Monday, 19 March 2018

Submitting a Poetry Manuscript

This follows on to my previous post on Bringing Together a Poetry Collection.

It's been 10 years since my first collection was published and my mind is a bit rusty about how it all happened. I don't remember how long it took or how many publishers I submitted to. I have notes of submitting chapbooks and samples for what is now my Scottish book in 2003, but I don't have any reference of submitting my first collection until 2005. I do remember I ended up having two publishers interested. One finally admitted he couldn't commit to it and gave it up while the other eventually published it in 2008.

Now that I'm prepping a new collection to submit, I thought it would be a good time to go over some suggestions for submitting a larger work to publishers. This is for poetry, the rules and guidelines for novels are very different in some ways. And I am aware that things might have changed in publishing in the last 10 years, so always check the publishers' guidelines and follow them closely. 

First of all, have some sort of publication record. As I've mentioned before poetry publishers want to see that these poems have appeared in magazines and journals, that other editors have liked them, that you are a writer of some merit. I've had poems from my collection published in 24 different venues. Hopefully that's a good indication of my publishablity. 

Make sure you have a completed collection. See my previous post for hints about how to do this.  Written, edited, formated, proof-read, the whole shebang. I've been waiting months to finish a final poem for my collection. As much as I would have liked to start submitting my book before it was done, I know that it's bad form to send an unfinished collection to editors and then try and shoe-horn the last poem in or make large changes to it after they've accepted or even worse, while they're considering it. 

When I worked in publishing you'd be amazed at the amount of times poets would send a reworked collection in for us to replace the one we were currently considering. I know the waiting times can be long and it's tempting to look over the collection again, but it will really annoy an editor if you try and make changes while they are still reading your work. I occasionally change a line or word here or there, but they'll sit until the collection is rejected or accepted. Rejected I can submit the new version to the next publisher. Accepted, I'm sure there'll be time for fine-tuning.

Make sure it's a good as possible before you even consider sending it to a publisher. If you can get a trusted writer or editor to proof-read before submitting, even better. You want it as ready as possible, no typos. Some editors like to edit the collection themselves, but others won't do more than proof-read, so make sure it's exactly how you want it. No one will appreciate delays while you change the order, add new poems or do major editing. Set up a table of contents. Make sure the poems are nicely set out, one per page in a good-sized, readable font. Usually single-spaced, 12pt in Arial or Times New Roman.

Do your research. Check out the publishers' websites, buy or borrow copies of the books they've published. Do they publish full collections or just chapbooks? Do they accept unsoliticted material? Do they publish your genre? Do you like the poets they publish and the look of their books? How much help will you get with marketing and sales? And in my case, do they publish work from non-resident writers? The more time you spend weeding out publishers you don't match with, the better chance you have of finding the ones you do. It will save you unnecessary rejections and possibly money in the future.  

Write out a synopsis and/or an artist statement to give the editor an idea of what your collection is about and your own writing history. What makes your collection special and saleable? Specify any themes or over-arching imagry you want them to be aware of. Sell yourself and your writing. Mention any publications, awards, mentoring or training you've had. Treat this as a professional job application. For a poetry collection I would keep it brief. With novel synopses you need to explain the plot, but with poetry collection you should be able to sum up the theme of the collection in a paragraph. Your biographical note or artist statement should be about the same length. Think about the blurbs on the back of books, you want to grab the reader with the first line and get them intruiged enough to want to open the book. A synopsis should do the same thing.

I would include these in your query letter for poetry collections. Keep it to one page to introduce your book and yourself. 

Pick out a selection of sample poems from the collection. A lot of publishers just want a query letter with 6-12 poems to give them a taste of what the collection is about without having to wade through 60+ poems. Sometimes all you have is a cover letter and 6 poems to convince an editor your collection is worth getting a serious look. So pick your best and most representative poems. If there are themes or series within your collection that are important, make sure they are represented if possible. Each publisher has their own requirements for how many poems and what they want synopsis-wise. Follow the guidelines. Address the editor specifically.

Check and see if they want hard copies or will take email queries. Check if they'll accept simultaneous submissions. Most poetry publishers will as they know their reading times can be long and the chance of acceptance low, so are happy if you want to sent to multiple publishers. Inform them immediately if you're work is accepted elsewhere.

Double check and proof-read everything. Make sure you have copies of everything before you submit. If you're posting snail mail, make up a SAE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) so they can post you a response or specify if you want to hear back via email and they can recycle your copies. Keep track of where you sent things and when. 

Don't be in a rush. I sent my submission to my eventual publisher in 2005 and it was over a year before they accepted and then another two before we were ready to publish. Keep writing in the meantime. Keep submitting the poems to magazines.

Don't get frustrated. It was a slow process to write the collection, to edit it and prepare it, it will probably be a slow process to find a publisher. Take any feedback you receive with good grace and consider it well. Rejection doesn't mean the collection is bad, it just wasn't right for that publisher. Do not write to the editor and question them or rant at them. Accept your rejection with good grace. Have a private strop, a cry, a drink - whatever you need and move on to the next opportunity. 

Good luck if you've gotten this far in your poetry career. I will try to keep the blog updated of any news I have on my own collection. 

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