Saturday, August 30, 2008

One Last Thought...

...that I can't quite shake. I don't want this whole situation to adversely affect the poet who was named as the new winner of that contest. It's not her fault that this happened, and she didn't know what she was getting herself into, as this story wasn't public. She's a poet who just wants what we all want--to get her poems out there and let them speak for themselves. So do me a favor--read her book, if it strikes you. And after you do, pass it on.

And with that, I am Officially Done with this whole thing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina

When that whole fiasco happened last month, I had a couple of choices--wallow around in my own misery (which I did for a few days, don't get me wrong), wait until the next round of contests, or research the kind of press I really would want to be a part of. I decided to do the latter, and I was guided to one press in particular.

We've been talking and working on things for the past few weeks. And I knew that I would not take my story public until I had this situation worked out, for various reasons: I would never want the press to be viewed as capitalizing on what has happened on the Internet in response to the story, and I don't want my own intentions in getting this story out there to be misconstrued.

I didn't tell my story to try to get a new home for this book. And it wasn't offered as a wholesale indictment of small presses, or contests, or their judges. I know there are tons of small presses with a great love for poetry and a matching sense of integrity. They provide an invaluable service to the literary community, and contests are a major way for them to raise the necessary revenue to create their books. But I do encourage all poets out there to explore all of their options in trying to find a place for their work--and to research the contests and presses thoroughly as well. (Maybe the way to do it is to choose presses you want to support anyway, and look at your entry fee as a donation to them--with a possible thrilling byproduct for one in __________ entries.)

And finally, I didn't tell my story to be the ruination of anyone or anything. Many, many poets are still going to submit to CPR, as they should. No one has to take my word on anything here (though I can prove every single claim). I just believed that if you're the kind of person who believes that breaking a legally binding contract--and your word--is an acceptable thing to do, then the poets who sign those contracts with you should know that about you--before they sign those contracts.

I don't want to be Known for this situation. I want what I've always wanted--to get my poems out there and let them speak for themselves. And now, finally, I feel like I can turn the corner, and turn the page. I can get on with the real business at hand, and this blog can be what it was always supposed to be instead of how it had to start.

So, that said...

For obvious reasons, I couldn't say anything until it was official and everything was signed (which happened just this morning), but now I can announce that I have some very good news.

C&R Press is run by Ryan G. Van Cleave and Chad Prevost. They are a nonprofit organization with a great love for literature and the highest integrity. And I am thrilled and deeply relieved to have found my home with them.

Now let's just hope they can handle how abusive I am.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Big Heart You

Hi, everyone.

I just wanted to thank you all again for your supportive and insightful comments on these posts. I'm glad that this situation has prompted futher discussions about the ethics of contests and the viability of alternatives--starting your own press, publishing collectives, publishing on demand, micro presses, etc. It's a rich and necessary dialogue, and while it's a conversation that has been happening on different channels for a while, the fact that it is happening so passionately here and now indicates to me that more and more poets need to examine the alternatives and to question their own belief systems about what constitutes "real poetry" and how we as poets get validated. (If I knew how to link to these discussions, I would, but Reb Livingston, Collin Kelley, and Barbara Jane Reyes are having very interesting conversations on their blogs, to name just a few that I've found.)

That said, I also wanted to thank the poets who actually contacted the press itself to ask for their side of the story. It's only fair that we each have our turn, and an audience for that turn, which is why I posted Robert Wynne's rebuttal on my blog. At this point, I realize that it is what it is. They have their version, and I guess they feel justified in breaking a contract over what they acknowledge was just a layout disagreement. And they seem to think there's nothing wrong in breaking that contract and then maintaining that they still own the rights to that work. Or in trying to get the author to pay them off to get those rights back. They're going to say I was "unreasonable and abusive," just like they told me last year's winner was "crazy." They're not going to apologize or try to remedy the situation. And I don't need for them to.

Given what I now know about that press, I'm relieved that my manuscript is out from under them and that it won't be associated with them when it gets released. And whatever you, as new readers of this blog, choose to do with the information that I've given you, and the story I have told, is entirely up to you. Small press, large press, contests or open submission periods, avenues that are conventional or innovative--I wish you luck in finding a space for your poems and in finding the respect that you and your work deserve.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Maelstrom, Part Two

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you for the overwhelming support and kindness I have received from you in the past 24 hours. The comments, the responses, the blog posts, the links--all of them have, quite simply, stunned me. And made me grateful to be part of such an amazing community. Thank you.

I was planning on waiting until tomorrow to write another post, expressing this gratitude, but tonight I received the official response and rebuttal from Cider Press by way of a friend, and I thought it best to address their points and claims and to set this "one-sided blog" straight.

So, for the record, I am posting the rebuttal by Robert Wynne, the formerly silent partner in the Cider Press Review:

Robert Wynne says:

We gave Stacey every single thing she asked for except a photo on the back cover (and we had originally offered that, but she refused to allow us to consider editing the blurbs so it would fit). We spent countless hours and more than $200 of extra money (including purchasing a special font and securing specific cover art) to make the book look exactly the way she wanted. There were certainly misunderstandings along the way, but each one was dealt with as it arose and the only thing we were aware that she was dissatisfied with was the placement of her photograph. In the end, she refused to allow us to publish the book unless we put her picture on the back - when we, instead, wanted to put it inside the back of the book where we deemed it would look better, particularly given the lengthy blurbs on the back.

During the process, Stacey became demanding about every aspect of the book's design, until she became unreasonable and even abusive. At that time we decided to revoke the book award. Since then, she has undertaken a campaign to 'get us back' in whatever way she thinks she can. First she went to a lawyer to assure that she would not have to return the prize money to retain the rights to her book, and we conceded that in an effort to put an end to this unfortunate situation. But she was still apparently unsatisfied, and so she agitated a writer at Poets & Writers (to whom we are providing detailed accounts of precisely what occurred, which may be used in a comprehensive story regarding the matter), and wrote her one-sided blog entry.

Based on her blog entry, she seems to have confused proofreading with editing, since we don't commonly "edit" prize-winning manuscripts but always work with the author to proofread the text for formatting issues only an author could recognize. And she certainly has preconceived notions as to the role of author vs. press, which we can certainly do nothing at this point to rectify. We continue to do what we do because we care about poetry, and want to put out a quality product based on our years of experience as a small press. We have had many good experiences with authors, and very few bad ones. We look forward to more good experiences, and more wonderful poetry, in the future.

I hope that will do the trick.

Robert Wynne
Cider Press Review


That doesn't really "do the trick" for me.

They didn't once address what happened with the previous winner, or the pattern of unethical behavior that has been established in their dealings with their prize winners and has resulted in two consecutive years of legal action against them--and no books by the writers who were chosen by the judges.

They didn't address the whole website debacle and the fact that until I refused to pay Caron Andregg (yes, that's her name) to design my website, everything was fine. My edits and corrections of the editor's mistakes were helpful and great--until this happened. And then I was "becoming demanding."

I also noticed that they didn't address the fact that they insisted upon putting the five-sentence ad and guidelines for the book prize on the back cover *instead of* the author photo. In the Cider Press Review world, it's either chop up the eloquent blurbs of talented writers or ditch the author photo. Getting rid of the ad and guidelines is not an option. Which is why it isn't mentioned.

When each email begins with "With all due respect" and goes on to logically argue for the right to have my picture on the book that I wrote instead of being replaced by a redundant ad and contest guidelines, I'm being "unreasonable and abusive."

And when I ask for a compromise and say that I'm (and I quote) "not comfortable with a book that disrespects its author so blatantly," I am all of a sudden "refusing to allow them to publish the book."

Here's the skinny on that one: I wish I had that kind of power. I wish I could refuse to allow them to do anything. But the truth is, they didn't need my permission for anything. According to the contract we all signed, they had the final editorial say so on every aspect of the book. I couldn't stop them if I wanted to. But rather than respecting that agreement and either moving ahead with the book or working toward compromise, they chose the third option: breaking the contract and revoking the book award.

Mr. Wynne maintains that I'm "out to get them." I guess I understand why he sees his press as the victim here. After all, because I had the audacity to go to a lawyer to protect my rights, they didn't get their prize money back. And because I responded when the writer from Poets and Writers contacted me, I'm "agitating" him.


Yes, Mr. Wynne. I am dissatisfied. Immensely dissatisfied. And if you're going to issue a rebuttal, you could at least address the major accusations levelled against you.

As my lawyer made clear to both of you, you had no legal or ethical reason to do what you did. You see, breaking a legally binding contract is not an ethical option for conflict resolution--especially when one party has more than fulfilled her end of things. And you had no legal leg to stand on in trying to withhold my rights from me, or demanding a ransom repayment of prize money that I rightfully won. Obviously, your lawyer made this clear to you, or else I'm sure you wouldn't have signed the waiver, and this would have become a protracted legal endeavor--just like it did last year.

And no, Mr. Wynne. I am not confused about the differences between proofreading and editing. "Proofreading" is what *I* did to my own book. And "editing" is what the two of you didn't adequately do at any stage of this process. The problem is that I've saved all of our correspondence, so when you try to paint me as being unruly and difficult to work with, I have sheafs of emails that disprove those claims. I'd re-think that strategy if I were you.

But maybe you're right, Mr. Wynne. I guess in the CPR world, I *should* have been satisfied. I should have paid the $1200 ransom to get my rights to my own book back when, in fact, you never really owned them if you didn't actually fulfill your end of the contract. Or I should have paid my $750 bill for legal fees and just shut up about the whole thing.

I should have just rolled over and taken it. But instead, I chose to speak the truth in a way that last year's winner could not--because you and Caron made sure that she couldn't. Of the four contests you've collected money for, only half of the books selected by the judges have come out. And the poets who give you their money should know this--and know why.

But let me clarify one thing, and this is for the record--and for the woman who was named as the (new) winner of the 2007 Cider Press Review Book Award: I am proud of you, and your work, for getting to this point, and I know this is a dream come true for you. I wish nothing for the best for you, and I hope that this dream stays just that--and doesn't turn into what it became for me. And for the winner of last year's prize.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

I had every intention of starting a blog once my poetry collection was taken. That was always the plan. I've been reading and occasionally commenting on other poets' blogs for a long while now, and once I even won the infamous caption contest on C. Dale Young's site. But for some reason, I marked actually getting my book taken as the launching point for something like this.

Like many other poets, I submitted my manuscript to many, many contests. At first, it didn't get much traction, but I kept on revising it and kept on sending it out, and at some point, it started to become a finalist. Which was sweet--the first few times. But it turned into something a little different once it started hitting the double digits. At last count, it reached the number 19.

19 times I was a finalist. Sometimes even first runner up. One time, I actually won the contest, but once my name was put with my ms., it was realized that I had gone to high school with the judge, and even though it was a blind read, and even though he had never read any of my poems, I was disqualified. Apologetically.

So you could say that I didn't have very good luck with this sort of thing.

This past February, I told my husband, who is also a poet, that if my manuscript hit the number 20, if it was a finalist one more time without winning anything, I was going to put it in a drawer and write porn under an assumed name. Later that day, I got the email that I had won! Tony Hoagland had chosen my manuscript, and it was going to be published, with a target release date of January '09.

You can imagine my joy. The muffled-because-my-toddler-is-asleep whoooping silent celebration. The not-so-muffled bottles of champagne later that night. The plans and motions and commotions of the past few months of editing, revising, finding cover art, getting the author photo taken, setting up readings and a website and then...

And then...

And then...

July 22nd, I was notified that my book award was "revoked" and that the press was no longer going to publish it. Even though we had a contract. Even though it was almost all the way done and ready to go to press.


First, let me tell you that this press has a history of unethical dealings with its authors. The only reason why I didn't know this is because last year's winner had to agree to a gag order as part of the settlement with the press. At their insistence, she is not allowed to tell her story, or warn other poets about what happened. So I submitted to a press that I NEVER would have submitted to if I had known.

Which is why I'm writing this post.

Anyway, back to my story. Everything was hunky dory with this press, though I was a little surprised and disappointed that I didn't get one single editorial suggestion from the editor and, in fact, that I had to do the majority of both my own editing as well as the editing for the book as a whole. At last count, I had found and corrected 32 errors--only 3 of which were mine. The other errors were ones made by the editor--jagged margins, dropped italics, misspelled words. But I didn't mind doing the editing. After all, this was my book, and I wanted it to be right.

Early on, the editor had asked me if I would hire (pay) her to design my personal website. At first, I thought sure, why not? It would streamline the whole process. But in June, as we discussed it and she showed me some mockups, I realized that she wasn't going to be able to do what I needed for her to do, so I told her I was going to go in a different direction and get someone else to do it. From that moment on, EVERYTHING changed. And got really, really contentious.

I guess that since this woman designs websites for a living, my choice offended her on some very deep level. And all of a sudden, everything became a power struggle.

My collection is a book-length poem in sections, and as such, there are no titles. The Table of Contents is just an Index of First Lines. And this was fine--until the website debacle happened. Then she decided that it was her right as an editor to assign titles to my poems. What?!?

She actually told me, in one of our exchanges over this, that I needed to stick with the contents of the book and let her and the other editor do their jobs, which included deciding what went in the Table of Contents. Hello? It's the table OF CONTENTS--as in, the contents that *I* wrote. Needless to say, we disagreed. Big time.

That standoff got resolved in my favor, and things were ready to go to press. Then she sent me a mockup of the cover. When I read the blurbs, I just about fell out. She had taken the eloquent and thoughtful words that serious authors like Naomi Shihab Nye, Major Jackson, and Rodney Jones had written and had mangled them--brutally. I mean, chopped up sentences, moving them around so that the subject and predicate no longer talked about the same things. Just butchered them. Without the permission of these authors.

Although I shouldn't have to remind an editor of this, I had to remind her that these were not her authors and that she did not have the right to change what they said so fundamentally without their consent or approval. In fact, since one of the blurb-ers had specifically said she did NOT want her work edited, this presented a real problem.

And the final power struggle began.

She came back and said, "Okay, we'll reinstate the full blurbs, but in exchange, we're taking your author photo off the book."


At this point, you might be thinking that it was a spatial issue, that the blurbs were so long that there wasn't any room for an author photo. No. That wasn't the case at all. In fact, there was enough room left over for the press to put on a five-sentence advertisement for themselves and for the book award for next year, including guidelines. On the back cover of a book!

Let me say at this point that the very last page of the book was already a FULL-PAGE ad for the book award, with a full list of the guidelines. So this five-sentence ad on the back cover was redundant at best and unprofessional to say the least. How many books of poetry do you own? Do *any* of them have ads and guidelines for the book contests on the back cover instead of an author photo?

I argued with them about it, always beginning each and every email with, "With all due respect," but to no avail. I made logical points--blurbs and an author photo are expected on the back cover of a book, but contest guidelines are not. An author photo provides an emotional point of connection and entry between author and audience. None of it worked. This wasn't about what was right, or about respecting the person who wrote the book. It was about power and bruised egos and control.

And when I asked for a compromise, when I said please, can you reduce the five-sentence ad to one or two sentences, or wrap the text around my author photo, I got a certified letter in the mail saying that my book award had been revoked because I wasn't fulfilling my "contractual obligations."

{Update: Because the contract was rendered void ab initio, its contents are not private, and I can clarify this: there were only three things that I as the author had to do according to the contract before the book came out: provide the text itself, my author photo, and my bio. I obviously did those things.}

But it gets even better.

The letter went on to say that even though they had "revoked" the book award and were not publishing the book, the publishing contract was still valid and in effect and that they owned the rights to my book in all its formats. In order for me to get my rights back, I had to repay them the $1000 prize money I had been given as well as give them the $200 they had spent acquiring the cover art for a book THEY were choosing not to publish.

In short, they were breaching the contract, refusing to publish my book, and holding the rights to my own work hostage.

Needless to say, I wasn't going to pay them one thin dime.

I hired a lawyer and told him straight up that I would pay him that $1200 but that I refused to give them any of it. He drafted a letter of demand detailing the ways in which they had broken the contract and giving them one week to sign a waiver relinquishing all claims to my work. If they didn't sign, we were going to move ahead with litigation against them. They signed--immediately. But it cost me almost all of the money that I had won just to keep the rights to my own book--a book, might I add, that was no closer to getting published now than it was a year ago, when I submitted to this contest.

And in the meantime, the day after they sent me this letter of revocation, they gave the award to the runner-up and erased all signs of me, and my book, off their website. Just like they did to last year's winner.

So there it is. A sordid tale, indeed. But unlike last year's winner, I wasn't forced to sign a gag order. And I'm telling my story far and wide, to anyone who'll listen, because the poetry world is small, and it's hard enough to get your work seen and taken seriously. Because it's supposed to work out if you're lucky enough to get that phone call and win that prize. Because poetry presses should be in this because they love poetry and want to produce quality books--not because they have issues and poetic insecurities of their own and need to feel validated and in control. I'm telling this story because once you sign a contract and give up your finalist position in other contests, you shouldn't have to start over at square one--all because an unethical press broke the law and its word.

And I'm telling you this because their new book award contest opens for submissions September 1st, and I want every poet out there who is considering sending their manuscripts to reconsider. Your work deserves to be seen and placed in a press with ethics and integrity. I know it's tempting to just blanket the market and hope for the best, but if you hit with this press, it could happen to you, too, as both of the last two contest winners had to enter into legal action against this press--and neither has a book to show for it.

The name of the press? Cider Press Review. Pass it on.