Thursday 4 July 2024

The book/magazine hierarchy

When I read a poetry/story book where few of the pieces have been previously published, my first reaction is "if they're not good enough to get into magazines, why should they be preserved in a book?" I then wonder about how many of the pieces are padding, there only so that the few good pieces can be sold in a book-length package.

But now that e-mail and submittable has helped to increase the number of magazine submissions by an order of magnitude or so, magazines may not be as reliable gatekeepers as before. On X recently Matthew Stewart pointed out that "Submittable lends itself to poems that generate an immediate impact. There's no time for a poem to grow on an editor, for apparent simplicity to reveal its depths." It's similar with stories. A piece whose strength is the acculumation of small domestic details is going to struggle. There's no point in dropping little depth charges that will be detonated by a little phrase near the end, because by then the overworked editor (or intern) will be onto the next submission.

So I'm beginning to accept that some pieces may have to first appear in a book.

Authors of quiet pieces can wait until they have a book-sized collection. But such a book isn't likely to be a new author's way to burst onto the scene. An alternative is to compromise by putting a teaser in the first paragraph - hinting at trauma to come rather than beginning with a dead body or madness.

I think magazines are aware of the problems caused by too many submissions. Already they're restricting the number of submissions they get. Submission windows are getting shorter (a fortnight a year sometimes) and submission fees are more common. Niche publications (specialising e.g. in "Seaside Gothic") may be an option too.


  1. Lot of factors come into play here. Since I hit my sixties I've been finding myself writing longer (and wider) poems and they're not getting picked up at the same rate as the shorter ones always have. In the past this was a big issue with print magazines but it puzzles me a little why online journals are turning their noses up other than catering for audiences with shrinking attention spans.

    I do expect some of these pieces to make their way into a collection somewhere down the line and they will find a more deserving home there. That said one has to wonder how many readers relish on their poetry collections or do they gobble them down in an afternoon and that's that?

    It's rereading that's dying out.

    I think of a poetry collection like a music album. Greatest Hits aside how many singles come off your average album? Two? Maybe three? But that doesn't make the rest of the tracks fillers. Albums we will listen to again and again—although even there, I do that less and less because the demands of new music press on me daily—and they grow on us. Why not poetry collections? Because they demand active involvement not passive listening-to.

    I used to be a big fan of multi-tasking but the older I get the more I realise that if you do two things at the same time you only half-do each of them. Like just now. I'm half-writing to you and half-listening to an album of rather jolly harp music.

  2. I think the pieces I write nowadays are more attention-seeking - perhaps because of market pressures. I too rarely re-read nowadays - too much of a backlog. And yes, I'm being mean about books/LPs. When I read a poetry book I can't help thinking it would have been a better pamphlet.