Much of this is directed at writers in Britain, as I am not in a position to guide anyone from other countries to sources of good advice. Some of the general comments hold good for all new writers, however.
The Poetry Society of Great Britain has good advice for people new to the rituals of submitting their work at this address; the HappenStance Press blog explains why you should submit to magazines here; a further source of information is Bloodaxe Books' submissions guide, most of which echoes the message expressed on this page. Poetry Ireland's website has this useful page of advice from Maurice Harmon, which applies just as well in Britain. British residents should note that the Poetry Society of Great Britain now offers a formal critical service, which costs £50 for up to 100 lines of verse (£40 for Society members). Your work will be examined by a professional poet, and you will also receive further advice as to reading material, plus an information pack, advice on presentation of your work, plus details of competitions, festivals, and writers' groups in your area.
While I do try to be as helpful as I can to new writers seeking an outlet, it would be good if anyone submitting work would bear the following in mind:
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 Shearsman magazine,
or in books published by the press, then it is unlikely that you will
be accepted for publication here. This makes sense, doesn't it?
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.
Another press once memorably suggested that authors wishing to publish
Victorian verse should approach Victorian publishers. Finally, we don't
publish poetry for children, or religious verse; in both cases there are
dedicated publishers out there who know how to deal with this kind of
work far better than we; in both cases the market is very specialised.
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 the 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 a majority of
readers are not going to understand, or care for, the end-product. It
succeeds even if only one reader gets something out of it.
don't have the time to give detailed analyses and critical assessments.
If you need this kind of feedback and are in the UK, try London's
Poetry School, or the Poetry Society of Great Britain (see information
at the beginning of this page), which are set up to give the right kind
- Send your typescripts with a covering letter
that explains your publishing history, and try to make sure that every
sheet of paper that you send bears your name and address (and/or email).
Given the amount of paper that arrives, some sheets always get
detached, and it's a great help for us to be able to put everything back
together when that does happen. This applies to online submissions of
- 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 local branch
of Arts Council England (or Creative Scotland, or the Welsh and Irish
equivalents) will help you to find them. Your local library will
likewise 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. For full details of this pernicious 'industry'
please see Johnathon Clifford's detailed analysis here. Mr Clifford makes further general advice available which is useful to any neophyte writer.
- Finally, if you are rejected by Shearsman—and the vast 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 producing, and perhaps start with a local journal which might give you more of a fair wind for that reason. Being rejected by Shearsman is no reflection on your innate qualities as a writer: it just means you might have been knocking on the wrong door. We also don't mind being approached again: it's quite possible your work will develop into something more interesting for us with the passage of time.