The actual review will depend on the reviewer, but there are some pointers to some obstacles that self-published poets should consider before sending publishing and sending out review copies.
No Blurb or Back Cover Text
A book that appears to be lacking in endorsements is not an obstacle for a reviewer, but a blank back cover or a lack of introduction indicates a lack of consideration for the reader.
Who are you and what are your credentials for writing this book? What are you hiding? It only takes a couple of sentences to hint at the themes included in the book and let the reader know if it is a contemporary book or set in a historical period, whether the poems within are autobiographical or inspired by someone else’s story or a specialism the poet has. Without these hints a casual reader is unlikely to pick up your book.
If your poems have been published individually or placed in competitions, you should acknowledge this. Not only it is a courtesy to the editors or judges who selected your work but it gives the reviewer confidence they are reading a reasonably competent writer.
If you don’t have any previous publications to acknowledge, seriously think about whether publishing a collection is a good idea. It takes a lot of marketing to sell any book, particularly poetry books so, unless you have a sizeable number of friends or family who will buy copies to help you break even or can sell a book on the back of success in another field, start reading and submitting work to poetry magazines and competitions.
Every book I’ve read by a self-published author who does not have any acknowledgments has not been worth the effort. There may be exceptions, but I’ve never been sent them for review.
- Can I read your poems? If you’ve used a difficult to read typeface or too small a font or printed in grey on a strong coloured background or a neon colour on white, your poems have to be outstanding to justify the effort required to read them.
- Give your publication an urban, edgy, hurriedly-photocopied-and-stapled feel by all means but make sure you don’t cut the photocopying so fine, you miss line endings on some of your poems – I can’t review what isn’t there or make sense of a poem when half of it is missing.
- If you use pictures and images overlap text, ensure the text is still readable.
- Don’t send me the copy you split coffee over – I dislike you already and haven’t opened your book yet (I don’t sell review copies so don’t required pristine copies, but haven’t got time to separate stuck together pages or wipe covers clean).
- Number your pages, page numbers make useful reference points and prevent me wasting time having to guess where the poem I wanted to quote from is.
- Ultimately, if you can’t be bothered to present your poems in a readable format, why should I bother reading them?
Poems not in any order
The ordering of a collection will depend on the poems in the collection. It may make sense to arrange some in chronological order, some according to theme, some according to a narrative plan, some according to style. But give some thought as to how a poem fits with its neighbours. Don’t let the reviewer think you’ve not put any thought into it.
First Person Narration Throughout
Particularly if every poem is about “I” and “I” is the same person throughout and the poems have a semi-autobiographic feel by an author who thinks their suburban Sunday afternoon observations are worthy of repetition ad nauseam, it will feel less like reading a book and more like running a marathon and I don’t run. The only exception to this is when the collection is a series of monologues in different voices so the “I” refers to different narrators.
Quality of Writing
Ultimately whether you get a good review or not will depend on the quality of the writing. Reviews will be prepared to overlook a few mistakes if the writing is good enough.
Bad writing, especially if full of typos and incorrect grammar, will never attract a good review. If you’ve not tested your writing on an audience (and preferably not just an audience that will offer uncritical praise every time), you shouldn’t be submitting your work for review.