Putting together an entry for the 2020 International Book & Pamphlet Competition

With just less than 4 months to go until the 2020 International Book & Pamphlet Competition deadline, here are some tips from past winners on putting a manuscript together…

Some tips from Lesley Saunders – a winner of the 2016/17 International Book & Pamphlet Competition with her collection, Angels on Horseback.

  • Choose your best poems and then try to see what, if anything, connects them: it might be a particular set of preoccupations, or an idiosyncratic way of seeing the world or a certain register tone of voice.
  • Lay all these possible poems out on the floor and shuffle them around so that, when you read them, one poem makes a connection with the next, thematically or with an echo of phrase. Try out different arrangements and make sure the pamphlet will open and close with strong poems.
  • Put aside the poem(s) that doesn’t/don’t fit or else find a place for it that makes the most of its difference/uniqueness.
  • Read the whole set aloud. Is it convincing? Try it out on a good poet-friend or colleague.
  • Find the striking phrase in one of the poems (not necessarily a poem-title) that resonates with the general mood or pre-occupations of the set. This could be your title.
  • Lighten up! even if this entry of yours isn’t successful, you’ll have learnt a lot from the process. And DO keep trying, as different judges enjoy different kinds of work. (I didn’t get anywhere with the Poetry Business competition until my fourth attempt!).

I was speechless with delight when I had the phone call from Ann (Sansom) to let me know my pamphlet was one of the four winners – this was not my first time of trying, so it felt like an honour as well as a great pleasure to be successful on this attempt, particularly as a large number of the poems came out of a collaboration with the artist Susan Adams. And working with Peter (Sansom) on the final edits was so insightful – a marvellous experience altogether.

— Lesley Saunders

Some tips from Josephine Abbott – a winner of the 2016/17 International Book & Pamphlet Competition with her collection The Infinite Knot.

The Infinite Knot by Josephine Abbott (Smith|Doorstop, 2017)
  • Treat each poem in the pamphlet as if it’s a line or stanza in a poem. Each one should flow naturally into the next. Pay particular attention to the opening poem and the final one.
  • Watch and listen for patterns. Unless your work turns out to have a clear, self-evident sequence, you’ll have to work hard to understand, recognise and showcase themes, topics, groups of images etc. If you want no pattern at all, then you’ll need to watch for unintentional patterns.
  • Once you’ve decided on a provisional order, read (at least) the last couple of lines of one and then the first couple of lines of the next, over and over again, listening to the ‘conversation’ between them. You may well be surprised by the results. Be prepared to shuffle and re-shuffle.
  • Don’t be too quick to decide on a title: an unusual, intriguing and (importantly) a relevant one may suggest itself as a result of this process.
  • The title should; (a) tempt the reader into the pamphlet (b) offer a small clue to understanding the poems in it and (c) not give too much away, spoiling the punchline.

Simply having the competition to enter was something I found helpful — it made me focus on form, purpose, and the possibilities a pamphlet can offer. And, of course, winning was a massive bonus and a real boost to my spirits. It’s so gratifying to realise that your poems are read and — even better — appreciated. I’m really pleased with the pamphlet, and the support from everyone at The Poetry Business in producing and publicising it has been fantastic. The Poetry Business has some of the best credentials, editors and judges going. To find out that they like what you’ve done is really encouraging!

— Josephine Abbott

Deadline: last post on Saturday 29th February 2020 or midnight on Sunday 1st March for online entrants.
Prizes: publication by Smith|Doorstop; a share of £2,000 cash; a launch reading at The Wordsworth Trust; publication in The North magazine and more.

Click here for more information about the competition, or here to submit your entry online now.