‘Is it true – what Shelley writes me that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review?’ [Letter from Byron to John Murray, 26 April 1821]
You have a poetry pamphlet in print. So what next? Poets both crave and fear reviews but mainly they needn’t lose sleep. ‘Publishing a volume of verse’, as Don Marquis notably remarked, ‘is like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.’
I think it’s easier to get echoes than it used to be, though not all echoes are as desirable as people think.
Why do people want reviews?
- They want a genuine reader response (as opposed to praise from their friends).
- They believe reviews will help sell the publication (usually they make little or no difference).
- They want attention.
- They want to trawl them for useful blurb to go on their next book jacket (or current web page).
- They think it’s what’s supposed to happen after you publish your writing.
- They want to learn. (You can learn from what some reviewers say.)
The number of poetry readers, relatively speaking, is small. The number of poetry pamphlets published every year is big. (I have no definitive statistics but it is a fact that more come to me every year than I can manage to read. At my left elbow is a pile of unread pamphlets, about 25, and 3 more arrived yesterday.)
Maybe an attention-catching review for one of these, shared on social media, would bump that pamphlet to the top of my ‘To Read’ list. It might. So how would you accomplish that?
Frankly, it’s of little use posting your pamphlet to every magazine you can think of in the hope of generating a review. It will just cost loads and you’ll end up feeling bitter. Why was Last Year’s Dead Leaves by M. J. Petticoat featured in a review when yours was ignored?
Magazine and newspaper editors have skyscrapers of books and pamphlets staring at them beseechingly – more than could be reviewed in a month of Sunday blogs. It’s a mug’s game adding your humble publication to that pile.
So what’s to be done about all this? There are really interesting reviews all the time on the web, and some on paper. If one of them is to be yours, what do you need to do?
First, spend a little time finding out how it works. Don’t send your pamphlet to a magazine editor if the magazine doesn’t publish reviews. If the magazine does do reviews, find the correct procedure. If in doubt, email the main editor and ask. Many magazines only review books, not pamphlets. It’s reasonable to suppose you stand a better chance of a review in a magazine where you’ve previously placed poems or contributed as a reviewer yourself.
When did Poetry Review last review a set of pamphlets? When did the Times Literary Supplement last pay attention to pamphlets: it has happened – but when? Have you ever seen a pamphlet reviewed in The Guardian? Does Best Poetry of 2016 (in any publication where such a round-up exists) include reference to any pamphlets?
Let me be more positive. Is your pamphlet listed on Amazon? It may or may not be. It’s certainly possible to get it there. If it’s there, has anyone posted a reader review?
Look at Shelley Day’s The Confession of Stella Moon, published earlier this year. Forty-five customer reviews – so far. More people read novels than poetry, but novelists are much better at courting customer reviews than poets. Look at Fiona Moore’s Night Letter, currently shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for Pamphlet Poetry. Not one customer review on Amazon.
Fiona Moore’s pamphlet has received review comment, not only in a couple of paper magazines but also here and here and here. More for Moore than many. But please note that this poet writes reviews herself. She blogs at Displacement, where (among other things) she writes about poets she admires. She also regularly reviews elsewhere.
By and large, poets don’t try very hard to get reviews on Amazon. It’s a moot point whether they should. Perhaps they think responses will just pop up. Generally they don’t. You have to solicit attention. If an articulate friend really loved your pamphlet and tells you so in an email, ask them to post a few comments on Amazon (unless you’re ethically opposed to Amazon, in which case consider GoodReads, a site I like very much – although since 2013 it has been owned by ... Amazon).
Some webzines accept pamphlet nominations for review – and offer them to their review team. Sabotage Reviews, which reviews pamphlets but not (usually) books follows this procedure. So the issue might be whether someone on the review team would take an interest in your publication. Is your name familiar to them? If you’ve already published poems widely, it might be. Get your name out there!
In my experience, most poets think more about getting their own work reviewed than the role they might play in reviewing other people’s. Pamphlet poets regularly ask about OPOI reviews at Sphinx Review. It is rare indeed for one of them to send an OPOI response to a pamphlet recently enjoyed.
Ink, Sweat and Tears has ‘no resident reviewers’ but accepts ‘unsolicited reviews for poetry and short story collections.’ The guideline word count for a pamphlet is 500 words. So here a reviewer would have to offer the review. The editor doesn’t organise it. You can’t review your own book (though sometimes I wonder why not).
There are blogger reviewers: Matthew Stewart at Rogue Strands. Tim Love’s LitRefs. Dave Coates at Dave Poems. Emma Lee at Emma Lee’s Blog. John Field at Poor Rude Lines. There are lots more... You could be one of them. You can set up your own blog, or you can go to GoodReads and simply select a book and write about it.
Tim Love did a fascinating analysis of what happened to his pamphlet, Moving Parts, with the reviewers. Tim has been around for a long time in little magazines as a poet, reviewer, letter-writer; on the web as a poet, short-story writer, reviewer and blogger; in real life as an organiser and contributor to poetry groups and events. It helps.