Monday, July 16, 2007

Poetry Manuscripts

I’ve been attempting to put together a manuscript of poems for an as yet mythical future collection. My first attempt to sort my poems out into ‘possibles’ and ‘rejects’ yielded 97 possibles (the rejects, including several poems I’ve published in magazines [euch!], numbered far more than that – these don’t include other poems that didn’t even make the rejects’ cut, and I haven’t selected any poems from my chapbook).

Since then, I’ve got it down to 59, but I’ll have to cut further. It’s quite hard when it gets to this stage. It’s all gut reaction. I cross out poems without thinking too hard about why. But I might be making all the wrong decisions.


Andrew Philip said...

I'm at a similar stage, Rob. You'd think that, after having successfully published a pamphlet, neither of us would feel quite so at sea with this process, but I certainly feel I don't sight land as often as I need to. I'm hoping the Arvon I'm going on at the end of the month will prove helpful but not too painful.

Maybe we can girn to each other about this tomorrow. If you'd like to swap manuscripts, I'd be happy to do that.

Anonymous said...

Since pages are bound in multiples of 4, I tend to estimate at 49, 53, 57 etc. pages for the poems themselves.

No reason to stick to this exactly, of course ... just a handy way to fix on a certain amount, and gives the publisher a definite idea of how many pp. total the book will be, i.e. 49 pages of poetry will sit nicely in a 64 p. book.

And then there's the amount of space you have per page, which may effect run-overs you hadn't expected, and thus more pages allocated ... as a rule of thumb I go for 30 lines per page (whether text or 'one line' stanza breaks) plus title. Maybe 34 if it's a page without title.

Any more than that, things begin to look a bit jammed. Depends on publisher's house rules, though ... e.g. a typical Bloodaxe book will go for title + 39 lines.


Anonymous said...

Bloodaxe is about 42. The commercial lists mostly have 32 line pages.

It's good to put a book MS together to get the feel of it, but it is rarely of consequence when it comes to dealing with UK editors, few of whom look at actual book MSs (the only poet I know who was taken on by sending in her MS to a well-known poetry publisher is Susan Wicks). They will tend to make their decisions on a small batch of poems, plus the recommendation of the poet's tutor or mentor, who will know their scope and strike rate. Then they will generally want to see everything the poet has. There were c130 poems in my first book's dummy MS.


Rob said...

See you later today, Andy. I'll bring along what I have so far (now cut to 53 poems).

Andrew, Roddy - thanks. That's very useful information. I've done a little research - Cape, Salt and Faber seem to like just a few poems. Bloodaxe and Carcanet a few more, although that's academic as they have already sent me their nicer form of rejection slip. Bluechrome have their competition coming up - ten poems. Some other places seem to want a full manuscript.

But the fact that they read a few poems and, if interested, want to see virtually everything of value is familiar to me, as that's how Helena Nelson did it at HappenStance.

Anonymous said...

Just want to retract one small point in my post - when I said ''plus' the recommendation of a tutor' etc, I meant 'or...'. Not wanting to suggest you need that nod to get published, though it seems to be an increasing step towards publication, which is not so good for those who do not live near a good group or have not done courses...


Rob said...

I haven't done any courses and don't know of any good groups around here (seems astonishing in a city like Edinbugh with so many poets).

However, I could probably get a recommendation from someone. Should the recommendation be included with an initial submission?

Anonymous said...

No, Rob. Editors hate that! The recommendation should be direct from the tutor to the editor, and not at the unpublished poet's request. At a publisher, I once saw a letter from a poet which was along the lines of 'Dear X, you will soon receive a MS from Mr Y complete with my recommendation. I do not in fact recommend him at all, but said yes to get him off my back. Sorry about this! Yours Z'

A genuine recommendation from someone who genuinely is enthused by one's work is what editors want. Most of the main poetry editors ask me and other tutors from time to time if I have any recommendations or tips for the future.

It's a shame there is no quality poetry group in Edinburgh - not sure there ever has been!


Rob said...

Thanks, Roddy. I get the idea now. It's good to know what not to send editors!