But I have an ISBN! Chapbooks and the Imposter Syndrome

As you might have heard a bajillion times, my first chapbook has now been published by Evening Street Press, and I’m really excited about it.


If you’re a poet yourself, maybe you’ve read some things about chapbooks and how tough they are to place in bookstores because most bookstores really, really hate them. I didn’t want this to be true — but I’m finding it to be pretty true so far.

Likewise, I don’t know what I thought would happen when I opened my box of author copies. Maybe something like that scene in Pulp Fiction when they open the briefcase or whatever it is, and there’s a mysterious, almost celestial glow?

I guess I expected some type of self-validation, like the song in the Tony Randall movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? that repeats over and over that the main character has “got it made!” and just what a swell, successful guy he is.

Did I think I would no longer be as conscious of the fact that I lack an MFA, and that I am trying to combine my artistic life with a boatload of other stuff? Was finally getting a chapbook published going to put an end to my tendency to compare myself against others — to read contributors’ bios and imagine my fellow poets ensconced in their bookshelf-lined writing rooms or on rustic and deeply fulfilling sabbaticals when they’re not igniting the fire for the next generation of creative young minds? (I know, I know … my fantasy probably does not equal many creative academics’ reality.)

The truth is, whatever level of success I (and perhaps you, too) achieve with my writing, there will always be someone who’s doing more. Oh, look — I have a chapbook, but this other person has a book. Like, a full-on, 60-page book. It’s not much thicker than my chapbook, but there it is. It’s on the shelf right in front of me, in fact — because books do get on bookstore shelves. So what I really need to do is … get a book published. And that’s when I’ll feel like a real poet. Right?

Oh, imposter syndrome, I know you from so many other parts of my life, and yet you always seem so true.

So, how do I get out of this funk and back to being over-the-moon ecstatic about this great thing that has happened, this wonderful gift that I should never take for granted or downplay to myself? How can I quit — just for a little while — looking ahead to the next hurdle and the next and the next? That’s the million-dollar question right there. All I can say is stay tuned.

And if you’ve ever felt this way, too — that some other writer has achieved x, y, and z and is therefore “the real deal,” that there’s some magic something that they have and you don’t … just know that you’re not alone. This may be, in fact, as much a part of many creative writers’ lives as SASEs and submission fees. Maybe the key is to acknowledge that and just keep pushing forward.

(Note: I’m not putting in any links because I just want to get this out, but I encourage you to Google or YouTube both film references and “imposter syndrome,” and … OK, I can’t resist this one link, in case you don’t know the deal about my chapbook, and this other one because Evening Street Press deserves to be recognized.)


My First Chapbook Is Here!




It’s sitting right next to me on the couch, in fact. Shouldn’t it be next to you — or in your hot little hands? Here are a few ways you can make that happen:

  1. Order it from the fabulous Evening Street Press (where you should also order some of the other chapbooks, and their Review),
  2. Order it from Amazon, or
  3. Email me here: marilyn [dot] cavicchia [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you go for option #3, I’ll even autograph it for you — for FREE. I’ll spring for the postage, too, and then at some point, you mail me $10.

What sort of poetry is in Secret Rivers? It’s made up of persona poems in which the speakers are either driving or riding in vehicles on a particular stretch of highway in Ohio. I didn’t start out with any particular intention, but because of the area I was describing, a narrative thread emerged that deals with fracking (hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas). My opinions of this practice are probably clear, but I tried to be balanced and respectful, and to let all my personas have their say — whether they agree with me or not.

I hope you’ll enjoy Secret Rivers. And if you happen to live in Chicago or Columbus, watch this space for news about upcoming readings.






Advice: How Do You Promote a Chapbook?

So, any day now (well, probably around June 1), my chapbook Secret Rivers will come out, from the fabulous Evening Street Press. (Oh, hey, and it’s available for preorder there.) From any of you who have done one of these before, I could use some promotion tips. I don’t want it to just lie there, but here’s the thing: I’m reeeeeally introverted and not given to self-promotion — despite all my blah-blah here and on Facebook and Twitter. Do I walk into my neighborhood bookstore and ask them to stock a few, or is this just “not done” — like, so “not done” that I’ll be laughed out of the store? Not really … but you know what I mean.

Also, I could swear I saw something here on WordPress about bloggers who are authors with things currently out. Does anyone know what I mean, and how I go about telling them, “Me, too?” Also, here is a stupid WordPress question that might vary a lot depending on what theme you use: How do I put the cover image somewhere on my blog, with info on how to order, so that it lives there until I decide it’s no longer needed? (Which would be “never,” or until it sells out — whichever comes first.)

I know I need to line up a reading or two — and this will involve (erk) talking to people and asking if I can do this at their space. I’m on this part. Sort of.

But I keep thinking that there may be other great ways to promote a chapbook, and I’m just not thinking of them. I do not want to fall down in the hustle department. So … How do you promote a chapbook, anyway? Thanks for any ideas!


Will 2014 Be the Year I Solve My Chapbook Problem?

So, I’m ending this year feeling a little bit like I’m spinning my wheels. I spent a long time earlier in the year working on a chapbook and then entering it in a bunch of contests because I really wanted to accomplish that before going back to submitting individual pieces.

But …

Then a long time passed and nothing happened (yet — I think it’s still out at a couple of places. Wait, “think?” —  Yep. We’re dealing in pretty high volume here, and I have zero belief that two publishers will say yes to it, but if that does happen, I’ll cross that happy bridge when I come to it. But yes, you’re right, I should absolutely retrace my steps and figure out where all I sent it, lest some type of Three’s Company-type slapstick disaster occur).

Anyway, then it started to feel as if maybe my prior moderate success with individual poems was a fluke, would never happen again, etc., etc. The more time went by, the more that seemed to be true. Don’t get me wrong — I do (mostly) enjoy the creative process for its own sake, but I really like the submitting, publishing, “Ah, here’s my contributor’s copy!” part, too.

So I got busy with Duotrope and submitted many, many poems and enjoyed decent success with those. I had poems accepted by several great publications (which I will resume telling you about *soon*), met lots of nice people online and in person, and was really excited and pleased. And still am — and grateful, too.

But here I am again, in Chapbookland. Or Nochapbookland. I have a manuscript that I like a lot, and I keep thinking that someone else might like it a lot, too — but I can’t seem to connect with the right publisher.

I’m thinking it doesn’t help that the manuscript is made up of persona poems with a pretty strong narrative thread. When I inevitably get the “you didn’t win, but here’s who did” notice, the winning piece often seems to be about, say, the passage of time on a farm, sharpening the saw blades in the weathered, old shed where Dad once skinned a live deer because that’s what you have to do sometimes. You get me? A rural, beautiful, kind-of-disturbing-in-parts recounting of personal experience. There are spikes of narrative here and there, but the writing is mostly lyrical.

I admire things like that, don’t get me wrong — I just can’t write them.

So … any thoughts on how to crack this nut? Am I entering all the wrong contests? Should I let go of the contest thing (and the prospect of prize money) and just focus on finding the right match?

If you’ve done a chapbook, how did you find your publisher, and how did you know it was a good fit? (And no, I really don’t want to self-publish. I know, I know … but I just don’t.)

Many thanks, and whatever your writing goal is, I hope 2014 is the year you reach it!




From Not Entering any Chapbook Contests, to Two in One Month …

… in zero easy steps.

A funny thing happened today while contemplating sealing the deal on a travel-themed chapbook (entries are due June 15 — yikes, I just rediscovered that fact yesterday). Well, the first funny thing is that I don’t at all consider myself to be a writer of travel poetry … but when I sifted through the 60-some poems I wrote in April, I found that many of my favorites were about travel in general or about specific locations.

But what happened today is that I found myself reaching back to a previous idea, which was a chapbook of persona poems. I entered it in one contest last fall, it didn’t win, and I promptly shelved it. But I love persona poems and the energy of writing as someone else for a while. By now, a lot of those poems feel a little stale, and I’ve since written other persona poems that I like better — and that I was sorry to cut because they didn’t fit my travel theme.

Sooooo … now I’m planning to do the one that’s due June 15 and another that’s due June 30. Two things: 1) I believe this gives me a handy carte blanche not to write anything new for a while, other than for Open Link Night, which I enjoy each Tuesday, and 2) I am going to have to speed up my usual process considerably.

What’s my usual process? 1) Print everything — everything — out. 2) Sift through it many, many times to choose the best ones. 3) Look for a theme and regretfully pull out any that don’t fit. 4) Find an order that makes sense. 5) Put the pages together in “spread” fashion — facing each other, that is — so I can see how they might pair in book form. 6) Carry the pages around with me for days on end, rereading, making tiny changes, reprinting, rereading — until I’m so sick of the whole thing that I have to get it out of my house … now.

For my travel-themed one, I added a little something extra to step 6, which was to set aside the whole thing for a few days, only to come back to it and find that my order was all messed up and I had a mixed pile of drafts from various stages. And … this was right before I’d planned to consolidate the whole thing from many files into one. So the order only existed in that hard copy. The good news is, I’m quite sure I didn’t duplicate the previous order — but I actually like the new one better.

What remains for the travel chapbook, which (blessedly) seems to fit the June 15 contest better than the June 30 one, is to pull out two poems that I don’t think work very well and put back in a two-pager that I think is very strong but also very personal and perhaps dangerously honest. I *mostly* think that’s a good decision — and it’s a type of decision I find myself making more and more often.

As for the persona poem one, I suspect I might be surprised by how much work remains. I think there’s a lot that will need to come out — and a lot of new ones to put in. 

So, the travel one is tooth-wigglingly close (my daughter turned 7 yesterday, so this metaphor is very relevant these days), and I have to get it out of my house … if not now, then pretty close to now.

There goes my June … What are you up to?


December’s Projects … Aside from Making Christmas Magic, of Course

First of all, now I know how to post a photo or text here at WordPress — but not both. Please bear with me as I learn my way around …

What I meant to tell you about the two rosemary-themed kitchen decor items in my previous post is that they hung for years in my mom’s kitchen. Her name was Rosemary, so I put these up and to the right of the desk where I always write (in the dining room, where we also do a considerable amount of living). It’s like she’s watching over me, and possibly reading/critiquing over my shoulder. She would not like that I said she was critical — but she was at least as much of an editor as I am. When we finally got our wireless set up, I pictured myself making the most of my newfound freedom by writing from, gosh, another room within our two-bedroom condo. Nope. Almost without exception, here I sit, typing in the dining room. Creature of habit.

This month, my main creative task is to put together a small chapbook from 10 to 20 of the poems I wrote last month for the Writer’s Digest Poem-A-Day Challenge. Chapbooks are something I’ve considered to be a logical next step for me, but they’ve proved to be a tough nut to crack. I have yet to succeed in getting one published — but I’ve found that putting them together is a good exercise, at least. I’ve now pulled together 21 poems that I like pretty well. The last cut is always the hardest.

As for writing, I’m trying to stick to my new rule of writing one poem per day. This can be tough, in both directions. I don’t always feel like writing a poem (in fact, I’m pretty tired right now, and look what I’m doing instead). There are also times when I want to write one after another after another, in hopes that if I rub enough sticks together, something will catch fire. But I learned last month that if I do one — and only one — then I focus my writing energy on it rather than on a handful of lesser attempts. It’s also more manageable once I’m in another revising phase. Trust me, you don’t want to pick through a pile of 80 to 90 poems you barely remember, a few of which *might* be worth something. For December, anyway, this seems like the way to go.

I’m still awaiting word from one more publication and one more contest entry. I have decently high hopes for the former and near-zero hopes for the latter — but it’s still fun to imagine winning it. After that, all my wandering strays from 2011 will have come home, and it’ll be time to look ahead to a new year … whatever that will bring.