2012: Through the Tunnel and Back Again

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, FutureCycle Press awarded a prize of $1,000 and publication for the best full-length volume of poetry in juried competition. The idea was to take in enough from entry fees to pay all costs and have a little left over to do a few more books that year. For those three years, the contest was our main source of funding. Our prize-winners and finalists were quite accomplished poets, and the contests were a great success. Of course, none of our staff or judges were paid for doing the work, there was always a massive amount of work to be done, and only a few people had to do most of it within a few months’ time. This ultimately proved to be more stress than we could take.

When our former director, the poet Robert S. King, had a heart attack in September 2011, he was strongly encouraged to scale back considerably on his press activities and focus more on his own writing. This, combined with the lengthy economic downturn and finding out when all the dust settled that we were in a bit of a hole—well, let's just say it was the closest thing to a near-death experience FutureCycle Press has ever had.

We announced late that year that we would be taking a hiatus from the rapidly approaching 2012 competition until we could stabilize the press and sort out how we could continue doing the level and calibre of work we had been doing before but with less involvement from one of the major partners. We identified what could be eliminated—the highly complex, coding-intensive, subject-to-crashing online poetry and flash fiction magazines—and archived all previously published work for continued access. We combined the poetry and flash fiction into one annual anthology, FutureCycle, to be published only in print-on-demand and ebook formats, with an eye to putting the two genres on par with each other. We simplified the web site in an effort to make it easier to maintain or migrate to a new server—we'd already had three of them fall apart on us, adding months of extra work to our load—and took a path of least resistance with our catalog. Finally, we began to restructure our core.

Core Changes

The changes we have made are designed to maximize our resilience and ability to vet and publish great books while minimizing stress and chaos. Time efficiency, stability, and a steadily growing catalog of top-notch books are now our main priorities. We'll still work too hard, but we'll spread it out over the year so we don't burn out. We've never cared about money, but we want always to know that we are in the black—both financially and time-wise—so we can offer to publish the books we fall in love with and take some chances on a few we wouldn't otherwise be able to. It’s what we live for.

New Organization

In early 2012, we incorporated the press as a nonprofit. All press earnings are dedicated to our purpose and mission of publishing and preserving for future readers exceptional poetry books, chapbooks, and anthologies.

The way we handle editorial and production activities will remain pretty much the same except for the change of director. Importantly, we now have a structure in place so the press can survive should any of us move on. Incorporating the press represents our commitment to keeping the press and all of the books it publishes alive for posterity.

New Publishing Model

In the past, we have offered book and chapbook authors a standard percentage of royalties on sales plus the ability to order their books at a discount. Our new publishing contract pays no royalties because, as we add more books to our catalog, it gets harder and harder to keep track of it all and rarely proves worth the trouble. We don't have a dedicated secretary to maintain addresses, scrutinize varying contracts, split out multiple spreadsheets and sales reports for individual authors, or write and mail a lot of little checks. So beginning in 2012, we no longer include author royalties in our contracts.

But isn't that unfair? No, no it's not. Not to the authors, anyway. This is why. First, because of the uncommonly deep author discounts we offer, the poets we publish will typically make more on the sale of a few books at a reading than on a year's worth of royalties. Second, despite the many advantages of print-on-demand publishing, publishers must pay heavy fees to third parties for certain privileges like distribution, programming and marketing tools, order fulfillment, aggregated listings, etc. It's worth it to us to pay these fees because it gives our authors a permanent global audience and makes it possible for us to focus on what we do best. But what's left on our bottom line is not very much. It's the rare poet who sells enough books from our online catalog to make more than a pittance off 10% of not very much. We figure most of our authors would rather be compensated with very inexpensive copies of their books that they can resell at full list price from their web site or at gigs.

New Book Prize Competition

In 2012, we transitioned to a new way of awarding the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. We no longer hold a contest, so there is no contest entry fee other than our usual submission fee for reading book manuscripts. All full-length volumes of poetry published by FutureCycle Press in a given calendar year are now considered for that year's prize. (Meritorious books by any of our editors that we elect to publish are ineligible for the book prize, as are books by former FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize winners.) This approach allows us to consider each submission on its own merits, outside of the context of a contest. Too, the judges will see the finished book, which will have benefitted from the beautiful book design and strong editorial gloss we are famous for.

The book ranked the best in judging is announced as the prize winner in January of the year following publication. There is no fixed monetary award; instead, the winning poet receives an honorarium of 20% of our total net royalties from all poetry books and chapbooks sold online by the press during the year of publication. (Good Works anthologies are not included because those royalties are donated to worthy causes.) The winner is accorded the honor of being a judge for the next year's competition; in this capacity, the winner receives a copy of all full-length poetry books published in that year. (For example, in January 2013, we announced the 2012 winner from the books we published between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2012. Kimberley Pittman-Schulz, 2011 book prize winner for Mosslight, was our honorary judge along with the four staff judges. The winner, Richard Carr for Dead Wendy, received a cash award from the 2012 royalties from all the press's online poetry book and chapbook sales.) 

New Poets' Support Network

We see the changes to the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize as a way of encouraging poets to discover and support each other's work. It makes us sad when so few people read the books we know took so much heart, sweat, and struggle to bring into the world. How nice it would be if poets would buy and read each other's books! Perhaps knowing that any purchases will help fund a poetry prize that they themselves might win will encourage poets to buy a book or two. Over time, the cash award could build to a fairly substantial amount, especially as we publish more great books and word gets out.

When poets submit a manuscript to the press, in addition to being editorially vetted by us, they will know the submission fee is going solely to publishing poetry. If we accept and publish a poet's book, any royalties that might come from online sales will help crowd-fund the book prize and honorarium for the other poets we publish—and help us publish more great books. If a poet's book is the best of the year, that poet will win the prize and the royalties the other poets have essentially donated to the cause of publishing and preserving great poetry. That looks like a win to us.

New Good Works Projects

After the 2012 issue, the press retired the FutureCycle anthology in favor of doing special projects focusing on issues we believe deserve attention. Our first "good works" anthology, co-edited by poets Joseph Hutchison and Andrea Watson, featured poems honoring Malala Yousafzai with proceeds going to the Malala Fund. Each Good Works anthology is published online in PDF format for free download and sharing, but it is also published and sold in print and ebook formats; net proceeds from sales will be donated to a suitable nonprofit cause to be determined near the time of publication.

We Have Work to Do

Now that FutureCycle Press has gone through the proverbial tunnel and come back again, we believe even more strongly that poetry and the presses that publish it cannot be allowed to die. We think the work we do is essential in these times, and we think the publishing model we've evolved is going to allow us to do it without killing ourselves or succumbing to all this global economic distress. We hope you will support us in our efforts, as we support you.