Interview with Leah Maines

Leah Maines is the major editor and publisher of Finishing Line Press.

WG: In reviewing poetry books for Wordgathering, Iíve noticed that the first books of several talented women writers have been published by Finishing Line Press. I am thinking, for example, of Ona Gritz, whose work is becoming fairly well known in the Philadelphia and New Jersey area. Can you describe what Finishing Line looks for when your receive poetry manuscripts from new writers?

LM: I suspect I look for the same thing that most publishers look for: good poetry. Specifically, Iím looking for compelling poems. Iím looking for poems that possess an abundance of clarity and precision. In other words, I look for poems that make me pause and think about what Iíve just read. Those are the poems I want to publish.

I love to publish first chapbooks by poets who are gifted, and I often nominate these authors for book awards. I also encourage them to get out there and read their poetry at various venues. Itís important for poets to promote their work.

WG: Assuming that most writers who submit their work to you in the first place believe their work to be good, can you give some idea of what you would caution them against in submitting work to Finishing Line?

LM: I think it is very important to submit professional looking manuscripts. By this I mean, nothing hand written, and please include a cover letter with a short bio and all of your contact info, including email. Also, please donít use huge font size or "fancy" fonts. Itís best to use 12pt font in something like Times New Roman. There is also no need to put the copyright symbol on your work. We arenít going to steal it, and almost all of the manuscripts Iíve seen come in with the big copyright symbol are poorer quality work. Seeing that immediately signals to our readers that the poet is new to the submission game. Does this mean new poets are not welcome? No, I love to read the work of new, or underpublished poets. However, if I get handwritten submissions, and manuscripts in big fonts, itís difficult to take the work seriously.

My hope is for authors and poets to really think about what they are submitting. In other words, be mindful of where to place the poems. I suggest putting your best poems up front. Often a reader will read the first few poems to see if the overall manuscript is worth a full read. Yes, that sounds terrible, but itís true. I also like to read themed works. I hope the poems have some sort of connectionónot just a bunch of poems thrown together with nothing bringing them together as a unit. Please send us your best work. Itís competitive, and only the best poetry collections are published.

WG: Does Finishing line look for any particular style of poetry? If a poet was considering looking submitting a manuscript to you, which poets or works that you have published would you suggest that they take a look at first?

LM: We have about 900 authors, and we publish a variety of subjects. I think the best thing a poet should do is send us our best work. Billy Collins is my favorite poet, but I don't expect all of our poets to write in his style. I make a point of publishing different styles and "voices."

WG: Will you describe the process that a writer goes through in working with Finishing Line to have a book published. Once you have decided that you like what a writer has submitted to you, what happens?

LM: As for the manuscript, I do allow the author to make some revisions to the original manuscript, if doing so will strengthen the work. When I accept a manuscript I accept it as being publishable. The manuscript that needs major revisions is not what I'm looking to publish. I do often comment on rejections and suggest changes, and hope they resubmit a stronger manuscript the next time around.

I'm also open to changing the title, if needed. However, part of the selection process is a good title, and I hope to keep the original title. This is not to say that I haven't required authors to change the title as a condition of publication. Sometimes the title of the book can be so weak that I ask the author to change the title to better reflect the contents of the manuscript.

After the book is accepted for publication we work with the author on the cover. We allow the author to select his or her cover art, and then we either design the cover, or we permit the author to design the cover (or have someone else design it). I think it is very important that our authors have some say in the process.

We also request the author to gather blurbs for the back cover, and we suggest ways for the author to promote his or her book. We give suggestions for radio interviews, and the "how to" on making a media kit. It takes several months before the book is actually published.

WG: Do you have particular outlets that you market the books that you publish to or are is the marketing pretty much left up to the author?

LM: We sell our books on our website, www.finishinglinepress.com, on amazon.com, to bookstores, to libraries, and at book fairs and conferences such as AWP, the CUNY Chapbook Festival, and the Kentucky Book Fair. Some titles are sold via distributors, and on overstock.com. Many of our titles are used as college textbooks.

WG: Do you ever publish anthologies? I ask this because there are few anthologies of disability poetry, so I wondered if a publication of that kind is something you would consider.

LM: Yes, we have published an anthology (chapbook), and we are hoping to do larger anthologies if we can get a grant.

WG: I appreciate your time in doing this interview. I think it will really be of interest to our readers who are looking to have some of their work published. Is there anything that you would like to add before we wrap up?

LM: Finishing Line Press is an award-winning small press publisher with a long list of accomplishments. Among the recent winners and notables, Carol Hamiltonís Shots On has been selected as a current finalist in the 20th Annual Oklahoma Book Award. Poet Cheryl Loetscher and Finishing Line Press won the New England Poetry Club's Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award (for the best chapbook published in the preceding year) for the Finishing Line Chapbook, Unclaimed Baggage. Tania Runyan's poetry collection Delicious Air won the 2007 Belles Lettres Book of the Year award by the Conference on Christianity and Literature. Marianne Worthingtonís Larger Bodies than Mine (NWV Series) won the 2007 Appalachian Book of the Year Award for Poetry awarded by the Appalachian Writers Association. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

WG: I definitely do. It is quite a list of accomplishments. Thank you for the interview.