Thursday, 29 March 2018

Writing Pack Rat

Sorry for the radio silence, I've been ill with bronchitis and my computer has been at the shop, so I've been doing the bare minimum.

Since I've been working from my portable hard drive instead of my laptop I've come across some old files I'd forgotten: my Master's dissertation, back-ups of various versions of my books, downloads of notes from websites I'd joined. I've realised I am a writing pack rat, I keep everything. The older I get, the more I hoard.  

It possibly comes from working at the publishers in Edinburgh. While I was there we started putting a lot of the company's materials into the archives at The National Library of Scotland. Old letters, print-outs of old issues, artwork, everything. A relatively well-know Scottish author also died while I was there and we were involved with helping to sort his writing estate for archives. It made me realise how interesting and possibly important it is to keep your work, all the various bits no matter how insubstantial they seem as they build a long-term picture of yourself. 

I've been keeping a journal since I was eleven. I have more than a dozen books between here and our loft in Scotland, ranging from my pre-teen angsting to moving to Europe for the first time to becoming a mother to today. I have an appalling memory and having all these books has been helpful over time to help me fill in blanks from my past, but they are also just interesting. I love going back and looking up what I was doing 5, 15, 15 years ago today. A lot of people I know throw out their old diaries, but I revel in remembering the good and difficult times and also the person I was, warts and all, and how much I've grown. 

I also have kept writing notebooks where I make rough drafts of poems and fiction. I'm pretty sure in my loft, which some day I will empty and bring over here, I have old unfinished stories, poems and novel drafts. Most writers I know hate their early writing and dispose of as much as possible, but I mine through old work for ideas, I reread and laugh at my crazy ideas or poor style. 

I have a file on my computer where I was writing a diary of my gardening work over a couple of years. I have downloads of notes when I first noticed my son having some physical health issues and was sharing it with an online group. I have also started memory books for my children. I am obsessed, I admit it. 

I said in an early journal that I was writing for my future grand-daughter even though I thought I'd never want kids. Now, I don't know who I'm saving all this for, beyond myself. Maybe my children will never be interested in who I was as a child or a young adult, in how my writing developed over the decades. I doubt a National Library will ever want to archive my work. Maybe I will turn it into something, an autobiography or something in my golden years. But there it is, a mountain of paper and Word files, my life in letters. Waiting and growing. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Submitting a Poetry Manuscript

This follows on to my previous post on Bringing Together a Poetry Collection.

It's been 10 years since my first collection was published and my mind is a bit rusty about how it all happened. I don't remember how long it took or how many publishers I submitted to. I have notes of submitting chapbooks and samples for what is now my Scottish book in 2003, but I don't have any reference of submitting my first collection until 2005. I do remember I ended up having two publishers interested. One finally admitted he couldn't commit to it and gave it up while the other eventually published it in 2008.

Now that I'm prepping a new collection to submit, I thought it would be a good time to go over some suggestions for submitting a larger work to publishers. This is for poetry, the rules and guidelines for novels are very different in some ways. And I am aware that things might have changed in publishing in the last 10 years, so always check the publishers' guidelines and follow them closely. 

First of all, have some sort of publication record. As I've mentioned before poetry publishers want to see that these poems have appeared in magazines and journals, that other editors have liked them, that you are a writer of some merit. I've had poems from my collection published in 24 different venues. Hopefully that's a good indication of my publishablity. 

Make sure you have a completed collection. See my previous post for hints about how to do this.  Written, edited, formated, proof-read, the whole shebang. I've been waiting months to finish a final poem for my collection. As much as I would have liked to start submitting my book before it was done, I know that it's bad form to send an unfinished collection to editors and then try and shoe-horn the last poem in or make large changes to it after they've accepted or even worse, while they're considering it. 

When I worked in publishing you'd be amazed at the amount of times poets would send a reworked collection in for us to replace the one we were currently considering. I know the waiting times can be long and it's tempting to look over the collection again, but it will really annoy an editor if you try and make changes while they are still reading your work. I occasionally change a line or word here or there, but they'll sit until the collection is rejected or accepted. Rejected I can submit the new version to the next publisher. Accepted, I'm sure there'll be time for fine-tuning.

Make sure it's a good as possible before you even consider sending it to a publisher. If you can get a trusted writer or editor to proof-read before submitting, even better. You want it as ready as possible, no typos. Some editors like to edit the collection themselves, but others won't do more than proof-read, so make sure it's exactly how you want it. No one will appreciate delays while you change the order, add new poems or do major editing. Set up a table of contents. Make sure the poems are nicely set out, one per page in a good-sized, readable font. Usually single-spaced, 12pt in Arial or Times New Roman.

Do your research. Check out the publishers' websites, buy or borrow copies of the books they've published. Do they publish full collections or just chapbooks? Do they accept unsoliticted material? Do they publish your genre? Do you like the poets they publish and the look of their books? How much help will you get with marketing and sales? And in my case, do they publish work from non-resident writers? The more time you spend weeding out publishers you don't match with, the better chance you have of finding the ones you do. It will save you unnecessary rejections and possibly money in the future.  

Write out a synopsis and/or an artist statement to give the editor an idea of what your collection is about and your own writing history. What makes your collection special and saleable? Specify any themes or over-arching imagry you want them to be aware of. Sell yourself and your writing. Mention any publications, awards, mentoring or training you've had. Treat this as a professional job application. For a poetry collection I would keep it brief. With novel synopses you need to explain the plot, but with poetry collection you should be able to sum up the theme of the collection in a paragraph. Your biographical note or artist statement should be about the same length. Think about the blurbs on the back of books, you want to grab the reader with the first line and get them intruiged enough to want to open the book. A synopsis should do the same thing.

I would include these in your query letter for poetry collections. Keep it to one page to introduce your book and yourself. 

Pick out a selection of sample poems from the collection. A lot of publishers just want a query letter with 6-12 poems to give them a taste of what the collection is about without having to wade through 60+ poems. Sometimes all you have is a cover letter and 6 poems to convince an editor your collection is worth getting a serious look. So pick your best and most representative poems. If there are themes or series within your collection that are important, make sure they are represented if possible. Each publisher has their own requirements for how many poems and what they want synopsis-wise. Follow the guidelines. Address the editor specifically.

Check and see if they want hard copies or will take email queries. Check if they'll accept simultaneous submissions. Most poetry publishers will as they know their reading times can be long and the chance of acceptance low, so are happy if you want to sent to multiple publishers. Inform them immediately if you're work is accepted elsewhere.

Double check and proof-read everything. Make sure you have copies of everything before you submit. If you're posting snail mail, make up a SAE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) so they can post you a response or specify if you want to hear back via email and they can recycle your copies. Keep track of where you sent things and when. 

Don't be in a rush. I sent my submission to my eventual publisher in 2005 and it was over a year before they accepted and then another two before we were ready to publish. Keep writing in the meantime. Keep submitting the poems to magazines.

Don't get frustrated. It was a slow process to write the collection, to edit it and prepare it, it will probably be a slow process to find a publisher. Take any feedback you receive with good grace and consider it well. Rejection doesn't mean the collection is bad, it just wasn't right for that publisher. Do not write to the editor and question them or rant at them. Accept your rejection with good grace. Have a private strop, a cry, a drink - whatever you need and move on to the next opportunity. 

Good luck if you've gotten this far in your poetry career. I will try to keep the blog updated of any news I have on my own collection. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Hard Graft

The past few weeks I've had blog posts lined up for Monday morning, but the past two weeks have taken their toll with illness for the kids and myself, so this week I've had to start from scratch.  

I'm still feeling drained, but I'm still pushing through with the work: writing, editing and submitting. That last poem for my Scottish collection is still lingering, though I'm just doing small edits. Once I have a week of looking at it every day and making no changes I'll consider it done. 

I'm steadily rewriting my second novel. I submit about 1500 words a week to my writing group and then rewrite it according to their feedback. It's a slow process, but because of the haphazard way I wrote the first draft it's the best way. I'm having to stitch the various threads of the story together, expand a lot and figure out the motivation for some of the characters. It's coming together slowly. 

I've submitted my first novel to two competitions, a publisher and an agency so far this year. It's my goal to get it published in 2018. I'm getting a bit frustrated at the amount of entry fees I've paid for this novel over the past years so am trying to find publishers with calls for submissions or competitions with no entry fees. When you're not currently earning much it seems a waste to keep paying £15-£25 an entry. I've also been submitting a chapbook of poems from my Finnish collection to free competitions and calls. 

I fall between many categories in competitions. I'm a woman, but am not in any other minority grouping, I'm not even considered an immigrant by most standards. I'm over 45 so often am excluded from a lot of competitions aimed at younger writers, but I'm not old enough for the senior competions. I am not resident of an English-speaking country so that often goes against me as well. Finding a free competition for a novel or poetry collection/chapbook that is open for non-residents, over 40s and not a member of any minority bar women is really difficult. Especially if I add the wish of being published in the UK rather than the US. I just feel my writing is a better fit for the UK and I have more of an audience there, though I have tried a few poetry chapbook competitions in the US recently. So my choices are limited which is why I still pay for the occasional competition. 

Trying to get published is an uphill battle, hours spent writing, rewriting, editing and submitting, but as it's only part of the goal of writing it's worth all the hard work. My ultimate goal is to write something I'm proud of, that I want to share with others and that they will hopefully enjoy. Fingers crossed this will happen soon. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

My Work Featured in Online Magazines

As I've mentioned before I've only in the past few years really began submitting work regularly to online magazines. It still feels slightly odd to me. 

There are many benefits for the publishers to create virtual magazines rather than print and, of course, the biggest issue is money. Finding the income to pay for printing hundreds of copies on top any costs for posting, stationary, computer equipment, staff or premises costs is a constant battle. My editor worked herself to the bone trying to secure funding from arts organisations, advertisers, subscribers on top of editing, producing and promoting the magazine. Print on demand or online only magazines mean less initial outlay and no more large postage costs

Less time spent chasing funding means there's more time to create and edit the magazine. That includes playing with format. With printing costs what they are, you have to cut back in lots of different ways with real paper magazines. Size and number of pages, numbers of illustrations, using colour inside or on the cover. Online you can go wild with colours, illustrations, hyper-text. Your imagination is, or more truthfully, your computer skills are your limit. Some online blog zines also can even add new pieces everyday, so they have a need for a larger amount of submissions which can be good for the writer.  

You can reach a much wider audience. No more lugging boxes of magazines to bookstores to try and get them to take up copies. Or picking up the unsold ones. Someone with decent internet connection and a PayPal account in Outer Mongolia can download your magazine with a click.

I've recently had some poems published in some online magazines, so I thought I'd share links so you can check out my work, the magazines themselves and also consider sending your own work. Four very different magazines from Canada, Croatia, Ireland and the US.


I enjoyed working with The Light Ekphrastic because I had a chance to work with a visual artist and respond to her work and see her response to mine. See my post about working with other artists.

A New Ulster has a more traditional style but online. Hard copies can be ordered as print on demand.

Canada Quarterly is a new magazine, but is working up to an exciting find. They are currently just posting the work they accepted but will eventually bring it together as an anthology/ magazine issue.

Zvonainari is a multi-lingual magazine based in Croatia. They publish poetry, fiction and essays daily in a host of different languages and have a local outreach programme that includes a library, residencies and events.

Thanks to all the magazines, editors and hard working staff for accepting my work and publishing exciting work from other poets and artist as well. Best of luck to your future endeavours.

Get out there and explore the world of online literary magazines.