Thursday, 25 March 2010

My aim is true

I was speaking with some new creative writers the other day, focusing on how to get published, maximizing success. It’s always great conducting seminars such as these. Being peppered with tricky questions. How do I make it? What are the chances? Why don’t you publish this and publish that instead?

If only I had the answers. But I only have the approximations. Of course, you need talent. And you need a polished submission that says you’re a pro (even before you’ve published anything) and that you take this game seriously. But these things aren’t enough. You need to do your research. As unromantic as it sounds, selling poems or fiction is pretty much like selling anything. You have to know your market and be providing it with the things that it wants – and doesn’t have enough of.

So far, so good. Except that of course, editors often don’t know what they want. We only know, you see, when we… see it. But there are some elementary rules. Every editor channels his or her vision through the pages of the magazine they shepherd. If they didn’t, the magazine would be about as impressive and sexy as a limp handshake. It would have no identity whatsoever. So, you can assume that most, if not all, quality magazines will have their own particular line on beauty. Therefore, if a magazine has a strong emphasis on the contemporary mainstream, then it stands to reason that your avant masterpiece may not make the cut. If the magazine has limits on the space that can be devoted to fiction, then clearly your 6,000 word short story will probably not find a home there. Even though – and very often – the editor may find merit in it. Putting a magazine together is a complex business – not merely in terms of shaping it into something you feel is attractive to the mind and the eye, and, yes, useful, but also in terms of the curious jigsaw puzzle nature of it, right up to the wire. There’s no space flexibility. Everything must fit perfectly. It has caused a few sleepless nights here and there, I can tell you. But I’m not complaining – it beats every other job I’ve ever had by quite a margin.

If you’re looking for publication within a magazine’s pages, engagement with it is a must. Pick up an issue. If you like what you find, subscribe, read and, yes, submit to where you feel your work will find a good home. If you don’t, then keep searching until you find a magazine that reflects your own integrity and creative vision.

It helps to know that rejection is not universal, but particular. It’s not about you or your work necessarily, but about finding the right fit. It’s a big world out there, even with the increasing pressure placed on magazines over the past twenty years. There’s room, I’d like to think, for multiple voices and multiple platforms. Moving on from rejection is the single most important lesson every author has to learn. But it has to be learned – or should I say earned. No platitudes. In a box at the top of my wardrobe sits my first rejection letter for a submission of six poems, well preserved and treasured in its original envelope. A souvenir from the start of my own journey. From a magazine called New Welsh Review.

1 comment:

Sheenagh Pugh said...

If I may, Kathryn, I'd add to all this sound advice three small things:

One, because of space constraints, all other things being equal, a short poem may just stand a chance of squeezing into a space where a lnog one won't...

Two, if you've a fancy for reviewing, this is one way to make yourself known to a mag, and get some free books into the bargain; try sending a sample review and see if it gets you a foot in the door.

Three, if online mags ever were all rubbish, they aren't now; in fact some are very well regarded places to appear.