As I mentioned before I’ve been on a ‘sending off poems’ spree recently so I’m now enjoying a lull in activities and catching up on some reading.
This book (How (Not) to Get your Poetry Published, HappenStance Press, 2016) has had me gripped for the last few days. I bought it for several reasons: I think it will be helpful to me; I’m interested in the business of poetry publishing and promotion as well as poetry writing; I like Helena Nelson (we’ve only met once, and briefly, but we have emailed each other a bit) and I like HappenStance books (also, I’m a subscriber so I’m entitled to a 25% discount on all purchases) and, lastly, I feel indebted to Helena and her blog (where some of the chapters of this book first appeared) because she is partly responsible for helping me to publish my pamphlet The Misplaced House. Here’s how:
When I started writing poetry seriously in 2009/10 (before that I’d been writing since childhood and I’d had some successes with short stories and a stage play and radio play in the 1990s) I started following the HappenStance blog. Here I found articles about getting yourself noticed, to blog or not to blog, prize culture, and so on. Also, Helena wrote about the kinds of poems that had arrived in her submissions pile, I seem to remember that she’d noticed a lot of poems in couplets, for example, and certain words and subject matter were ‘popular’ (ie done to death) so this made me reappraise my own work.
Helena wrote about how poets approached her, what they wrote in their introductions, how they’d gone about presenting their work, and this was helpful to someone (me) with their sights set on pamphlet publication for a growing portfolio of poems.
How (Not) to Get your Poetry Published is all of these articles, and more, contained in one book. Chapter headings include ‘Which publisher, and are you ready?’, ‘Sending poems to magazines’, ‘Can you be a published poet and not do readings?’ and lots more besides.
But how did Helena help me to get published? Well, in addition to reading and taking note of many of her blog posts, I also submitted poems to Helena during one of HappenStance’s open submissions windows. Helena didn’t offer me publication (I wasn’t expecting her to) but she did send me advice and made some editing suggestions which I took on board. Actually, I did more than take Helena’s comments on board. I took them to heart. I felt encouraged. I edited my poems, collected the ones she’d especially liked and parcelled them up to Gareth Lewis at tall-lighthouse. Shortly after, Gareth wrote to me to offer the publication of a pamphlet. Helena was one of the first people I emailed, sharing this news, and she was delighted for me.
How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published is full of practical, informed advice. It’s honest. And I’m finding it laugh aloud funny, as my husband, who’s been sitting next to me while I’ve been reading the book this week, will confirm. A couple of examples:
Chapter One is called ‘Why?’ (ie why do you write? why do you want to be published?) Helena documents the multiple reasons she’s come across in her years in the business, including:
Or the writer may want to make money. Some people are (wrongly) convinced their poetry will be commercially advantageous, both for themselves and the publisher. I keep a file of (such) email approaches…. because I’m fascinated by delusion.
and, from Chapter Thirteen ‘Thinking outside the book’, a chapter about considering all of your options with regard to getting published:
If you’re 22, for example, you have time on your side. You can think in the long-term, and you’re a good proposition a publisher who’s mainly printing aging poets, a couple of whom die off every now and again. If you’ve developed a set of strong poems and you’re under 30, you can apply for an Eric Gregory Award.
If you’re 62, or 72 (or 82 or 92) it’s more difficult. You may feel you have a closer acquaintance with time’s wingèd chariot than you care to mention. You’re too old for a Gregory and you can’t read the small print on funding applications.
I’d recommend this book if you want to publish a pamphlet or a first or second collection, if you want to get better at writing poetry (there are writing exercises at the end of each chapter), if you want to be more informed about poetry publishing the UK. There are also chapters about ordering a collection, getting poetry readings, promoting your work, social networking for poets, and self-publishing. And there are ‘workbook pages’ at the end of the book for you to fill in and customise according to your own poetry goals. It would be a terrific book for a poetry writing group to pass around and share or for a poetry teacher to use with his or her students.
Here’s another link to the HappenStance bookshop: How (Not) to Get your Poetry Published by Helena Nelson, HappenStance Press, 2016.