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Spotlights is the fifth Paragram anthology with the Chapbook Challenge the most ambitious project we have run so far.

Paragram exists to encourage new writing talent and to that end we have inaugurated the Paragram Poetry Prize, The Chapbook Challenge as well as free submission, theme led anthology projects. The aim is to find something that everyone can enter.

We have learnt our craft as editors as we have journeyed from one year to the next and there are some important recurring yet basic mistakes that we see in every new batch of submissions.

We are sharing this experience to help Paragrammers past, present and future eliminate them.

Paragram’s top five hints:

  1. Follow the Rules (all of them)
    Paragram exists to encourage new and emerging writers and so we strive to make our rules simple and may even give some leeway to minor infringements that other publishers/journals may not.
    Rules are never trip hazards…they are there for a reason. If a publisher asks for 40 lines it will be to do with the way the finished product will be laid out. If they request attachments (or not) it will be because of the way they handle the entries. It may even be to do with internet security.  Insert page breaks means (on a PC)  File/Insert/Page break. It does not mean hard return until the cursor tips on to the next page
  2. Proof read your entry
    Paragram may ignore typos, even grammatical mistakes…other publishers will not.
    Our quest is to help each Paragrammer to publication. We prefer to offer success to as many writers in each of our projects as we can. We may decide to clean up manuscripts when they are compiled into the anthology in the interests of including a piece that is otherwise worthy of publication but no writer should rely on that being the case.
    Each writer MUST either review their work after laying it aside for considerable time so that they see it afresh OR find a proof reader who will look for typing/spelling/grammar errors.
  3. Make the best choices
    Paragram offers a range of publishing opportunities
    – some themed, some open, some free, some with an entry fee, some poetry, some prose. A writer should never be tempted to shoehorn a piece to meet a theme or to fit into a category. Rather save that piece for the perfect opportunity and write something new.
  4. Give your work the title it deserves
    Paragram’s themes are intended as prompts or triggers…they never make the best titles
    . Too often a good piece of writing is blighted by being entitled ‘Untitled’ or it is saddled with a boring, inappropriate or even cliched name. The title should work with and for the piece and have as much invested in it as every other word and sentence.
  5. Edit before entering
    Paragram, and other publishers, will send a page proof so that each writer can check that nothing has been missed or even misunderstood.
    This is not an invitation to edit. While Paragram may agree to a late change, this is unusual. It is the writers’ responsibility to submit the FINAL copy or version of their piece. If you have several versions on your computer ENSURE you submit the one you mean to send.

Paragram’s top five writers’ gaffes

  • A poem squeezed into forty long lines with inappropriate line breaks. If the line count is for 40 lines including spaces between stanzas the judges/editors will discard anything of 41 lines. However, they will also notice if a poem has been squeezed into fewer lines than it had originally – the cracks always show.
  • Capitalisation at the beginning of every line in a poem regardless of sense (this is so often a word processing error…find out the way to turn it off). Contemporary poetry tends to go in one of three directions…no capitalisation at all; capitalisation of unusual words; sentence led capitalisation.
  • Entry title matching theme title…in a competition where the the theme is ‘Pride’ for example, to entitle a poem ‘Pride’ is unlikely to catch the judge’s eye and may even lead to instant rejection.
  • Errors, be they typing mistakes, poor spelling or incorrect grammar (its and it’s come to mind here) taint even the best writing. With the best will someone whose life is spent reading will find it difficult to ignore and forgive these basic errors. Always try to find an independent pair of eyes to read and proof read your work before submission. We rarely see our own mistakes.
  • After spending hours compiling a book, an editor will always view a request to make an edit, to change a word, add a word, force a line break, with, at best, resignation. It could also lead to a piece of writing being removed from the anthology. The last words an editor wants to hear are ‘ Oh, I meant to have this word here, or a line break there…’.

The editorial team is currently immersed in the production of ‘Perspectives from an Open Heart’ from the Chapbook Challenge winner Peter Taylor as well as ‘Spotlights’, the anthology for 2015.

Publishing two books at a time is a new experience and an exciting one. We felt it was important to share ways poets and writers can maximise their chances of success while they are fresh in our minds.