Sunday, August 24, 2014

Concerning Agents and Publishing

During the holidays I have met regularly with two poet friends.  We have spent a couple of hours each time drinking tea, or coffee or hot chocolate, eating shortbread biscuits or colourful macaroons, reading and critiquing our poems. 

I am not sure when poetry took centre stage.  It used to be a back burner thing for hours and minutes left over from other activities.  Now it is the other activities that vie for my attention after the poetry cup has been drunk right down to the dregs.  The only activity which refuses to move to the back burner is time spent with Joe.

Having said that, Saturday morning was spent scratching the poetry itch at Eden Court in the company of Isobel Dixon.  She was tall, slim and willowy and dressed elegantly in black - everything I will never be.  She was being interviewed about her life as a poet and a literary agent. 

I took notes.

Any kind of writing, whatever the genre, is a solitary occupation.  Meeting my two friends so regularly to share poetry has made it less so of me.  One of the poems that I recently shared with them was a poem that was quite personal.  I was asked if I had shared the poems with some of my family.  I haven’t.  Most of the family have my poetry book – either by them choosing to buy it, or by having it thrust upon them.  There are many poems that never made it into the book.  Many poems written during the year my brother and sister died are quite dark and quite raw.  They are not pretty poems and perhaps even step on a few toes. 

Isobel shared a couple of poems about her father (now dead) and her mother (still alive) and glimpses of the rest of the family.  I don’t think I have written many family inspired poems apart from the illnesses and the deaths.  That is maybe my next challenge – some family inspired positive poetry!

Isobel talked about becoming friends with other poets and writers. She said, “If you love writing you should love other writers and support them by buying their books!  I have a very small collection of poetry books from poets that I know.  A writer needs to provoke and be provoked by other writers in a stimulating exchange.  That doesn’t happen if you lock yourself and your computer in the attic and only come out for meals at set times.  (Are you listening, Mel?) My friends and I are meeting and chatting  – we indulge in a lot of stimulating exchange.

I have just about got to the stage where I know I write good poetry.  A certain amount of resilience is needed in the publishing world.  I have to admit that I possess only one rejection letter – not because everything else has been published, but because I have only ever sent one short story out.  It was a long time ago.  I thought it was an ideal story for “Women’s Weekly” but it didn’t measure up to their requirements.  You’re always told to read the magazine to see if your kind of writing fits.  I go on record as reading lots of Women’s Weekly.  My mum used to get them and keep them for me.  Holidays from university were spent reading them after organising them according to dates.  I thought I had Women’s Weekly sussed.  I was heartbroken to hear they didn’t want my story.  I was also quite seriously knocked back and decided not to try again.

I have entered poetry competitions – the ones you pay to enter as well as the ones you don’t.  I am bemused by what passes for a first prize and wonder if I’m missing something.  It’s a bit too high brow for me.

I was very glad to hear from Isobel that no one looks down on self-published books the way they used to.  My poetry book was a collaboration between self (a very reluctant self), my wonderful church family and a local publisher. It was a book just itching to get out into the world.  It may never have gotten onto the shelves at Waterstones, but it has gotten into the hands of people who have been blessed by the poetry.  God wanted it out there.

She talked about book submissions and query letters.  You may be a good writer, but if the first page doesn’t catch the imagination it will fall at the first hurdle.  Maybe some agents will read further than the first page but if they are not excited by the writing they will not stay the course when it comes to persuading the publisher to take it on.They have their other clients to consider.

Clever social media marketing is another thing she encouraged.  It is on my To-Do list.  It’s also on my sister’s To-Do list for me to do – not a website on her writing but on her equine therapy business.  I did a website building course a year or two ago.  It didn’t really float my boat.  It seemed that I was always a screen or two behind the rest of the class and copying the work of the girl sitting next to me!  Yes, I was a cyber cheat,  A website for the book is on the back of the back burner. 

A lot of what she said was about hard work.  Nothing just happens without it. She was told, when she complained about being already busy to SLEEP LESS. Get up earlier or go to bed later – salvage the hours from somewhere.  I shall give up housework and invest in a cleaner!  If only I didn’t need my wages to pay my bills I could give up work!  We are closer to retirement than we were last year.

On a personal poetry note she uses notebooks – not remarkable I hear you say.  She uses the front of the notebook for business stuff and the back of the notebook for poetry.  I shall put that one into practice.  However one organises one’s notebook it makes no difference is one isn’t writing anything.  The word discipline is a good word here.  I am an erratic and spasmodic writer.  I write when I’m inspired to write.  I need to develop the discipline to write when I am not inspired.  Discipline!

Isobel talked about being commissioned to write poetry. That is so cool.  Someone asking you to write a poem and paying you to do so has got to be so cool. Having their deadline and not wanting to let them down acts as a motivator.  I am open for commissions!  I think back to the time of Dicken’s when most people didn’t read or write and had to employ someone to write a letter or read one.  In my dreams people come looking for someone to write a poem…and there I am pen in hand with the rhyming dictionary accessible.

It really was a pleasure meeting Isobel.  It was nice to have some of the myths I had built up about agents and publishers debunked. I may just brush myself down from the bashing I got from Women’s Weekly magazine all those years ago and climb back on the publishing wagon.

No comments: