Jacket of book -- bright yellow with a cartoon lady tearing her hair on the cover, and the title in large print, red and blue.

The yellow book has gone to print. I’m not sure how it got there and I want to get it back.

The yellow book is, of course, How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published, the book that has obsessed nearly every waking hour between Christmas and now. There’s a chapter of ‘What ifs’, and here’s one of them:

What if you’ve enraged your publisher by trying to change aspects of the collection, including rewriting some of the poems, sixteen times between first offer and printing?

Try not to do this. Relationships are important, and there is a time to let go. If you want to rewrite poems at the last minute, do it later and make a feature of it. Publish a volume titled The B side: rewrites of A. Better still, write some new ones.

What good advice. I shouldn’t have written ‘Try not to do this’, though. I should have written: ‘DO NOT DO THIS!’ Few things are more difficult for a publisher or editor than a writer who keeps rewriting the text. But what if that writer is yourself?

Which it was. Every time I re-proofed that book for the tiny slips of this and that, finding new ones each time, I would see a sentence that could be expressed better, or a chapter heading that felt wrong, or a bit where I was repeating myself (there may still be some of those) or – worst of all – the very morning I was due to send the book to print I decided , at 7.00 a.m., to re-design some of the pages.

These are things you should never ever do. The more changes you make at the last minute, the more likely you are to incorporate errors.

It wasn’t even me but my brother-in-law who observed the mistake on the spine of the book. It read ‘How (Not) To Get Your Oetry Published’. My daughter thought it was a deliberate joke. Beware you poets out there! The HappenStance editor generates Oetry without even trying. One day that oetry could be part of your oevre.

When you yourself are author and editor, and you can make changes, the temptation is overwhelming. I talk quite a bit in How (Not) to about self-publishing but nowhere do I mention this awful downside: the business of letting go. How do you let go of a book you’re producing yourself? How are you sure it’s good enough, finished enough, comprehensive enough, accurate enough, yellow enough?

I wish I didn’t mind making mistakes. I really wanted to get another bound proof. But if I had, I would have had to read the whole book word by word again, and I didn’t think I could bear it. I’ve read it backwards. I’ve read it forwards several times. I’ve read it inside out. At one point I was pleased with it. Now I really don’t know what I think of it any more (this is not what it will say in the publicity blurb which claims it is ‘frank and funny’ and ‘tells you all you need to know about getting your oetry published’).

I know I did one formatting thing in a stupid way. But I realised too late. It came to me in the middle of the night (when I was not sleeping because I was thinking about the yellow book again) what I should have done. I hope I got away with the wrong method. I hope people like this book.

I can always do a revised edition.

And a new and revised edition.

And a second new and revised edition.

Let the book go, Nell. Let the book go.


Jacket of book -- bright yellow with a cartoon lady tearing her hair on the cover, and the title in large print, red and blue.




  1. I am going to spend the rest of my life on an obsessive hunt for one of those How Not To Get Your Oetry Published editions! I will keep it sealed behind protective glass, next to that rare edition of Liver Twist I found on an antiquarian books market stall 🙂

  2. Thank you, Nell! I’m looking forward to this, and not just to play “Spot the formatting stupid”. I’m confident that that will be the only stupid in the book. If it actually is. 🙂

  3. On Typos

    I have been a
    peot who writes poetry,
    a poet who write potery
    but an oet who write oetry…???

  4. I am a peot what had a pome in a book on the pottery of Staffordshire; eh! I meen poetry.

  5. Ouch! I had to have my thesis rebound when I was very poor and it cost £100, because I had not noticed that title said ‘reading tests’ instead of ‘reading texts’. Would probably be top of the list now! I wonder if the difficulty I am having in writing just now is due to not enough oetry?

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