To Publish or Not to Publish?

In a recent conversation on EAVA FM, I was asked for tips for aspiring writers:

  • Read, you can’t be a writer unless you read.
  • Guard your writing time – you may need to negotiate with family members or partners but if you don’t give your writing time priority, it won’t be important to them either.
  • It’s writing that makes you a writer, not being published.

Writing is the process through which ideas, characters, themes, issues, plots emerge from your thoughts and/or dreams in a way that enables you to write them down or type them. The process then extends to editing and polishing until you have a poem or story. It may be that you leave the new piece aside and come back to it at a later date so you can look at it with fresh eyes or you take it to a workshop or writers’ group or get a beta reader to look over it for constructive criticism to improve it further.

No piece of writing is wasted, even if it ends up binned or deleted, it’s all practice. Understanding how a story failed makes you better able to tackle a fresh story. Trying and failing to write a villanelle will give you a better understanding and appreciation of the form and there’s no reason to try and rewrite the failed villanelle in a different form or take one of the stanzas and start a new poem based on the extract.

Whether you show your writing to others is entirely up to you. If you want the external validation of publication, consider whether you are seeking that validation to confirm you are a writer or whether you want to share and communicate your work with others. If it’s all about you, it’s unlikely to appeal to readers. If it’s about sharing, publication is one of the routes to a readership. If others are pressurising you to get published, what are their motives? Do they need you to be published to call you a writer or do they think your writing should be shared with others? It is about you or your work?

Should you publish?

  • If it’s a shiny badge stating ‘writer’ that you’re after, make your own. The validation feels great, but publication is about reaching out to readers, not primarily to make you feel good
  • If you want to share and communicate to readers, you need a form of publication to make that happen
  • If you’re under pressure to publish, don’t. It has to be something you want, not something you do to please others.
  • Are you prepared to promote your publications on social media and market your publications? If you can’t engage with the process, it’s not worth doing and publishers, especially poetry publishers, need engaged writers.
  • Are you ready to accept that once out in the public domain, you have very little control over how readers react to your work? There will be critics and detractors as well as readers. Readers will filter your work through their lenses and may misunderstand your intentions or add baggage that you didn’t consider.
  • How will you handle reviews? Don’t read them is easier said than done. Reading, doing your research and approaching the right reviewers for your work takes time, but you won’t have control over what reviewers say.

Routes to Publication

  • Magazines and publishers – the obvious route but not the only one.
  • Competitions – many poetry competitions publish winning and short listed entries in an anthology or on a website
  • Blogs – some bloggers will publish poems but check the standard of poems (would you be happy for your work to be in the company of poems already posted?) and check guest post guidelines. You could create your own blog but be prepared to spend time promoting it. Also be aware that poems uploaded to a blog will be considered published and that will limit your options for getting blogged poems published elsewhere.
  • Performance – read at open mic slots or organise your own readings
  • Recordings – free software, e.g. Audacity, make it easy to record and upload readings of your poems. If your strength is in performance, burning a collection of recordings to a CD can be an alternative to book publication or a complement to a printed collection.
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