Suk Award and Commentary

Open for Submissions
Julie Suk Award Competition
Best Poetry Book Published by a Literary Press in 2018

Any poetry book published by a small, literary, or university press that holds a 2018 copyright is eligible. This contest is not open to commercial presses.  Entries will be accepted from now until January 30, 2019.  Final decisions won’t be made until March 2019, so be patient.

To enter, mail 2 copies of your book(must have a 2018 copyright date) and $10 to Jacar Press, 6617 Deerview Trail, Durham, NC 27712.   You can pay online by using the Donate button on our Contact page.  
Writers outside the U.S. may submit pdfs via email.  If you are a finalist you will be asked to submit two copies.

2017 Julie Suk Award Winner

Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books

“The broody hunk of a man on the cover of the book, “Calling a Wolf A Wolf,” 
is a dark precursor of the raw strength of this collection of poems. 
Just say yes to life, Kaveh Akbar demands, and step into consequence.
His desire is “to be letters, not their sounds, but their shapes on a page, 
to grow terrible as molten iron poured down a throat.”  The power of Akbar’s 
words reflects his vision, a “turning on of lamps to double shadows,” the
revelations revealed from his personal struggle with addiction enhanced by 
an ever-present eloquence.
He calls a wolf a wolf.”

Julie Suk


2017 Julie Suk Award Finalists

Congratulations to our 7 finalists!  All are worthy of winning – as are all 24 of the longlist finalists.
Good luck.  And please read these books and support these presses.

Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books
Ruth Awad, Set to Music a Wildfire, Southern Indiana Review Press
Traci Brimhall, Saudade, Copper Canyon Press
Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Bloodroot, Doire Press
Kerri French, Every Room in the Body, Moon City Press
Adam Giannelli, Tremulous Hinge, University of Iowa Press
Andrea Jurjevic, Small Crimes, Anhinga Press

2017 Julie Suk Award long list Finalists

Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books
Ruth Awad, Set to Music a Wildfire, Southern Indiana Review Press
Tara Betts, Break the Habit, Trio House Press
Traci Brimhall, Saudade, Copper Canyon Press
Christopher Buckley, Spanish Notebook, Shabda Press
Jennifer Chang, Some Say the Lark, Alice James Books
Micah Chatterton, Go to the Living, Inlandia Books
Kelly Cherry, Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer, LSU Press
Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Bloodroot, Doire Press
Jehanne Dubrow, Dots & Dashes, Southern Illinois University Press
Patricia Fargnoli, Hallowed, Tupelo Press
Kerri French, Every Room in the Body, Moon City Press
Madelyn Garner, Hum of Our Blood, Three: A Taos Press
Adam Giannelli, Tremulous Hinge, University of Iowa Press
Janice Gould, The Force of Gratitude, Headmistress Press
Lois P. Jones, Night Ladder, Glass Lyre Press
Andrea Jurjevic, Small Crimes, Anhinga Press
Lynn Melnick, Landscape with Sex and Violence, YesYes Books
Cassie Pruyn, Lena, Texas Tech University Press
Khadijah Queen, I’m So Fine, YesYes Books
Jane Satterfield, Apocalypse Mix, Autumn House Press
Michael Shewmaker, Penumbra, Ohio University Press
Raena Shirali, Gilt, YesYes Books
Gillian Wegener, The Sweet Haphazard, Sixteen Rivers Press


2017 – Closed
Best Book published in 2017
by an independent press.

Due to the disruptive weather, from West Coast fires to East Coast snow storms, we are extending the deadline to submit to January 22, 2018.

Any book published by a small, literary, or university press that holds a 2017 copyright is eligible. This contest is not open to commercial presses.  Entries will be accepted from now until January 22, 2018.  Final decisions won’t be made until February 2017, so be patient.

To enter, mail 2 copies of your book(must have a 2017 copyright date) and $10 to Jacar Press, 6617 Deerview Trail, Durham, NC 27712.   You can pay online by using the Donate button on our Contact page.  

Overseas authors may submit by sending a pdf via email to 



2016 Julie Suk Award Winner

Congratulations to Monique Ferrell whose collection Attaversiamo, NYQ Books, won the 2016 Julie Suk Award. Final judge Julie Suk said –

“The title of this book by Monique Ferrill, ATTRAVERSIAMO, is difficult to pronounce, yet I remain enthralled with the contents…the power of her voice… and return again and again, her words full of moxie, at the same time endearing, an arm-around-the-shoulder wisdom insisting love is the “magnitude of our undertaking. . .the knowing breath of life touching gently. . . a great echo that forms this life, calls to the next, and carries everything in between.”

Can’t get much better than that!”


2016 Julie Suk Award Finalists

Helene Cardona, Life in Suspension, Salmon Poetry
Monique Ferrell, Attaversiamo, NYQ Books
Kim Garcia, The Brighter House, White Pine Press
Rachel Richardson, Hundred-Year Wave, Carnegie Mellon University Press
Katherine Soniat, Bright Stranger, LSU Press
Lindsay Tigue, System of Ghosts, University of Iowa Press
C. Dale Young, The Halo, Four Ways Books

2016 Julie Suk Award long list Finalists

Ellery Akers, Practicing the Truth, Autumn House
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Posada Offerings of Witness and Refuge, Sundress Publications
Daniel Borzutzky, The Performance of Becoming Human, Brooklyn Arts Press
Helene Cardona, Life in Suspension, Salmon Poetry
Rob Cook, Last Window in the Punk Hotel, Rain Mountain Press
James R. Dennis, Correspondence in D Minor, Stephen F. Austin State University Press
Melissa Dickey, Dragons, Rescue Press
Monique Ferrell, Attaversiamo, NYQ Books
Kim Garcia, The Brighter House, White Pine Press
Melody S Gee, the Dead in Daylight, Cooper Dillon Books
Rochelle Hurt, In Which I Play the Runaway, Barrow Street Press
Janine Joseph, Driving Without a License, Alice James Books
Jen Karetnick, American Sentencing, Winter Goose Publishing

Annie Kim, Into the Cyclorama, University of Southern Indiana Press

James Davis May, Unquiet Things, LSU Press
Lyn Pederson, The Nomenclature of Small Things, Carnegie Mellon University Press
Catherine Pierce, The Tornado is the World, Saturnalia Books
Rachel Richardson, Hundred-Year Wave, Carnegie Mellon University Press
Jennifer Richter, No Acute Distress, Southern Illinois University Press
Stephanie Rogers, Plucking the Strings, Saturnalia Books
Michael Schmeltzer, Blood Song, Two Sylvia’s Press
Katherine Soniat, Bright Stranger, LSU Press
Lindsay Tigue, System of Ghosts, University of Iowa Press
Arisa White, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing that Happened, Augury Books
C. Dale Young, The Halo, Four Ways Books


2015 Julie Suk Award 

We have two winners for the 2015 Julie Suk Award for best poetry book published by an independent press.

Noel Crook, Salt Moon, Southern Illinois University Press
Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn, University of Pittsburgh Press

Final judge Julie Suk says –
There are times language springs out of poems so strong
and perfectly attuned to subject it knocks us to our knees.
So it goes with Noel Crook‘s astonishing first book, Salt Moon.
Deep tenderness and love compete with the “crush of small
bones” in “a world that could take you in an instant.”
Buzzards wheel, crows on the lawn “bark a raucous code,” and
a “fisted black widow” appears in the sandbox. 

Relishing these images, the reader is compelled to return again
and again to her work.

And there, equally sinuous and authentic, are the poems in
Boy With Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis. His is a brutal world,
yet the rich, emotive language is ever in control.  Who else
has written so eloquently of a lynching as he does in the chilling
poem, “Of Leaves That Have Fallen”?

There is a wild elegance ever present in these wanton
yet deeply intimate poems. One does not question the awards
he has received.

Please buy these two books.  Buy all 5 finalists.  Buy all 16 on the long list.
You won’t regret it.

The 5 finalists are –

Abdul Ali, Trouble Sleeping, New Issues Press
Tara Bray, Small Mothers of Fright, LSU Press
Nickole Brown, Fanny Says, Boa Editions Ltd
Noel Crook, Salt Moon, Southern Illinois University Press
Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn, University of Pittsburgh Press

Congratulations to these 16 poets who made the long list of finalists for the Julie Suk Award for the best book of poetry published by an independent or university press in 2015.

It was difficult to narrow it to 16, there were so many good books published. Special thanks to my two women readers for their thoughtful deliberations and careful reading of all submissions. They shall remain anonymous, although I will say both are published poets.

Now for the difficult task of narrowing this list down to 4 or 5 for final judging. I would recommend these books without hesitation to all readers.

Abdul Ali, Trouble Sleeping, New Issues Press
Tara Bray, Small Mothers of Fright, LSU Press
Nickole Brown, Fanny Says, Boa Editions Ltd
Laura Bylenok, Warp, Truman State University Press
Noel Crook, Salt Moon, Southern Illinois University Press
Gregory Donovan, Torn from the Sun, Red Hen Press
Veronica Golos, Rootwork, Three: A Taos Press
John Hoppenthaler, Domestic Garden, Carnegie Mellon University Press
Jessica Jacobs, Pelvis with Distance,White Pine Press
Kirun Kapur, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist, Elixir Press
Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn, University of Pittsburgh Press
Angie Macri, Underwater Panther, Southeast Missouri State University Press
Nate Marshalll, Wild Hundreds, University of Pittsburgh Press
Kathleen McGookeyy, Stay, Press 53
Catriona O’Reilly, Geis, Wake Forest University Press
Marci Vogel, At the Border of Wilshire & Nobody, Howling Bird Press


2014 Julie Suk Award Winner

In our first 2 years, finalists have been published by presses in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada.

The 2014 winner –
David Roderick – The Americans – University of Pittsburgh Press

Runner ups –
Kelli Russell AgodonHourglass Museum – White Pine Press
Zeina Hashem BeckTo Live in Autumn – The Backwaters Press
Chloe HonumThe Tulip-Flame – Cleveland State University Press
Garth MartensPrologue for the Age of Consequence – Anansi 
Susan Rich Cloud Pharmacy – White Pine Press

” I’m so pleased about my choice of winner–David Roderick. The strange thing is, his book was the first I picked up to read.

“In every city I’ve gotta hear lions roar” and his voice is one impressive roar.

I love these lines, “I’ve always envied how you chance upon/a scene and make a tiny biography of its things.”

And, “. . .every body contains its atlas of salt.” I could go on and on. I am so proud to have him head the pride. This is one book that shall never leave my hands. He is over and above more original than some well-touted poets. How have I missed him?”

16 Finalists for the 2014 Julie Suk Award 

Kelli Russell Agodon  – Hourglass Museum – White Pine Press
Zeina Hashem Beck – To Live in Autumn – The Backwaters Press
Denise Bergman – The Telling – Cervana Barva Press
Meg Day – Last Psalm at Sea Level – Barrow Street Press
Renee Emerson – keeping me still – Winter Goose Publishing
John M. Fitzgerald – Favorite Bedtime Stories– Salmon Poetry
Lauren Haldeman – Calenday – Rescue Press
Chloe Honum – The Tulip-Flame – Cleveland State University Poetry Center
Lissa Kiernan – Two Faint Lines in the Violet – Negative Capability Press
Garth Martens – Prologue for the Age of Consequence – Anansi
Heather Ross Miller  – Celestial Navigator – Louisiana Literature Press
Joseph Mills – This Miraculous Turning – Press 53
Susan Rich – Cloud Pharmacy – White Pine Press
David Roderick – The Americans – University of Pittsburgh Press
Anya Silver – I Watched You Disappear – Louisiana State University Press
Diana Whitney  – Wanting It – Harbor Mountain Press

2013 winner –  Susan Elbe, The Map of What Happened, Backwaters Press 

Susan Elbe, The Map of What Happened, Backwaters Press is the winner of the $500 Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book published by an Independent Press.  This year’s judge was Julie Suk herself, who had this to say about the winner, runner-up and two finalists…

“Jacar Press must be thrilled with the high quality of their entrants. Well, I must tell you I’ve been impressed with those you sent me. Not a dull read among them. I finally narrowed down to four–Alexander, Shapero, Fragnoli and Elbe.”

Meena Alexander -” I can appreciate the dichotomy of a world of beauty versus violence, namely in Meena Alexander’s book. “This world is a muddy garden,” she writes,
“. . .our bodies filled with bones terribly displaced”, ” a world where everything is broken and numinous.”

Natalie Shapero -“And the cheeky Shapero. I’d love to see her work say in five or so years. From the poem, “Close Space”–“I know well the story of the noble/dispatched for life to terrorize/an island. He asked of his king/only to guarantee there would be/women. Would I were there/ to answer:”

Patricia Fargnoli and Susan Elbe –
“Finally down to two, I chose Fragnoli and Elbe. I think it is true to say there are two winners, and here I am having to make a judgement call on these two polar opposites fine writers. I can’t tell you how many times I have read these books and admire them so.

From the book WINTER how could I not resist Fargnoli’s poem “Hunger.”
“It is the gnawing within the silence/of the deep body which is like the pool a waterfall replenishes but can never fill,” or the lines, “If you have seen the snow/…slowly falling into the brook/ to be swallowed by water/ then you have seen beauty/ and know it for its transience.”

“Ultimately I turn to Susan Elbe. Her book, THE MAP OF WHAT HAPPENED, my final choice for winner. Why? The elasticity and freshness of her language in this sensual, resonant love letter to her city, Chicago.

“I came into a house of things that needed fixing ” she writes, “. . . . . I came into a house of things that couldn’t be fixed. A whiskey-warm kitchen corner,/cancer growing in the alcove bedroom,/ the fridge’s lonely hum./The ungraceful way we understood.”

THE MAP OF WHAT HAPPENED is one we all traverse. Would that we could with such resilience and wisdom.
“. . .all night by seed-light/you search in dream, knowing nothing/tells you how far from here to there,/from one love to the next: Drifter,/your heavy pollen-dusted wings/the sweet cello of your body–too freighted to go deep enough.”

In her fraught landscape there is a hidden room where she accepts “the heart is neither fragile/nor indifferent, but street fighter to its core,” like boys in the neighborhood, “street-smart and tender all at once. They were not for me./Still, when they cupped their hands around a match against the wind, bending to its tribal fire,/ those soft fans of eyelashes against their cheeks,/ Lord,/Lord I believed they were.”

Revitalizing the past, she reminds us,”. . . the hinged heart,/trap door to every treasure,/only opens with the word.”

How could I have chosen otherwise. I am so happy with these competition poems–all that you sent. Onward and upward. Julie

Finalists for the 2013 Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book

Meena Alexander – Birthplace With Buried Stones – Triquarterly Books
Mark Jay Brewin Jr – Scrap Iron –University of Utah Press
Helene Cardona – Dreaming My Animal Selves – Salmon Poetry
Kelly Davio – Burn This House – Red Hen Press
Susan Elbe – The Map of What Happened – The Backwaters Press
Patricia Fargnoli – Winter – Hobblebush Books
Tina Kelley – Precise – Word Press
Tony Medina – Broke Baroque – 2leaf Press
Stacy R. Nigliazzo – Scissored Moon – Press 53
Jane Satterfield – Her Familiars – Elixir Press
Natalie Shapero – No Object – Saturnalia Books
Rachel Jamison Webster – September – Triquarterly Books


Accessibility vs. Craft in Poetry 

There’s often a disjunct between what a writer believes is their best work, and what an audience thinks.  Read Richard Krawiec’s guest blog on this subject.

Problems for Independent Writers, Presses, and Bookstores – and Solutions

Back in the 1970s, when I roamed the aisles of bookstores in Boston and Cambridge, all bookstores were independent. I loved browsing shelves where classics, modern writers, and obscure authors published by equally obscure presses stood side by side, all presented as works of equal value.

Every bookstore seemed run by an odd man, sometimes stoop-shouldered, sometimes bearded, who got just as excited talking about literature as fans of college basketball do about the NCAA tournament.

As a young writer these bookstores were refuge and home, a place where the breadth of choices and the knowledge and enthusiasm of the people who worked there gave me hope for my own life as a writer. Readings were rare events, occurring once every few months, and they were always packed. Everyone who attended bought the author’s book in lieu of a ticket for the reading. If you didn’t like the book, no matter – you could trade it in at a used bookstore later. The important thing was to support the bookstore and the writer, whose successes appeared intertwined. We were all part of the same community, the same family.

Through the years I continued to support indie bookstores. I remember visiting Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh when they actually were in Quail Ridge, and had foot traffic of about 12 people a week. When they moved to bigger digs on Wade Avenue, I started their Angel Tree, even hand-delivered the books their customers purchased for children in housing projects in Southeast Raleigh.  It was a good program, serving the needs of both the bookstore community and the larger community.

As a published writer, and now publisher of Jacar Press, I have always supported indie stores. In turn, they have been generous to me and my authors in terms of hosting readings, ordering books. Although my experiences have been for the most part good, I can’t help but notice it hasn’t been the same for all indie authors and presses. The mutual community feel of writer-press-bookstore is changing. Increasingly, independent writers, especially younger ones, and independent presses, don’t feel a sense of loyalty towards independent bookstores. They don’t feel support is mutual. I think this is bad for everyone involved.

Writers and publishers need allies. They shouldn’t turn their backs on stores that have historically supported them. Bookstores, as their customer base ages, need to bring in new customers committed to them. Indie stores can’t afford to lose what has always been a solid core of customers. With the advent of chain stores, Amazon, ebooks, and the explosion of MFA grads and self-publishing options, all indies (bookstores, publishers, writers) need to find ways to strengthen their relationships.

The crux of the situation seems to be this – indie presses and writers often feel under-supported by their local indie bookstores. Bookstores in turn feel indie writers and presses don’t understand the realities of marketing, distribution and bookselling.

Jamie Fiocco at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill says indie stores need to be able to “get the books at a reasonable discount, reasonable shipping and reasonable returns policy. Best case scenario, get the book available at a regular discount and returnable at the wholesalers.”

Her comments are echoed by Tom Campbell of The Regulator in Durham, who pointed out, “Bookstores have cut back on their help and where this shows up most is in the office. It’s really time-consuming to write one check for $20 to this press, another for $30 to that press. It’s easier to write a $500 check to one distributor.” He says indie publishers should be listed in the American Booksellers Association’s on-line Book Buyer’s Handbook (also known as “The Red Book”). “This is the go-to place for independent booksellers to find out how to order books, terms of sale, etc.”

Which, say some indie publishers, is a major part of the problem. Most distributors still want publishers to print up press runs of 2,000 or more, and do offset printing, which is far more expensive than digital. Often distributors charge publishers up to $500 to set up an account, then monthly fees to maintain it. On top of that, they take 15-25% of sales, on top of the 40% bookstore discount. Which means the publisher might only receive 35% of the cover price for each book sold. Plus the publisher pays to ship the books to the stores, and when unsold copies are returned. The cost of having your books handled by a major distributor is prohibitive for many indie presses.   But without a relationship with a major distributor, small presses are required to have at least three titles currently in print and consistent discount and returns schedules for all independent bookstores in order to be eligible to be listed in the ABA “Red Book” database.

Kevin Morgan Watson, Publisher of Press 53, believes “Too many independent booksellers are looking at national sales databases to determine what they should carry, rather than getting more involved with what is also going on regionally and locally to round out their offerings. This would create more sales and a wider customer base. Marjorie Hudson’s story collection, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, has sold 2,000 copies, over 400 of those at two stores in the Triangle [the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina]. Why aren’t other stores selling this book? Because they have convinced themselves there is no market for short stories and by doing so have lost those readers to Amazon and other online booksellers.”

Mention Amazon and you’re sure to draw the ire of every indie bookstore owner. Conversely, most indie presses and authors say a presence there is a necessity given the realities of the market. But indie bookstores feel publisher and author giveaways and 99-cent specials on Amazon undercut their ability to sell print copies of the same books. Indie presses see it differently. Since out most of these sales books aren’t even shelved by the bookstores, how can ebook sales be taking bookstore customers? Not all writers favor selling their books at a deep discount. Although the rationale for giveaways holds that these specials increase one’s audience base down the line, some indie writers believe the opposite. They refuse to participate in free or cheap giveaways, claiming it devalues writing, and creates an audience that expects to get books for free. Most writers would prefer to sell their books through local bookstores, but feel that is often difficult to do.

The single biggest complaint indie writers have about bookstore policies is that the increasingly popular bookstore model – where a writer brings their books to a reading, gives the bookstore 40% of all sales, then removes all unsold copies when they leave – benefits primarily the bookstore. “I wouldn’t mind,” said a writer whose work has been published by one of the larger indie presses, “If they kept even one or two copies on the shelf.”  Without the bookstores retaining even one copy, writers feel there is no reason to support the bookstore. It has ceased to become a partner. “Why should I sell at a bookstore if they’re not even keeping my book?” Why not read at a bar, art gallery, or coffee house and keep all the proceeds, rather than turn over 40% of sales?

Bookstores believe writers don’t understand that it costs to sponsor a reading – someone has to write the press releases, add the announcement to the web, set up the chairs, etc. They also feel writers over-estimate the market, and can’t keep books on the shelves that won’t sell. “We don’t have a magic core customer base,” says Campbell. “In the best of times poetry never sells well. Neither do most story collections by single authors.”

Now with so many books, particularly in poetry, flooding the market, sales, rather than increasing, are on the decline. Everyone wants to publish, but no one wants to buy. With the expansion of readings and open mics, the audiences for bookstore readings are diminishing. It’s up to the writer to help bring people into the store, bookstores feel. But just bringing in an audience isn’t enough.

Everyone agrees that there is a drastic increase in the number of writers who want to see their work in print. Ten years ago only 32,000 books were self-published. A year ago, over 1 million. And it’s not difficult to find a publisher willing to print up a writer’s book if the writer pre-sells 50-100 copies prior to printing. Bookstore owners feel this is a major part of the problem. They say publishers who require authors to pre-sell so many copies of their books before the books are even printed make their authors unattractive for store readings. If a writer pre-sells to their family and friends, who is left to buy the book at the bookstore? Every bookstore owner has a story about readings where they sold no books because everyone in the audience had already purchased copies. There is suspicion among booksellers about this publishing practice.

“There are ‘printers’ out there who are not publishers, and a lot of authors are duped into getting ‘published’ by these outfits. It’s okay to go this route, but the authors need to understand they will be taking a loss if they want to play wholesaler and resell their books to bookstores,” said Fiocco.

For publishers who require this it’s a Catch-22. Pre-sales are necessary to cover their costs. One of the reasons they cite is the difficulty of getting bookstores to carry, and make an effort to sell, their work. By pre-selling they can be sure not to lose money on a book, and in turn be able to publish more work by more writers. All of whom want to do readings.

The increased availability of reading venues may be a problem, too, since the sales are split over multiple venues, rather than being concentrated in the bookstores. In the Triangle area of North Carolina alone, there are probably 15-20 opportunities a month to hear a writer read – at bookstores, coffee houses, open mics, bars, art galleries. Almost all of the writers reading at these venues publish with independent presses, self-publish, or haven’t published a book yet. Difficulties occur for bookstores when writers read at alternative spots, selling books at restaurants and coffee houses, and also want to read at bookstores. “If someone is doing a reading at a coffee house, I won’t host them here,” Campbell said. Writers and presses point out, since the bookstores don’t carry their books, they have no choice but to find other places to read, and sell, their books.

While the open mic phenomenon has democratized the writing scene, especially for poetry, it hasn’t improved the situation for bookstores that need to sell books to survive. Increasingly, in order to draw crowds at bookstore readings, those readings have to have an open mic component. And increasingly, that audience does not purchase books.

To address this problem, many indie bookstores are starting to charge fees for reading events. Jill Hendrix from Fiction Addiction in South Carolina feels it’s necessary to charge a $75 fee to indie publishers or writers if they wish to hold an in-store event. That covers the upfront costs of newsletter, web posting, etc. These events usually draw an audience of 10-15, so, factoring the bookstore cut of sales, the authors don’t really make money, but they consider it good exposure.  And the store keeps those books on its shelf for 6 months.

“This is a business,” Hendrix said. Some people pay the fee, others aren’t interested.

But it doesn’t help that business to have book-buying writers feeling frustrated.

So what can be done about this? Here are my modest proposals. I offer these as a starting point, to encourage dialogue about this issue.

For Bookstores

1) Instead of separating out local or regional authors, mix them on the shelves with those from major publishing houses, so that people who browse the well-known names have the opportunity to come across local writers. 2) If someone lives in your state, keep at least 1 copy of their book on your shelves. 3) If you are going to charge a fee for a reading event, allow the writer to keep the proceeds from the first 6 books sold, so they get something back for their investment. 4) Make sure when you highlight books to include many indie published books too – remember, 2 years ago it was an indie press that published the Pulitzer Prize winning novel. There are many fine indie books that can be suggested as holiday gift books, or excellent reading choices. Don’t just be led to read what the major publishers suggest are their best books. Highlight local and Indie authors, too. 5) Be aware of the serious distribution problems facing indie presses, and try to work with them on that. One solution proposed by more than one bookstore owner is for several small presses to band together to produce events and distribute books., a writer-based co-operative distribution service, is attempting to do just that. It offer bookstores the opportunity to order from 10 presses, 20 authors in one simple online form, and will arrange a readings for bookstores. Order from it. 6) Remember, if you are claiming it is better to purchase from an indie bookstore, you have to be about more than just business. 7) Ask indie presses and writers who wish to have a reading to take on the burden of preparing press releases, newspaper listings, social media listings, etc. – all that upfront work you have to do. Make that part of your agreement for hosting a reading.

For Indie Presses and Writers

1) Band together to create joint-distribution groups. 2)Write up press releases, handle social media marketing, for proposed readings. 3) If indie bookstores do carry a title you published, don’t undercut them by offering that particular book on ebook discount in their market area. 4) Don’t pre-sell your book. Or if you must, ask your friends and family to reserve a copy at an indie bookstore. Or better yet, you, the writer, can collect these reservations and turn them over to the bookstore, encouraging them to order a couple extra copies for their shelves. Then negotiate with your publisher to accept these reservations as part of your pre-sell package. The publisher will actually make more money from that. 5) Don’t do free giveaways or 99 cent sales on Amazon. Unless you’re writing genre fiction, they don’t work. It is never a good model to give away 4,000 free books to sell 10.  People will only be expecting your next book to be free. 6) Don’t book so many readings in the same area that it becomes oversaturated. Honor the indie bookstore sales area if you wish to read at that store. 7) Hone your pitch to bookstores. Publishers can offer a one or two line explanation of why each of their books will appeal to readers, who the audience might be for each publication, so bookstores have a starting point for selling. 8) Give up Starbucks for 1 week every 4 months and use that money to buy books at readings instead of coffee. You can’t sit in a restaurant for 2 hours without buying something. Treat bookstores the same way. That would go a long way towards alleviating the concerns of presses, writers and bookstores.

One last piece of advice to indie bookstores – rethink Kobo. Ebooks are not going to increase your sales of print books. And like it or not, most users, and techies, consider Kobo an inferior product to Kindle. Rather than remind people there are cheaper ways to get books, ways that exclude bookstores, focus on what Indie bookstores always offered in the past, when they were more than just a business – a wide range of literature, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, a mission to support writers and the wider community. The old cliché, charity starts at home, can be recast to “Indies support Indies.”

This was originally written for, and published in the Southern Independent Booksellers blog.



There is no question Mark Doty is one of the finest poets of his generation.  In 2012 he served as editor for the annual Best American Poetry anthology.  In a piece he wrote for Publisher’s Weekly about this experience, he discussed the joy and difficulty of narrowing thousands of poems down to 75. What finally informed his choices?

“…ambition; each of the poems I chose, out of my dauntingly large “maybe probably yes” pile, is trying fiercely hard to get at something crucial, trying to find form and language for what might otherwise go unnamed.”

With his permission, we include a link  here.  Scroll down his blog to find the entire essay.


A Sharing

Often, in my role as editor or publisher, I come upon interesting material forced into the wrong form.  Someone will send me a poem that should be an essay, or an essay that should be a story, or an attempt to expand a short story into a novel.  While there are times specific experiences can translate across forms, usually they don’t.  Writers get into trouble when they decide they want to, say, write a poem, but what they really have is an essay.

The following short sketch by Jodi Barnes, reminiscent of a feuilleton, works well in prose.  Could it be turned into a poem?  I’m not sure.  Some elements might lend themselves to that, but would the meaning change? If anyone wishes to take Jodi’s piece – and she has approved this – and turn it into a poem, feel free to do so and email it to me at  The one requirement is at least 50% of your poem must use the exact words she uses below.  If your attempt works well, I will publish it here.


In 1977, I thought I knew what hard work was. In rural Illinois, corn detasseling, mowing grass and shoveling snow were not odd jobs—they were necessary.

Going to college was not necessary. But I was determined to go and necessary became less about mother nature or buying a car and more about the green I’d need to become someone new.

I applied to a dozen summer jobs listed in the Decatur Herald. The most important-sounding one at Taylor Pharmaceuticals was the one I was lucky enough to get. Minimum wage was $2.30 an hour; this job paid $2.65. Forty hours a week. With my student loans, I would be rich enough to attend Illinois State by mid-August.

I don’t remember the requirement of a uniform. Just to be there before my 7 a.m. shift, which I knew would be the hardest part. But it wasn’t.

My high school had two study carrels, both reserved for juniors and seniors who could listen to either John Denver or Bachman Turner Overdrive on clunky headphones. At Taylor, about 100 mostly middle-aged women didn’t listen to anything but clinks of glass vials as we lifted them from their corrugated nests stacked in boxes, inches from our right arms.

Each carrel’s right interior wall was painted white, the left wall, black. A naked light bulb lit up the box so that we could detect “foreign matter” in each vial’s suspension. How animal, vegetable or mineral ended up in a tube of tetracycline was the most interesting thing about the job, but we were not to ask.

The job required nothing but decent eyesight, which was not tested. You picked up a vial, shook it and held it up to the light against the white wall, then the black one. If you could see a chunk of something floating around, you put the vial in a reject pile. If the specks were small enough, it passed.

My future college roommate Mary and I worked the same shift and experienced that first morning’s 15-minute break together. As we watched all the women walk out into the sunshine, pulling Marlboro and Salem packs out of their pockets, we looked at each other. One of the women came over: “Well, was it what you thought?” She chuckled, but the skin around her grey eyes didn’t crinkle. Her eyeballs just sat in their nests of dark circles. Mary and I must have smiled and said no or that it was alright. The last thing I wanted, I thought, was to be seen as an uppity college girl.

When the woman walked away, a conversation between my roommate and me seemed unnecessary. We stood together under a tree for what could have been an hour or 10 more minutes. In the distance, I watched a farmer mow a pasture. I heard Takin’ Care of Business on his tractor’s radio. Mary said something about remembering to bring cigarettes tomorrow as we slowly walked back inside to what was now required.

–Jodi Barnes


A Sharing

At the recent North Carolina Writers Conference, Nathan Ross Freeman spoke of his belief that every piece of writing in the near future will have an audio/video component. This video ‘poam’ by award-winning(MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant) writer Thylias Moss is an example.  This is composed in layers, like the best electronic music. The layer of the poem, the layer of the ad, the layer of the static photos, the layer of the documentation, the layer of the developing hair image, etc.  You ‘read’ this ‘poam’ by viewing the video and spending as much time with it as you would any complex work of art.  Just as you reread a poem multiple times to crack open the meaning, you must view this video repeatedly to fully understand all its nuances.


Bookstores we like in the Triangle area of North Carolina.

Flyleaf Books is a general independent bookstore in Chapel Hill, NC. They carry both new and used books, and feature author events, films and music events several times a week in our large events space. The store features large regional, children’s, young adult and general fiction sections as well as cards, music and selected games and toys. Flyleaf Books is located in downtown Chapel Hill on MLK Jr Blvd next to Foster’s Market.


Quail Ridge Books & Music, winner of Publishers’ Weekly Bookseller Of The Year, is an independent shop with a friendly, knowledgeable staff dedicated to providing the best in customer service. Founded in 1984 by Nancy Olson, the store provides a wide variety of carefully selected books, events, discussion groups and town hall meetings.QRB’s Readers’ Club offers discounts and other special privileges. They have an active community outreach program. The Music Department specializes in classical, jazz, and traditional music and presents a diverse program of free concerts.


The Regulator is Durham’s oldest community-active bookstore, carrying a full line of literary and mainstream titles. They host readings featuring national and local writers, partner with the public schools, and have been active in the community for 34 years.


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  1. richard krawiec

    Here’s another attempt, from Melissa Hassard

    In the 70’s, going to college was seen as opportunity
    for a woman to find a husband.
    But I wanted escape, wanted to create a life
    and needed money to start my plan.
    The best of what was offered I landed
    a job at Taylor Pharmaceuticals
    which paid more than minimum wage-
    a boon when the only skill required was keen eyesight.
    I was flush at $85 a week
    and I stared into those small vials
    as if they held nothing short of miracle:
    animal, vegetable or mineral.
    Every kid those don’t come in vials
    but that’s okay, we didn’t ask.
    Holding the vials up to a naked bulb,
    we looked for matter.
    We always look for matter, don’t we?
    Small matters were passable
    large ones failed
    and we cast them off, rejected.
    I worked with women
    that weren’t going to college,
    that smoked Marlboros
    You’ve come a very long way, baby
    and for whom this
    might be the life they were building
    On a break I watched them,
    a man on a tractor next door
    plowed a field. A tinny radio faraway
    played a distant and static
    of Takin’ Care of Business.
    It was 1977, and fhis job
    was anything but odd.

  2. richard krawiec

    Lisa Vihos made this attempt to turn Jodi’s prose into poetry.

    Required (after Jodi Barnes)

    That summer before college in rural Illinois
    I thought I knew what hard work was:
    corn detasseling, mowing grass.
    Not odd jobs, but necessary,
    unlike going to college,
    which was so not necessary.
    But still, I was determined to go,
    and so I applied to a dozen jobs
    listed in the Decatur Herald.
    One at Taylor Pharmaceuticals,
    the most important-sounding.
    I don’t remember the requirement
    of a uniform. Just to be there
    before 7 and to have decent eyesight.
    You picked up a vial, shook it,
    held it to the light, scanned it
    first against the white wall
    then against the black.
    About 100 mostly middle-aged women
    lifted glass vials from their corrugated nests.
    A naked bulb lit up the carrel
    so that we could detect “foreign matter”
    in each vial’s suspension. How animal,
    vegetable or mineral ended up in a tube
    of tetracycline was the most interesting thing
    about the job, but we were not to ask.
    If you could see a chunk, reject.
    If the specks were small, it passed.
    At the break that first morning
    all the women poured out into the sunshine
    pulling Marlboro and Salem packs
    from their pockets. One of them came over.
    Was it what you thought? She chuckled
    but the skin around her eyes did not crinkle,
    her eyeballs sat still in their sockets.
    It was all right, I said. The last thing
    I wanted was to be seen as an uppity college girl.
    I watched a farmer mow a pasture. I heard
    Takin’ Care of Business on his tractor’s radio.
    I slowly went back inside for what was now required
    and made a note to bring cigarettes.

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