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The window is about to shut.
That is to say, the ‘submissions window’, that delightful metaphor I acquired from somewhere. It sounds welcoming I think, up to the point where it closes and I am reminded of Peter Pan’s failed attempt to get back home.
The word ‘submissions’ worries me too because of the association with being submissive. Actually, I feel as though I am the submissive one. I submit to the pile of envelopes, to the task of reading and responding, humbled by the earnestness of the covering letters.
Before Christmas I had reached the point of not coping at all. I consequently developed a new method of managing the submissions, one that those who sent them would be unlikely to warm to. I numbered them as they arrived (some of the eager upstarts in November) but opened not a one. A small skyscraper of them is waiting downstairs until tomorrow when the window closes.
In January I will start the slow business of working through.
There are more submission envelopes than ever before in such a short period, approximately twice as many as this time last year. This is one sign of HappenStance’s success perhaps (though I mistrust and dislike the word ‘success’ in ways too numerous to mention), and it involves concomitant failure. As the number of submissions increases, the chance of acceptance decreases.
I hope, however, that not all the envelopes are from writers anticipating imminent publication because my ambition in life is not to dispense disappointment. The publications schedule for 2013 is already fuller than I am comfortable with. Nothing more will be added to 2014 unless a poet drops out, and I am looking at 2015 “in equal scale weighing delight and dole”, as King Claudius remarked.
In my stack of envelopes, there will be at least six or seven, and perhaps up to ten, from poets I have communicated with before. I will have invited some of them to send more poems, and the consequent familiarity will make those texts feel friendlier. However, the associated guilt will be greater if I can’t make any publication promises. There will be a few, I hope, from HappenStance subscribers who simply want some feedback on the work. Again, those are a pleasure to deal with.
The business of publication is difficult on both sides. I am not hoping to find poets to publish (it is rather the reverse), although it is true that I might come across one. So why open the window at all?
Good question. It interests me, this odd pursuit of writing poems. The people who do it interest me too. I like the window of insight into what goes on, not least because I write poems myself and have never quite understood why, though I think about it a lot. I have met some marvelous people over the last seven years, because they arrived in my life, as it were, through this window. I have made friendships with poets I haven’t published, as well as with those I have. I hope this will continue. There may be a single poem, somewhere in this pile, that will change my life. Poems do that sometimes.
For poets desperately keen to find a publisher, it may be worth noting that poetry publishers, once established, have a constant mental list of people they’d like to work with and publications they’d like to do. These arrive by one route or another, some of them through personal recommendation, or because one has met them or heard them read. The ‘window’ operated by a few of us is, effectively, an added extra. Most publishers start to say ‘no unsolicited submissions’ simply as a way of making the workload manageable. But they do get submissions, of course. There are other ways. There are always other ways.
A few publishers actively seek poets for their list. These may (sigh) be so-called vanity publishers, but it is easy to work this out when it becomes clear that your relationship with them is going to be very expensive. But publishers seeking poets are not necessarily vanity organizations. All publishers have to start somewhere. New imprints look for good quality poets who will help them to establish a reputation. From the poet’s point of view, the risk is that a new imprint could be a ramshackle operation with which it will be a mistake to have been involved. But equally a new imprint could turn out to be quite something. It could prove an alliance of luck and honour.
But how do you find out if someone is setting up an imprint for the first time? You keep your nose to the ground as well as the grindstone. You swallow your pride, take a tablet and consider judicious aspects of social networking. You ask people. You analyse what routes other published poets have followed. You consider setting up an imprint yourself.
I try to maintain a current list of pamphlet publishers, though needless to say it’s never quite up to date. The current one lists, for example, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, which I note has now ceased publication – such a shame! The given reason is lack of funds. Poetry publishers don’t make money because by and large, poetry doesn’t sell. That’s another factor to bear in mind. However, there’s a gap there. Could you start the next knife, fork or a spoon? It is not rocket science. It just requires a little imagination, dedication and literary intelligence.
At the start of December, David Tipton died. David, who was also a poet and a novelist, ran Redbeck Press, which once hosted an annual pamphlet competition – at a time when the only competitor in the pamphlet competition field was The Poetry Business. Latterly, he was doing less, though maintaining relationships with many of the writers he had published over the years. There was a feature about him in Sphinx 4, 2006, and I have added it as a download to the Sphinx website.
That’s two publishers who have vanished. They leave a gap. Why not start an imprint of your own? There is so much to learn, so much to gain from this enriching opportunity. By enriching, you understand, I am not referring to money. We need more women, in particular, doing this.
To all who sent additions to the HappenStance December stack, thank you for your interest and your patience. There will be replies. Just not quite yet. . . .