Here are my responses to the Ten Questions posed at Very Like a Whale. It’s possible that I’d answer these differently from one day to another, so take them with a pinch of salt. I have published exactly one chapbook/pamphlet and am at work on the manuscript for a possible debut full collection.
1. Describe your publishing trajectory. (Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?)
About 20 years ago, I sent poems to Iron Magazine (no longer with us) and received a kind reply from the editor suggesting I read more poetry. As he hadn’t recognised what I imagined (insanely) to be my genius, I didn’t take his advice and instead concentrated in writing song lyrics and playing in a band. Around 1998, I began writing and reading poetry again. My first published poems were in 1999, two poems in New Writing Scotland. I moved to Italy, published poems in the little magazines, and five years later moved back to Scotland where HappenStance Press was starting up. I went to the launch of the first two pamphlets, was impressed, submitted a batch of poems, fully expecting a rejection six months later, but instead got an acceptance a few days later. The pamphlet came out in December 2005. Since then I’ve been writing poems and reviews. Recently I’ve been putting together a manuscript – when it’s ready, I hope it will become my first full collection.
2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?
At times, I wish I’d read more poetry and learned to write it earlier in life. However, it may be that I simply wasn’t equipped to write poetry in my twenties. There’s no real point in wishing to have done things differently. Things might have worked out better if I’d been more committed earlier, but they might have turned out worse. Who can tell?
3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?
I had written poems. Poems are there to be read and that’s why I sought publication. These days, I want a) to have my poems appear along with others’ in magazines I like and, b) to gain readers by having pamphlets and books of my work published. I could do that by self-publishing, or by uploading all my poems onto this blog, but I’ve always preferred the validation and the kudos of having other people publish my work – or not, as the case may be.
4. Does your relationship with your work change after it is published and if so, how? How does the concept of publication affect your writing in general?
I don’t think my relationship with my work changes at all after publication. As time goes past, I like some of my published poems more than others. Some poems I regret having published at all. I never try to tailor my work to appeal to editors or publishers. Of course, I read magazines I submit to and don’t send work I know they would never dream of publishing, but I write the poems I want to write, now more so than ever. No compromise!
5. Talk about putting a chapbook together. How have you done it in the past, how would you do it differently now? Why are chapbooks a good thing or not a good thing?
Helena Nelson from HappenStance asked for 10-12 poems in the initial submission. After the acceptance came through, I had to send everything I thought might work in the chapbook. Helena made comments and editing suggestions on all those poems – some got a simple thumbs-up, some got an immediate thumbs-down (my poor old villanelle!), and I made revisions to others. The process showed me the importance of a good editor. If I was doing one now, I’d probably have more idea of what poems would work together and what order they should go in etc. I like chapbooks. They are short, usually good value, and are an effective way of getting poems to a readership, especially if you are prepared to get out there and sell them.
6. What’s your advice to someone putting together a full-length poetry manuscript for the first time? Share your thoughts on the importance (or not) of narrative arc in poetry manuscripts.
Make sure there are no passengers i.e. no weak poems. Keep trying to improve it. Make sure there are at least a few really fantastic poems. I don’t think narrative arc is important in the least. It’s a curiously fashionable idea. That said, care should be taken over the order of the poems. Even if no one has a clue why you chose that order, you should know! But sheer brilliance of writing makes for a great book, arc or no arc.
Some kind of rationale behind the collection is useful for a publisher to market it and, consequently, is useful for the poet to 'sell' his/her manuscript to a publisher. But I don't think all the poems need to fit the rationale, and some may do so only by a supreme act of poetic imagination.
7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?
I must have mentioned The Clown of Natural Sorrow so many times on this blog by now. There’s no escape from it. The Clown will haunt your dreams and nightmares if you read this blog too often. Or if you don’t go to the link and buy The Clown immediately! I also do readings whenever I can and generally try to flog the chapbook to anyone with even a flicker of interest in poetry. That said, I haven’t found it easy to sell my poetry. I’m not naturally into talking myself up. It’s that Scottish thing – you can’t push yourself forward too far or you’ll get a sharp “Who do you think you are?” retort. There are serious dangers in having an ego here – there’s always someone waiting to “trip you up and laugh when you fall,” as Morrissey put it.
8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are…..
Usually (in the UK at least) fairly small concerns with a passion for poetry. Or tiny poetry imprints connected to huge companies that publish all kinds of stuff. They can market and distribute books wider than small publishers. They vary widely. Some might seem a little “safe” in their choices of who to publish, but others certainly aren’t. They are businesses who need to sell books, but if they were in it for the money alone, they’d publish celebrity autobiographies. So, at heart, they are a contradiction in terms – not in a bad way.
9. Small- and micro-presses are…
Usually tiny concerns with a passion for poetry. They will publish books and chapbooks that they feel will enhance their reputation, that they think will sell, and that they believe in one hundred percent. They are generally unpaid and overworked. A sense of humour is a must. They are vital for poetry, always have been and always will be.
10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.
I have a good relationship with my publisher. She put out a good quality product and I met my deadlines. Communication was good. She did what she could to help sell the book (a launch, a web presence, sending review copies etc) and I played my part as best I could. We worked well together when creating the chapbook and we get on well personally. I guess a bad relationship would entail these things not happening on both sides.