Thursday, February 08, 2007

Developing a Manuscript

Another busy week, and I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I’ve been wanting to post more chapbook reviews on this blog, but haven’t had time to write them. They will come soon. I’ve had two reviews to write for the next issue of Sphinx, which I’ve just sent in. I also plan to work on a review for another publication. I have a couple of poems fermenting in my mind that might suit a certain magazine. And I have this Patron Saint of Petrol Stations idea for a poem, which is a scrappy mess of notes at the moment. The title was inspired by Jim Sheard's list of Valentine gifts one might pick up from petrol station shops on the 13th February.

The other night, I went through all the poems not included in my chapbook and noted the ones that might conceivably be good enough for a future collection. The next stage is to find a ‘concept’ that appears to hold a large group of them together (I have a few ideas) and try to shape the collection accordingly. Then I’ll revise these poems until they resist all further tampering. I may write a few new ones as well.

It looks like it’s going to be book-length, about 60 pages. I’d consider self-publishing, and I’d definitely consider another chapbook publisher (and shorten the length accordingly), but I’m going to try to interest ‘commercial’ (sounds funny when applied to poetry!) book publishers first. I have a few in mind – those who have published books I’ve read and enjoyed. Some will likely be way out of my league, but I’m going to have a shot anyway.

But first the choosing, the shaping and patterning, the revising. At the rate I’m going, I might have a book out by 2016 or so.

11 comments:

Colin Will said...

I've written (for Information Scotlnd I think it was), about what's involved in putting a collection together. If you want a wee chat about it some time (maybe at StAnza?) that'd be good.

Rob said...

Thanks, that would be great, Colin.

Roddy said...

Good luck with this Rob. But I think the only commercial publisher who will even look at an unsolicited MS at the moment is Faber - and don't expect it back in anything less than a few months. Picador, Chatto and Penguin are closed to MSs. Cape prefer a selection, or, better, a recommendation.

Rob said...

Thanks, Roddy. I will send to Faber, just so I can frame the rejection slip...

I probably used the phrase "commercial publisher" inaccurately. I was thinking also of small poetry publishers like Arc, Anvil, Arrowhead, Shoestring etc. And also, Bloodaxe etc. I fully realise how hard it is to get an acceptance from any of these publishers, or even to get a manuscript considered. But I may as well have a shot.

Excluding material I've rejeceted myself, I have enough for 2 books, so it's a case of narrowing it down and choosing a body of work that fits together and then working on it until it's as strong as possible. When I send it out, it may get rejected everywhere. But I expected that last time as well.

Andrew Philip said...

Roddy, that's a somewhat depressing situation for those of us still making our names.

I've chatted about this kind of stuff with Michael Symmons Roberts. His advice, which is based on the way that Cape does things, is that you need 75-80 pages of poems at roughly 32 lines per book page, counting spaces between stanzas as well as lines of text, for a first collection. That way, the editor can cut it back and shape the book a bit more.

There's an Arvon course at Lumb Bank this summer on working towards a first collection. I've booked a place; see if you can get on it, Rob. The tutors are Matthew Hollis, who works for Faber, and Colette Bryce.

Rob said...

Thanks Andy. I saw that course and thought it looked good. I met Colette Bryce briefly after an event last summer - she seemed very nice. I would like to do an Arvon course, but this month money is tight, so I can only pay a deposit next month (maybe). Unless I win one of the those competitions I've entered! - then the pressure is off.

Andrew Philip said...

They're not cheap, are they? But they're good. I went on one with Michael Symmons Roberts and Deryn Rees-Jones back in 2002. I learnt some valuable things and wrote some of the poems that appeared in Tonguefire.

Roddy said...

Hi Rob - yes commercial tends to mean just the non-subsidised lists attached to larger houses, as oposed to 'independent presses' like Anvil, Bloodaxe, Arc etc.

A few more words of advice, if I may. Keep in mind that many publishers have 42 line pages, which makes a big difference. Unless presses stipulate what they want, send around 40 poems, but mention that you have more you are busy with.

Don't get too caught up on theming - I've seen people end up at getting less than they deserved because they had such a strong concept of which 40 were in THE first book. The 'best' poems should go in, regardless of theme, unless they are too samey thematically. How you decide which are best, of course, is another story! Consensus + gut feeling I guess.

Lastly, there IS a way of approaching several publishers at once and saving time - it's all in the wording of the cover letter. Don't want to spill the beans here. If you're interested to know more - get in touch.

SarahJane said...

that petrol station idea is great for a poem. hope it comes together for you.

Rob said...

Andy - I'd like to go to an Arvon course. It's not that I'm reluctant to hand over the money. More that I don't have the money to hand over! Not this month anyway. Maybe next month, I could manage a deposit, but maybe not. It's very tight.

Roddy - thanks a lot. I'll be in touch.

Sarah - the petrol station idea is still just notes, but I think it will eventually come together.

marly said...

The 21st century is so very hard on skinny little books of poems...