In Honor of Indie Bookstore Day

In honor of Independent Bookstore Day this May, I wanted to share some of my favorite bookstores across Pennsylvania and give some reasons for why you should spend some bucks at these places. I’ll also note that according to that Washington Post link I shared, since 2009, indie bookstores have increased nationwide by 25 percent. That is indeed something worth celebrating, especially since so many people declared bookstores would be dead by now, once Borders went out of business in 2009 and Barnes n Noble closed a slew of stores. Maybe the gradual demise of the behemoths led to the increase in indie bookstores. Regardless, indie bookstores provide important community spaces, so their growth is worth nothing.

With that said, here are some of my favorites:

Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg PA.  This store sells new and used books as well as some oddities and rarities. Simply put, this shop is HUGE and features thousands and thousands of books. Each genre, including poetry, features walls and walls of shelves. Furthermore, the staff is helpful and friendly and can help you find the book you’re looking for, or order it for you if it’s not in stock.  Next to The Strand, this is the biggest bookstore I’ve ever been to. Furthermore, the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel runs a wonderful reading series every Thursday, which includes a featured reader and open mic. Check it out!

Farley’s Bookshop, New Hope, PA New Hope is a gorgeous Philadelphia suburb with a lot of colonial history. On its main street is Farley’s. I included this shop on the list because it has one of the largest indie press collections for fiction and poetry that I’ve ever encountered and handwritten notes about each press taped to the bookshelves. This display is front and center of the store.  Also, check out the monthly poetry reading series, which includes a feature and then open reading. Make sure to pet the store cat, too!

Doylestown Bookshop Doylestown, PA Doylestown is another quaint Philly ‘burb. Though the bookshop has reduced its stock in recent years, it can’t be understated how much local authors are welcome to do events, including monthly poetry readings, book signings, and discussion groups.

Sellers Books & Fine Art, Jim Thrope, PA This is one of the finest second-hand bookstores I’ve ever been to, period. Enough said. Oh, and it has a store cat.

This is my list, and I’ll also add Caroll & Caroll’s in Stroudsburg and the Book barn in West Chester. Let’s make sure that we celebrate and shop at the indies as much as possible.

This year, the National Book Awards ceremony was  actually noteworthy because of Portland writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s acceptance speech upon winning the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She used the speech to spear Amazon and American capitalism as a whole.

Here is one of my favorite parts of the speech:

Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers.

and this:

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. 

Here’s a link to a video of the full speech, and it’s well-worth checking out!

Chiron Review

One of my favorite contemporary poetry/fiction/art magazines is Chiron Review, which is based out of St. John Kansas and founded by Michael Hathaway in the 1980s. Over the years, the editors have published some impressive names, including Marge Piercy, Charles Bukowski, William Stafford, Edward Field, among others. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have some poems published in its punk issue. What I’ve always liked about Chiron Review is not only its creative themes, but also its format. For years, the issues, including the punk one, were published in a tabloid format, a bit similar to American Poetry Review.

A few years ago, however, the magazine went on hiatus, sharing the fate of a lot of other print magazines in the country. Fortunately, however, publisher Michael Hathaway announced earlier this year that it would be returning in print format. Recently, the fall issue (97) was published, and my poem, “Listening to Springsteen on I-81,” is included in its pages. I hope that this issue marks a renewal for Chiron Review, especially in the uncertain world of publishing. Its mark on contemporary American poetry has already been made, but here’s hoping for many more issues!

If you have a few dollars to spare, order a copy of the new issue, or even better, make a donation to the magazine. Make a donation to other magazines like it that you enjoy reading so they can keep publishing.

Conversations and Connections Conference

This weekend, I’m heading to Washington, DC to present at the Conversations and Connections Conference, held at John Hopkins University and sponsored by Barrelhouse Magazine and The Potomac Review.

I’ll be part of a panel entitled “Think Small: The Benefits of Working with a Small Poetry Press,” and I’ll be sharing my experience publishing two books of poetry with indie presses. My co-presenters are Dawn Leas and Tony Mancus, one of the co-founders of Flying Guillotine Press. If you’re looking for a good writing conference that is affordable, I suggest heading to Conversations and Connections on Saturday. The registration information and panel descriptions are listed on the website.  There will also be speed dating with editors of literary magazines and publishers, which is a great chance to make connections and share your work.



Why Cover Letters for Lit. Journals Matter

Here’s a little secret. At any given week of the year, I usually have poetry or critical essays in limbo at a dozen or so academic literary journals and magazines, waiting to be rejected or accepted. And, as well all know, writers recieve far more rejections than acceptances. This is all part of being a working writer. However, there are things that can be done to ensure your work recieves careful consideration by the editors and is not just disregarded in the large slush pile. First of all, the work has to count, obviously. It should be polished and revised. Second, there is the issue of the cover letter and writing a good cover letter. There are ways to ensure you’re not just sending the same letter off to every magazine and journal.

Kelly Davio, poetry editor for Tahoma Literary Review, has some excellent advice about what she looks for in cover letters, and she makes some points that I’ve never considered as a writer.  In a blog post,  she notes that editors do indeed look at the biographical information of the writer to ensure they have a diverse range of voices each issue.  So yes,   biographical information in a cover letter counts. For instance, if you’ve worked a number of odd jobs and you’re not an academic, that may be something to put in a cover letter, since most literary journals recieve hundreds and hundreds of submissions from M.F.A. students or tenure-track poetry professors.

She also notes that it’s important to reference how you heard of the journal. This so something I always try to do. Even if I heard of the journal on Facebook or at a conference and have never met the editors, I still mention how I learned of the publication. It’s even better, however, to actually buy an issue to get a better sense of what they publish. Then you can point to a particular writer or work they’ve published that you like.

Finally, like any cover letter, be brief and to-the-point, and don’t assume that prior accomplishments mean the editors will definitely publish your work.

Some Useful Links Regarding Lit Mags


The process of submitting your writing to literary journals can be utterly daunting. One of the most popular databases, Duotrope, now charges a fee for its services, and unless you know what you’re looking for, it won’t yield much for a basic search. Another well-known resource, Poets & Writers magazine, has a classifieds section available online and in the back of the magazine. Some of my publishing credits came from resources I found in that classifieds section. However, that section can be hit or miss, and lately, it features more ads for conferences and grants than it does for literary magazines.

Recently, I started submitting new work to various magazines, and I’ve discovered two wonderful resources. One of the resources is called The Review Review, a website which publishes reviews of various magazines, thus providing information to writers about what the mags are looking for and the type of creative work they typically publish. Furthermore, the website includes a database of literary journals, and I’ve been mining the database every few days for new publishing opportunities. Check out the site and bookmark it. New reviews are published frequently, and new magazines are added to the database.

I also discovered a website created by Jeffrey Bahr, a poet whose work has been published in some of the most prestigious literary journals in the country, such as Iowa Review, Indiana Review, and Black Warrior Review. Basically, Bahr has a list of lit. mags on his website and provides short blurbs about their submission process. He rates them  in terms of difficulty, and Poetry magazine and The New Yorker top the list.  Keep in mind that just about every single publication on his list is fairly well-known, and even the journals at the bottom of the list, such as Main Street Rag, Tar River Poetry Review, and Spillway, have low acceptance rates. (Both Main Street Rag and Spillway rejected my work multiple times before I finally got an acceptance recently in each of those mags). But the list is worth checking out, especially for mid-level writers looking to break into some of the more well-known magazines.

Happy hunting!


An Opportunity for Short Fiction Writers

I received a press release/call for submissions from Pixel Hall Press worth sharing. Later this year, the press plans to start a series entitled PHP Shorts, a “series of stand-alone short stories and novellas that will be published as eBooks. Some PHP Shorts may also be collected into print anthologies.” The press already publishes print and e-books, but wants to launch this new series because of the proliferation of Kindles, eReaders,  iPads, and tablets.

Here is more specific information on the submission process:

Before submitting a story to Pixel Hall Press, send a query email to Wow the editors with a summary or synopsis, then tell them a bit about yourself. They will respond to all queries, but please be patient, since it may take a few weeks. Also, please understand that, as a small boutique publishing house, they cannot say “yes!” to every query, regardless of how good it is.

I know the editorial team behind this press, and they work hard to promote books they publish, so if you write short fiction, this is well worth checking out.

The Slow Death of the American Author

Scott Turow, president of The Authors Guild, has a fascinating, but depressing story in The New York Times regarding the rapidly changing publishing industry and the loss of revenue stream for authors, thanks in a large part to e-books and electronic search engines. Turow begins the article by stating authors have often been considered a fundamental part of democracy. He states:

“Authors practice one of the few professions directly protected in the Constitution, which instructs Congress ‘to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.’ The idea is that a diverse literary culture, created by authors whose livelihoods, and thus independence, can’t be threatened, is essential to democracy.

Turow points out, however, that the livelihood of authors is being threatened because revenue streams for writing and publishing are shrinking. Turow blames this partially on e-books, stating that e-books are inexpensive to produce and the major publishing houses “all rigidly insist on clauses limited e-book royalties to 25 percent of net receipts,” which is about half of a traditional hardcover royalty. He had that many best-selling authors have the power to negotiate a higher royalty, but lesser-known authors, or mid-list authors, don’t have such power.

The article goes on to address the fact that Google recently scanned thousands and thousands of pages of copyrighted material, and authors have made no money from their work when it appears in a search. Google claims that the whole text doesn’t appear, but Turow argues that if you continue using different search words, you can ultimately read the whole text. Google is making money off of this through ad revenue, but authors don’t see a dime.

Sadly, Turow doesn’t provide any remedy to this situation, such as simply supporting bookstores and purchasing books, even if it’s only an e-book.

Salon Says There Is No Short Story Boom

In reaction to a New York Times article stating there is a short story boom, thanks to digital technology and shortened attention spans, Salon published an article saying there is no boom. Laura Miller, the article’s author, notes that the only book mentioned in the Times article selling well is George Saunders’ The Tenth of December, and Miller attributes that to other factors, writing, “Saunders has built a devoted following over the past 17 years, hadn’t published a book in a good while and — most important of all — was heralded in the headline of a long, radiant profile in the New York Times Magazine as producing ‘the best book you’ll read this year.’ All of that could have happened 10, 20 or 30 years ago and produced the same result.”

Yet, the Times articles does not necessarily make the case that short story collections are selling well. (Really, how many books are selling well now-a-days?) The Times instead makes an argument that the Internet has made it easier to publish short story collections and has even given rise to some indie presses focused solely on short stories. Miller does, however, acknowledge that the advent of smartphones changed reading habits, but she wrongly states that the Times claimed smaller screens  have led to a resurgence in the short story. I’m not so sure that is what the Times  articulated but rather that reading habits are changing and the Internet has shortened attention spans. As a creative writing and literature teacher, I see this all the time. Trying to get students to read a novel, or even a long poem, is a challenge. Now I don’t have particular evidence that the Internet has fundamentally altered the brain and changed attention spans, but it does seem likely. The youngest generations have grown up with the Internet, with instant information, and with a culture of soundbites. They want entertainment easy to digest in a sitting or two.

Regardless,  the Times and Salon articles provide interesting debate about the place of the short story in contemporary society and whether or not it is undergoing a resurgence because of the Internet.

Resurgance of the Short Story

Short story writers rejoice! No longer do you have to feel like your medium is the oddball cousin of the novel. According to this recent article by the New York Times, short stories are undergoing a resurgence, due to the Internet and our short attention spans. For a while, the short story market was tough. A lot of publishers didn’t want to release short story collections and instead focused on novels and memoirs. Even some journals shied away, due to a shortage of funds that made their page counts smaller and smaller, thus making micro fiction or poetry the preferred genre.

But all of that is changing, thanks to the Internet. Several well-known fiction authors have released short story collections recently, and the trend will continue. According to the article:

“Already, 2013 has yielded an unusually rich crop of short-story collections, including George Saunders’s Tenth of December, which arrived in January with a media splash normally reserved for Hollywood movies and moved quickly onto the best-seller lists. Tellingly, many of the current and forthcoming collections are not from authors like Mr. Saunders, who have always preferred short stories, but from best-selling novelists like Tom Perrotta, who are returning to the form.

Recent and imminent releases include Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell, whose 2011 novel, Swamplandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Damage Control, a first collection by Amber Dermont, whose novel The Starboard Sea was a best seller in 2012; and another first story collection, We Live in Water” by Jess Walter, just off his best-selling novel Beautiful Ruins (2012).”

While literary journals that have traditionally published short stories may be dwindling, the Internet has offered new publishing opportunities. For instance, Amazon created its Kindle Singles program a few years ago for publishing short fiction and nonfiction. The cost for the reader is cheap and authors get 70 percent of the royalities.  Meanwhile, some smaller Internet publishers, such as Byliner, are pushing short stories.

What the Times article proves is that the Internet is creating yet another change in the publishing world and making it more possible for short story writers to find a market. The article also notes that our attention spans are rapidly decreasing and we want work we can read in one sitting. Short stories, however, have long been around, and some of the most well-known fiction authors of the last century, including Hemingway, Carver, Cheever, and Nabokov, have written memorable short story collections. Now there is an emerging market for such a form.