Salmon's editor, Jessie Lendennie, answers your Frequently Asked Questions
The one thing, above all, that I would advise poets to consider before approaching a publisher - even by email - is to know as much as possible about the Press they are querying.
Editors look at the professionalism of each submission - not only a high standard of writing, but a clear, informative letter. It's easy to see who has put thought into their query and who hasn't. Email makes it very easy to dash off a note in a mood of "what the heck, I'll just ask", but 95% of the time such a query will either be ignored or receive a curt reply.
Take your time! Investigate! Think about why you want to publish! Do you consider yourself a professional? Are you willing to persist with your writing no matter what happens? Can you stand back and attempt an unbiased look at your work?
The following are the most common queries and requests:
1. When are you accepting new writing?
Our list is full through 2015 and I am not currently considering manuscripts. I will resume accepting manuscripts for consideration in January 2014 (for publication post-2015).
2. Please publish this poem on your website
The poems we have on the site are all from collections we've published. The main aim of the site is to promote and sell our books. Personally, I also want to give advice; guidance through the morass that is poetry publishing today, but I can't deal with all needs and I have an obligation to the poets we publish.
3. I don't like sending work to magazines and competitions, but I know my work is good enough to be published as a book.
This one is complicated.
Some people despise what they see as the pretentious, insincere literary world. It certainly is desirable to have a critical sense, but not to confuse the context with the content. In other words, while any arts discipline (indeed, almost anything!) can seem corrupt from outside, unless one examines and participates in the give and take of it all (importantly adding your own experience) you are writing in a vacuum. Creativity feeds on experience - it's important to discriminate but not to block experience. It is useful to remember that what we despise and reject will haunt us; hampering creative development.
There's no getting away from the fact that it's necessary to have experience and exposure for your work by publishing individual poems before trying book publication. The reasons for this are many and varied: From establishing a reputation to honing your craft. There is a necessary period of apprenticeship for any art form which demands focus and dedication. The writing of poetry unfortunately comes with a stock of misconceptions. Writing is a major part of communication, and we do it from an early age. Writing our feelings can come quite naturally, and we can lose sight of the fact that poetry is also an art form which demands that one is able to strike an intelligent balance between deeply felt experience and the rational, critical ability necessary to craft the experience into Poetry.
As with any art, there are people who derive great pleasure from their creativity for its own sake. There are people who make poetry for their own pleasure and don't want to go further. This is all part of what poetry means to us. However, if one aims to become professional and be taken seriously as a poet, one must go beyond the emotional high of creating. Insight is wonderful and necessary for a full life, but in poetry it has to blend with craft and originality.
We must all be very honest with ourselves about what we want for our poetry, our creativity. Above all never assume that your inner life is the only Truth. Catharsis is liberating, yes; then the work begins. Take the necessary steps to finely tune your writing - shaping it into an original piece.
4. I have a collection of short stories and poems which I am looking to have published.
Always look at the publisher's list. We don't publish short stories.
5. I am hoping to submit a poem I recently wrote. If you could read it, give me some advice, and the name of a publisher you think I could get published with.
6. My first collection of poetry is now complete but I need a grammar/punctuation expert or editor to read through them for me. Can you advise me re: who I can approach, the typical fee, and the time frame involved.
7. I have a lot of poems and I wonder if you would like to read them.
8. I would like to know who I can contact to see if my work is good enough for publication. Some of my poems are being published with poetry.com. I would like to publish my own book of poems. If you have any information I would appreciate it.
5, 6, 7, and 8 are related and I'll remark on them as one question:
A book publisher is the LAST place to seek such advice. Remember that book publishers only want to see manuscripts in the final stage of their development when the poets have already gained publishing experience. A good poets' website, such as poetryireland.ie, is set up to deal with general queries, and one can find critiquing services. Editors simply don't have time to give advice on manuscripts in general.
As it happens, I do care but I still can't give detailed advice on individual poems or help people find publishers. There is added difficulty for poets since it is virtually impossible to find a literary agent who will take on a poetry manuscript. It can be a challenge to find honest, professional, advice. If one has access to a good writers' workshop, that's a start for learning critical skills. The Writers' Handbook; Poets' Market; Poetry: Reading it, Writing it, Publishing it and many other handbooks like these, give detailed advice and list outlets. Poets and Writers magazine is also an excellent source. It comes down to taking yourself seriously as a poet and doing the research!
As for publishing with poetry.com, again, my advice is to do some research.
You should avoid companies which offer easy publication in return for money, or book purchases. These places are not quality, literary publishers. Remember that you should never pay anyone to publish your work.
9. I basically want to know if these poems are any good.
10. I have lost the desire to write. Hopefully if you think the following are any good, it will persuade me to write more.
Never, Never, Never put your creativity on the line like this. NO ONE can make decisions about your writing but you. No one can look at your writing and decide whether you should express yourself or not. ONLY YOU can sustain your writing. If you feel stuck, agree to allow yourself a little time each day for writing, and don't censor anything that comes out. Find a supportive workshop; read poetry you enjoy; browse books which give advice and writing exercises (you'll find many good ones in Online bookshops) make time to relax each day and let your thoughts flow; make time and space for yourself. Creative work is much easier when your mind is relaxed.
11. Send guidelines
We don't have specific guidelines for manuscripts. Look at our books and read the website to see the type of work we publish. I'm very clear about Salmon's aims and what we do. If a publisher does have guidelines, you'll probably find them on their website, or they will mail them to you.
12. I have a few poems that I want to get published or sold.
Literary publishers do not pay for poems. If your book is published you will receive a royalty on books sold.
13. POEMS WITHOUT accompanying info
Not a good idea to send a poem (or two, or three) on its own (see my opening remarks).
14. I am 16 years old and have been writing poems since I was very young . Recently someone read them and told me I should get them published. If I sent some of my poems to you, could you publish them for me?
Many sensitive teenagers and children write poetry. It's an excellent way to record feelings and get in touch with a deeper self. Schools often encourage this by offering creative writing classes. As a young poet matures she/he may come to see writing is an essential part of life. At that point it's crucial to take a look at expectations. If you want to communicate with like minded people through publishing, then you must learn to analyse your work in the context of an overall plan. If you are lucky you may find a good teacher/mentor in high school or college. This, however, won't substitute for your own commitment.
I've run hundreds of workshops and seen many young people who are very talented but devalued their work because it came so naturally to them. They want to know from others if the work is good, however there's no way forward except to gain the critical ability themselves. Looking for literary publication before one is ready is asking for rejection.
Again, it's a matter of distinguishing between what's written for yourself as an expression of feeling, and what is a perception universally shared. Before inviting rejection by looking for confirmation in inappropriate places, look closely at what you want for your poetry and how you can build up the experience to achieve it. Be realistic; submit work to college or high school journals, or other "beginning writer-friendly "outlets. Look for like-minded people who enjoy discussing poetry; organize a poetry reading with people you know who are interested in poetry in general (not just your own work); read contemporary poetry; look at books on poetic techniques... and on and on. Immerse yourself. If after all poetry is not your major interest, you'll turn naturally to another means of expression. Above all, avoid the upset of rejection - don't send your work to publishers who only deal with professional writers until you have a good track record.