W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Monday, May 09, 2005

No. 8 From the Other Side -- Interview with a Publisher


This month's W3 is a double issue and a slightly different format. I had a chance to interview Zoe King, editor of the UK literary magazine BuzzWords. The web site is www.BuzzWordsmagazine.co.uk. I made a decision to share with my readers what life is like from the editor and publisher's point of view. BuzzWords for Zoe is a labor (or labour since she's English) of love.

W3: What made you start a literary magazine?

ZK: The truth is, I've always had a yen to go into publishing. When I looked at some of the other magazines around, I began to think, I could do this! In fact, I could do better than this! Far too many magazines I was reading were cliquey, publishing the same people over and over, on the name rather than the content. I wanted something braver, something more adventurous that would also offer newcomers a way in. I was a beginner once, and I have never forgotten how it felt to see my first published work in print. All around me were people complaining about how difficult it was to get work accepted without a track record. To some extent, that's still true today, but there's no question, small press IS having an impact, and more and more beginners are realising the value of approaching them because many are open to new ideas and will consider work from previously unpublished writers.

W3: How do you select what goes in?

ZK: The selection procedure has become more and more difficult because we attract so many international submissions, thanks to our web site. Essentially, we look for new and fresh voices, which paradoxically, doesn't necessarily equate with 'new' writers. For instance, we took a chance on a story in our latest issue in the sense that we knew it would bring in a heavy postbag. It's by a relatively established American writer, Stephen Hoadley. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its liberal use of 'bad' language, it has tremendous energy. Most of the mail we've had has been very positive I'm glad to say. One or two people have said it was a little over-the-top, one suggested that some of the bad language was gratuitous, which if I'm honest, I'm inclined to agree with, but the whole thing was so 'of voice', that it succeeded. The only really negative response was from an American, who said that this sort of thing had been done before, and done better by other US writers, and that it had become a cliché. Well, I've always argued that one person's cliché can be another person's fresh and new. And so it was in this case.

What I'm saying is, work which has bite, which is perhaps a little brash, which is different, which shows inherent skill and imagination is what we're looking for, in both short fiction and poetry. I love stories that give an insight into other cultures, hence our publication of so much international work. With specific regard to poetry, my tastes are eclectic. I read a lot of poetry, and while I greatly enjoy modern poetry, that which makes up its own rules and challenges the boundaries, I also enjoy work, which demonstrates a firm grasp of traditional forms. So with regard to submissions, almost nothing is taboo.

W3: What is the hardest part of doing BuzzWords?

ZK: The sheer graft of printing, cutting, mailing out, etc. is probably the 'hardest' part in physical terms. All our printing is done 'in-house', because we simply can't afford to pay a printer. Perhaps harder still though is sifting through work, which almost nudges its way in to the magazine, the time taken to write to authors who clearly will make it if they persevere. I said when I started BuzzWords that no-one submitting work would receive only a rejection slip. I've always found them something of a cop-out and absolutely no use at all to would-be writers. However, I'm having to admit that the time taken to respond individually to every submission is eating into my own writing time, so I may have to start being more realistic in the future.

W3: What is the greatest joy in publishing BuzzWords?

ZK: That's a hard one, because there are so many. One of them is the knowledge that we at BuzzWords have given a promising writer their first break. That's a wonderful feeling. Another is receiving thanks from those whose work we have had to reject, but with whom we've worked, in the sense of offering real critical feedback, designed to enable them to bring their work to publishable standard. Both David (the fiction editor) and I work extensively with authors whose work shows definite promise, and because we're human too, it is nice when our efforts are appreciated.

W3: What advice would you give writers who are submitting material (not just to BuzzWords)?

ZK: Adopt a professional approach.

1. Buy and read at least one copy of your target magazine. If that isn't possible, make sure you read whatever web content there is, so that you get a true understanding of the kind of work the magazine is publishing. Support small magazines by taking a subscription. Small press is a two-way contract - they can publish your work while they exist. Far too many are folding because the sums simply don't add up.

2. When submitting work, make sure you've read the submissions guidelines, don't submit work that is clearly beyond the remit of the target magazine in the hope that the editor will be so dazzled by it that s/he'll take it like a snap. That rarely happens. At BuzzWords, we don't publish science fiction. End of story, yet still we get submissions of SF and fantasy.

3. Although many people don't see it as necessary, I regard it as common courtesy when submitting to add a few words by way of introduction. There is something about receiving five or six pages of poetry or prose with no 'supporting notes' I find decidedly off putting. It doesn't need much - 'Dear Editor, I'm enclosing a submission of poetry/short fiction which I hope you'll consider for publication.' Then, include a brief bio-note about yourself and your work. Don't be tempted to be precious about this, and argue that the work needs to speak for itself, it will anyway. That initial contact between two human beings helps oil the wheels.

W3: How can people subscribe?

ZK: For those who can supply sterling cheques or postal order made payable to 'Calvers Farm' and mailed to :

Calvers Farm
Thelveton, Diss
Norfolk IP21 4NG, UK

BuzzWords is published six times per year. UK subscriptions cost £18 per annum, overseas £23. Very shortly, overseas readers will be able to subscribe using a credit card on the web site, via Paypal.

W3: What is your background?

ZK: My own background is in journalism, although I now write short fiction, and have recently been looking at writing a novel. I started writing at 16, and haven't really stopped since. During the early years of my writing career, I wrote for a variety of UK magazines, Practical Gardening, Amateur Gardening, and the like, Women's Review, Spare Rib etc. I also wrote regular business features for three UK magazines for a number of years. With regard to editing, for ten years, I edited a small local newspaper, then moved into freelance editing, which I still do. In recent years, much of my work has been short fiction, which I've had published in the UK, Canada, America, and New Zealand. I also teach, and will shortly start teaching an online course on short story writing.

W3: BuzzWords has a short story contest. The rules are below.


£300 (or equivalent) + publication


£100 (or equivalent) + publication


£ 50 (or equivalent) + publication


FREE subscriptions to BuzzWords


Judges: BuzzWords Fiction Editor David King, and Prize Winning Short Story Writer John Ravenscroft


· Entries should be typed double-spaced on one side of A4 paper, and should be accompanied by an A4 cover sheet bearing the author's name, address, and email address where possible. No identifying marks should appear on the manuscript itself. Stories should be no longer than 4000 words. Entry fee is £5.00 for the first story, £3.00 for second and subsequent stories. Please send your entries, together with a cheque, postal order, or

· International Money Order, made payable to: 'Calvers Farm' to: BuzzWords Open Short Story Competition, Calvers Farm, Thelveton, Diss, Norfolk IP21 4NG, UK. Or, enter online at: www.BuzzWordsmagazine.co.uk using your credit card and Paypal.

If you would like confirmation that your entry has been received, please include a suitably worded postcard, or your email address. Please also enclose a stamped addressed envelope if you would like notification of results.

No entries will be returned. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.


Zoe made a good point when she said small literary magazines need our support. None of us can buy every magazine we submit to, but it is good to subscribe to a few not just to make sure we have a market but to see what other writers are producing. Small literary magazines are one way for new writers to build credits that prove to agents, publishers and editors that other professionals think we can write.

Traveller's Tales is a great market for travel essay writers. Check out their web site at http://www.travelerstales.com/ The published books are fun to read either to live old memories of places visited or to dream about your next holiday. They are looking for manuscripts with specific themes.


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