In an article first published by the literary development platform Dialect poet Frank McMahon writes about the journey from first inspirations and semi-legible scribbles to the big moment of publication.
I write this as my second volume of poetry, A Different Land, is being readied for publication in July 2022.
Somewhere in old workbooks and diary notes will be a record of the first line or lines of the first or oldest poem which is included in this new volume of poetry. And if I were to succumb to a state somewhere between OCD and “sad,” I guess I could trace the lineage of all the poems.
But now, as the final proofs are being prepared, it is too late to have second, fifth or eleventh thoughts about their soundness and quality. They will soon be out into the world, part of the rich flowering of poetry in this country and abroad. Nervous, excited, proud are appropriate adjectives to describe my fluctuating mental state but I am pretty sure that these are shared emotions among other poets and writers.
So I take some strength and comfort from the hours spent sharing and testing earlier drafts of poems with fellow members of my writing group and with skilled and experienced mentors. Yes, I also rely on the judicious opinions of my editor/ publisher and on those of other editors who have published some of the poems in their own journals, magazines, and anthologies.
Those times when we strive to capture lines which seem to come from nowhere, toil over drafts, decipher scribbled notes, erase text or move it elsewhere, worry about form, rhythm, word excess or repetition; these times are the essential hard yards of crafting something special, individual and universal until you have work to offer to an editor.
And in a curious way, I take comfort from rejections, not that they are ever easy to read but they have served as a spur to review, edit, revise or even file away forever.
And then you need good fortune, because editors have their very individual criteria and house style. However good your market research, you can only ever submit in hope.
I was very fortunate with my first collection. It was not my first submission to poetry journals which offered pamphlet or book publication but the content of some of my poems had strong environmental and social justice themes which matched the publisher’s ethos.
Palewell Press is a small but growing indie publisher (76 titles) based in London, I originally submitted ten poems and was then asked to send about twenty more. Fortunately, my editor considered that there were enough poems meriting publication in terms of quality and “fit.” Some poems were cast aside on grounds of quality too.
So when the editor opened the submissions window about 18 months ago, I felt I had enough relevant and good quality work to offer. I should add that I have sent work to other publishers and had it declined during this time – I have learned that hopes should never become assumptions.
Following the initial submission and its acceptance, I reviewed what I had sent, withdrew one and sent some more which were then included.
Now is a good time to say that as soon as I knew my book would be published, I began to think about marketing it. Small Indie publishers do not have the resources of Faber or Carcanet. As Paul Brookes of Wombwell has said, it is down to us primarily to market it.
So, I developed a marketing plan. The list below is not exhaustive but includes:
· having a launch event;
· reading at open mics (a great way to get yourself known.);
· trying to be a featured writer at poetry festivals (in person and on-line);
· publicity on local media, and using Twitter and Facebook;
· approaching local writers’ groups for a slot;
· asking fellow writers to review the book on Amazon or Waterstones;
· trying to persuade your local bookshop to feature and sell your book in-store;
· asking poetry magazines to review and post the review.
My publisher has a very good website but having your book featured on it can only be a small part of the marketing work.
PREPARING THE MS.
When my first book, At the Storm’s Edge, was being prepped, the editor suggested that the poems should be themed and she highlighted some lines from the poems which would work.
Not everything was a perfect fit but it worked pretty well. So we followed the same method this time, only I suggested the lines for her approval.
Editors and poets work in a shared space where negotiation is the crucial feature. You have to accept that they have the final say. There is a contract to be signed but what matters is having a mutually respectful relationship. And in both books, I had to look at proposed revisions, which mostly related to lay-out on the page. What might work in A4 may not work in A5.
I also needed to think about changes to improve clarity but there was never an attempt to have me change the meaning or intent of the poem.
So, drafts go back and forward until you settle on everything from front to back cover. These include the blurbs, a few sentences which the editor has sought from recognised poets.
I have been very fortunate to have two wonderful ones from JLM Morton and Adam Horovitz and when I read them, my spirits sang!
Next stage is when the editor sends the MS to the printer to prepare the e-version. And now, even though you have done it several times already, you go through each poem with a fine, forensic toothcomb for spelling, punctuation and layout.
Copy editing is an essential task, more hard yards but essential.
When that is signed off, you wait with bated breath to see your book and have the first copy in your hands.
And in a curious way, this is only the beginning.