Friday, February 28, 2014

Thinking about Submission Fees

By following various interesting threads online, I found myself at the website of Brevity MagazineBrevity publishes nonfiction only and it has to be under 750 words. What caught my eye first, though, which was linked on Gravel Magazine's Facebook page, was this:

"Form Rejection Decoder Thingy"—a cootie-catcher or fortune teller filled with possible rejection excuses. At the link you can download the pdf and make one yourself (mine, above). It's printed on only one side of the page like a one-sheet book. I wish I'd thought of it. The rejections listed are gentle and true. As managing editor Sarah Einstein says on the blog: "The list of things it [the wording of the rejection letter] might mean is infinite. And the truth is, there is no way for you–the author–to know." No use twisting yourself into knots about it. Just keep sending out your work! And don't take it personally! Someone will accept it, somewhere, someday!

Intrigued by the encouraging tone of Sarah Einstein, I poked around the blog and website a bit and thought I might submit a nonfiction piece to the magazine…until I saw they charged $3 for each submission. I've generally made it a rule to shun reading fees, submission fees, entry fees, feeling that it's a lottery. I've always felt writers should be paid to write, not pay to be possibly be published. And I know the chance of acceptance is low. But still, there could be a chance, right?

In July of 2010, they asked the question: Should Brevity Charge for Submissions? They got 305 comments. According to the post, when submitting was free, college professors had been assigning their students the task of sending their essays to Brevity, whether they wanted to be published or not. Some students knew their work was crap and actually wrote that in their cover letters. So it was thought that the submission fee would screen out non-serious submitters. Asking for money up front would serve as a filter. A small fee, but effective, they hoped.

You can see a strong negative reaction to the fee. Many people felt as I do. One person mentioned that writers generally didn't have extra cash and that $3 could mean the difference between having and not having a meal. Another pointed out that those who went to MFA programs could afford to pay $3 since they had been able to afford their education (kind of a strange connection, actually. I read of someone who referred to her writing degree as an"MFA in Poverty").

Another argument in favor of the fee was that the old model of magazines selling ads and subscriptions is outdated, but that magazines still need to generate income. Although they aren't paying printing costs, the online magazines pay for Submittable or other submissions managers, web hosting and email (if they want to sit on something more than a free blog platform), and proofs if they are using a print-on-demand service. Meanwhile, the readers and editors and designers and working for love (or college credit), admittedly their choice.

Having heard these arguments before, I still wasn't convinced. Again, why should the submitters be responsible for the economic health of the magazine? It was pointed out that the fees were tax-deductible. But that still didn't answer my question.

But one line of comments stopped me. Kathy on July 15, 2010 at 12:52pm wrote, "…it costs a good 3 bucks to submit hard copy w/an SASE anyway…" I realized that when the magazine said $3 to submit online, free for snail mail, I had been packaging up the paper, sniffing at the online fee. Deluding myself? Bradley at 12:28 wrote, "When I was in grad school, this money was spent at the post office; now, that money goes directly to the magazine itself…" and he pointed out that "nobody's getting rich running a literary magazine—electronic or print." The choice of paper mail for free or the online fee has already been implemented for some of the higher-profile magazines that pay such as Iowa Review and Ploughshares.

On the one hand, how will the magazines pay writers if the magazines have no income? On the other, why should writers pay to compensate other writers? But, as much as we love the post office and getting paper mail, the reasoning that our money should go directly to the publication and support it makes sense to me. As an impact on the community, it means writers also have a better chance of getting paid.  

Another commenter felt that a good case was made for charging, but perhaps there could be "a submission-fee-free period once a year," which Brevity thought was a nice idea. (Glimmer Train does this.)

And someone else said she gives herself a budget for these kinds of submission fees. The idea that you give yourself $20 a year (and tax-deductible) to submit to magazines you respect and admire (and who pay their writers)  is not a bad one. Post office or magazine? You decide.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Push and Pull of Expression and Technique

Look up the quote "Learn the rules before you break them" and you'll get a mixed bag of tricks from a variety of sources. One suggests the Dalai Lama: "Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively." Another lists Pablo Picasso: "Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."And I've heard it all my life from English teachers. I've been on all sides of this discussion (and there are more than two) and would like to tease them out a little here to see exactly why people keep repeating this phrase in its various forms.

Here is where I confess I didn't want to learn any rules when I was younger. I just wanted to do things my way. I was frustrated much of the time. Nothing came out the way I wanted it to. Now, I believe in a combination of working intuitively and pre-planning. I think you can pre-plan in a loose manner, just enough to give yourself a structure. A few constraints can be helpful to focus your idea, and that's where the rules come in.

Like most of life, we have to hold two different and sometimes conflicting things in our hands. While I have said in the past that there are no book art police, I was referring to aesthetic choices for content and materials. Aesthetic choices are yours and involve your tastes and preferences. But there are technical police. If a book (or writing or other art form) doesn't hold together, if it falls on the floor, if the cover is unintentionally lumpy, if, if, if anything is unintentionally something else, it's wrong. If your aesthetic choices lead to one of those unintentionally wrong things, then you need to choose again. Yep, there are some things that are wrong. Nobody likes to hear that. Hang on a minute. Here's an example.

The turn-ins on the left are just technically wrong. The corners have been cut too close to the board, and the board shows unintentionally. The intention is to cover the board and its corners. The turn-ins on the right are correct. The board and corners are covered.

Can you fix it if you have done it wrong? Sure, there's the band-aid way: pasting the corners you cut off over the gaps. It's not a completely invisible fix, but it is certainly less noticeable than leaving the naked gaps.

Picasso's statement "…so you can break them like an artist" inspired me to think of a new fix for the problem: paste corners over the gaps that are different colors or patterns. Every time you have a new component, you have an aesthetic choice to make. Here, you could intentionally highlight the mistake, or you could even cut your corners too close deliberately because your content is about pushing through difficulties, making do with what you have, or adapting. Always take the opportunity to use your imagination.

Below, board on the left has technically correct turn-ins,
board on the right has the eclectic fixes.

Which brings us back to why you need to learn the rules in the first place. The more technical skills you learn and acquire, the more choices you will have. That may seem antithetical, but it isn't. It means that you have more good possibilities to choose from because you know how things work. We've probably all had those moments where we have an idea but don't know how to execute it. And we do what we can, learning along the way. But there are also times when we've had lots of practice at something and we can get satisfyingly close to our vision. This is not to say that we can make the thing we see in our heads, but we can get closer if we have a variety of technical skills. We might know from experience, for example, that acrylic inks don't work well on canvas, or that Tacky glue is the best solution to adhere an object to a book cover. The way to learn the rules well is to practice and to refine.

"…break them like an artist." On the other side of the rules sit the intuition, the inventiveness, the spontaneity, the imagination, the magical art part. Once the technical skills are in your body, you really can work intuitively. A common mistake is to think there are two diametrically opposed ways of working, to pre-plan or to be spontaneous. In fact, and this is why I think Picasso (if it was Picasso) said to "Learn the rules like a pro," was that pros just do. The planning happens subconsciously, it is built-in. But it is only present because you practiced, you mastered the technique and can use it effectively. You may even dream an idea and find that it actually works in waking life.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Creative Process:
In a recent conversation, an artist told me of the work she was doing that was a kind of homage to the book; she felt the book was endangered since younger people today were used to scrolling on their devices. That alarm has been ringing since the mid 1990s. I wrote then, in a brief article for ArtWeek (a Bay Area art magazine that ran for 40 years—and then again in a blog post on July 4, 2011), that the computer is a tool, that it is useful and has a place, but that the tactile nature of the book cannot be duplicated and will still be desired. The book lives.

When I mentioned this conversation to another writer/artist, the second person reminded me how frustrating it is when the devices change and you cannot get at your content anymore.

Recapping the two discussions with a third person, I expressed my frustration with the changing technologies and having to copy things over into new programs, transfer to other devices, etc.. He said people are used to the changes, but the importance of the paper book is still valid.

As a whole, the three conversations sparked the idea for the letterpress and reduction linoleum block print shown above. (More about reduction prints here.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Studio Rose in Winter

The yard is bare. It's winter. Save for this one rose,
growing against my studio wall.

Happy Valentine's Day, Dear Readers!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Accessorize with Star 82

New! We have some fun and quirky *82 Review accessories that any artist or writer might be pleased to own! You can accessorize your bookshelf, of course, with our (so far) four print issues of Star 82 Review by ordering them from Amazon (and bundling with others orders for free shipping): Star 82 Review 1.1, Star 82 Review 1.2, Star 82 Review 1.3, Star 82 Review 1.4, or get them from CreateSpace at these links (click the numbers on the left):

1.1 Creative (it is difficult to explain "creative")—preview image below
1.2 Skin (identity crisis)
1.3 Floating (shared languages)—preview image below
1.4 Haunting Story (creative dream)

If you've been there and done that, take a look at the *82 accessories from cafepress. You can search on their home page for "star82review" or go directly to our designs for earrings, tea canisters, tote bags and more on our profile page.

Here is a preview of just a few of the designs you can choose from to support our publication.

Thanks for looking!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Pop-Up School" and Library at BAM

Giant rag rug

An exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum that opened January 31, 2014 contains a library as part of its interactive showcase, which is “like a pop-up school.” Curated by David Wilson, who has always been interested in communal art, The Possible occupies most of the ground floor galleries with its own library on one of the upper levels. The wall text up there said the library section is “A space devoted to research and references relevant to the ideas, practices and participants of The Possible. This collection grows as guest artists continue to share readings, recordings, and multisensory collections of inspiration.” In this library, you are invited to browse any of the books on the open shelves and directed to participate in the project by using one of the copiers provided to duplicate a favorite page or passage from one of the books, attach a copy of the cover, clip together with the instruction sheet and leave on a shelf as well. 

Overview of printshop, ceramics, polymer clay areas and upper galleries

As with the rest of the exhibit, the library is a living, growing thing, constantly layering upon itself. Usually, we go to a museum to absorb things already made. This exhibit is intended to promote continuous creation. In an article by Lou Fancer, Wilson is quoted as saying, “We aren’t trying to create artists,” but he does want get people excited about making things. Wilson is attempting to make the abstract concrete: “Art becomes a place…a sight [sic] with potential.” 

Natural dyes and textiles

In this case, what the library contains may not be as important as its continued expansion. While you can get an idea of the books that inspire others, the point is to be inspired to contribute yourself. Based on Wilson’s emphasis on process, it seems unlikely that the library will be catalogued and saved: it just may be ephemeral: of the moment only and another ghost library when gone. 


Polymer clay area

If you can pay to enter the museum on a Sunday, you can have access to the ground floor art studios: braiding a huge rag rug; weaving; dying with on-site plant materials; photocopying and making collaged envelopes; carving potatoes or blocks; creating something out of clay; throwing a pot; or creating things out of colorful polymer clay. If you can pay to enter the museum or come on a free day, then you can have access to the library. Anyone can come in. Nobody owns this library.

The exhibition continues through May 25, 2014.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mystery Valentine Give Away

Inspired by the Mystery Date with a Book at the Alameda County Library, I'd like to offer you a mystery valentine. Choose one of four vintage never mind the press valentines that I made in 1995. Some have handmade paper, all have collage. Just leave a comment with the number you would like, send me an email with your address (see email banner in the right column), and I will send one to you. Unwrap it. Keep it. Mail it to a friend. You decide. The card is blank inside. Free. A gift. Thank you for reading!

Addendum February 7: All valentines have been requested! (See comments) All gone! Thanks for your enthusiastic response! Another day, another give away…

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mystery Date (with a Book)

I had just been telling someone about the old board game Mystery Date. The premise was that each player (girls, of course), had to assemble an outfit that matched the date (a guy, of course: the game was originally issued in 1965, after all). The date was chosen by twirling the plastic doorknob and opening the door. I found the commercial for it on YouTube: "When you open the door, will your mystery date be a Dream?…or a Dud?"

On our weekly library visit, I was surprised and amused to find this Mystery Date display. The blue poster says "Love thy library." Each book was wrapped for Valentine's Day, with a puffy heart sticker and the bar code of the book on the outside.

Ready for a mystery date?
Check something out from this display!
Red wrapping — Adult
Pink wrapping — Teen
Purple wrapping — Children's

I thought this was a hilarious game and a great idea. For someone else. But lately I have been telling myself: find the story. The only way to find the story is to take the next step. If someone is crafting something on the street, stop to ask questions. If a mystery book is on the shelf, check it out! I was wary. I'm reading many books. I don't have time to read a book I'm not interested in. Why did I think I would get a Dud? From its size and thickness and flexibility, I picked a trade paperback and checked it out. The checkout slip listed the title, but I did not recognize it. I still thought it was going to be something like Family Recipes for a Happy Life or Ways to Please Your Man or something equally silly.

I brought it home.

I opened it up.

Neat! Fiction. A book I probably never would have discovered on my own. I began to read. The prose knocked me out. The characters gripped me. Each chapter was its own stand-alone story that revolved around New York City (I'm only on page 86 out of 349 at the moment). I was glad I had decided to go ahead and take the risk. But if I had thought for one second about who had picked the books, I would have smacked my forehead: librarians. Librarians picked the books. Librarians love books and love reading. Of course they would choose books they felt were worthy, books that they loved. I should have been more trusting. The Mystery Dates would all be Dreams!