Friday, 16 February 2018

Quality versus Quantity

Some poets don't produce much. In 1988 Faber published Ian Hamilton's "Fifty Poems". This included just about all he'd previously had published, and six new poems. In the preface he wrote: "Fifty poems in twenty-five years: not much to show for half a lifetime, you might think". Amongst novelists, Harper Lee produced little.

In the "Bridport Prize anthology 2017" one poet's bio mentions a single success - being commended in the Ware poetry competition. For the author of the Flash winner the anthology appearance was their first published work. However brilliant their Bridport pieces, these writers aren't going to break through unless they have worthwhile portfolios. For small-press writers I think quantity matters - it helps keep your name in circulation. The difference between a relatively well-known writer and an unknown one is not necessarily in the quality of their best pieces of work (an unknown's best piece may be superb) but in the quantity of good work produced.

Producing more will mean that your worst pieces will be worse than before, but can trying to write more lead to your best pieces suffering too? Perhaps. The easiest way to increase output is by lowering standards, by being less self-critical. If this policy is adopted uniformly, a writer's best work will suffer.

But there are grounds for believing that a writer's best work will be improved. In "Art & Fear", authors David Bales and Ted Orland describe a ceramics class in which half of the students were given an A for producing fifty pounds of pots, whereas the others were judged on quality, needing to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. The best works came from the group being graded on quantity - "It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

I've often seen this experiment quoted. I'm unsure how generally true it is. Pots can't be re-edited - poems can. Photographers used to be encouraged to take many snaps, but now re-touching solves many problems. That said, just as you need the photos before you can use Photoshop, so you need first drafts before you can re-write, as Robert Lee Brewer points out. It's easier to improve a piece than start one from scratch.

So perhaps having more raw material helps. How can one write more? NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) and NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) are initiatives to help improve the amount produced by writers. Books like "52: Write a Poem a Week. Start Now. Keep Going" by Jo Bell can help too.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Blurbs and reviews to tempt you?

On the strength of these blurbs/reviews, would you look forward to reading the books? I imagine some people would. Certainly I have moments when the 2nd of these would tempt me.

  • potentialities of memory and sensation are nuanced, subtle, and limned in relationship to suffering, betrayal, and loss. Fluidities of image and rhythm create an individual and musical voice to carry the reflections and echoes the poet shivers across the mirroring surfaces and abysses of her ghostly, visceral, and unflinching poems.
    (from a back cover)
  • These are poems created while parents are dying and the poet herself is undergoing cancer treatment against the backdrop of ecological crisis and several American wars.
    (from NY Times)
  • the three fine volumes published since 2009 ... raise [Clive] James to the level of quite possibly the best established poet of this admittedly rather weak period. Alice Oswald aside, James is more or less unique among contemporary established poets in consistently writing on major themes
    (Fred Beake, Acumen 87)

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A UK poetry submission schedule for early 2018

I shall try to submit to several of these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Friday, 5 January 2018

About Jason Guriel's "What Happens When Authors Are Afraid to Stand Alone" article

In What Happens When Authors Are Afraid to Stand Alone Jason Guriel points out the risks of networking - "Writing as an individual pursuit has been replaced by “community”—and literature is the worse for it". Here are some quotes -

  • Apparently Thom Gunn had a “strong dislike” for “literary gatherings.” ... Christopher Middleton was “incapable of schmoozing, and his career suffered accordingly.”
  • In recent years, thoughtful poet-critics like Stewart Cole have made an eloquent case for the distinction between community and scene, and the desirability of the former over the latter.
  • while no one is truly isolated, writers have become more entangled than ever. Workshops, readings, book launches, conferences, artists’ colonies, and other glorified mixers increasingly press literary types upon one another. Creative writing instructors urge their charges to get out there and network. Social media ensures we’re always connected.
  • Literary controversies are now less about aesthetic feuds and more about group outrage.
  • literary community can have a deadly impact. The most obvious fatality: your critical faculty.
  • The American poet Kay Ryan, one of a few one-offs still around, has written eloquently about the need for writers—especially younger ones—to develop a carapace against what she calls “camaraderie.” For Ryan, this means avoiding the delivery systems by which literary community, like a virus, transmits itself: workshops and conferences. It means shrugging off the endless obligations that other writers will foist upon you. It means siloing yourself in silence.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A UK prose submission schedule for early 2018

As more magazines introduce submission windows, and competitions increase their significance, it's worth planning ahead. I shall try to submit to these (mostly UK) competitions and submission windows -

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

My end-of-year stats

Compared with last year I've written twice as many poems and half as much prose, though my 2017 output of 17 poems (many abandoned rather than finished) is still paltry. I read with interest on Marion McCready's blog that her recent poetry output statistics are - 2015: 11; 2016: 3; 2017: 21. These figures console me, although she points out that some of these poems are long, and doesn't mention that the quality of what she does write is such that it appears in books, "Poetry (Chicago)" etc.

I had about 20 poetry/prose pieces accepted. Usually (2013 was an exception) if I write more I publish more too (i.e. the extra material isn't barrel-scraping rubbish), so next year I shall try to use prompts, workshops, etc to produce more, so I can send off more. As reverse psychology I shall borrow the idea of aiming for 100 rejections in 2018. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

"Literature in the 21st Century: Understanding Models of Support for Literary Fiction"

Some extracts from Literature in the 21st Century: Understanding Models of Support for Literary Fiction written by Canelo for Arts Council England, published in December 2017.

  • It has rarely, if ever, been easy to support literary writing ... print sales of literary fiction have fallen over the last decade, particularly after the recession. Today, despite some recent positive indicators, they remain significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties ... While ebook sales have made up much of the fall in print sales elsewhere in the book market, this does not appear to be the case for literary fiction. Genre and commercial fiction predominate in ebook format (p.3)
  • 2015 Nielsen BookScan data suggests that the top 1% of authors accounted for 32.8% of all sales and within this, the top 0.1% accounted for 13% of total sales (p.19)
  • It is interesting to note that despite the grim sales picture, profits at major publishers have not only not been stable but have, if anything, strengthened. (p.22)
  • Bookselling operates under an unusual system of sale-or-return, whereby if a book doesn’t sell, the bookseller is able to return it to the publisher and be reimbursed (within a certain time frame). Unlike most industries, financial and inventory risk is here loaded onto the producer rather than the retailer. The idea was that this would encourage retailers to stock new and untested books – but the system can be catastrophic for publishers, with returns of a half to two-thirds of sales not unusual according to those we spoke to. (p.24)
  • it would be a mistake to think the ebook market simply mirrors print. In fact it is a very different market in two important ways, neither of which particularly benefits literary fiction, even if it is a boon to the book market as a whole. … ebooks are firstly much cheaper than print books, and secondly that ebooks are more skewed towards genre and commercial fiction. (p.30)
  • There is a sense that over the past 15 years or so the position of BAME writers within British writing and publishing, never robust, has in fact gone backwards. In London the proportion of BAME residents in the total population is at 40% (the proportion for the UK as a whole is around 15%) ... 42% of writers from a BAME wrote literary fiction, against only 27% of white writers (p.33-34)
  • built on the spread of reading level English, the competitive price of English books and premium demand for English language content … several editors and agents told us confidentially that many of their literary authors were earning more from foreign rights than English language sales. (p.43)
  • Kickstarter was one of the earliest sites to work on the crowdfunding model and remains one of the biggest. With a total of $3.3bn pledged through the site, it must rank as one of the world’s largest sources of arts funding. (p.48)
  • While big publishers have seen their ebook revenues decline, the proportion of books that are ‘non-traditionally’ published now make up 60% of titles on the Kindle and 40% of revenues (p.49)
  • Wattpad, which lets users post and share stories they have written from small fragments to vast sequences of novels, has 60m monthly active users spending 15bn minutes on the site every month. 64,000 new stories are uploaded daily, adding to a corpus of over 400m works. It may not be literary; but it points in the right direction, suggesting that digital technology can greatly facilitate new modes of writing and reading. (p.50)