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What C-19 is doing to poetry publishing

DBTU9916

Last week four poets wrote offering me the opportunity of publishing their work. When I read the first email, I was gobsmacked. The message (the same was true of the other three) made no reference to the current C-19 situation. Just the usual I have been writing for 4 years. I attach X poems on the theme of revenge/archery/cryogenics/dementia. I believe they will appeal to a wide range of readers. Do let me know if you would be interested in publishing etc. etc.

Numerous poets are at home at the moment, social distancing or self-isolating, or checking their stock of paracetamol. Clearly some of them are also pitching to publishers. Is this a good time? Ho-hum. Think about it from the publisher's point of view. In fact, that's what our best-selling title How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published suggests. It also says that 'strategy' is vital in getting work published. But it doesn't explain what you're supposed to do in the middle of a global pandemic.

What are publishers doing right now? Apart from looking for toilet rolls, there's a good chance they're worrying. About book sales. About new titles, and forthcoming books. About cancelled launches. About closed bookshops. About postponed events (where poets would normally shift some books). About having already printed too many copies. Will their distributor keep distributing, and if so (with most bookshops closed) to whom? Will their printer go under?

Meanwhile, printers are worrying about publishers. Will planned print runs go ahead? Will publishers want fewer copies? Will they defer printing until later in the year, if at all? Will they be able to service the loans on their fiendishly expensive print machines?

Everybody's doing their best. Big print companies are still running so far, with distancing protection for their staff. Publishers and event organisers are doing online launches and live streaming. Online sales are being brandished. The Poetry Book Society is working hard to turn a drama into a growth opportunity.

But the key factor is uncertainty. Nobody knows how all of this will affect the tiny niche that constitutes the poetry book market.

Whatever each publisher's long-term plan may be, the current priority is selling this year's titles. New proposals can wait.

Here, we have a mountain of boxes in the hall and under the stairs. The mountain contains new pamphlets (Nancy Campbell's Navigationand Annie Fisher's The Deal) and two books to be launched in May (Alan Buckley's Touched and Charlotte Gann's The Girl Who Cried). We have no room for more boxes.

Can I find readers for these new titles? Over the next couple of months (when, yes, I will be doing online launches) we will see. It's a fascinating chance to do things differently, and the publications are fabulous. I believe we will manage it. But there's a lot to learn. Every day the powers-that-be (or the powers-that-were) tell us something we aren't expecting.

On the good side, poetry's a long game. Publishers plan for posterity. But we need to sell books right now. It's essential to keep the cycle moving, which is how we afford to publish the next poets.

So back to your poetry publishing strategy. Perhaps you hope to place a book or pamphlet with a good publisher in the next year or so. How doyou plan round the current situation? Here's a suggestion for the next three months.

Read. Read poems. Old ones, new ones, winning ones, unnoticed ones. Make your own anthology of your favourites and notice who first published them. Learn a couple off by heart (while out on your daily walk). Get right inside them like an old coat. Note down tricks you can try yourself, lines that you love, and why. This feeds into your writing. It's the holy grail, the creative source.

Write. Make poems. Ditch them. Make more. Work on old poems and make them stronger. Send to magazines that are still going strong. Get them, if you can, accepted by top online (and paper-based) outlets, so somebody (not you) may notice and share them on social media. By all means enter competitions: the organisers need the money now more than ever, and if you win, or place, it's another good profile-raiser.

Review. You may not be confident about writing reviews, but anybody can manage two lines and a star rating on Amazon. Or a whole paragraph on goodreads, my favourite social media site (even if it is owned by Amazon). Or try an OPOI on a poetry pamphlet. Poets notice who reviews their work. Publishers notice who reviews their poets' work.

Buy books. Select judiciously. Feed your reading programme and publishers at the same time. If you think publishers don't notice who buys books from their own website, you're wrong. What's the magic factor in getting a collection published? It's when the publisher already knows your name (for the right reasons) before you make an approach.

If you absolutely cannot resist emailing publishers with proposals, at least remember to ask after their health, since they (and their loved ones) may not be in great shape. Check out the submissions page of their website first. Don't send uninvited poems (they'll delete them). Ask whether they might possibly be in a position to look at some.

Good luck —but good planning is better. After three months, review the situation and revise your strategy. You can find free planning sheets here.

p.s. If you'd like an invitation to HappenStance online launches, the first of which will be in a couple of weeks, please make sure you're signed up for notifications on the home page of the website. 


Recent Comments
Jim Laing
An interesting blog Nell especially as you could say we're not just living on the edge but living on edge right now. Like many I'v... Read More
Sunday, 29 March 2020 22:37
Guest — Nancy Mattson
Thanks for this post, thoughtful and practical as always. I will definitely order Nancy Campbell’s new pamphlet & will check out t... Read More
Monday, 30 March 2020 09:19
Guest — Finola Scott
Tank you , this is gold dust .. full of practical, sensible information, Lots of good advice , which I will definitely follow , Al... Read More
Monday, 30 March 2020 19:12
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Unwrapping the WrapperRhymes

STORY-BOARDS

So the WrapperRhyme exhibition DID happen!

It happened at STAnza, Scotland's poetry festival in St Andrews.

It happened while gatherings of people were still going ahead (though nobody coughed or sneezed).

How lucky we were! One week later and we would have been scuppered.

I hope the photo-gallery on this page will show some of the preparations (I haven't done this before). The strings of regular-sized WrapperRhymes were suspended in the display area of Innes's bookshop. Outsizes and 'rebels' were in folders.

There were typed versions to read as well (since many rhymers have colossally illegible handwriting) in the folders.

The 3D Wrappers (e.g. boxes of tissues, cheese, chocolates and tubs of ice-cream) were on shelves.

There was a corner for Tunnock's products alone, and a chair to sit in while writing your own rhyme and pinning it to the board supplied (lots of people did this).

Or if you preferred, you could sit in the boat. It was challenging getting that boat up (and down) the stairs, but we thought it was worth it.

Jenny Elliott and I orchestrated two talks on the WrapperRhymes, and some rhymers came along to read their rhymes (once they had located them, in the air or in a folder). At the end of each talk, the audience sang a WrapperRhyme about tinned tomatoes to the tune of Tom Jones's version of 'Delilah'. They sang with such gusto that book-buyers downstairs were slightly alarmed.

Now the exhibition is dismantled so I am in process of boxing and labelling everything and putting it in plastic boxes, which will go into our roof space. Ultimately they will be housed with the HappenStance archives in The National Library of Scotland. So if your WrapperRhyme is in there, a bit of you will be saved for posterity, fully identified and catalogued. They should be there long after Covid-19 is a distant (albeit painful) memory.

We had some merry merchandise too, including WrapperRhyme bookmarks and WrapperRhyme beermats. If you order anything from the website, you're highly likely to find one of each in your parcel.

Huge thanks to everybody who contributed. It was wonderful. 


Recent Comments
Marcia Menter
And I have just eaten my FIRST Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Biscuit. It took a surprisingly long time to chew. I saved the wrapper,... Read More
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 17:31
Josephine Corcoran Horsfall
It's been great to read the rhymes shared across social media and to feel part of a big, bonkers project! Thank you for it. Your... Read More
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 11:22
Guest — Mary Thomson
Thanks for sharing the pictures Nell, I couldn't go to Stanza so had been unable to envisage how on earth you were going to displa... Read More
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 12:39
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THE WINDOW IS CLOSING

WINDOW2

This has been a hugely busy window month: I have received the most poems ever.

I think I've been useful to some poets, annoying to others. I really hope I haven't upset anybody. I have seen some excellent writing, some I was baffled by, and a great many pantoums. Pantoums are the new villanelle. (Josephine Corcoran, is this your fault?)

And where has all the punctuation gone? (Andrew McMillan, is this your fault?)

But the window is closing.

If you were sending poems by post, they needed to be on their way by today (Friday 26th) because Sunday is the last day, so they need to arrive Saturday.

If you are sending poems electronically (see new option on submissions page), you've got till Sunday night. But bear in mind that the recipient (me) is knackered.

WrapperRhymes have also been arriving, which is great. But the poets are not very good at reading the rules. Do take a look at the original Tumblr site to get the idea. 

Poetry is often strengthened by specific constraints. In this case the constraints are formal (it must rhyme) and physical (you have to write on the back of some wrapping, probably a biscuit or chocolate wrapper or similar, and this means you haven't much space and you may need a special pen). We have had rebel entries on boxes of tissues, paracetamol, toothpaste etc. So rebelling is possible, but do it deliberately!

Enough already. I still have poems to read. But my hand is on the latch.

I will be at the pamphlet fair at the Scottish Poetry Library tomorrow afternoon, 12-4.00 pm, 27 July, with Pimms. So if you're near enough, do come along.


Recent Comments
Josephine Corcoran Horsfall
Brilliantly helpful to me, thank you for robust and often surprising feedback. Never annoying! I am cross about the pantoums. I... Read More
Friday, 26 July 2019 14:45
Helena Nelson
Josephine don't worry -- I was teasing you. And everybody needs to know how to tackle a pantoum sooner or later, so it's good for ... Read More
Friday, 26 July 2019 17:25
Guest — Heather Trickey
Dear Helena, Every edit an ‘oh yes!’. And general advice on ‘how to be less baffling’ - so helpful. Thank you, thank you. H
Friday, 26 July 2019 22:53
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What do Poetry Editors do?

STUDY-EDITOR

What DO they do?  I'm not always sure of the answer, but I know what I do. It's a place to start. Oh but — health warning: this blog entry is quite boring.

It's easier by far to talk about other kinds of editing. When you edit prose, you check for consistency of house style, regularise spelling and punctuation, remove stray spaces, sort out grammatical glitsches. It all makes complete sense.

But you can't do that in a poem, or not necessarily. Many poets don't have systematic punctuation. Some use punctuation in one poem but not the text. Or minimal punctuation in one, and then masses of dashes in another.

Quite often poets even withhold the full stop at the end of a poem, on purpose. They stick gaps between words. They throw ellipses all over the place ....

Frankly, poets are an editing nightmare!

So (when occupying the editor's role) you do your best. You work out what seems to be the system in any one poem or set of poems and you make suggestions for change, if appropriate.

You work out whether anomalies are deliberate or accidental.

You work out whether ambiguities are intended or not.

I did a workshop recently which included 'editing' as its topic, so I drew up two lists for the participants.

List one is the ordinary things editors (and typesetters) check mostly without even thinking.

List two is the point where the editor (or it could be a critical and respectful friend) gets more challenging.

All these editors, when it comes to your own work, are you.

List A (simple):

Make all the dashes the same size (m dashes): many people are confused about this.

Reduce two spaces after full stops (or colons) to a single space.

Make sure ellipses have the correct number of dots.

Consider direct speech, how it is presented (speech marks or italics), whether it's consistent, and whether it works.

Identify punctuation system (if there is one) and make it consistent if possible.

If poet uses gaps inside the lines work out what system/consistency is (if any) i.e. how many space-bar spaces makes up a gap.­­

Consider whether line length can be accommodated without doglegs or, if a dog has to break a leg, where it should do it.

Consider whether poem will fit inside an A5 page, or any page, advantageously.

Check for errors in capitalisation e.g. seasons.

Check spelling (US or English, practice or practise).

Check apostrophes.

Check for 'dumb' quote-marks and make them all curly.

Check references for accuracy – dates, places, people etc.

Simplify punctuation if it is over-complicated (eg unnecessary number of semi-colons and colons).

Italicise Latin/foreign words or botanical references.

Make heading styles consistent.


List B

Check for repetitions – if intended, do they work? If unintended, need to think again e.g. too many uses of 'then' or 'as'.

If references are difficult, consider whether poem might need note or epigraph.

Consider effectiveness of line breaks. Do any of them seem to throw up barriers, or are any too obviously 'clever' e.g. fall over / a cliff; go round / the bend.

If the poem is 'after' somebody, decide what 'after' means in this case. May need to track down the source and see what is owed.

Consider title. What does it contribute? Does it replay a key phrase from later in the poem and thus steal some thunder? If so, suggest change.

Consider the form: does it work for the content? Would change of stanza groups or lineation be worth considering?

Consider shapes: is the poet doing much the same thing in several poems: e.g. generally long and thin, generally couplets, generally even-sized chunks. And if so, does this have a cumulatively dull effect?

Individual words: do any of them feel too 'easy' or even risk cliché?

Are there too many adjectives?

Point of view: 'I', 'you', 'one', 'we', 'she': is it mixed? Is it right?

Metaphor: does it work? If mixed, does the mix work?

If the first four lines are a little flat, decide at what point reader attention is captured. If parts seem to be unduly hard to follow (or a complete mystery), try to work out whether this is intentional and necessary, or whether simplification would be a good idea.

Sometimes there's an obvious point where the energy kicks in, and that's not always the first line. What happens if we start with stanza 2?

And that's about it. I promise to be more entertaining next time and not so up my own ellipsis.


Recent Comments
Guest — Frances Corkey Thompson
Sometimes it's good to be boring. I'm saying this for the readers who might have been bored, but actually, I wasn't bored. Certain... Read More
Sunday, 28 April 2019 12:39
Jinny Fisher
Not boring! A really helpful breakdown, the A/B lists. There seems to be some dispute over em vs en dashes. My editor pointblank i... Read More
Sunday, 28 April 2019 14:35
Ama Bolton
I'm in the midst of an editing job (someone else's poems, not mine.) I did not find your post boring in the least! There's a lot t... Read More
Sunday, 28 April 2019 17:55
  1803 Hits
  7 Comments

CLOSING THE WINDOW

PENCILS Sharpening pencils to death

The reading window is about to close. If you take a look at the photo, you can see how short the pencils are now but how very very SHARP. 

One is really too short to write with. I'm going to need a new packet.     

For those of you who have sent poems for feedback and haven't had them returned yet, I have about 55 envelopes stacked in waiting. I don't read them in the order they arrived. New ones are arriving faster than I can clear them. 

I tackle about six envelopes a day and each one takes about an hour. Today nine new envelopes arrived.

Most popular painter is still Hopper. Most popular Greek character Icarus. Most popular word 'heft'. Most popular window: shut!

Hurray for hardly any villanelles or sestinas. People more likely to send poems with lots of short numbered stanzas. Why do we do this again? (Don't answer that. I blame Wallace Stevens but since that gentleman died in 1955, the practice is hardly innovative.)

Yes, am getting tired, but plugging on. 

If you are planning to send work, and haven't done so yet, please regard Saturday 26th as the very last day for posting. No last minute high jinks. There is always July, and that will be here sooner than you think.

How did it start being 2019 already? I have no idea!

Recent comment in this post
Jennifer Cole
How on earth do you manage to blog AND do all those crits? Don't answer this! You're too busy.
Thursday, 24 January 2019 20:04
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  1 Comment

OPEN THE WINDOW AND WHERE IS RUMPELSTILTZKIN?

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The reading window is about to open. Look back, look out, look forward.

On HappenStance's sister website, Sphinx review, this year we OPOI-reviewed 92 pamphlets. They came in through the front door. But we received far more than we OPOI-ed. 

The stated aim is to write about each and every one that's sent in, but it's an impossible aim. 

Besides, who will read all the reviews? Let's be honest. Reviews are not top of the reading list for most people, unless the review is of their own book.

Sometimes it occurs to me to offer authors an OPOI review of their publication provided they write one (of somebody else's pamphlet). But then some of the authors might write thoughtlessly or carelessly because their hearts weren't in it. 

Still, a mammoth number of poetry pamphlets now appears every year. Of course the authors like critical notice. But how is it to be managed? We did 92. I have 68 more pamphlets sitting here right this minute unwritten-about. I need Rumpelstiltskin.

Besides, there are more, far more. We weren't even sent copies of all the pamphlets that were produced. There must be 200-300 every year in the UK, at a guess. How would anybody ever know the real number? Many of them don't have ISB numbers. 

But the OPOI reviews are (yes, I am biassed) rather interesting to read, and writing reviews (especially OPOIs) is good for poets. I really think that. And if you've never done anything like this before, it's good training. You have a couple of kindly hands-on editors here to help. They're nice. 

This one is also currently sharpening her pencils for another purpose.

The poetry reading window is open from January 2nd to January 29th. Yay!

The window for offering OPOI reviews is open all year round.

Recent comment in this post
Helena Nelson
Making a comment on my own blog, it occurs to me how interesting it would be if a reading group took a particular pamphlet and eac... Read More
Monday, 31 December 2018 14:01
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