Our interviewers caught up with one of Issue 14’s contributors, John Bolland, to find out more about the skills required to have works published in the likes of POTB.
What skills and qualifications, if any, do you need?
The only qualification you need is to be able to put pen to paper and tell a story. Writers give readers a snippet of their thoughts – be that an experience or something entirely from imagination.
It’s true to say that if you never write anything you’ll never publish. Lots of people spend their time planning to write but never quite finishing a piece which is obviously the most important step.
Obviously, your writing has to be of a certain quality which captures a mix of style, voice, a distinctive point of view, interesting narrative and topicality but there’s no one formula. Each publication has different interests and values and it’s generally down to the editor or judging panel. Spelling and grammar helps!
There are many creative writing courses available, which can be useful in the provision of structure and deadlines as well as offering support in the creation of individual networks and some basic marketing skills.
Are there any groups you’d suggest joining?
The writing community in Scotland is supportive and welcoming to writers of all levels who are committed to their work and to helping others on a reciprocal basis.
There are several groups in Aberdeen and the North East and a thriving network of interlocking writing groups, including Lemon Tree Writers. For poets, there are also established and emerging events at venues such as Books and Beans and new spoken word events at Underdog and the Blue Lamp.
More widely, the Federation of Scottish Writers is a good online network and the Society of Authors provides a range of useful resources as well as the POTB website, which has a useful links section.
Creative Learning has also worked hard these past few years to develop and create opportunities for emerging and established writers.
How do you start contacting publishers?
There are a few steps:
• Buy, subscribe to or read magazines and publications you feel may feature your work.
• Think about how your work matches its submission guidelines: word count limits, typical length of poems, formats and subject matter. It’s not that editors aren’t on the lookout for compelling, original work, but each has a ‘house-style’ and you’ll waste less time by targeting.
• Read and comply with the submission guidelines – otherwise you’re likely to be filtered out at the first stage.
• Polish your piece before submission, then ask another to check it.
• Post or upload it alongside a polite, informative covering letter. Don’t hide your light under a bushel but don’t compare yourself to established literary superstars!
• Record when you think you’ll hear back, and wait.
• If you don’t hear back, or your work is rejected, look at the piece again. How could it be improved? If it can, edit accordingly.
What can you do to boost your presence in the writing community?
Participate in writing groups, attend festivals and readings – open mics too, if the opportunity arises! Be generous and supportive of other writers, review and promote their work if you feel it has merit – what goes around comes around.
Follow others and enhance your presence on platforms such as Twitter, it’s a fantastic way of finding out what’s going on.
Why are publications such as POTB so important for new, and experienced, writers alike?
It’s a stable, high quality outlet for writing which has an established profile and presence. POTB prides itself on its ‘blind’ selection process which ensures work is accepted on the quality of the submission rather than ‘who you are’, giving new writers the opportunity to have their work published on merit.
The team is dedicated to producing a widely promoted, high-quality magazine. Many pamphlets or transient magazines get ‘lost in the shelves’ whereas POTB has persisted as one of several key magazines on the Scottish literary scene, within which I’m immensely proud to feature.