Monday, February 25, 2008

Online is the future of poetry?

This excerpt from Ron Silliman's blog post today caught my eye:

[...] We are moving, faster than I think any of us (or me anyway) are conscious of, toward a day on which poetry is something that exists primarily on the web, having made the migration away from print & bookstores to a degree that right now seems unfathomable. Those older poets who currently refuse to publish on the web – they do exist – will discover soon enough that they have painted themselves into the proverbial corner. Far from being a "debased" terrain where works commingle without being presorted by "value," the web simply is becoming the commons for such work. [...]

As you can imagine, I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Unfortunately, the vast majority of poets I come into contact with (online, strangely enough, as I hardly ever venture out into the real world wearing my floppy lilac poet's cap) seem unable to see the future of poetry as I see it. They're all still tied into the tried-and-tested 20th century equation of poet = platform where platform is a wierd agglomeration of how many books you've convinced others to publish for you, how many of the right sort of magazines you've appeared in, how many other poets you're on first name terms with, how many poetry residencies you've undertaken, how many smaller magazines solicit your work, how many reviews and blurbs of other poets' work you get to write and - this one's quite important, I think - how good your poems are.

It's not much fun being a shill for internet poetry when everyone points and laughs at your efforts. Sometimes I wonder whether I'd be better off exchanging my double-extra-thick-rhino-quality skin for that rather attractive rivet-reinforced tinfoil sombrero to go over my floppy lilac poet's cap ...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Self publishing stuff

Seeing as I made a big song-and-dance of self-publishing my poetry book in my responses to Nic VeryLikeAWhale's 10 publishing questions (see post below), I think it's only fair that I post a link to an excellent blog which deals exclusively with POD companies.

The blog is called PODdy Mouth - daily dirt on POD and self-publishing, and its posts are jam-packed full of details and data about the main POD and self-publishing companies you'll come across if you're ever tempted to consider publishing your own book of poems. Please note that this PODdy Mouth is not the same as the late, lamented PODdy Mouth run by girlondemand which reviewed POD-published novels. This is a different PODdy Mouth. You have been told.

If you spend more than a few minutes browsing the blog, you'll soon realise that this new PODdy Mouth is not a great fan of - the company I published my poetry book with. S/he compares to McDonalds in terms of the product and service - and surprisingly enough, I agree with that assessment. are cheap and cheerful, and you get what you order from them without added extras like tablecloths, cutlery and waiting staff.

As I've mentioned a number of times on this blog, I'm happy with the service because it meets my (very specific) needs. I researched a number of self-publishing businesses before deciding that were the company for me. I've had some exposure to book design, layout, typesetting, etc and thus didn't feel the need to have someone else do that work for me. This helped me keep down my outlay for publishing the book.

Quite simply, if you want a quality product but don't know what you're doing, then is probably not the place to go for your self-publishing needs. If, on the other hand, you're as cocky and headstrong as me about your product: go for it!

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.

The RikHead

Scary, huh?

... and look Mum: I have got a brain!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

And the most visited poem on Rikweb ...

... since I started collating figures about a month ago is, umm, Summersex - which makes me wonder what sort of person is checking out the poetry on my website. Especially as three other poems from the Poems to quote to your lover (before and after you fuck) chapbook also make it into the top 10.

Thankfully, three far more wholesome poems from my 22 facets of my father installation (Fool, Death and Strength, for those of a questioning tone of mind) also make it into the top 10, as do the the front pages of two other projects: one very old and not yet finished (A walk in the park) and one not quite so old and very much still in its incomplete first draft stage (Snowdrop). The popularity of the park poems can be easily explained: it's the first page listed in my archive (I really ought to do something about finishing off that series - let's see what I can conjour up in this year's NaPoWriMo extravaganza). But as for the others ... Google must love people with smutty fingers, is all I can say.

What, you mean you haven't visited my poetry pages yet? Shame on you! Go visit them now! There's no excuse not to!


I've given myself until the end of the month to finish the first draft of my novel and to revise/polish it. This is not as difficult as it may seem as I've already revised the existing text as part of an exercise to work out what sort of ending I ought to be writing. And writing another 5-10,000 words in 10 days shouldn't be a problem to a NaNoWriMo veteran such as me.

As an incentive, I've been researching UK literary agents. I now have a little list of 12 agencies divided into A, B and C groups who will be receiving my representation submissions (begging letters? Nah! I have confidence in my writting skillz) in the week after Easter, mid-June and mid-September respectively. No plans to send to publishers - that can come in December

But before sending the novel out into the wild, I ought to get me some of them beta readers, just to check that the manuscript is really as brilliant as I currently think it is. Volunteers may apply for the post in the comments below.

(oh, yeah: National Novel Finish and Polish Month)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is it Bluebells time yet?

I've no idea, though it would be nice to have a bit of colour to go with the grey skies.

What I do know is that I've been cigarette-free for 136 hours now, which deserves a bit of a celebration, yes?

Say hello to the Bluebells:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For Valentine's Day

... I give up smoking. Hopefully for good this time.

I have eight cigarettes left in my packet. Already my body is telling my brain that I need to go out and buy at least another 200 - it panicks when it thinks I'm running low on fags. Already my brain is saying: 'Hey, it won't harm to go out and buy another pack - you can always give up on Friday ...'

I have nicotine chewing gum ready for gnawing, and nicotine inhalators for the sucking. I'm not giving up smoking, I tell my body and my brain, I'm just replacing one source of nicotine for another source. Remember the good things you enjoyed when you didn't smoke - like clean hair and solid gums and working taste buds and stuff. You'll be fine, I'm murmuring to my muscles and my lungs. It'll be an adventure!

I think it's time to diminish my dwindling supply of cancer sticks by one. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!