NOTES FOR BEGINNERS - A GUIDE FOR WRITERS SUBMITTING WORK TO JOURNALS AND PUBLISHERS by Tony Frazer of Shearsman Books
(Poetry Ireland News, May/June 2006)
While I do try to be as helpful as I can to new writers seeking an outlet, it would be food if anyone submitting work would bear the following in mind:
- If you have never published in any magazines at all, there is no point in sending me (or indeed any other publisher) a book manuscript.
- If your writing is radically different from the kind that appears in this magazine, then it is unlikely that you will be accepted for publication in it. This makes sense, doesn’t it?
- If you don’t read contemporary poetry, then it is also unlikely that your work is going to be of interest to this editor – it shows, believe me. If you think verse is what is on the inside of Hallmark cards, then you’re definitely approaching the wrong outlet. If the last poem you read was by Wordsworth in an Eng Lit class at the age of 14, it is quite possible that you are still trying to recreate Wordsworth in your own work. Don’t do it, please: he was a wonderful poet, and an all-out radical poet in his day, but he did not try to copy Spenser from 200 years before his time.
- Please remember that sincerity of expression does not necessarily make for good poetry. It’s how you say it, not necessarily what you say, that gets the poem across, although it obviously helps if you have something interesting to say as well.
- Think about why you are writing in the first place. If it is for purely personal therapeutic reasons, this is unlikely to constitute meaningful communication with the other inhabitants of this planet, and is equally unlikely to be of interest to this editor: Emotions need to be distilled and filtered through the power of language in order to gain impact in artistic terms. All art forms should be about communication, even if many readers are not going to understand the end-product. It succeeds if even one reader gets something out of it. Likewise, if your reason for writing is simply to be published (and/or to see your name on a page, as a kind of validation of your sense of self-worth), I would suggest that the motivation behind it is ill-placed.
- While I will try to give feedback, please understand that I will be honest and that a negative response, while couched in polite terms, may be hurtful. I should add that I do not have the time to give detailed analyses and critical assessments.
- If you are preparing your typescripts on a computer, do try to use the spell-checker before printing it out. I don’t mind the odd typing error here and there – it’s only human, and I’m guilty of it myself too – but demonstrating that you have absolutely no idea how to spell tends also to demonstrate that you have no command of the basic tools at your disposal.
- Writing in complete isolation can be a problem, as there is no feedback from potential readers, so do try to make contact with local writers’ groups in your area. The Arts Officer with your local county council and the local library should have information about writers’ groups. Your local library may also have copies of all the current guides for writers. The advice they give is very useful for any beginner.
- In any event, please avoid the vanity presses that prey on writers eager to be published at all costs. Vanity presses just take your money and do almost nothing in return.
- Finally, if you are rejected by Shearsman – and the great majority of submissions are rejected – it doesn’t matter too much: there are hundreds of other potential outlets. Just choose one that looks as if it might be in sympathy with the kind of work that you’re writing, and perhaps start with a local journal which might give you more of a fair wind for that reason.
This article is adapted from the website of Tony Frazer’s Shearsman Books at www.shearsman.com.