Why I Turned Down a Poetry Book Deal

Last Friday, I received an email from a small press with an acceptance for my poetry collection along with a book contract. I found myself shaking with happiness, reading and re-reading the e-mail that would answer a yearly–or heck, a lifelong–dream to get a book published. (Yes, my chapbook is coming out super soon, but I wanted a book out, something more substantial than short and sweet.)

When my mind had settled a little bit, I read over the contract and terms. I learned later that the no advance/contest prize money, 12% royalties, and contributor copies I was offered are usually part of a pretty standard poetry book contract. Something about the offer or whatever didn’t feel right to me though, so I asked for advice on Facebook and got these questions to consider:

  • How long has the press been in existence? Will they still be going strong in 5 years and therefore still be able to be counted on to sell my book?
  • What is their track record? How many good books have they published?
  • What kind of marketing/promotion do they do? Do they send out review copies, submit for major prizes?
  • How many contributor copies will you get and how reasonable is the cost for purchasing more?
  • How do you like the layout, covers , etc. of their other books?

While I don’t want to give anything away about the press, my answers to a lot of these questions were in the negative. Publishing my book with them would also mean I would no longer qualify for First Book contests and other newbie awards or grants. Also, since I don’t have a job that is predicated on my need to get a book published (and thank goodness for that), I could wait.

Even though I made up my mind that partnering with this press wasn’t the best fit for me and that I would wait, I still couldn’t send an e-mail that refused the offer. I’d go back and re-read the editor’s kind comments and feel overwhelmed with doubt: “What if this is the ONLY offer I’ll ever get? What if I’m turning down THE ONE?” (This part really felt like trying to get up the nerve to turn down a marriage proposal.)

So, I waited. I talked it over with more people, felt my footing and conviction grow stronger, and finally after a week, I e-mailed the editor.

While not everyone will have the space and time available to do what I did, I felt really empowered being able to make that decision for myself. Yes, I want a book out, but I also want it to feel right. I want to know the press I’m working with is one that has not only chosen me, but I’ve chosen it, and for reasons that make sense logically and emotionally.

For those of you with published books, how did you know the offer was right? Were there sacrifices or compromises you were willing to make or ended up making?


6 thoughts on “Why I Turned Down a Poetry Book Deal

  1. I had some talks with a press and there were a few things that I wasn’t completely impressed by.
    I wouldn’t mind settling if I absolutely had to, but I didn’t want to have any irritating what-ifs rattling around in the back of my head. So I ended up being honest about that, with a press I always loved and fortunately things worked out.

  2. First, congratulations on having your full-length accepted! But also on being clear-eyed, asking questions, and listening to your intuition. Thanks for sharing this post — I’m archiving it as a reminder in case I ever have the privilege of asking the questions you share.

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