Getting the book deal
I think my situation was/is one of good fortune (a combination of hard work and opportunity). I concede there are a number of ways into publication much more difficult than this, but I hope that readers can draw something from my experience.
I was approached by my publisher. We have had a connection/relationship over a diverse range projects, for coming up to four years now. They were launching their poetry range and asked if I would consider submitting something.
I had, of course done the work, but I think I can attribute some of my fortune to having been involved in my community of readers and writers and involved in myriad ways as a consumer, producer and reviewer of writing arts.
Still, I see myself as extremely fortunate. My impression is that most folks have to shop their work around.
Until the day they contacted me, I'd only briefly considered putting together a collection in any real sense. Part of this was lack of confidence in my abilities, part of it was not wanting to put the cart before the horse and focus instead on poems, and part of it was, the details of how to do it, not being taught outside of University courses (and even then I am not sure that it's standard fare in University).
It was something I'd do sometime, when I thought I had enough good poems. Which would be never, knowing my internal dialogue.
I'll list my initial inner thoughts below because I am pretty sure these are shared by most poets/ artists and the more we share the nonsense that our brains throw up, the better we can ignore them and make good art.
Sean's irrational thoughts:
- I don't have enough poems/enough good poems
- I haven't even thought about how to put them together
- I should wait until I have more great poems
- It's a first collection, it has to be perfect
- Surely they are making a mistake
- Perhaps I should point them to better poets.
- I have no idea how to do this
To be honest, I still have to knock some of these on the head from time to time.
I answered yes and put my faith in their ability to reject what was shite. Thankfully they didn't.
I spent a day or so massaging 2-3 years work, published and unpublished together. This was mostly me feeling around in the dark; trying to find broad themes to link Western form, free verse and Japanese form poetry into a cohesive whole.
I don't know if I'd advise this sort of pressured approach but somehow I managed to collect a manuscript into a form that has been remarkably resistant to change in the following months.
There's some guidance on how to construct poetry manuscripts, but I am not sure how much the reader takes note of this construction, nor how much the guidance is purely a frame for just helping make a decision. It's also at times contradictory. In any case, this guidance came after the fact for me.
So my advice:
- write - just as you can't edit what isn't there, neither can you compile a manuscript from nothing
- be ready to take advantage of any opportunity - which means, from time to time stepping back and looking at the wider context of your work and asking yourself how it works together
- say yes to that opportunity even when it scares you