I had been duped. The sheer capitalistic brilliance of this set-up nearly made me sick. Consider: as I see it publishers have two fundamental concerns when seeking to make money publishing books.
High quality content-creators need to be sought out and offered incentives (generally in the form of publishing contracts).
A market for the book must either be developed or found, both of which require some form of advertising, an expensive and sometimes risky affair.
The publishers of the 1996 Poetry Anthology had this formula beat. They could let the content-creators seek them out, happily give them 100% of the content for free, and then turn around and sell the same book back to the same poor fools who contributed to it in the first place. I had to admit, the whole thing was deviously, coldly, and cruelly brilliant.
I was crushed, penniless, and the new possessor of a nicely bound pile of stinking poetry on my shelf that has sat there, untouched, ever since.
So there you have it. I am a bitterly published poet. And I quote:
“The lessons learned in life we find
May serve to rearrange it
The mass of men may make my mind
But only I, can change it.”
_(Poetry Anthology, p.172, lower left-hand corner, across from “My Dog, My Friend”, and below “How Pretty is a Rainbow?”)_