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How To Work With A Poetry Editor With Orna Ross And Dalma Szentpály: Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

How To Work With A Poetry Editor with Orna Ross and Dalma Szentpály: Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

This week’s AskALLi session with Orna Ross and Dalma Szentpály will show you how to work with a poetry editor and how to find the editing process that’s right for you.

The editing process is as essential for poets as for all writers.

  • So what kind of editor do you need as a poet?
  • Does the usual trio of developmental editing, copyediting and proofing apply or is it different?
  • How do you find a good poetry editor?
  • How can one help you?
  • Can a group of skilled poets take an editor’s place?

Also: Indie Poetry Please! in which Dalma and Orna read some poetry submissions.

Poets, to submit to work for consideration for the Self Publishing Poetry Podcast, See the Indie Poetry Please! Submission Guidelines

Listen to the #AskALLi Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

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Show Notes

This week’s #AskALLi #selfpublishing #poetry session with @OrnaRoss and @dalma_szentpaly will show you how to work with a poetry editor. Click To Tweet

Tune in for discussions on a different theme each month with a focus on developing prosperity for poets through community building and self-publishing.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Centerhttps://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

About the Hosts

Orna Ross

Orna’s work for ALLi has seen her repeatedly named one of The Bookseller’s “Top 100 people in publishing.” She launched at the 2012 London Book Fair, after taking her rights back from Penguin in 2011 and republishing her books herself, with the titles and treatment she’d originally wanted. Orna writes award-winning poetry and fiction, runs a Patreon page for poets and poetry lovers as well as an active author website. She is on a mission to help eradicate creative poverty through digital publishing and enterprise. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ornaross.

Dalma Szentpály

Dalma Szentpály co-hosts the Self-Publishing Poetry salon. She works at PublishDrive as a self-publishing professional and has been a lifelong lover of poetry. A native Hungarian, she started learning about lyricism from poetry giants like Attila József and János Pilinszky but also recited brooding lines of verse from international poets like Pablo Neruda or Anna Ahmatova. In university, she fell in love with W.B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson and wrote her thesis about the “villanelle” form in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. As a university lecturer and an event manager at an independent bookstore in Budapest Dalma encouraged readers to re-engage with poetry. Check out her blog post about contemporary poetry trends here: Find Dalma on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Read the Transcript

Orna Ross: Hello, hello, and welcome to The Alliance of Independent Authors, Self Publishing Advice Podcast and this evening, it is our live Facebook session on how to self-publish poetry and I'm here with the lovely Dalma, all the way from Hungary. Hi, Dalma.

Dalma Szentpály: Hi Orna and hi everybody. It's really great to be here again.

Orna Ross: Always a pleasure to, take some time out, to talk about poetry, and how to publish poetry, and how to reach your poetry readers and fans and how to yeah, just get your work out there. And this evening we're going to be talking particularly about working with poetry editor, which is a little bit different for poets. And those who write prose, fundamentals are the same, but there are some little differences but, yeah, before we get going, all good at Publish Drive these days?

Dalma Szentpály: Definitely, we are going to have some new things coming out. Just the time of London Book Fair in March. I cannot talk about it too much, but you know, just to get some buzz going on big, big things. So, it's a very, very busy season right now, but I suspect it's ALLi as well, with the conference coming up and everything.


Orna Ross: This is always, always our busiest time of the year as we prepare for London Book Fair and Self Pub Con. I'm looking forward to it as ever, we will have some announcements at London as well, we’ll have some new developments. So, all the poets who have to wait till next month to find out about all that, because this evening, we're going to be talking about editing.

You know, working with a poetry editor, how do you find an editor to work with? How do you actually tell them what you need from them? What are the things you should be saying to an editor to ensure that it goes well? What I think are the practicalities like pricing and agreements and all that kind of stuff. So, we hope to cover pretty much everything you need to know and hope that by the end of this show, you'll be able to go away and hire an editor and get what you need from that relationship. So, I think the thing to start with is, just talking about the different kinds of editing that there are.

So, there are really four, I think. And three, you might say three and one is kind of divided into two. So, the main sort of editing, the biggest, the deepest, if you like is that a level of developmental editing. So, for a novel or a prose and nonfiction book that is looking at things like the structure, and it's looking at things and people would be much more familiar with it. I think in terms of long book experience, the characters, if it's a novel, the theme, the overall shape of the book that is all coheres at times together, that you don't repeat yourself, you know, all that kind of stuff. And for a poet, and the poem and it's not that different.

So, I think, you know, when you're starting out to look for an editor, when you feel your poem is done or your book of poetry is done, it's more like you're looking for an editor for in the beginning, maybe just for one poem, and then, in time looking to put together maybe your first chapbook, as we've talked about before, or your first full collection. So, editing the poem itself at the level of the poem is one thing, editing the overall book is another, and I think the developmental bit happens at both levels.

So, for the poem itself, it's really important that the poem coheres and what you are looking for at the developmental level is, you know, has it said what it's trying to say? Are there lines that shouldn't be in there? Usually, there are within beginner work, they need to come  loose or the words need to be more active and you know, less passive or stronger verbs, stronger nouns, fewer adjectives, fewer adverbs, you know, that sort of literally down into the words. Which is where you move into the next phase, which is copy editing. And that's kind of looking at the sentence structure.

So, what's, you know, does the sentence cohere? And again, with poetry, you've got things to think about, like rhythm and rhyme. And you know what words have happened up above and what words are coming down below. And whether this line does the most amount of work it can do because for me, that's what poetry is about. Every word really earns its place. It's got to be really strong. And it's got to be the best possible word and the best possible order I forget who said that, but they were very clever because that's exactly right.

And then at the next level, we're down to talking about the actual words, so it was lines a minute ago. Now you're into the actual words and finally then, into what we think of often as editing, or what poets seem to think is editing which is just a proof read. It just makes sure that there is no grammatical errors or spelling mistakes or any of that kind of thing. Would largely align with your kind of understanding of editing, anything to add there.

Dalma Szentpály: Absolutely, I think how you covered it is perfect. A couple of things that occurred to me while you we're talking, developmental editing. One of the things when you were mentioning how the whole volume itself, needs to have a coherence. So, we encourage I think, whenever I talk with poets to write as much poems as they possibly can, but not necessarily every single poem is going to fit into one volume. So, I think one of the things in development editing is to have a theme for the whole volume, and probably the editor is also going to have some kind of comment whether that poem fits into the whole idea or not. So, this is one of the things that occurred to me. And the other thing when you were mentioning the lines, whether every single line needs to be there or not. One of the things that a poet said to me is that usually you have to have a clear not necessarily a message but the core of the poem, and you can pinpoint it in one line. I'm not sure whether that's true or not, and I wanted to ask you about this. So, if it has a core, and you need to set all the other lines in comparison to that line, whether they can be connected to it or not. So, do you think that's true? Or, or not necessarily?

Orna Ross: It's a fascinating idea. I am kind of taking it on board. I've never thought about it that way. But I think your, poet friend is right. I never actually set out to do that. But I can see if I think about the poems that I've written and poems that I love to read. There is a core kind of line and, and often a poem comes to you, like one line comes first and things build around it, though. It's not necessarily the line that is kind of core maybe, but it's really interesting. I going to be looking at things like that a little bit more going forward to, to just see, but I think that's right. I think there is always a particular line. I think of it as where the poem turns, you know, where it's slightly surprises you. You think you know where it's going and then this come in then you realize our that's what it's about.

So yeah, I'm going to I think that's probably a release for comment, but I'll talk more about that next month maybe. Very good. Yeah. And I think the thing of removing lines is very important. I think we overwrite always and that's, as it almost as it should be, you're getting everything down, you're writing for yourself the first time you're just kind of explaining to yourself what you're on about, you don't really know usually, occasionally you know from the get go. But usually it emerges in the writing. I think that's true of a poem just as it's true of a book and then there are words that are not earning their keep, and there are whole lines that are not earning their keep, and there may well be whole stanzas that are not earning their keep and the tighter on the more compact you get it, yeah, the more the more poetic it is.

So yeah, I think the most important thing of all and thinking about the core line of this show and what the whole show is revolving around when it comes to getting editing help be it hiring an actual editor which we do recommend particularly for those who are who are beginning or if it's using a beta group of other poets whatever it is, you need to know what it is you're looking for. So, there is absolutely no point in going and asking for a proofread if what you need is a developmental edit. So and a good poetry editor will ask you that first of all, they will first question and this is so I suppose getting on a little bit into our theme, which we’ll expand on now of how do you know what should good poetry editor look like? How do you know you got one? How do you find a good person?

I think the first thing is that you kind of expect them to ask you about the poem or the book and what its creative intentions are, what you're looking for from them. Because yeah, you can be looking for this help at very different levels, and they should be able to respond to your need. And then yeah, bring in more, bring in other things, they may have their own idea about what you need. But first of all, I think there should be a conversation by email or in a an online meeting, or in an in person meeting where you actually discuss what you're looking for, what you need, you know why you've come to seek an editor. So yeah.

Dalma Szentpály: What would you say as an example, so for example, what would you expect a good editor to have a question to you. So, if you would sit down with someone, what would be core question from the editor, if that would be a good one.

Creative Intentions

Orna Ross: Yeah. Well, when I give a poem over to the people that I think of my as my editors, and it's kind of a core group of poets that I work with, and I send poems to different people, they're my kind of first readers. When I send it over, the first thing they always asked me is after they've read, okay, so what did you think it was doing? Or what is it you're trying to achieve here? What was essentially the question underneath, what was the creative intention this poem. Then they can tell me if I've met if I've met my own intentions or not. So, I think that's the question I like to hear. And no matter how often it gets asked, gets asked in different ways, like “what the hell you going on out here” but whatever way it gets asked. I never kind of think to ask it of myself. It's always seems to happen in the editing process of that kind of gets teased out a bit more. So yeah, I think that's the question. You would expect from a good poetry editor from the start, I believe. Yeah.

Dalma Szentpály: Yeah. And I would also say that usually, maybe, what kind of editing you're looking for, because there are different sorts. You know, if you're not only looking for, after the question of what was the artistic intention? Are you looking for someone to look at your imaginary, or rhythm, you know, cliches, these sort of things? So basically, what is that you need help with? I would say.


Orna Ross: Exactly. So, basically what can I do for you where you know, well, how would we define success? At the end of this editing process, what will you walk away with so that I can kind of bring to you? And yeah, I think that that initial conversation is very important. And I think it should be probably recognized by some sort of agreement after the conversation of what is kind of expected. And in that conversation is where you will cover all things like, their fee, how much they're going to be paid, how quickly the work will be done, the general, we can call it a contract for that makes it sound awfully official, but just an agreement between two creators. So, everybody knows where they stand. I think it's a really good idea. We've seen it over and again, in The Alliance of Independent Authors, just a simple written agreement, just the writing of it can actually show up so actually, your interpretation of what was going to happen is quite different. So, it's really good to get it agreed and signed by both parties and then everybody knows where they stand.

Dalma Szentpály: Sorry and moreover, both sides take this seriously, because sometimes, and I'm not saying this is a general thing to happen, but sometimes if you find someone in an artistic setting, they can be a little artsy-ish, which I'm not saying mean, artistic, but someone who is oh okay, I agreed to do this for you, but the deadlines are not there, or they are not doing exactly what you agreed on. So that's why a contract needs to set to be set up because both sides are taking it seriously then.

Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely. That's absolutely right. And you become aware of your responsibilities because you to, you know, you're very invested in your poem. There's a lot of emotional attachment and connection. We were talking earlier about how poetry is the most personal form of writing. And, you know, the process of entering into that editorial relationship can be challenging for the poet, and you know, we can resist it. And sometimes we resist it with bad behavior. Like, you know, we're not keeping our side of the bargain or not doing what's fair and reasonable to the other person. So, yeah, it all bodes well, I think in terms of when there is an agreement in place, everybody knows what's, what's what. And the question that comes up over and again is how to find a good editor? So maybe we talk a little bit about one.

Read, Read And Read Some More

Dalma Szentpály: Exactly. We were talking about this before and one of the things that I would recommend is if you, if when you're a poet, I usually recommend you to read a lot of poetry. And there are really good small presses who put out extremely well written poetry. And if you have a favorite one, you might look into the editors that work there, because most of the time they do contract editing, aside from being the editors for the publishing house. So that's a good way to find good reference because then you see the work that that person did previously. So that's one of the things that I would say works.

And another one is there are some services, online services, editing services, and one of them that I checked out and read about it and read reviews about it is Tell Tell Poetry. They worked with award winning independent poets and they work quickly. But you know, when we talked about just previously, how everything is set in stone, and you have a clear contract, every single service that they have is listed there. It's completely clear what you're getting. It's a personalized relationship just as everything, just as if you would seek out an editor yourself, but it's a little bit more, I would say fast paced or out there, you know, so basically, I would just say that check Tell Tell Poetry, set prices and set services but they are working really personalized. So that's good thing.

Orna Ross: Definitely worth a look. And then we do have the ALLi partner directory which has a number of editors in there. Not all of them, do poetry editing, but some who certainly do, and they've all been vetted by the Alliance watchdog desk and so they're approved services. We know they're great. We've had good author testimonials from them public testimonials. So, it's worth having a check there too. And I think it's also worth saying that choosing an editor is a process. It's not necessarily something that's going to just you know, first person you work with is the right person. I always say choosing an editor is like choosing a spouse, you have to date a few frogs before you find Prince Charming. It just seems to be that way. So, it's a kind of a learning process of you for kind of who suits you, who gets your work who's, you know, emotionally resonates with you and all that kind of thing. And again, particularly because the whole personal nature of poetry.

It's even more personal, even more of an individual's coupling I think than if it's a standard business nonfiction or something like that, it's not as important to get that kind of mix and it doesn't mean that the person is just lovely to you and everything you do is okay, at all. You're looking for somebody who will challenge you who will kind of recognize what needs to be done, but is able to do that with you in a way that doesn't either impose their own artistic vision, on top of yours because very often poetry edits are poets themselves, and or isn't afraid of, being out there and having that full frank, creative conversation that leads to a better outcome. I know you had a story about somebody who's who was imposing their will and as an editor…

Warning Signs

Dalma Szentpály: Exactly, yeah. Someone who was asking you or just looking at your poem and saying “if I were you, I would do this, like this,” then that's not an editor that you necessarily want to work with. That person does not need to rewrite your poem. And this is what you just told previously that poetry is one of the most personal literary expressions and the structure itself, how it comes out, is very, very personal. So, if someone says that “this is how I would do it, if I were you,” it's not a great way to approach the editing process. They would need to look at it from your perspective and what you were trying to do. Not rewrite the whole structure, or the core of the poem as we were talking about before. Yeah, so that's someone who you don't necessarily want to work with.

Orna Ross: Exactly. Kind of a warning sign if you hear that sentence coming up and similarly, I think with, you know, harsh criticism or insults or sort of, or damning with faint praise, you know, any of these kinds of things can get, if you're getting that sort of uncomfortable feeling. Essentially what you need to ensure is this person is going to really move me forward.

And yes, I'll be challenged, that's great. I welcome the creative challenge, but I don't want somebody who actually makes me want to crawl away and makes me never want to write in other words, again, you should, you know, enter and enjoy this arrangement and leave this arrangement, feeling energized and motivated wanting to write more poetry, wanting to work with this person again. And so, don't compromise even if you don't get that first time out. Look, keep on looking, keep on talking, keep on reading. The people who write poems like you, ask them who their editor is, you know, there is the right editor for you, is out there. And it's definitely worth making the effort and taking the time and realizing that, it can take time and you may not get somebody at first strike.

It's also worth asking for references who have they worked with before. And you know, and then talking directly to that poet on social media or dropping them an email and asking them directly. Rather than just taking the testimony that might be on the website, asking them directly, how did you experience working with that person, you know, just getting any kind of information that you can. And another thing that's worth doing, I definitely think especially if you haven't worked with a person before is to ask them to edit a sample poem. So, send them something not so that they can be fair. Either some stanzas from the work, you're considering if it's a long piece of work, some stanzas from that work that you're considering and asking them to edit. Or add something completely different and just send it through to them, and just get a sense in last way of how they work.

Dalma Szentpály: Absolutely. I completely agree. You need to have that; how can you work together feeling before going into a longer process.


Orna Ross: Right. And finally, I think just get the details of things like turn around, follow up, and what can you expect just at the practical level, how long is it going to take what is the deadline? And is there a process, do they just give it back to you, you get back to them? You know, is there a couple of rounds and this or is it just a one off? Exactly what is the terms what can you expect? And will they be meeting you live online? Or will everything be done by email, are they available for follow up questions basically anything that you want to know, have that conversation up front rather than waiting for something to go wrong.

Dalma Szentpály: Exactly. And if you want to set up already your launch, you know your book launch. Then your editor can be the first to give an editorial review for your book. So after you of course, finish the whole editorial process, but if it works great, if it works, well, that person can give you a review, that's professional and you know, just from a little bit of a distance but at the same time. Yeah, so that person can give you an editorial review.

Orna Ross: That's a great idea because they’ll know the work by then, and they’ll know your artistic intentions and they’ll know you know what's gone into and have their favorite bits. Yeah, they'd be able to give you a really good in-depth review because they have read it more carefully, probably than any other reader you'll ever have. So yeah, that's a really, really good idea. So, I think that's it unless anybody has any questions that they want to send into us. We now have our Indie Poetry Please section.

Howard Lovy: And now for Indie Poetry Please!

Orna Ross: This is where and we invite our listeners to submit their own poems and we choose one or two a month to read out and sometimes I read some of mine, as well, and not today though. Today we're going to hear from Dalma who is reading a poem by Cassandra, forget her second name.

Dalma Szentpály: I will mention it.

Orna Ross: You introduce it and read it.

Dalma Szentpály: Okay, so should I start?

Orna Ross: Yes, why not.

Dalma Szentpály: Right, okay. So, this film is by Cassandra Lip and its title is

Dirty Money

You are the only one I want to see when my employer
files for bankruptcy, so I convince you to accompany me
on a nature walk along the river. This takes little convincing,
as I cannot walk in the woods alone, for fear I’d end up
one with nature, decaying in the ground at the hand of a stranger
taking my isolation as an opportunity. So together we find
a gap in the massive construction site short enough to climb over
to get to the trail. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and both were covered in trash. I sing the Alanis Morissette
song that mirrors my day while you tell me everything
will be okay. As I yodel the four-syllable suuuitcase,
a broken luggage handle appears on our path,
which I take as a sign that I should pack my suitcase (which
has its handle intact) and move to Chi Town.
But even Alanis was wrong about irony, and I know better
than to take everything as a sign like my grandmother,
who thought 11 cents on the ground was my grandfather talking,
as he died on the 11th day of January. Maybe he does
talk in change. But even he spelled his own name wrong
on greeting cards, and maybe someone tossed the
e coli vectors aside rather than weigh down their pocket.

Orna Ross: Beautiful

Dalma Szentpály: So that's the that's the whole poem.

Orna Ross: It's really beautiful. Yeah. I love it. It's got such a beautiful image and I mean, startling, striking, lovely and deep. So much going on here and I love the reference to other artists, like Frost, and Morissette, and she draws a beautiful picture. Yeah, and you read it so well. Thank you.

Dalma Szentpály: Well, I just have to thank Cassandra I really loved it. And one of the first poems, that I really loved when I was learning about English poetry, our English language poetry was, was Francisco um, you know, to Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Woods. That's, yeah, one of the first ones that I learned so. So, this is this is an incredible way to use intertextuality in poetry, which I always loved. So, thank you Cassandra again. For sending me this poem.

Orna Ross: And our other poet today is Edward Smith. And you can find Edward at, worddancerpub.wordpress.com. And Edward is a prolific poet. I know his work quite a bit. He is a patron and one of my patrons and he submits poetry quite often to us and he likes very short poems so just capture a moment. So, Haiku type poetry and he sent a very short one that I thought would be sort of contrast really to Cassandra's something very different, very simple, doesn't have a name in Haiku fashion. It just begins straightaway.

a shy rose
peeked blushing
through the green
hoping to see
without being

Thank you, Edward, for that, and for all your contributions, and for your engagement and your sincere devotion to poetry. and I know that you're always there and always working away. So yes, if anybody else would like to submit some poems for us to consider for reading next month, please do that. You will find the submission details at ornaross.com/indie-poetry-please. That's what we call this section of the poetry podcast. And thank you everyone for being here this evening and for listening in and for loving poetry.

Dalma Szentpály: Yes.

Orna Ross: So till next time. Happy writing and Happy Publishing.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


This Post Has One Comment
  1. A poetry editor in four various stages – of seeking relevance. Truly what for. Poetry is what flows from the creative mind as envisioned, as thought out on the page in the words that come as they are. Sure there will always be the need for revision. However, like lyrics no one will consider editing the lyrics of songs so why have editors crept into this genre. They have stultified expression to the point of bland vapidness. Novels read like smooth-line continuity with no real life experiencing depth left in the prose. All words are perfect but the content has been flattened to moronic conformity. And now this. They may think they are relevant but surely not. My mother was a language teacher. She would listen to you with a curious distant yet focused gaze upon you as we talked around the kitchen table. After a while I realised: she was not listening to WHAT you said but HOW you said it. Then got stuck into one for not putting this word here or that word there. The CONTENT of the conversation -poem-prose writing- was totally lost [on her] on editors. Language is communication. The wrapping, the cover, the position of the actual words are irrelevant as long as the message gets across. And HOW that is achieved is how the writer intends it to be. Not a continuous smoothness but like real life, dense, light, sparse, contraire, confusing, inconclusive but never grammatically homogeneous. Editors should get out of the way. Publishers have been conned. I know I used to be one. The philosophy was: if it is readable it is publishable. No reader complained.

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