Thursday, February 21, 2008

VLAW: 10 questions on publishing

Nic, over at Very Like a Whale, is in the process of asking a group of poets about their poetry book publishing experiences - which makes for some very interesting reading!

Now all the people invited to answer Nic's ten question are poets who have had a volume of work published by a publisher - in other words they've had to seek out someone who believes in the work enough to commit their money, resources and reputations to printing and distributing the book. Obviously this excludes me from being asked to take part as I've never gone looking for that sort of thing. But the questions look fun, so I've decided to offer up some answers to them here.

Fasten your seatbelts ...

1. Describe your publishing trajectory. Where did it start? Where is it now? How long have you been at it?
It all started when I discovered No, I tell a lie. I once sent a manuscript off to (I think) Bloodaxe, which they kindly returned to me six months later, unread. So there must have been some itch to have my work published. Anyway, when I heard about the idea of self-publishing suddenly seemed to make sense to me - a way of getting my work into hardcover without the need to spend huge amounts of money assuaging my vanity. I blogged about the publishing process on this very blog back in 2005, for those who are interested.

My other method of publication is via my website. I also produce pdf chapbooks which people can download from the website and print out for themselves - four so far, and no doubt more to follow in due course.

2. What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?
Nothing. My approach has been perfect for my needs. I wouldn't recommend it for other poets, though, unless they knew what they were doing, and why they were doing it.

3. Why did you start seeking publication? Why do you continue?
I did it because people (you know who you are) kept moaning about not having access to my poems - principally the 22 Facets of my Father poems - in the form of a book.

Why do I continue? I like the idea of do-it-yourself and print-on-demand. Not only is it environmentally friendly, and cheap, but the end product is good quality, too. There will no doubt be another RikVerse volume in due course, once I have enough poems to justify its production.

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?
No. I don't view publication of a poem (either electronically or in hardcopy) to be the end of the story - my poems will only reach their final versions when I draw my last breath.

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?
My pdf chapbooks each contain 22 poems - enough to get a story arc going without over-burdening the reader with poetry. Each of my chapbooks has a theme, which I usually decide in advance. Facets obviously has a tight arc, based on the principles I used for determining the subjects I'd be tackling in each poem, whereas I decided to pull Skull together when I realised I had enough poems covering similar territory to make the chapbook. Quote, on the third hand, was an product idea conceived before I'd written any of the poems it contains - I'd located a gap in my poetic output (love poems) and decided to do something about it.

Chapbooks give me an idea of the sort of poems I want to write - I can't sit down and just write a poem about whatever.

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.
I like books that tell stories, either directly or obliquely. A good book of poems should be greater than the sum of the poems it contains. Having a narrative arc is one way of achieving this, though there are other ways of doing it, too.

The best advice for someone pulling together their first manuscript? Don't just concentrate on putting in all the best poems, but rather think of the bigger picture: what's the book about? What's its purpose? Why should people buy it? How can it be summarised in a couple of sentences to someone?

7. Do you personally market your publications? If so, why and how, and do you enjoy it? If not, why not?
The only publicity I do for my hardcover book is on my website and blog. I see the book as being supplementary to the website, produced specifically for people who want to read my poems in that format. The website and my internet activities linking to it are far more important, to me.

I ought to be doing more to build my real-life platform and reputation (submitting to journals, attending poetry gatherings and festivals, seeking out reading spots, etc, etc) but for various reasons I choose not to follow that path. It's probably a bit of a Rudi Giulliani strategy, but there you go.

8. Complete the following sentences: Big-name poetry publishers are ...
Doing good work - they give poets something to aspire to.

9. Small- and micro-presses are ...
Doing essential work - poetry is such a niche market that they are often better able to adapt to the rapidly changing face of modern-day publishing.

10. Describe the ideal relationship with a publisher and the relationship with a publisher from hell.
I am my own poetry publisher. Does that mean I have a fool for a client? Others might view it that way, but it doesn't worry me.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great perspective! I put a link on the 10Q standing page so others can share it: