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Interview with Terrapin Books founder & chief editor, Diane Lockward

Diane Lockward is the author of four full-length books of poetry: The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement (2016), Temptation by Water (2010), What Feeds Us (2006), recipient of the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve's Red Dress (2003), all from Wind Publications. She is also the author of three poetry craft books, The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics (Terrapin Books, 2018), The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016) and The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (rev. ed., Terrapin Books, 2016), and two chapbooks, Eve Argues Against Perfection (1997) and Greatest Hits: 1997-2010 (2012). Her poems have been published in Prairie Schooner, Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. Her poems have also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. She is the recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and serves as the Poet Laureate of West Caldwell, New Jersey. She founded the Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals in 2004 and served as its director for twelve years. A former high school English teacher at Millburn High School, she has also worked as a poet-in-the-schools for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. She lives in northern New Jersey. (from her Wikipedia page).

BKR: Diane, what led you to form your own independent publishing company?I’m guessing it was your desire both to promote poets with quality publication of their books and to have control over the publication of your craft books.

DL: Those were both motivating factors. Before I started Terrapin Books, I had published four poetry collections and one craft book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, all with the same publisher. I then had a new manuscript ready for The Crafty Poet II, but at that point, it had become clear that my former publisher was winding down and I needed to find another press. I knew that if I submitted to other presses I’d be waiting for several years before the book came into being. So I thought I’d do it myself. I’ve never been interested in self-publishing my poetry, but it seemed okay for the craft book. I did a lot of research and quickly realized that there was a good deal of work involved. I decided that if I was going to do that much work just to publish the one book I should make an old dream come true and start my own press. So I put the pieces in place, e.g., coming up with a name for the press, forming an LLC, opening a bank account for the press, learning how to format a book and design a cover, and setting up a website.

I first did an anthology, The Doll Collection, as it seemed like a good project for learning. That first book was my university. Then I opened a Submittable account and put out my first call for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts. Three and a half years later, Terrapin Books has published nineteen poetry books, three anthologies, and three craft books.

BKR: I am mesmerized by book covers. Terrapin has such a stunning collection—I can actually envision the covers gracing a calendar, like poster art. How much do you collaborate with your authors in choosing cover art? Do you have final say?

DL: The entire process of publishing a Terrapin book is collaborative. I edit each manuscript. Then I go back and forth with the poet about changes. Along the way, I ask each poet what ideas he or she has for the cover art. Most of them submit specific pieces and we go from there. I am open to suggestions but, of course, will take the suggested art only if I like it. One of our covers was painted by the poet herself, three covers are paintings done by spouses, two pieces of cover art were contributed by former students of the poets.

Once we’ve agreed on the art, I do the layout. Again, there’s some back and forth about the layout, font style and size, colors. I have the final say, but my hope is always to come up with art and design that both the poet and I love. It makes me happy to know that you admire our covers. I’ve never considered myself artistic and can’t draw anything more elaborate than a stick figure. However, I really enjoy cover design and now consider myself slightly artistic.

BKR: About how many manuscripts do you receive each submission period? Do you have first readers, or do you read and evaluate every manuscript personally?

DL: Several hundred. Each submission period the number of submissions increases and the number of outstanding manuscripts increases. I read all the manuscripts and mark the ones that grab my attention with their excellence. At the end of the submission period, I go back to all the marked manuscripts and reread each one carefully. This pile is usually about a dozen manuscripts. From those dozen or so, I select 2-4 for publication.

BKR: How much importance, if any, do you put in an author’s publishing history?

DL: I suggest that 25-50% of the poems have been previously published in journals. I want to see that the poet has been doing the work of a poet—and that includes building up a readership by submitting to and getting published in journals. Those journals might be places for future reviews. It’s perfectly fine if someone wants to submit without having a publication history, but so far each of my poets has had such a history. I should also mention that I consider not just the number of publications but also the quality of them. I’m more impressed by fewer credits in good journals than I am by lots of credits in mediocre journals.

BKR: Most of your poets are women. Is this intentional?

DL: No, this gender disparity isn’t intentional. I think I initially received more submissions from women poets because I belong to a number of women-only groups on Facebook and I post my calls in those groups, but I’ve now joined several mixed gender groups as well. I expect the disparity to narrow as I’ve been getting more and more submissions from men poets each submission period.

BKR: Tell us about Terrapin’s anthologies, please.

DL: The Doll Collection came about from an idea I’d had in my head for a long time. The next anthology was The Book of Donuts, co-edited by Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham. Jason pitched the idea to me. It was quirky and since I like quirky, I said okay, let’s do it. We received a surprising number of submissions. Who knew the donut was such a popular figure in poetry? The third and newest anthology is A Constellation of Kisses, edited by me. I received an astonishing 860 submissions for this one, most with three poems. It was very exciting to have generated that much interest, but it also made choosing the poems very difficult. I had to turn away many good poems. I love all three of these books.

BKR: Since you started Terrapin, and with the publication of your three excellent craft books, I’m wondering if you have time for your own writing.

DL: I definitely have less time. And when I do have time, my brain seems to have been depleted of creative impulses—all used up on other people’s books. However, after each submission period, after I’ve made selections and notified the poets, there’s a one-two month period of inactivity with the press. That’s when I turn to my own writing. But my output has definitely diminished since I started the press. I’m okay with that as I love what I’m doing. I’ve created the perfect job for me. And I love giving poets the joy of a book publication.

BKR: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

DL: I’m often asked if a poet whose manuscript has been rejected should resubmit. My answer is yes if the rejection came with some positive feedback and/or some suggestions for revision. And then, of course, if you’ve made some revisions. I think it’s a good idea to briefly mention in your cover letter the changes you’ve made. I have published two books by poets whose manuscripts I took on a second submission.

Poets wishing to submit to Terrapin Books, Lockward’s press, are encouraged to do so through submittable, which can be found here. Poets can sign up for Lockward's newsletter here.

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