6 minutes reading time (1166 words)

CURTAINS

The  submissions window is shut. Here's what came through it.

There were 117 submissions in all (ten more than the previous window).

The envelopes of poems included between 6 and 70 poems, but about three quarters of them held 12, as requested on the submissions page.

I read and responded to around 1500 poems, and to their authors. It got more difficult as the month went on and my brain got fuller.

77 of those sending poems had never sent to HappenStance before.

40 were on their second, third or fourth submission. (That doesn’t mean they were making a fourth desperate bid to get a pamphlet published. For a good number of people, it’s just about getting thoughtful feedback on work in progress.)

14 were not ‘new’ poets. They had been previously published in book or pamphlet form, 6 of them by HappenStance.

4 people warmly invited to send poems didn’t send any. They know who they are!

77 were women, 40 men. Ages, so far as I could tell, varied from early twenties to eighties (people don’t always say – and why should they?). Ethnic minority poets could be numbered on one hand (I would like to see more).

30 were from Scotland (most ever)

16 were from London.

8 were from Wales (most ever)

2 from the Irish Republic.

61 from the rest of the UK (a couple of these have addresses both in the UK and France).

About 80% were HappenStance subscribers, or took out a subscription just before they sent in the poems.

I made offers to 7 people for slots in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

  • 3 of these were to poets I had been working with for some time, so I already had them in my book as ‘maybes’.
  • 2 were to established poets with more than one previous book-length publication.
  • 1 was to a HappenStance poet for a second pamphlet (rare but occasionally happens).
  • 5 were women, 2 were men. (All were too old for a Gregory Award.)
  • 2 of them live in Scotland. Both men.

Publishing schedule

  • 2015 is now full to the brim.
  • 2016 is full.
  • 2017 is beginning to fill up.

There were many good and memorable poems and poets. In my notebook (apart from the offers) I marked 22 as long-term ‘maybes’, although (with a couple of exceptions) I didn’t tell them this because it’s miserable to get up hopes if in the long-term they aren’t realised. In any case, I couldn’t publish all 22, whatever happened.

There was a problem this month, in that the reading was too intense and voluminous (if all the poems were haiku or tanka it would be fine). In some cases, I didn’t read all the poems people sent because I ran out of juice, especially where the poems were lengthy or dense. By ‘dense’ I mean long lines and filling most of an A4 page. I always read poems three times and think hard. So those kind of poems take me at least 20 minutes to process and respond to. If there are 12 of them . . .

The other problem was that I ceased to be able to do anything else but read submissions. The days were not long enough. And so I have to make some changes.

Because it is impossible to read a large number of people’s work with a possible view to publication and at the same time keep a publishing business going. There isn't any life left to do the publishing bit. That’s why most publishers have that little notice that says ‘no unsolicited submissions’ (though they get them anyway).

I was supposed to be finishing work on two new pamphlets in July – by Tom Cleary and Ruth Marden. Both ground to a halt as I disappeared under a tide of poetry submissions.

Even now I am wabbit, and this week 16 boxes of books arrived to be packaged and promoted and all the associated activities therewith (the Choc-Lit Anthology and D A Prince’s second collection, Common Ground).

So in December, I know I can’t read 117 submissions again, or not in the same way. Besides, I have reason to suppose, if things increase as the way they have over recent years, there will be 127. When I started this, there were 30 – one a day for about a month. Please don’t think I am moaning. I invited people – nay urged them to send me poems. But I always knew my capacity had limits, and this summer I reached them.

I intend to continue an open submissions policy, but I can't read so many poems at once again.

I am really operating two separate services.

The first of these invites people, if they feel they're ready, to make a pamphlet proposal and include a few poems. (I hardly ever make an offer on this basis. I have only done it once in the last three years, for example, with a debut poet.)

The second (and this is the one I prefer) invites people to send me a few of their poems simply for feedback, with a personal letter giving a bit of background. The second option avoids the accept/reject situation. I hardly ever find myself in an accept/reject position, though it does occasionally happen. It is more a case of how interested I am, and over time, how much more interested I get.

Some revised details are on the submissions page. Interestingly, one thing seems to have clicked in my head lately: when it comes to approaching a publisher about a publication, six poems really is enough. (I have, nevertheless, changed my guidelines to suggest a maximum of 8 for a first submission, because I think it useful for people to get feedback on more than half a dozen, and I think I can still manage that. At least I'm going to try.)

I know poets must think, when it comes to considering a pamphlet proposal, that one would need more – more of their range or their styles or their thematic idea and so on. But it isn’t so. You can sense your own quickening of interest almost instantly, and in that case, it's easy to send compliments and a request to see a larger set. Some people’s poems welcome you in; others don’t. It’s not just about quality; it’s about whether the reader and the poems get on. The covering letter, to me, is also important. Publishing is about a relationship, and that's where it often begins. I always reply personally too, and that won't change.

Thank you to all the people who trusted me with their poems in July. I know some of them found the feedback useful because they’ve written and said so. Some found the reverse, and I apologise for heavy-handedness in some cases.

And now it’s back to the business of trying to create and sell the books! And the two latest are not even in the shop yet so nobody can buy them!.

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CHOC-LIT TAKES OVER
CLEANSING THE POETRY PALATE
 

Comments 1

Ingrid Murray on Monday, 04 August 2014 08:39

A belated thank you, Nell. Hope August is a little quieter for you but something tells me that is unlikely!

A belated thank you, Nell. Hope August is a little quieter for you but something tells me that is unlikely!
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Friday, 23 August 2019