Putting together your first collection

I’m running another one of those “So, you think you’re a writer?” sessions for writers’ organisation Spread the Word.

Date: Monday 12 March, 4-7pm
Venue: The Poetry Library, London
£30 / £20 concessions
Info and booking

This is what the blurb says.

Are you a poet looking to put together your first collection; or perhaps you have already prepared a manuscript but are unsure what the next step should be?

Independent publisher and poet Tom Chivers will guide you through the terrors and tribulations of the publishing process, with tips and advice on editing and redrafting your poetry, how to find and present your manuscript to potential publishers, and a behind-the-scenes look at the poetry publishing world. This workshop will also look at ways to develop readers for your poetry, both off and online, and how to promote your book once it has been accepted for publication. We will look at examples of good and bad publishing practice, share knowledge within the group, and you will leave with an action plan for taking your work forward to the next stage.

These kinds of things customarily get slagged off. It’s got nothing to do with poetry, they say. It’s part of a pernicious world of creative writing degrees and ‘professional’ writers which is killing creativity, they say. You’re just doing this to pay the bills, they say (err yes). Etc. etc.

I must confess I have always had some sympathy for this point of view. Seriously good writing will, in most cases, out. And you obviously don’t need a creative writing degree to write, though many find them productive and inspirational.

But some basic education (however you receive it) around the structures and processes by which good writing becomes published writing, becomes part of a network of decision-makers, taste-makers, gatekeepers and, we hope,a community of readers – that, I think, is a useful thing.

As a small publisher, I see SO MANY examples of bad practice in submitting manuscripts, just to take one example of the non-writing side of writing. It seems to me obvious that if you wanted to be published by someone, i.e. open yourself to a long-term and significant artistic and commercial relationship with a company or individual, that you would take SOME CARE in how you approach it. Like look up the name of the editor. Or tell them why you like their press and want your book to part of it (this isn’t sucking up – it shows that the writer actually gives a shit about the list s/he would like to join). Recently I received a submission in which seven other publishers had been CCd. I mean, the guy hadn’t even bothered to BCC us!

The session I’m running for Spread the Word will also draw on my own experience as a new writer, so it won’t just be me mouthing off about the weird emails I get (though there will be a bit of that). I’ve been through that process of submitting various manuscripts, getting rejection slips (or nothing at all), then finally getting published, and arriving in a new and strange land in which everything seems, somehow, different. Through this process, I’ve thought a great deal about my writing, where it sits, what my audience(s) might be, what different publishing methods I might use, why I should bother publishing at all… Indeed, the (poetry) publishing is changing so rapidly, in part as a result of the internet, that a good, serious and new writer might rightly consider whether it’s worth going to the ‘big boys’ at all. Yes, I will try to broach the sticky issue of self-publishing, too.

At the very least, I hope the people attending will leave with a renewed sense of purpose and a few helpful tips.

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