My last blog entry dealt with the ‘post-pamphlet process’. I’m mid-pamphlet this week so thought I’d share a bit of that too, rather than writing about hot cross buns. (I may write about the first stage one day, and even the buns, but not today.)

I’m working right now with Will Harris on his debut pamphlet All This Is Implied. I love this title. It caught my attention from the start and the longer I live with it, the better it seems to fit the group of poems. It’s a nice title for a type-setter too. It occupies enough space on a front jacket to open up possibilities, and I like the internal pattern of the ‘is’ in ‘This Is’, and although it does have four letter ‘i’s, which could be a lot of dots, two of them will be capitalised, so that will be fine. (You think a lot about what words look like when you’re designing books. Both Helen Evans’s Only By Flying and Laurna Robertson’s Praise Song had a very useful letter O.)

And yes, I have checked to see there are no other poetry collections called All This Is Implied, although I was already sure there wouldn’t be. You can see my head is firmly on the title as a handle, both for the cover design and for the identity of the publication as it makes its way into the world, with attendant promotion to draw attention to its existence.

But I am jumping the bun. Let me go back to where the middle stage began and how.

In the third week of March I had a tiny opening of time, so I seized it. I grabbed the Word document containing the set of Will’s poems that had confirmed my offer of publication last October (though we have been communicating for some years, and he has been ‘pencilled in’ for longer than he knows), allocated them an ISB number and put the text into an In-Design document.

That sounds quick. It’s not. The reason it’s not quick is not just because of thinking about design principles, though I’ll come to those soon.

It’s because I think each poem through again as I put it on a page. I’m thinking now not just about individual strengths and weaknesses but how the whole thing hangs together. So my brain is focussing on links between the poems, in terms of thought, idea and verbal echo. It’s really a process of thinking of the whole publication as one artefact, almost one poem.

In terms of design, any poem that’s longer than a page will start on the left of the spread, because of the way I have so often, as a poetry reader, thought a poem has come to a beautiful ending, only to turn the page and find there’s more of it, and that the actual ending is less satisfying as the earlier false one.

But this principle of starting on the left often means the poet’s intended running order changes.

Then there’s the issue of the stretched or ‘weird’ poem. Poems come all shapes and sizes these days. It’s a bit like a hall of mirrors. They may extend in any direction and some use a variety of fonts too. I’m working with an A5 page for my pamphlets, and I won’t shrink font sizes to squeeze things in – because I think it looks naff. Sometimes I conclude that a typographically ‘difficult’ poem is simply not going to work inside my page shape. If I love it, I’ll spend a lot of time messing about with it. But if it’s just a ‘liked’ poem, and there are others to choose from, it will go. (The poet’s first full collection may have bigger pages.)

Poems with long lines are another issue. They fit best on a left hand page, where they can stretch into the middle without looking odd. They don’t look so good on the right, and I may have to reduce the margin to let them breathe and avoid breaking lines. I don’t like doing that, though there are exceptions. But starting the long-line poem on the left, also means the running order of the poems may change.

I may or may not agree that the poem the poet has chosen to start or end with is the right one. (I’m more likely to agree than not.)

If there are long poems in the set – and in Will’s pamphlet one extends over three pages and another over four (unusual) – you need to feel they’re in the right place. Of course, with long poems it depends what sort of long they are. Long and wide, or long and thin. Long and reflective, or long with a story. By gum. Well – the poet has already obsessed over this for years, so the least I can do is obsess for a few days.

In this way, I arrive at an In-Design draft, more or less following the author’s original intention. Then I do a second draft in which I make more radical changes. I print it out so I can see it on paper. I make more adjustments. I print it out again, two-sided in a booklet.

I create a cover, which is a rough copy holder with a notional graphic. However, this allows my brain to go to work on what might be there, and it encourages the writer to start to think about the text on the back, since he will need to supply some bio.

I fold the pages into a mock-up, put a coloured page in for flyleaf, and post to the author.

Together with the mock-up, I normally send a contract (not because I am preoccupied with legality but because it defines terms − like how many free copies the author will get, how big the print-run I likely to be, what author discount is applicable to additional copies purchased etc).

And I send some ‘new poet information’. This includes notes on proof-reading; a note about sales and publicity, so they will understand a little more about how the whole cost and promotional side works, and a note about supplying bio. Just lately I’ve produced yet another sheet explaining what information I need them to send after the first draft.

What happens next? Sometimes it’s the phone call. Sometimes the poet reads the draft and wants to change some aspects of content substantially, or wants me to consider some newer work as well. In that case, I think about whatever they send, and do another draft, and another mock-up, and then we talk.

Very occasionally the phone call is an actual face to face meeting. But mostly my poets are nowhere near me geographically so it’s the phone. Among other things, we will talk through the poems page by page. The poet tells me where there are typos or changes. If I have messed about with something, the poet either defends the original version and I take it back, or we agree that he or she will mark a section of a poem for further thought. So that phone call is usually at least a couple of hours, and there may be another before we’re done.

Then, after making the hot cross buns – on a Saturday when electricity is free – I do another draft. By this stage, I’m probably sharing copy by pdf attached to email because the author knows what the publication will look like in print from the mock-up. The author considers draft whatever-number-it-is-by-now. Do we need to talk again? If so, we schedule a time. More likely, I need to add detail – like notes or information on the acknowledgements page, and certainly the cover is work in progress. So I’ll add whatever is to be added, remove some errors, make a change to line 6 on page 15, lines 23-25 on page 17 and so on…

Meanwhile, I’ve suggested some images to Gillian that she might work on for the cover, and she does. What she comes back with is never what I expect. But weirdly it always seems to be ‘right’ in some way or another. I mess about with her images, and my typefaces, and get some covers together, including some poet bio if the poet has sent it (they are always slow to do this because everybody hates writing it) and a sentence of my own describing the contents as I see them. (I have now been thinking about this statement for three weeks at least. Later the copy may change significantly, and the poet has input to this too.)

We try to come up with two or three options for cover design and let the poet choose. They rarely choose the one I like best. However, the reading public usually likes the cover, and so does the poet, which is all that matters. Sometimes, I will do a final mock-up, including covers and post them. It depends how much time we have at this stage, because you could go on forever tweaking a comma here, worrying about a title there. It’s good to get the thing to PRINT and hurray! But the poet (and the editor) have to be happy with what they’ve arrived at.

And then, having consumed a hot cross bun with cheese, and with the print-ready copy taken to Dolphin press, I start on the ‘post-pamphlet process’ that I wrote about last week…