Carrying on from a discussion on Poet Mom's blog, I thought I would tell you about our small poetry group and how we applied for a grant and published a book of poems. And yes, there is a poem at the bottom of the post - you can skip to that if you prefer.
The grant application process is probably similar in the United States than in New Zealand, though I imagine there are a lot more alternatives there to apply for. I can't tell you how to find grant providers in the US - in New Zealand the main national funding agency for the arts is Creative New Zealand, whereas for more local projects there is Creative Communities - the same funding provider but with some of the responsibility delegated to local bodies. This is the one we applied to.
The most important thing with a grant application is to read the guidelines, and come up with a proposal that fits the guidelines. Our project wasn't limited to publishing a book of our poetry. It involved getting an experienced poet to mentor the group, provide workshops and edit the manuscript - thus providing income for her, and growth in our field of the arts for us. We had to set out our budget carefully, showing what part of the budget would come from ourselves (or from sales) and what the money would be spent on. And of course, report back when the project was completed.
We couldn't have done this in isolation. The poetry scene in New Zealand is rather small. We attended the same workshops (that is how the group got started, I asked people I met in workshops who I felt I "clicked" with to join me). We attended poetry readings of the Canterbury Poets Collective. This is not as "communist" as it sounds! - merely a local committee which organises readings with invited poets from around New Zealand and an "open mic" first half. There are really only two regular open mic venues in Christchurch - this one which is for reading poetry, and an alternative mostly younger group which is more into performance poetry - the whole "poetry slam" type of scene. Similarly there are two main locally edited magazines for poetry and prose - the more conservative Takahe and the more hip Catalyst. There are others nationwide, of course, but not many compared to say the USA.
By attending readings, submitting poems to journals, and working on committees of various kinds (not all of us, but different members of the group in different capacities) we got to know most of the established local poets. Hence it was easy to find people to write recommendations on our application for funding. There is no particular magic about grant applications - it is really a matter of reading the guidelines and making sure your application fits (and of course, getting it in by the due date).
Once we had the funding it took not quite a year to get the book out - first workshops, then choosing the poems, selecting and editing. We commissioned a student artist to do a drawing for the cover design. One of the group's husbands did the back cover photo. My own husband did the layout using Adobe InDesign. We talked to a local printer who specialises in short run digital printing of books and magazines. They have a very helpful booklet detailing the requirements for formatting of files. I wouldn't hesitate to use the same printer again as they were so helpful. We decided on a print run (200 copies - rather nervously in case we had a lot left over, but it would be dearer to have two print runs of 100 copies at a time). We set a price.
With the books at the printer I went away on holiday and let others in the group organise the book launch. We hooked onto a local book festival which meant we were able to get a venue free, and bought wine, juice and made sandwiches, mini muffins etc for the catering. We sent out invitations to the mailing list of the Poets Collective, and also to friends and relatives, as well as advertising in the book festival programme. We invited a local poet to be MC - he did a splendid job - and we each read a couple of our poems. We signed lots of copies! We were also invited to read on a local access radio station, as part of their books segment of Women on Air.
We sent out a lot of review copies, and we also obtained a list of all the libraries in New Zealand, and sent out an advertising flyer to them. (There are about 4 million people in New Zealand. In the US I would be thinking statewide, or perhaps concentrating on a smaller area in some of the more populous states). We also had a few small independent bookstores stock the book. This came in handy when friends on international e-mail lists wanted to buy a copy, as they were able to order on line by credit card and we didn't have to deal with foreign currency.
That's about it - we had a lot of fun and are set to do it again next year, if our grant application is successful. In fact as we have some money left from the last book, I think we could just about afford to do it without a grant if we raise the price a little. I do think "self publishing" is different from vanity publishing - the latter to my mind being where you pay a publisher a large sum to publish your book, and eventually end up with a large pile of books and a hole in your pocket. With self-publishing there is a realistic expectation of making a profit. It is far easier in New Zealand to self publish poetry, as it is a fairly uneconomic genre for most publishers to take on any but the most well-known poets - even then, there is usually a grant involved to subsidise the costs.
As I promised a poem at the end of the post, here is one from the book:
Songs and Dances of Death
What they did not know was that the curious fertility of the soil came about because they stood on an ancient battlefield. Sometimes they would turn up old bones and once, a skull. They took it to the priest for burial and returned to their ploughing. At night they told the old stories. If you had asked “Can’t you hear the dead crying out?” they would say “It’s only the wind in the wheat”
All summer I read of these things.
In my garden the weeds grew lank.
It rained often. On the path
I could barely make out a small bundle of feathers
In the museum there is a dark blue velvet
cloth. It has covered many at their burials.
As well seek them in the night sky as here
their trace as faint
It is because of their deaths that we have come
this poem is not a sarcophagus
this poem is not a mausoleum
this poem is a brown cardboard box
sufficient to bury one dead blackbird
found on my garden path