Saturday, July 20, 2019

Tobi Alier - Editing Prose Poems

Today is “Tobi’s Opinion Saturday”. Today is “Publisher Hat Saturday”.  I hope this gives you some ideas and reminders, and please remember—comments below are always welcome.

You know that I eat/ breathe/ sleep/ live a few things 24/7: family, candy, and poetry mostly. Most of the time I’m writing or submitting, but I do also wear a publisher’s hat. Today that’s what I’m wearing (first time since February 23rd). The following is my opinion only. I hope it helps you. It is not the only way to do things, but in my opinion, it’s the most efficient way. It will keep both you, and your publisher from running for the fireball whiskey rather than the atomic fireballs. So let’s start.

On November 16, 2018 I wrote about prose poems vs. fiction. The same is true about both—they are written margin to margin. They may have paragraphs, and fiction paragraphs may have the first line indented, but there are generally no indents in prose poems. And there are no line breaks.

When you write and submit a prose poem, you do so on normal 8 ½ by 11 page sizes. When a publisher puts this into their journal, or formats it for your book, it will be on 5 ½ x 8 ½, or 6 x 9 pages. The font will be the same or similar as when you wrote it, but the width will be half the size.

What does that mean for your poem? The margins are still the same width, but the writing space is smaller.

What does that mean for you as the writer? Your lines will be shorter, and your poem will be longer.


Let me digress for a moment. Publishers are going to have their name on your book too. They want it to be a beautiful representation of your work, and something you are both proud of. They want your friends, family, colleagues, etc. to want to buy it. They want libraries to carry it. They have no reason to sabotage your book. They are your allies.


Most times your publisher will send you either a pdf to review, a hard-copy proof, or both. Your responsibility is to:

  1. Be prompt in responding

  1. Review every single word and line of the proof

  1. Update your acknowledgments for any newly published work

  1. Make sure the last line of each poem has a period at the end (make sure the last line is the last line)

  1. Obviously if you have a word here and there that you want to change, change it. But this is not the time to be doing major re-writes.  Swap out one poem and you could potentially change the Acknowledgments, Table of Contents (if you have them), AND the poem. Major changes take time. If you’re setting up readings, AND making big changes to your manuscript, you may be putting your publisher in an awkward spot

  1. Remember, any time you have prose poems, you will have lines that end on an article. You will have lines that end with adverbs and prepositions. That’s just the way it is. Prose poems are margin to margin. You must throw away everything you’ve learned about line breaks or you will make both you, and your publisher crazy

  1. If you have jacket blurbs on your back cover, proof them. Trust me on this

  1. Punctuation, typos, and extra spaces. Open quotes with no closed quotes. That’s what you should look for. Depending on the font used, extra spaces can be very hard to see

  1. Unless your publisher specifically asks, do not review the proof and send a whole new document. Send your publisher a document file that lists the changes as follows:

    1. The Happy Dance, page 12. Third line down. “tails” should be “tales”

    1. About the Author, page 32. Line two, change “He” to “She”. Line four, extra space between “several” and “prizes”

Be as specific as you can, and as concise as you can.

  1. Keep a copy of what you send. If you get another pdf or hard-copy proof, check to make sure all the changes were made. You never know what may have happened smack in the middle of making the changes. Your publisher may have had computer problems and something didn’t get saved. I’d recheck everything again—not because I don’t trust my publishers, but because I don’t trust that I caught everything the first time through

The goal? Beautiful books and a long, no-stress relationship with all your publishers.  It’s worth it.

Tasha Learns the Language of Women

The first of any month rain or shine, there’s the rent, taunting like every bully she ever knew. A meager alimony, no child support, and as many scarves sold at the tourist market near the airport…bread, salt, tea, milk and rent. She has a view of the church as she sits at her booth, small-talks the tourists, tries to look taken care of—like this were a hobby—as she prays for just one more guilty husband or bored wife who loves the colors from the bargain bin, loves her handiwork, buys something that folds small so she can bring a bit of sweet home to Tasha.

She will not beg. She will not whore. She will not martyr herself for a better life for Tasha; the girl will learn by example, she will know how to love. She will learn to knit to spend time with her mother, to learn the crass, hysterically private and bonding language of the women in the market booths, the wily but sincere language aimed at the buyers…she will watch the calendar every month, not for her soon to come woman-time, but for the knock on the door, for whether they’ll have cake with the soup that stretches for days, for a luminous smile of relief on her mother’s once-lovely face, the radio turned to something other than somber.

Previously published in Suisun Valley Review, 2018

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


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