Tuesday 3 January 2023

The Poetry Publishing Machine

Over the past year or so, I've noticed that the Poetry Publishing Machine seems not only to have taken up where it left off at the beginning of the pandemic but to have accelerated further. What do I mean by this statement? Well, I'm referring to the speed with which collections (and sometimes even the poets behind them) are rushed out, promoted and then discarded in the genre's onward flight.

This phenomenon seems tied in with several issues. For a start, there's the urge, the adrenaline rush that many poets seek from publication. Once their book's out, they're no longer interested in it and immediately move on to the next project. 

And then there are publishing schedules to meet. Several significant U.K. poetry publishers appear to be constantly bringing out new books, month on month, and their skeleton marketing teams can barely keep pace with the revolving door. Is it any surprise that in this context the sales of many full collections from prestigious outfits struggle to reach three figures?

And what about the effect of social media and newsfeeds? We all scroll so quickly, a new book becoming an old one in the space of weeks, pressure everywhere to be constantly publishing or be left behind.

A number of poetry people whose opinion I value have long held that poets should allow at least four years between collections, firstly to enable the previous book to garner and gather a readership that gradually builds and accumulates, and secondly to allow a poet's customers to have a rest from shelling out on their wares, not to feel there's something nearing an annual fee to keep up with their output. I myself am still encountering new readers for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, which was published back in 2017. I'm not sure that would be the case if I'd brought me second collection out a couple of years later.

What do you think? Am I imagining a problem that doesn't exist? Am I old-fashioned? Can collections still be slow-burning successes in the age of social media...?

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