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Literature Projects: Degna Stone on The Butcher’s Dog—Founding and managing a poetry magazine

Written by Degna Stone

degna-stone-c-phil-puntonButcher’s Dog wouldn’t exist if New Writing North hadn’t put a group of us together for a series of Poetry School seminars led by Clare Pollard. As the seminars came to an end we somehow talked ourselves into creating the first issue of a magazine to mark the occasion.

It might well have been the only issue if Claire Malcolm hadn’t encouraged us to apply for a grant from Arts Council England. NWN agreed to give us match funding of £600 plus other support-in-kind to strengthen our application. We then set about getting letters of support – as cringey as it is to ask other people to praise you, it’s vital that you demonstrate that other people have faith in your ability to deliver the project.

We put the application in and it came back a ‘yes’! Success at the first attempt was totally unexpected but it meant that we didn’t have to scale back the quality of production or make the thing online only.

I hadn’t quite expected that managing an ACE funded project would be quite so demanding in terms of administration, budgeting and evaluation, and I definitely hadn’t anticipated having to file corporation tax returns (not fun at all). We had to officially set ourselves up as an ‘unincorporated association’, register with HMRC and most importantly open a bank account in the name of Butcher’s Dog so that we could take receipt of the grant. Our funded period with the Arts Council ended with BD6 and we’re still deciding whether we reapply to ACE or try to secure alternative funding/income.

Our marketing strategy relies heavily on social media, mostly because it’s relatively cheap, and we use Mailchimp for our newsletters. Calls for submissions and guest editor announcements tend to attract a decent amount of attention and we do see a spike in sales when the submission window is open. Our launches are also a good way of promoting the magazine. Still, the biggest challenge remains converting submitters into buyers. We receive around a thousand poems from over 350 poets for each issue and if just half of those poets also bought the magazine we’d be laughing.

We’ve forged relationships with some amazing venues and organisations to host our launches: Live Theatre (BD2, 5 & 6), The Tobacco Factory (BD3), Durham Book Festival & The Empty Shop (BD4) and Newcastle Poetry Festival (BD7). Also, we introduced a guest editor scheme so that the editorial team is recharged with each issue: The Poetry School, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Wendy Heath and Pippa Little joined us for BD4 to BD7.

I wouldn’t say we’ve had any catastrophes along the way, we’re a canny bunch so we’ve always managed to avert any major disasters. The most challenging thing has been that since starting Butcher’s Dog all but one of us has moved out of NewcastleGateshead (though three of us remain in the north of England). We recently said goodbye to Andrew Sclater who stepped down after doing a phenomenal job of co-editing the last issue.

This most recent change has given us the chance to reflect on the way we do things and one of the developments is that we’ve added the role of Assistant Editor to our team. Like the guest editorship, the person filling that role will change with each issue. And, in a wonderful circularity, we’re delighted that Clare Pollard joined us to guest edit our next issue alongside Amy Mackelden and Sophie F Baker. Visit the Butcher’s Dog website to find out the next submissions deadline.

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The Butcher's Dog
A biannual poetry magazine, founded in the North East of England.
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