Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gatekeeping

I’ve been really busy over the last few days, mainly with work, but also with one or two poetry-related things. Oddly, despite me not posting anything, the number of visitors to this site has reached an all-time high. I’ve no idea why. Maybe I should stop posting more often!

Anyway, I was thinking about the so-called “gatekeepers” of poetry, those who decide who gets published and who doesn’t. Thanks to James, Andrew, Roddy, Steven and Jane for getting me thinking on the issue by commenting on a previous post. Some people feel that the most prestigious poetry publishers (by which they mean Faber & Faber, Cape, Picador etc) have a very limited view on what constitutes good poetry and make it impossible for anyone who writes anything ‘different’ to be published.

For example, Todd Swift, in an article in the Oxford Forum refers to:

“…the new generation that emerged in the 90s and was a hugely successful promotional campaign claiming ‘poetry was the new rock and roll’. This attempt to brand poets created a new landscape for poetry and poetry marketing in the UK…

House styles emerged, as the poets became ever more branded. Where once there had been “the movement” or “the group”, there were now “publishers’ poets”. Investing in these few, carefully-groomed authors, the poets who were selected to be promoted and published, needed to be seen to be not simply exemplary of the best of their generation, but rare.”

However, in a comments box on this blog, Roddy L. said that the reasons publishers give for rejecting manuscripts are

“that they are not good enough, that the poets have failed or negated to establish themselves in any way, that the work is adequate but unoriginal.”

So on the one hand is a vision of a marketing ploy, a few poets flying the flag for a publisher’s style. On the other hand is a vision of publishers opening their doors wide to original and brilliant work.

It seems to me though that if someone wants to be published ,and if their work is good enough (“if” being the key word), he/she will find a way. Personally, I like several of the poets on Cape and Picador and don’t find them all part of a uniform brand – John Burnside, James Sheard and Robert Crawford are all on Cape, for instance, but they are all completely different. And if you add in Anvil, Bloodaxe, Carcanet, Salt, and plenty of other publishers (bluechrome, Shearsman, Arrowhead, Enitharmon, Seren and others), there are certainly opportunities in the UK for good writers of many different styles to be published.

It’s not easy. There are many more good writers than publishing slots and some excellent writers are bound to be passed over. Mistakes are made. Great poets are ignored in their lifetime. Trends come and go. But that’s the case in every country and in every generation. Don Paterson says that there are too many poetry books being publsihed in the UK, inferring that there simply can't be as many poets of sufficient quality out there. In fifty years time, I'm sure we'll see the truth of that. The only problem is that in the here and now, it's hard to identify the unworthy publications with any great certainty, and although we might think we know how future readers and critics are going to view things, none of us will be right all the time. So I support the excess even if it does turn out to be an excess.

It’s possible I will feel differently about this if I send my MS out and it gets rejected by every editor in the UK. Maybe I’ll take up crochet or stamp-collecting. There are worse ways of spending one’s time.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

First thoughts Rob...

I'm fond of Todd but this is ill-informed, journalistic hindsight and catch-up. See my New Gen myths thread on the Poets on Fire Forums.

Sheard, Burnside and Crawford are different sure, but aren't they less than different in the way that the Kinks, The Who and the Stones are less than different in a music world which also includes Sibelius, Cage, Coil, Coltrane, Lunasa and Sizzla.

'There are many more good writers than publishing slots' - I don't agree, especially if you mean 'good publishing slots' ie bigger publishers. In the past year, all the editors of the bigger publishers have been on the sniff for good new poets. They would love to see excellent new poets. It does not work by submission by post any more though.

50 years time? This seems to be in vogue again - the idea that a few decades will sort out who is really good and who was 'fashionable'. There is some truth in that of course, but it's rarely those who think themselves underachievers who are suddenly sucked from history to replace those - and there are many in poetry - who flash and burn.

Roddy

Ben Wilkinson said...

Having read this post and the comments that preceded it with much interest, including Todd's Oxford Forum essay, I feel that I'm now in a position to say something about my take on all this.

It's my view that - by and large - if you are a writer of real quality and originality then you will come to eventually find a bigger publisher. Though I appreciate Todd's position and personally would like to see his work more readily available in the UK, I don't think that Faber, Picador or Cape, nor Bloodaxe and Salt especially, are closed shops to new, exciting poets.

We need only look to a handful of the poets who have emerged from the bigger houses in recent years - Nick Laird and Daljit Nagra from Faber, both of whom are formally ambitious and extremely inventive writers; Annie Freud and Frances Leviston from Picador, radically different poets who are nonetheless extremely accomplished and original - to see the variety (if not too much in the way of the quantity) of poetry being published.

A challenge (if you haven't already): buy their books and read them back to back. Then ask yourself: does this seem like homogeneity? The only thing that really links the four is their ability to write very good poetry.

Rachel Fox said...

This one could run and run...I could say lots of things here but will restrict myself to this - one person's 'new and exciting' is someone else's 'more of the same genre, aimed at a tiny percentage of the population, most of whom write their own stuff anyway'.
I agree wholeheartedly with the comment 2 above about genres of music and how much ground all those different genres cover. I sometimes feel that poetry is allowed to be 'difficult classical' or 'Pop Idol' and not much in between. All the poetry mags etc talk about experimental writing blah, blah, blah but what they usually mean is 'experimental in they way that they approve (and do your punctuation their way or else)'.
So much for keeping it short...
Rachel

Rachel Fox said...

Too many ys in the above. It's the 'Points of view' disease...Dear BBC, y, y, y....

Frances said...

Not on the Todd Swift comment but on your point about rising visitor numbers, Rob. Did you know that your blog got brownie points from Frank Wilson, the literary editor of The Philadelphia Enquirer? I only know because Bryan Appleyard wrote about his (Wilson's) site, Books,Inq, in an article about blogging in the Sunday Times last week. I looked at it and there you were! A well deserved mention which has no doubt justly contributed to your visitor ratings.

Steven Waling said...

Nick Laird formerly ambitious? Come on, Ben! Within a very limited mainstream idea of "formerly ambitious" he might be considered so. The same with Dalgit Nagra. All their poems do the same thing all mainstream poems do: they are complete units of thought and feeling, with beginings, middles and ends, lines of roughly the same length that follow on in sequence from one another, largely iambicish.

Which isn't to say that they're not perfectly good poets who deserve to be published.

Picador, Cape and Faber are largely closed shops to anything which isn't mainstream. Which is fine: the syntactically disruptive, open-field, fragmentary and experimentally shaped poems have their own homes (Barque, Shearsman, sometimes Salt, Reality Street, etc...)

But it's never just about "good" poetry verses "bad" poetry. It's always about how you define what is "good" poetry as well. What are your aesthetic criteria based on?

I don't expect Cape, Picador or Faber will be picking up on some new disjunctive Olsonian or concrete poetry any time soon. Not because they aren't as good as any mainstream poets, but because the taste of the editors isn't for that kind of poetry.

Melmoth said...

@ anonymous: If it doesnt work through submiision by post any more, how does it work?

Anonymous said...

Well, imagine if the only popular music you ever heard was chosen for you by the Chief Executives of EMI, Sony, Columbia, 4AD and Rough Trade.

That's the way poetry works, for the simple reason (I think) that unlike popular music (or fine art even) it's not market-driven in any real sense.

Like, Arctic Monkeys can put tunes on MySpace, generate an audience, and on the back of this they sign a major deal and sell squillions. There's a route from minor to major, small fry to big cheese.

Put your poems on the web ... nothing happens.

Publish a book even ... nothing happens.

Without a market, the best case scenario is a kind of fuzzy consensus that it's worth the price of the paper it's printed on. And that consensus is reached by the few, not the many, whether that's mainstream iambicish or open-field ... and hence the mystery of how anyone ever gets there.

For about ten years, only one poetry magazine editor was interested in what I was doing, and prepared to publish it. But -- that was enough, and there's no formula for why it should have been the case.

Whatever the Type of poetry, it's a conservative business. Some publishers cast a wider net than others (Bloodaxe, Salt these days) but it's still the one person at each house who's throwing it. It's not driven by public taste at all, or if it is, only insofar as the Publisher is a representative of a wafer-thin slice of it.

And this is the ultimate fuzzy: whatever it is about the imaginative intent or trademark style of a certain author which marks them apart from the also-rans (relatively speaking, I mean, in the context of this discussion). And that goes for the diamond and outfield, mainstream and Marxist.

Why the Actics and not a hundred other spotty teenagers? Why Frank Zappa?

I would hazard a guess: what they do isn't a means to an end. It *is* the end. Not If I do this, then ... but Let's do this and see what the hell happens. There has to be that bit of glass in the brain.

Similarly, writing poems as a means to and end (getting published, entering Bloom's Western Canon) seems doomed to disappointment. That's just bandwagoneering, in a sense. Doing what the other folk did who cracked it, rather than cracking it yourself.

Whatever that means.

ABJ

Anonymous said...

Steven, your talk of a 'very limited mainstream' is rather undercut by the fact that you are very much part of that mainstream - for all your talk of cut-ups and Silliman,I still peg you as a Northern anecdotalist of the MacMillan / Hattersley school - and lip service and Salt on your latest spine doesn't seem to disabuse me of this. You may think you have a touch of the Armantrouts, but dream on, chum.

Melmoth - submission by post is not the way things get published in poetry. Famously, Susan Wicks got published in the late 80s by sending her MS to Faber - it's famous because it's the only time it has happened. Bloodaxe have never taken an unknown poet from the slush pile, apparently.

Everything is about establishing your name - as a poet, a reader - to be honest, most publication comes about through recommendations these days.

Roddy

Anonymous said...

Most common ways to get published in UK poetry:

1 Recommended by poetry teachers or poets mentoring the poet (eg Annie Freud, John Stammers, Jacob Polley, Paul Farley, Owen Sheers, Jen Hadfield, Colette Bryce, Greta Stoddart, Sally Read, Kate Clanchy)

2 Winning an Eric Gregory Award (eg Kate Bingham, Leontia Flynn, Alice Oswald, Melanie Challenger, Paul Batchelor, Sarah Corbett)

3 Approaching a publisher or vice versa after involvement in an anthology or a competition win (eg AB Jackson, Sarah Wardle, Julia Copus, Mike Barlow)

Melmoth said...

thanks Roddy, thats pretty comprehensive.

Rachel Fox said...

Told you it would run...
On the 'market for poetry' issue...there is a market for poetry, you know, it's just most 'poetry people' (I'm not going to explain what I mean...I'm sure you get the idea) can't bear to face the truth of what that market so often is. Consumers/buyers/readers do opt for some Bloodaxe, Duffy, Armitage...but they also buy a lot of books that get looked down on from a great height by so many poets, poetry editors etc. ('not real poetry' they call it). There is snobbery in music but in poetry, wow, it's something else! Makes me glad I don't have a book to be bitched about (yet).

Rob said...

Interesting discussion, folks, thanks.

I'm sure we all hope Todd finds a UK publisher for his poetry (he has a New and Selected Poems coming out later this year on Ireland's Salmon Press, which will at least make it easier to get hold of).

My disagreements with his article centre around the idea that the publishing world is closed off to good, interesting poets. However, I do recognise the contradictions in the opposing argument i.e. major publishers seek 'original' work, but want it to stick within their house style!

I think Andy J. put it as well as it can be put when he wrote of "that bit of glass in the brain" that sets some writers apart from others. Not something you can manufacture or craft! I don't think the major publishers have a monopoly on those writers, even though the Cape, Picador and Faber squad are all very good - some are among my favourite poets. I'd say that certain writers at Bloodaxe, Carcanet, Salt, Shearsman, and others, are every bit as strong.

Roddy's sobering information on how poets find publishers sounds realistic to me. It's the system Todd satirises in his article:

'...publishers “heard about” who was good, often at parties, and would approach those they were interested in, quietly. Such a closed system is evident when one checks most publishers’ websites. Very few welcome unsolicited poetry submissions.'

That doesn't quite seem fair to me. No one is going to recommend a writer to a major publisher, at a party or otherwise, unless he/she is convinced the writer has exceptional quality - not if the recommender values his/her own reputation. And on submissions, Picador don't allow unsolicited submissions, but the rest do. On the other hand, if so few are indeed accepted (one by Faber, reportedly none by Bloodaxe), I wonder how it can be worth their while to continue to accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Rachel - I think there are 'markets' for poetry. There is a market for Hallmark, a market for humorous light verse, a market for Simon Armitage, and a market for Ron Silliman. I try to ignore genres and appreciate good writing wherever I find it - including Steven Waling's excellent Travelator!

Rob said...

Frances - on my visitor stats. Frank Wilson at Books Inq plugs Surroundings every now and again, for which I thank him. He is a poetry fan, and he runs a very informative and popular blog. His recommendation has had a definite effect, but numbers would have been far higher than usual even without it. There's no obvious explanation.

Anonymous said...

Of course there are people who read poetry; by market I mean something which has the power to affect production and also the perceived value and/or quality of the work.

The poetry 'market' isn't a driving force in the equation. Perhaps only in a few rare cases (Heaney, Duffy, maybe Liz Lochhead up here) does the market operate as it does in other areas, i.e. that there is a recognisable demand and guaranteed sales.

For the rest of us who make up the 99.9%, however, it's more like a yard sale of fetish gear.

Poetry publishers take a punt on pretty much everything: it's always a pot-shot based on their Executive instincts.

ABJ

Rik said...

The one time I submitted a MS to Bloodaxe (over 5 years ago, mind), the MS came back 6 months later with the obligatory, advert covered rejection note and the pages of the MS as pristine as the day they were sent out. Advertising that unsolicited MSs are welcome, then not bothering to read them is, in my view, against trading standards - though luckily all I lost on the deal was the price of a couple of envelopes and some stamps.

re: Put your poems on the web ... nothing happens. Publish a book even ... nothing happens. Depends on how you measure these things: sales? Mentions in review columns? Kudos from your fellow poets? Eyeballs reading poems?

Steven Waling said...

Eeh bah gum, tha naws, it's th'owd Nothern Anecdotalist speakin'!

I'm from the North, I often write about my experiences and the ideas that interest me, so I must be. Does that make Roy Fisher a Brumagham Anecdotalist?

Perhaps I could invent a new form: The Northern Anecdotal: like a sonnet but with the addition of the word "Aye" on every line. "Aye, earth hath not anything to show more fair", "How do I love thee? Aye, let me count the ways," etc.

I did have a touch of the Armantrouts once, but I got some cream for it, and it cleared up right gradely.

Actually, talking of "formal inventiveness," it occurred to me before I went to bed last night that no-one had actually "invented" anything new formally for at least 25 years. Possibly more: did the Language poets actually "invent" new forms, or just adapt the old ones to new tones, new language games, etc?

Maybe the "newness" of new poets is something other than formal these days.

I actually quite like Nick Laird's poetry, from what I've read of it. I just don't think he's "formally inventive." Neither am I, really: cut and paste from newspaper articles is so 1920's don't you think? 'Scuse me, that Tristan Tzara's lawyer's on the phone with a plagarism suit...

I'm quite chuffed to be mentioned in the same breath as Ian MacMillan. His "Dad, the Donkey's on Fire" is one of the highlights of the last 15 years. For me, if it hasn't got pockets, it's not a jacket...

anyroad, I'll be off now. Got a whippet to walk.

Matt Merritt said...

I don't think I've got anything useful to add to the main debate (struggling to get my head round it, to be honest, as a result of a nasty dose of the norovirus), but there is one thing that is puzzling me. If I'm being thick, and overlooking something obvious, please don't hesitate to tell me...
It's this. Whatever the merits of Todd Swift's poetry (and I like most of what I've read), why does it matter if he has a UK publisher or not? Isn't that one of the things the internet has made pretty much irrelevant? I've ordered plenty of poetry collections direct from the USA or Canada, and they're generally no harder to get hold of than UK collections, and no more expensive. In fact, the last batch arrived far quicker than a batch ordered from a UK publisher. As far as I can see, all Todd's books seem to be available online, so all's well, isn't it?

Jim Sheard said...

This is probably a new discussion, but I wonder, reading the comments here, what people feel that book publication signifies?

The reason I like most poets I've met is that they seem primarily interested in the reading of poems, the making of them, and the various communal activities (readings, workshops, chatter) which arise from those things.

Poetry is immensely flexible and portable (it strikes me as being a far worse fate to be a novelist without a publisher, for example). The gates guard a small portion of the territory.

So: what accrues from book publication, in the opinion of those here?

Rik said...

Matt, Jim - the key issue for many (most?) scary quotes "serious" poets is not the act of publishing a book of poems - remember, I love lulu.com - but rather the kudos of having your book published by a group of people that the rest of the poetry community (or more accurately, communities) are expected to regard as purveyors of quality poetry. Not least because this group of people - publishing editors - are the ones taking the social and financial risks of investing time and money in the poets they choose to publish.

Given that most serious poets want - need - the validation that such a decision can provide them, it makes sense that they should seek out a book deal, and be willing to do whatever it takes to secure one.

The book publication can also lead to a wider range of validations: reviews of the book in magazines and newspapers; being asked to submit poems to journals; being invited to read poems at events and festivals; having opinions on the state of poetry taken seriously by peers and acolytes; being invited to judge competitions; being offered a poetry residency; etc, etc, etc. Without the book deal(s), such progression is not possible in this day and age - even with the advent of the internet.

It saddens me that the gatekeepers, to use Mr Lumsden's word, feel that relying on word of mouth and social networking offers a more effective way of seeking out the quality poets whose work (they believe) is worthy of their investment. I can understand how it can lead to accusations of cliques, cartels, nepotism and exclusion from the perceived elites. But if that is what works for the publishing editors, then I see no reason to question it: they're not investing my money or my reputation in their editorial decisions.

Instead, my reputation is now tied to my decision to publish my poems on my website, and to make use of the aforementioned lulu.com for the hardcore fanbase that demands paper versions of my work. I see it not as a better approach, but rather a different approach - one that works better for me, mainly because I have a pathological hatred of flesh-based social networking and a sociopathic indifference concerning validation by my poetic peers. Most people are not like me, which is probably just as well ...

Steve - just remember to keep the whippet out of the prize leek garden, yes? (smiley icon thingy)

Andrew Shields said...

I've been lurking here, but Jim's last comment made me wonder, too, especially as I have not submitted a book or chapbook manuscript anywhere since the end of 2005. I just burned out on the first-book prize system in North America, and I had tried mail subs with many of the British publishers. In the meantime, I started blogging and have continued publishing poems in journals, both print and on-line. A full-length book would be a delight, but to second Jim's question, what else would it give me that I do not at the moment have?

Readings, perhaps, but as a parent of three small children and a resident of Switzerland, I don't have much time for them now!

–— But if anyone reading this has been thinking of inviting me to give a reading anywhere, please do so! :-)

Rob said...

Jim's question made me think too. Apart from all the fame, riches, sex appeal and non-stop adulation?

I think it could:

1. get me a few more invitations to readings and festivals and chatter - all those things I enjoy - and
2. help to create an audience for my poetry. Actual sales of the book, which are liable to be minimal, are only a tiny part of that.

And I feel that self-publishing wouldn't have the same effect. Although I wouldn't rule it out either.

Rob said...

I should add that, although poetry books tend not to sell well, it becomes important to sell as many as realistically possible - partly out of pride, I guess, and partly because a publisher has had faith in your poems and you don't want to bankrupt him/her.

Anonymous said...

Rik,

I think I was thinking along these lines: even after climbing the everest of book publication, there's a fair chance that it won't be reviewed, won't trigger invitations, won't generate a readership, won't settle you in that safety zone. That can be a bitter disappointment if you're not prepared for it.

Fair chance as well that your publisher won't want to publish your second book! I know a few folk in that position. So again, it's not as if getting there actually gets you there ... the gatekeepers can always close the gate.

In addition to Roddy's comments, I think one of the other main elements (over which you have no control) is accruing some advocates of your work. You know, those folk who will ask you to submit for an anthology or whatnot, mention your name to other folk, etc.

For this reason, it's an idea to submit only to what are considered quality magazines rather than any old iron: those folk-in-the-know are more likely to read them, and thus twig your existence.

5,000 web-zine readers is one thing, to which you can attach a value; but if book publication is the ultimate aim, I think it helps to focus on the traditional print media with what you think are your best pieces.

For example, two or three poets I've bumped into in the past month have said, "Oh, I read your poem in xxx." In that way, I guess, you maintain a certain visibility. You're in the shop window, so to speak. I don't think web publishing has that same effect, somehow. It's a different kind of traffic.


ABJidrtmb

Jane Holland said...

Time for a publishing testimony. I sent a dozen truly shit poems to Bloodaxe in the mid-90s. I got them back very swiftly, with the standard 'Who are you kidding?' rejection slip.

The next year I won a Gregory and met Brendan Kennelly on an Arvon course who promptly recommended me to Neil Astley.

Within a few months of that, Neil had arranged for me to meet him, asked to see my poems again - which were not very much better than that first batch, to be brutally honest - and soon afterwards offered me a contract with Bloodaxe.

Before going on that Arvon course, I only had one published poem (in IRON - such a great little magazine, especially for new writers). So I suspect my background as a world-ranked snooker player was a deciding factor there ...

Forgive me for being cynical, but some of these new poets mentioned above as suddenly popping up at major publishers can also be seen, with a jaded eye, as having more than just raw talent to recommend them.

Jane Holland said...

Steven, I'm with you on DTDOF. I can never spot an error in a film now without quoting IM's fabulous 'The Continuity Girl is Dead' poem. And what about that brilliant 'coffee in the briefcase' anecdote? Superb knicker-wetting stuff.

Sorry. Just an aside. Carry on.

Rob said...

Well, this topic is all about publishing books. But... While I would like to have a collection published, it's not the most important thing.

The most important thing for me is writing good poems and, every now and then, however it happens, writing a poem that seems more than good. Also reading great poems is important.

Now I can see the sense in sending good poems to the kind of print publications Andy J is talking about - I imagine Poetry Review, TLS, PN Review, Shearsman - and up here, Chapman.

The thing is, there are also magazines I simply like - Magma, Orbis, The Dark Horse, The Red Wheelbarrow - and others that are new (to me) and interesting, such as Poetry Nottingham, Seam, Fuselit, and Succour. Then there are the few web magazines that publish high quality stuff - qarrtsiluni, Salt, and indeed Todd Swift's nthposition. I think these are worth supporting by sending poems (and subscribing to at least some of them) even if no one 'influential' reads them.

I prefer reading poems in print to reading on the web, but I also think the potential of the web for presenting poets and poetry has been largely untapped - I'm with Todd on this one.

It's the creative act of writing a poem that's most important to me. Having it read by others, even if small in number, is connected intimately to that creation (in my mind) - if I like the publiaction, I'm always pleased to have my stuff appear there. Publishing to catch the eyes of the gatekeepers - yes, it's worth trying the big publications now and again too. That makes sense.

But it's not the main reason I write and publish poems. Does that make sense? My comment in my post about taking up crochet if no one accepted my MS was a glib comment, as I know I'd just carry on writing poems anyway.

Rob said...

Jane, thanks for the story! Of course, it's possible to look at it cynically. On the other hand, you didn't get the Eric Gregory for nothing. And most of those new poets popping up, due to a word from the right person in a gatekeeper's ear, tend to be pretty good writers. It does mean that other writers - just as good - might not be noticed. Or might take years more to be noticed.

Everyone needs a bit of luck too. Let's say you miss your train and, on the platform, run into someone with influence in the poetry publishing world who likes your poems, who then does you a favour (unasked-for of course). That's the way it goes. Your poet-friend who caught the train, who is a little better than you, finally gets a book out 10 years later. I guess that's life.

Andrew Shields said...

As Sebald put it, Rob, "writing is necessary, not literature." Which I always took to mean pretty much what you just said: one writes poems to writes poems; publishing them (becoming "literature") is icing on the cake.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, Steven, well done for besting my hubris with humour - not that I retract my point, mind thee!

As for the erstwhile suggestion that the big presses never accept unsolicited manuscripts - I think it's more that they rarely / never discover poets that way - though they may be happy to find an MS from someone they know via magazines, prizes, word of mouth or previosu publication - this is how my first book got published. This might also explain why a MS might be returned apparently unread.

Rik, 'gatekeeper' certainly isn't my choice of term. I recall Andy Croft's hilarious idea that poetry was a nightclub with an elite few dancing inside while all the plebs queued on the pavement - maybe that's where it came from, though I suspect similar paranoid fantasias can be chased through the staples of the small press mags back to Umpteen Oatcake, as Maw Broon says.

Publishers are looking variously for poets who:

-have quality AND commercial appeal, whether that be general or regional or genre based;

- are different OR similar to their other poets, but not 'more of the same';

- have long term sales possibility (esp for the commercial lists)

- are good readers, who already have good editors or mentors; who are not difficult people to deal with or for the public / organisers to deal with;

- have already established their names to some degree via the usual routes;

- are saleable to women, since women buy maybe 70% of contemporary poetry;

- are not living abroad or likely to be reluctant or unable to take part in promoting their work;

- are mostly sane (unlikely).

Roddy

Rachel Fox said...

Rob, this crochet thing is to good to pass by. I'm seeing the title for that new book you're heading towards...'It was this or the crochet', something to do with needles or, on a slight tangent, 'Knit one, pearl one'.
Just think how it would get the attention of those 70% women (see how you need us!).
Now must walk the damn dog (not a whippet, by the way, mother's dog and mother too old to walk it..).
Rachel

Andrew Shields said...

"are not living abroad" ... that's the big strike against me, at least in the UK (from the keyboard of Mr. Picador himself, Don Paterson). Then it does not help either that I am not even British!

And in the U.S. I can probably only get a book through a First Book Prize, since the prizes do not take where you live into account (or at least not supposed to).

But I like being an expat in Switzerland, so I'll just have to live with it.

Anonymous said...

Have to ask, Roddy - how do you assess whether a work is 'saleable to women' or not?

Particularly if it's the work of a male writer, since female writers presumably have this asset by default ... or do they?

Is it a matter of content, or style, or what?

ABJ

Anonymous said...

I mean that some poets are taken on because they have a style of writing that is seen to be especially appealing to women, since they buy more poetry and buy more poetry as gifts. We don't know the gender sales stats for poets like Cope, Oliver and Duffy, but I think it's safe to say that the many thousands of sales they have above most other names on the commercial lists (Heaney and Collins aside) are mostly to women.

The big lists are looking for women poets who fit this bill. This is why Picador have signed Lorraine Mariner.

A fairly well-known but unprolific poet I know, who is probably the nearest thing in the UK to 'a male Wendy Cope' (witty, formal, satirical etc) struggled for years to find a home for his latest collection. Men generally don't buy light or inspirational or funny poetry and women don't buy men who write that way or give the books to their sister-in-law as a birthday present.

Roddy