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How to be Edited (Part One)

A good editor is worth their weight in books, clicks or any other currency you care to name. In the poetry world of small presses, they may well be the publisher, too. And, over time, they might even become a friend.

So how do you find one? And what should you do once you have?

This post addresses the first question; my next will cover the second. They draw upon my experience of:
a) nearly a decade editing a specialist non-poetry magazine, and
b) having a poetry pamphlet, Only by Flying, edited and published by Nell Nelson of HappenStance Press.

If you’re taking your writing seriously, this is for you. I hope it helps. Best of luck!

Tip one: create a shortlist
You’ve identified a handful of publishers you like. But is your work a good fit with theirs? And what’s their reputation? In five years’ time, will you still want to be associated with them?

If the answer is yes, read what they publish and find out everything you can about them. It might help to imagine you’re applying for a job. You believe you’re being selected, but of course you’re choosing them, too. After that, it’s down to the quality and style of your poems, to personal chemistry and to luck.

For me, the shortlist was straightforward. Researching HappenStance was easy: my editor/publisher, Nell, has a blog, with information about what she looks for. She also invites subscriptions. In addition, going to its fifth birthday party gave me a feel for the character of the press and its poets. I really liked what I saw. This gut feeling of belonging was, for me, the clincher. Apart from two competition entries (Faber New Poets and the PBS), I didn’t approach any other publishers. I was accepted for publication in July 2014 with a due date of November 2015. I suspect most good small presses, unless they’re very new, are likely to be booked up in advance.

If you can get hold of Nell’s HappenStance chapbook, How Not to Get Your Poetry Published, it’s well worth a read. It’s out of print, but a revised version is due later in 2016.

Tip two: now take a closer look
Is the editor/publisher competent and professional, as far as you can tell? What is the standard of spelling, punctuation and grammar? What are the production values of their print publications: the paper quality, the typography, the design? Is their website accurate, up to date and attractive? This is how your work will appear in the world.

On top of everything else, HappenStance’s production values were a big plus for me: it’s lovely to handle a pamphlet that looks good and that you feel does justice to the words.

Tip three: do what they ask
What are their submission guidelines? These aren’t created to put people off. They help the editor manage a workload that can range from the ridiculous to the impossible. Respect the guidelines and you’re showing your respect for the person. You’re unlikely to be the exception to their rules.

Tip four: be yourself
If your writing’s a good fit and you follow the guidelines, you should end up communicating with the editor. (If you don’t, that helps shrink the shortlist.) Could you work with this person? What would convince them to work with you?

The editor/author relationship will differ each time, so do listen to anyone who knows them but go with your own impressions. Anything you can do to establish a good relationship is worthwhile. Don’t, though, bombard them with stuff. Above all, be yourself. Consider that job application again: if you have to fake it at interview and are chosen on that basis, do you really want to be there, and how long will you last?

If it’s all shaping up nicely, though, how might you help them? Are they looking for contributions of any kind? I submitted a poem to HappenStance’s chocolate anthology and wrote reviews for the Sphinx website. I believe Nell is looking for OPOI reviews.

Or can you make yourself stand out, in a good way? Nell once blogged a helpful checklist of what she would like to see in a covering letter. I turned that into a questionnaire and sent it back with some flippant and some informative answers. I thought it was funny. Fortunately, she did, too, writing Brilliant 🙂 on it. But humour is a high-risk strategy: it’s all too easy to stand out for the wrong reasons. A different editor might have binned me.

Tip five: do more work
They’ve said they’re interested in your poems. They want to see more. Great: well done! Perhaps they’ve even offered to publish you. Have you made your manuscript as good as it can be at this stage? This might include getting further feedback from poet friends, running it past a mentor, and spending time grouping the poems. Make sure you proofread them, checking facts and quotations as well as spelling and punctuation. Proofreading is, of course, the editor’s job. It’s also yours.

Next time: five tips on what to do with your editor now you’ve found them. And if you’d like to offer any feedback on all this, please do contact me.

Posted on 8th January 2016 at 21:19