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getting the pamphlet together

A new pamphlet & all the angst of getting there

It’s taken a while coming but I’ve found a home for my second pamphlet, ‘All the Relevant Gods’. Those lovely, hardworking folks at Cinnamon Press (Jan Fortune and team) have offered to publish it, due out early next year.

What I’m feeling right now is a mix of gratitude and relief, and a wonderful sense of calm – now I can move on and focus properly on new writing and maybe even work up some of those projects I’ve started in my mind but not progressed.

I also think the process of getting to this point has made me grow up a bit.

I had no idea it would take so long to herd a bunch of poems into a pamphlet, at least, one that a publisher would take a punt on. I’ve always angsted about what my problem could possibly be. I’ve driven friends mad over a pint, moaning about this and that. Despite the odd shortlisting (which regular readers of this blog know, I  – rightly or wrongly – tend not to set much store by), my efforts in pamphlet competitions have always been unsuccessful. But then again I suppose I’ve never believed 100% in my submissions (‘I don’t have a theme!’  ‘I have some themed poems but not enough!’ ‘I don’t have a voice!’).

But three things happened in the last year.

First of all I emailed a publisher I really respect to ask if they would consider reading my pamphlet (apologetically, as I know unsolicited submissions can be a pain) and they agreed to consider it. Although they didn’t take it, the response was kind and included a little feedback. Crucially, I was invited to re-submit once I had worked it up a bit more. This was encouraging – a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. I realised I’d never tried my pamphlet on anyone other than in competitions, and maybe sending it on spec was a gentler, less stressful way in.

Then I sent the same group of poems to a poet/editor and paid for a detailed critique. (I say I paid, but I really want to thank New Writing South here – they have supported me in many ways, not least of all with a modest but crucial grant for mentoring. Huge kudos to them.) The feedback was certainly detailed, and full of suggestions of poets to read and how I might improve the individual poems and the manuscript generally. This was useful – I tried hard to take both good and bad comments on board and forced myself to be grown-up about it, but the report was topped and tailed with phrases like ‘disappointing’ and ‘not the standard required for publication as a pamphlet.’ I couldn’t help feeling knocked-back, and it was several months before I was able to look at the poems again and see what could be improved. It didn’t help that most of them had been published in magazines, which I took to mean they are ‘good’ in some way. But beware – if you also get that feeling when you get a poem published, or it wins something, – ‘it must be good!’ – that feeling is a false friend! I won’t even go into the whole ‘it’s all subjective’ thing here because poets tell ourselves that all the time and it doesn’t always help 🙂

Eventually, after redrafts, and with several pamphlet competition deadlines and reading windows approaching, I asked another poet who I really admire to help me work the manuscript up (paid for with the rest of my NWS grant) . She read the poems. We then spent a long afternoon going through the poems themselves, the ordering, themes, which were weaker, which would work better first or last, and so on. There were criticisms I’d heard before and hadn’t liked (but when you hear the same thing from different sources – hmm!), there were poems I was determined to keep in but ended up removing, there were a few unpublished/new poems that I hadn’t tested on magazines but followed my instinct and included. Being familiar with this poet’s work and meeting face to face made a huge difference.

So something I’ve taken from all this is that I don’t always respond well to the written word alone. This is quite an admission, given my championing of online communication for the last twenty years. And I know that asking for a critique is not asking for praise. You need to know what’s not working. And yet we hear the written word in our heads, and (for me anyway) anything negative -especially if we don’t like the tone of it! – can jump out and take on a far greater significance than anything positive. When the same comments are delivered face to face, with space for all that entails – tone of voice, empathic feedback, the possibility of discussion and clarification, for me this is a marvellous thing.

The reworked pamphlet felt good. I sent it out. It’s going to be published. When I think of all the workshopping groups, magazine editors and poet friends who have encouraged and helped me, and of course you, for reading this blog with its warts and all, I’m truly grateful. There was a huge dollop of luck involved (there always is!) but if any of this sounds familiar, if you’re in the position I was, I would say it is as much to do with perseverance and finding a way to negotiate criticism – in such a way that you make it work for you, without chipping away at your confidence.

29 Comments on “A new pamphlet & all the angst of getting there

  • Peter Raynard
    April 26, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Many congratulations Robin. I look forward to reading it. Best wishes, Peter

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you Peter 🙂

      Reply
  • elly
    April 26, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    So pleased for you, Robin. Congratulations! And thanks so much for sharing your experiences – what you have written here at this blog will help any of us trying to figure out next steps …

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Hello Elly, and thanks so much. This blog and the ongoing dialogue with poets such as yourself is all part of the mix. If it helps both the writer and the reader then that’s not a bad thing!

      Reply
  • Maggie Sawkins
    April 26, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I admire your tenacity and integrity. It highlights for me the value of getting something published by your peers. It’s far too easy to give up and go down the self-publishing route. Or not to even try in the first place. Welcome to Cinnamon!

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks Maggie! For my first pamphlet you could call that self-publishing, which in a way it was, although I always saw it as part of a movement involving other poets. For me though I always thought it would be a first step, and then publication by someone else would follow, as if by magic – although it turned out to be harder and a longer process than I imagined.

      Reply
      • Maggie Sawkins
        April 26, 2017 at 1:05 pm

        I’m working on a pamphlet collection at the moment so it was interesting, and rather daunting, to read about your experience (though not surprising).

        Reply
  • Ann Perrin
    April 26, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Absolutely brilliant. Well done and thank you for all the details about the hazardous journey!

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Thank you Ann 🙂

      Reply
  • Mark Russell
    April 26, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Congratulations

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 28, 2017 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Mark!

      Reply
  • Clare Best
    April 26, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Very good news indeed. *Delighted* to hear this. X

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks so much, Clare! x

      Reply
  • Jill Fricker
    April 26, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Well done Robin! You really deserve this success. Look forward to reading it.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you Jill! A few poems in there that you and the other Hastings Stanza folks have helped me with…

      Reply
  • john foggin
    April 26, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Excellent! Huge admiration for all that tenacity xxxx

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Thank you John, much appreciated…

      Reply
  • Heather Walker
    April 26, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Congratulations. Thanks for sharing your road to publication. I found that most interesting and well done to you for keeping going. I look forward to seeing a copy.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you Heather!

      Reply
  • Claire Crowther
    April 26, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Brilliant. That’s such an honest account. Surely every poet must go through these stages. You have to admire us all. It will be great to read the pamphlet.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 26, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Claire – thanks so much 🙂

      Reply
  • Antony Mair
    April 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    Well done, Robin – I’ve been expecting this next step for a while, and am delighted to see it’s happened. Congratulations. Now for that verse novel you always wanted to write…

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 27, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Verse novel!? Thank you for the kind words Antony, and for your support as ever. I’m looking forward to your pamphlet too…

      Reply
  • Louise Ordish
    April 28, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Fab Robin – so pleased for your and thank you for sharing the journey. It helped, not least in that i have to stop thinking “why do other people just get stuff published”? As if it were magically easy for them, and only i have to deal with rejection. 🙂 Well done for perservering and, as ever, finding a creative way through. Your creativity extends beyond written words, that’s for sure.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 28, 2017 at 8:19 am

      Thanks Louise, I’m glad it was useful and thanks so much for your kind words. I’ve no doubt you’ll be ‘just getting stuff published’ pretty soon!

      Reply
  • Caroline Davies
    April 29, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    That’s fabulous news. Welcome to Cinnamon.

    It’s useful for all of us to hear about the long process of getting a pamphlet into the best possible shape. All the hard work has paid off. I am so pleased for you.

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      April 30, 2017 at 8:50 am

      Hi Caroline and thanks so much 🙂

      Reply
  • Pam Thompson
    May 12, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Well done Robin!

    Reply
    • Robin Houghton
      May 15, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Thank you Pam!

      Reply
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