We asked Bad Betty Press: what do poetry editors want to see from new writers and poets? In this blog, they tell us some top tips on how to get noticed and get published.
Let’s start by admitting that the clickbait title we’ve given this piece is wilfully tongue-in-cheek. Every imprint is of course different, with their own style and criteria. We can’t speak for everyone, but we can tell you what we look for in a poet, and a few general tips that we think are good artistic practice (or in some cases, just good manners).
To start with a bit about us: we (Amy Acre and Jake Wild Hall) started Bad Betty Press in July 2017 with our first pamphlet, Solomon’s World. We started with very little idea of how publishing works, but with an attitude of just going for it. We had a name, and an idea that if we made books we thought the world needed, worked with poets we loved, and committed to doing it right, things would probably go ok. So far that’s worked out pretty well. We’ve learnt a lot in a short space of time, and put out some work we’re very proud of.
We always tell people that our name is a good indication of the kind of poetry we look for: beautiful and badass. We believe poetry, at its best, is not just about a clever turn of phrase, but about really connecting with people, saying the unsayable, shaping a common language that can help readers find their own tongue. This is something we really aimed for with our mental health anthology, The Dizziness of Freedom, which came out last year and was supported by Arts Council England.
We always tell people that our name is a good indication of the kind of poetry we look for: beautiful and badass.
We’re very committed to telling different kinds of stories, and helping publishing open up to a wider range of voices. We love working with young writers, many of whom coming up now are scarily talented and dedicated. This Spring, we have pamphlets out from two writers just out of uni: While I Yet Live by Gboyega Odubanjo, and Raft by Anne Gill. When we first read their work, we were blown away. They each have very distinct but equally disarming voices, and speak on subjects like mortality and abuse in a way that’s both gentle and courageous. Generally, the poets we work with have in some way mastered this art of bending language to speak truth without explaining, compel without shouting, and peel back the veil on things that lie hidden.
When we started out, we were approaching poets we knew socially, from collectives, live events and the spoken word scene, but now most of our authors come to us. We’re currently programming our 2020 season almost exclusively from submissions, and we’re incredibly excited about the work we’ve received.
Generally, the poets we work with [...] speak truth without explaining, compel without shouting, and peel back the veil on things that lie hidden.
If you’re a writer putting a first manuscript together, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting published.
Firstly, and this might seem obvious, but be in the poetry world: read books, go to live events, perform your work, submit to magazines and competitions, join feedback groups, find inspiration and ways to experiment, know what people are talking about and what’s cliché.
Secondly: edit. And then edit. And then edit again.
Thirdly: be nice. Follow submissions guidelines and give publishers what they ask for. Don’t send a cover letter with a long list of your achievements, enquiring WHEN we’re going to publish you (yes, it does happen). Get your work as good as it can be and then let it speak for itself.
If you don’t get picked for something, it doesn’t mean your work’s not great. Sometimes the book that gets published is not the one with the most staggeringly beautiful language, but the story that’s most essential. Ideally, of course, it’s both. When we select work, the two main questions we ask are: a) How much do I love it / could I live without it? And b) Will it make the world a better place?
Bad Betty Press is an independent publisher of new poetry, run by Amy Acre and Jake Wild Hall.