How quickly can you expect a review?

I get it: you’re eager for the affirmation of a good review, or at least a not-bad review. But there’s silence. You know your publisher has sent out review copies but the magazines haven’t published them yet. You begin approaching bloggers. How long can it take?

Reviews of live events, such as readings, generally appear quickly because a readership’s not going to be interested in reading a review of an event that happened six months ago and now seems a distant memory. Reviews of purchasable items such as books or downloads don’t have that urgency so long as the book is still available for purchase.

No matter how eager you are, you don’t want reviews of your book to appear all at once. Several reviews appearing gradually over time are better. Each time a review appears, it reminds potential buyers your book is available. Not everyone rushes out to buy a copy after the first review appears, so reminders are better.

A key factor in when reviews appear is the fact that, in order to write a review, a reviewer actually has to have time to read the book. You know your poetry book inside out but a reviewer will be reading it for the first time. A slow, considered review is preferable to a rush job that doesn’t do your book justice. With experience, it is possible to read a poetry book in a couple of hours and draft a review, however that’s not going to be a very good review. Poems need to be thought about, re-read and read aloud. A first impression isn’t always the right impression.

Reviewers also have lives and other commitments. Your book is hugely important to you but to a reviewer, it’s another item on the to-do list and will not get priority over caring responsibilities, the job that pays the bills, their own poetry (most poetry reviewers are also poets) and the fact that they have a long-anticipated holiday coming up.

Magazine deadlines and available space play a part too. A review may be held over for a subsequent issue. Sometimes I schedule blog posts in advance so reviews have to wait their turn. I can receive an electronic copy of a book the day I’ve agreed to review it, but postal copies take time to arrive. Sometimes the delays are with the postal service. Sometimes publishers only do their post at set times so they organise and prioritise their own tasks so review copies may have to sit and wait before they can be posted.

I prefer to turn reviews around quickly, where I can. I like to read a book within a day of it turning up (whether by post or download). I make notes as I am reading. I might draft my review from the notes or I might read the book again before writing my draft. Once I have a draft review, I will put it aside and read the book again. Each book I review is read at least twice. Then I will read my draft review to check I’ve covered everything I want to say. I will do any necessary editing. I might put it aside for a final check through depending on how much editing I’ve done. When I’m happy that I’ve said all I want to say and I then do a format edit. I review for three different magazines and my blog so I check my review is in the right format for the publication and check the word count. Then I’ll sent to the relevant magazine or schedule it for my blog.

Writing a review takes at least a week. I have to review around other commitments. If a book takes a week to arrive, that’s two weeks for me to write my review. This assumes that when the book arrived, I didn’t have any other reviews to write (books for review are put in order of arrival so if I already have four books to review, yours will be the fifth. There’s no queue-jumping.) Other commitments may take over and give me less time to review.

If your book took a week to arrive, it was fifth in queue and I had a busy week of commitments, then it could be six weeks before I can even look at your book. That would actually be an extremely rare occurrence. For the magazines I review for, if I couldn’t turn around reviews within a month I would warn the editors. When people commission individual reviews, I tell them how long it will take and if I already have books in the review queue.

Generally I won’t commit to review something if I know it will take longer than a month. But I can’t see into the future and can’t guarantee a quick turnaround.

It’s taken me nearly 800 words to say “Don’t expect a quick review.” No matter how much you want that affirmation for your collection of poetry, you don’t want book reviews to appear quickly.

Reasons Poetry Manuscripts get Rejected

Poetry publishers can’t just publish poetry they love. Poetry publishing is a business and no business can afford to run at a loss. When you send your manuscript to a publisher, they’re not just looking at how wonderful the poetry is, but also considering if it might make a loss. Common reasons for rejections are:

Lack of a Track Record

Most buyers of poetry books are other poets. Other poets tend to buy books by poets they’ve heard of, had recommended to them or poets they’ve seen at a reading or festival. If you haven’t tried to get individual poems published in poetry magazines, haven’t tried competitions or haven’t given any readings, a publisher will know you lack a readership.

Poetry does not sell

At least it doesn’t sell in large numbers overnight. Poetry books do sell over a long period to people who attend readings and see the poet’s name in magazines. To take on the commitment to publish a poetry book, the publisher needs to love the poems and be convinced there’s an audience to buy the book.

Lack of Marketing Experience

Poetry publishers don’t have much in the way of a marketing budget. Poets need to be able to help market their books. If you submit a poetry manuscript, it’s always worth mentioning whether you’ve done any readings, are a member of writers’ groups, are on social media and whether you participate in workshops. You don’t need to do all these things – getting social media wrong can backfire – but you do need to know which marketing channels can work for you and be able to show you’ve thought about marketing.

Presentation

A poetry collection isn’t simply a collection of poems the poet thinks are their best pulled together in a book. Usually the poems are grouped together around a theme or themes, albeit loosely, and organised so that poems that work together appear together. There is room for experimental or not yet published poems. There isn’t room for ‘fillers’, less polished poems that fit into the theme but whose main job is to fill out the pages. Poems whose theme is too similar to the preceding poem or that offer the same perspective of a subject need to be thinned out too (and not merely shuffled so they appear later in a collection). Collections that only offer previously published poems can be as boring as ‘greatest hits’ albums, particularly for reviewers who have generally seen the poems in their original publications. A collection is a body of work, not the sum of individual poems.

Failure to stick to the publisher’s guidelines

Publishers don’t produce guidelines because they happened to have a bit of free time on a Friday afternoon. Poets who don’t follow guidelines will find their work returned, unread.

Failure to follow guidelines marks a poet as difficult to work with. If a poet can’t follow guidelines, it suggests that poet won’t be happy about working with a publisher. A publisher isn’t necessarily looking for a poet who automatically says ‘yes’ to every change they suggest, but they don’t have time to deal with a poet with an obstructive attitude.

The Poet gives up

Poetry’s a tough market with periodic peaks and troughs. Publishers tend to give priority to poets they’ve already published, which can make it feel as if doors are closed to new poets. You need to find the publisher who is going to love your work, put together the best version of your manuscript that you can and ensure it lands on the right publisher’s desk at the right time. There’s an element of luck but a lot of it comes down to research and persistence.

That doesn’t mean stalking your desired publisher or firing off variants of your manuscript every other month until you’ve ground them into an acceptance. It does mean reading the replies you get. If a publisher asks to see more work or wants you to send poems one to ten back but with different poems eleven to fifteen, do it. Publishers aren’t going to invite you to send more work at a future date unless they’re committed to reading and considering the work they’ve invited you to send. Turning down that invitation will leave you unpublished.

Read poetry books to find out which publishers prefer poetry like yours and/or publish poets like you. Check out publishers’ websites and read their guidelines. Double check your submission conforms to the guidelines and you’re sending it during the submissions window (if there is one). Have a plan B. Publisher A may love it but may not be able to publish it right now. Publisher B might feel it’s not quite right for them. Publisher C might like your poems but they published a book on that theme last month. Publisher D might like some of the poems but not others and want you to send again in light of their comments. Publisher E may not take unsolicited manuscripts. Publisher F would have loved it and snapped it up but you gave up at E so publisher F never saw it.

Your submission is looking dog-eared and tired. It’s hard work, but you need to tailor your submission for each publisher. If you submit a tatty, much-read manuscript with a form cover letter, the publisher will know they weren’t your first choice so will give priority to poets who did make them their first choice. If a poet can’t sum up the enthusiasm to make a professional submission, how much enthusiasm will they have to market the book if the publisher goes ahead?

The Poet thinks they’re doing the publisher a favour

  • A post-graduate degree in creative writing does not give you the right to be published.
  • A lengthy list of publishing credits and a few competition successes does not give you the right to be published.
  • Being able to book a slot at a major literary festival to do a reading does not give you the right to be published.
  • Having a previous collection or ten does not give you the right to be published.
  • Producing a glowing blurb and review from an established, award-winning poet does not give you the right to be published.
  • Having thousands of followers on social media and contacts that will get your book into local bookstores does not give you the right to be published.

Only the publisher can decide what they want to publish. They have every right to say no.

Publishers aren’t just looking for fantastic poetry that they love, they are also looking to publish books that sell. Poetry doesn’t sell by itself, it also needs a poet who can demonstrate a professional working attitude and can help with marketing. The rejection of your manuscript may actually have nothing to do with the quality of your poetry.

Film Poems

Word! earlier this month featured film poems (this is not a regular occurrence). Essentially the poem is read and displayed line by line with relevant images shown as a slide show. The advantage is that a poetry reader can see the words, hear them read and, if the images have been chosen with care and sensitivity, they enhance the poem, which, for the most part is what happened at Word!

They can be made fairly cheaply if you have a digital video camera which can record or editing software which allows you to add a sound file during the edit. The films can be made either by making a series of shots or in one take if you have presentation software from which you can record a slideshow.

There are downsides though:

Selection of Images

Here the poet runs into the same problem as film adaptions of novels or stories. When reading from a page, a reader creates the visual images to accompany the text in their own mind informed by their own imagination and experience as well as the words on page. If the reader then sees images chosen by someone else (even if that someone else is the poet), they may not coincide with the images the reader created.

The quality of the images matter too. This isn’t about resolution or the quality of the camera or the monitor the film gets viewed on. It’s about where the images are sourced. Stock images may not specific enough to the poem or a great image for line two may not sit so well with the images used for lines one and three. The images also need to work with the text to complement or provide a contrast. Spare pen and ink images could work well with dense, concentrated text. Sparse text might work better with deep, resonant images. Poets who are also visual artists have an advantage here. I hope I don’t have to remind readers that copyright applies to images as well as poems.

The poet also has to be aware how much the chosen images funnel or guide the reader in interpreting your poem. Reading off a page or in hearing the words read, the reader creates their own images. However, in seeing a film poem, the reader is directed by the images selected to accompany the poem. If the reader has already seen the poem on a page or heard the poem, and the film images don’t coincide with their created images, the reader may disengage. Even if the reader hasn’t seen the poem before, the images may not correspond with their reading of the poem.

Images and Text

There needs to be sufficient contrast between the text and images for the text to be readable. Where the images are busy or multi-coloured, it may be best to have a plain coloured box for the text. If you have grayscale or black and white images and black text, consider using a separator (a box or horizontal/vertical line) so the distinction between text and images is clear.

Where the text is used either on top of or as part of the image, make sure the text doesn’t obscure a key part of the image and, likewise, ensure the image doesn’t obscure the text.

The images do not replace the text so the text needs to be of sufficient size not only to read but so the balance between text and images is kept.

Sound

This isn’t about the mechanics of recording or the quality of the sound (which I’m not qualified to comment on) but rather how the listener will hear the reading alongside reading the poem and seeing the images.

The poet has one job: reading the poem. The reader has two: listening to the poem and processing the accompanying image. Frame each line/image with a pause to give the reader chance to catch-up. If you have detailed, multi-layered images your reader will need more time.

Think about the pacing of your reading. You poem may be about a sprint but if you try to gabble through a sonnet in less than thirty seconds, your reader won’t have time to catch what you’re saying and certainly won’t process your text and images at the same time. Aim for a reading pace slightly slower than normal and resist the temptation to speed up at the end of a line.

Add breathlessness as a sound effect after your poem rather than during your reading. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep reading and sound effects separate. Use sound effects as punctuation rather than trying to read over them. Some listeners find it difficult to differentiate between foreground and background noises and if the poet makes it difficult for the audience to hear, the audience will switch off.

Don’t act. Readings of poem where the poet has tried to act out the poem invariably sound hammy, corny and distracting. That doesn’t mean switching to a monotone either or ironing out an accent. Aim towards a narrative voice as if you are telling someone a story guided by the voice of the poem. Your marathon poem may start determined, slacken and become disillusioned halfway through and then pick up optimism towards the end with your finish line in sight.

Be aware of ‘noisy’ clothing. Jewellery can click, leather creak and buttons clash. Unintentional sound effects are distracting.

Don’t kiss the microphone, if you’re using one. You need to be reasonably close to the microphone but the microphone will pick up wheezes, sighs, throat clearances, whistles of breath, tongue clicks and lip smacks. None of these might be audible while you are recording, but they can be heard on playback and can drown out the words for an audience. This is why it’s never a good idea to skip rehearsals. You’re not just practicing reading the poem but also learning about the rhythm of the poem, the pace you’re comfortable reading at and where to breathe.

It might be possible to edit these vocal sounds out but it’s better not to have them in the first place. Aim to keep the microphone around 15 – 30cm from your mouth and point the microphone either below or above rather than directly in line with your mouth. This balances between avoiding picking up background room sounds and stopping proximity effect from making your voice sound muddy. Consider using a pop filter which will help reduce the popping sound caused by plosive consonants. Put your microphone on a mouse mat to cut down on reflective sound from hard surfaces. Before recording, check you’re comfortable with the position of the microphone and that you’re not hunched over it so you can still take deep breaths.

Whether you’re using a microphone or reading directly to a video camera, run a few rehearsals first. If you’re not reading from memory, check you can see the text you’re reading from and you can read without creating unnecessarily noise such as rustling papers or a squeak of a finger scrolling up a screen. You may not be able to hear these, but the microphone will pick them up. It may be preferable to record one image and line at a time and connect them at the editing stage rather than doing the whole poem in one take.

Quality Poems

The medium should not get the better of the message. A good spoken word performance might temporarily lift a mediocre poem just as an interesting slide show of images might enhance a mediocre poem. But, in both cases, once the text of the poem is separated from the images and/or the performance, it will fall flat if the poem’s not good enough.

Questions and Answers from “Ghosts in the Desert” Launch

These were some of the questions (which may be paraphrased – I wasn’t taking notes when being asked) I was asked after my book launch for “Ghosts in the Desert” on 4 July. I have expanded on some of the answers below.

How do you know when a poem is finished or is there always another edit?

I think a poem is finished when the edits I’m making are not beneficial to the poem. For instance if I change a word and end up going back to the word I had previously or take out a comma only to put it back in again, when I feel as if I’m tinkering rather than achieving anything. It’s always possible to edit further but there’s also a point when editing looks suspiciously like procrastination.

How do you collect poems around a theme and does that theme inform new work?

Putting a collection together, for me, is a retrospective act. When I can collect together around 80 poems, I start to look for a common theme or anything that suggests the poems are interlinked and can form a body of work. If I can find sufficient poems I will start thinking of them as a collection rather than individual poems. If I can find a substantial number of poems but not enough for a collection, then I simply don’t have a collection. I don’t set myself the task of writing new poems on the theme because I find such new poems are often derivative or repetitive, saying what I’ve already said in a different format.

It’s fair to say, though, that common themes do tend to emerge in writing poems. So, whilst I wouldn’t consciously decide I’m going to write poems on theme x, I may well find that of the last dozen poems I’ve written, eight will be about theme x.

How did you start writing or have you always been writing?

I have always told stories. Even before I could pick up a pen, I used to build houses from play bricks and create stories for the people who might have lived there. At some point stories gave way to poems.

Which poets influenced you or got you into writing?

At school, we only studied male poets. I didn’t believe that female poets didn’t write poems that weren’t worth studying, but figured out I wasn’t going to find them through school or in book stores that seemed to concentrate on dead, white, male poets or anthologies. A friend sent me a copy of the Ted Hughes poem “You Hated Spain” and I identified with the “you” of the poem. That “you” was Sylvia Plath and through her, and her contemporaries such as Anne Sexton and Anne Stevenson, I found female poets worth reading and studying.

More recently I’ve enjoyed reading: Carrie Etter – I loved “Imagined Sons”, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Helen Ivory, D A Prince, Kei Miller, Daniel Sluman, Sheenagh Pugh, Ros Barber’s “The Marlowe Papers”, and I’m looking forward to the publication of Lydia Towsey’s “The Venus Papers” due from Hearing Eye. I enjoyed reviewing Mandy Kahn’s debut.

How do you define your style or poetic voice?

That’s a tricky question to answer without dropping into vague phrases or sounding horribly pretentious. Defining a poet’s style is often best done by others. A voice emerges when you’ve tried writing like other poets or tried writing on themes other poets have written about and you’ve found an approach and vocabulary you’ve comfort with and confident in. Voice comes when others read a poem and identify it as yours or conclude that no one else could have written that particular poem.

Do you find reviews of your work useful?

Yes. Sometimes you know instinctively that something is working but you don’t always analyse why and a review can provide that analysis. Reviews can also confirm that you were communicating what you wanted to communicate with the reader because the reviewer has interpreted the poem the way you intended it to be. Bad reviews can be helpful too: they either suggest the interpretation you intended wasn’t communicated fully so the poem needs another edit or a lazy reviewer’s interpretation is so far off the mark that it reinforces the intention of the poem.

Ghosts in the Desert is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert book launch

“Ghosts in the Desert” Book Launch

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Saturday 4 July

From 3pm Free Entry Refreshments provided.

I will be talking about “Ghosts in the Desert” and reading some of the poems from the collection.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the launch or can be ordered from Indigo Dreams Publishing.

Friends (Quaker) Meeting House, Queens Road, Leicester, LE2 1WP

“Ghosts in the Desert” New Poetry Collection

“Ghosts in the Desert” will be published on 26 June 2015. Copies can be ordered from Indigo Dreams Publishing.

There will be a book launch in Leicester on 4 July at the Friends (Quaker) Meeting House on Queens Road from 3pm. Free entry and refreshments will be provided.

“Ghosts in the Desert” begins with external ghosts from news of wars, the aftermath of tsunamis, bombings, lives lost through suicide and murder, and how these can haunt survivors. Characters from films can haunt viewers after the credits have rolled, one sequence explores fan fiction and why we need stories to keep certain memories alive. The cover image comes from a poem that sees the marks on the ice as a ghost of the skater’s performance.

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Emma Lee’s poems are finely crafted and truly resonate with their readers. Here is a poet who knows how to balance intimacy and experience with poise and control. This collection encompasses an impressive range of subjects from the Rutland Panther and Daleks to loss and bereavement. These poems are touching, honest and often deeply poignant. ~ Maria Taylor

Emma Lee’s new poetry collection is vibrant, tough, and delicate in equal measure. Ranging from poems in the voices of different characters, to Lee’s own poetic persona, these pieces radiate a quiet, assured power. The image of ‘words engraved on glass’ (‘A Frosted Line for the Dark to follow’) could stand sentinel for the whole collection, as there is a sense of the world as haunted here: widows shadowed by gone husbands; survivors of calamitous events stained by those who did not survive; people dogged by the political decisions of others. There is a fragility to these poems that also leads one to consider the strength of human spirits. The ‘dazzle’ that ‘fades into the long dark’ in her superb elegiac poem for Larry Hagman could describe Lee’s poetic mettle, and also the fact that the poems stay in the imagination long after the book has been closed. I’d recommend this book both for its beautiful, assured writing, and also because it’s both touching and disturbing… animated and elegiac. From poignant meditations on widowhood, to poems with surprising narrators, the past runs its veins through the present like the silver trail left on a leaf by a snail. Truly, with its sense of the gone world casting skeins through the current one, an accomplished and moving collection. ~ Deborah Tyler-Bennett

Your Poetry Collection’s been Published – what now?

Getting a poetry collection published isn’t the end of a journey, but a transitionary stage. It marks the transition from writing a book to selling and promoting the book (and starting on the next). It’s not usual for writers to have mixed feelings when they finally get to hold a copy of their book in their hands. It’s a celebration but can also feel disappointing as a poet shifts from one stage in the journey (getting published) to the next stage (promotion) and the promotional stage is a long haul as I’ve previously written about in “Selling Poetry”.

Most poets prefer the first stage of writing a collection: writing and editing the poems, arranging the poems and seeing how they work alongside neighbouring poems, discussions with editors with the goal of publication. Once published, poets learn that:

“Writer writes book” is not news

The gloss of a new, shiny book can soon dull if you bore everyone you meet by talking about it, a little like new parents constantly talking about their new baby and nothing else. Be prepared to talk about the themes you explore in your book, select a particular poem to talk about or the reviews and reactions you’ve had. Vary your story.

Reviews take time

Even if you’ve been able to send out advance copies, reviews won’t necessarily appear on the publication date and may not appear for months afterwards. Check with your publisher before sending out review copies so you don’t send books to the same magazine. Bloggers may be able to review your book quicker, but always ask before sending an unsolicited book for review.

Arrange Readings

Most poetry books are sold at readings so arrange a launch reading and look out for other readings and local festivals you could read at. These are often booked long in advance so it’s best to get in touch with organisers as soon as you know you’re going to be published. Don’t overlook local open mic evenings and events. You may only be able to read one or two poems but you can read directly from your book and may have the opportunity to sell books on the night.

At a launch, you are in control and can talk about your book and read your favourite poems from it. At other readings, focus on reading selected poems rather than talking about your book. It’s the poems that will sell the book, not your brilliant, witty, engaging talk.

Change which poems you read or which order you read them in when doing different readings. If you start to sound bored, your audience may become bored too. There’s no reason not to intersperse poems from your book with newer poems.

Approach local radio stations too, particularly ones that feature talk shows and interviews. If news is a bit slow or a guest drops out, they may invite you in to talk about your book and read a poem. However, don’t turn an interview into an advert. Constantly urging listeners to “buy my book” will encourage them to do the opposite and some non commercial radio stations will drop your interview. If in doubt about what you can say, ask the producer before you go on air.

Social Media

Social media is an indirect way of selling books. It’s more of a networking medium than a selling medium. Don’t become a “buy my book!” bore. Offer information about forthcoming readings, post blog articles on what your book is about, do blog tours featuring articles on a poem or a specific group of poems or article about a topic or issue or theme featured in your book, include links to where your book’s available or post links to reviews.

Make sure you update your profiles to include your new book. If you use an email signature, does it need updating?

Pitfalls

Being asked for Discounts

It will happen. Everyone loves to feel they are getting a bargain or a special offer and there is a minority who think they have to negotiate over everything. Practice saying “no”.

You do not need to offer an explanation for refusing a discount because the person asking will not appreciate that your book took you ages to write, you sweated blood over the comma at the end of stanza two in the title poem or even that writers deserve to be paid for writing. The discount request isn’t personal, haggling is just a habit.

If you know someone’s personal circumstances because they are family or a friend and you’re aware they genuinely can’t afford to pay for a copy of your book but would read it if you gave them a copy, why not consider giving them a copy in return for a review (on a site like Good Reads or Amazon)? That way you are still getting a payment for your book even if it’s not a monetary one.

Be aware that once you allow one person a discount, you will open yourself up to further requests.

Beware Special Offers and Discounts

Offering a time limited special offer or discount, e.g. a discount at a launch reading, a discount on one day only to mark an occasion, is fine. However, if you offer a discount that isn’t time limited, you are effectively devaluing your own work.

Promotional Items

Consider the return on investment before paying for any promotional items. Leaflets and post cards for use as book marks can be produced reasonably cheaply.

By

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert from Indigo Dreams Publishing

 

 

Emma Lee’s “Ghosts is the Desert” is available for pre-order from Indigo Dreams Publishing and the launch will be held on Saturday 4 July in Leicester. Her previous collections “Mimicking a Snowdrop” and “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” are still available.

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