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Your Biography

This is by far the most important factor (just in case you didn't get it from before). In order to understand it better, let us first of all take a look at the profile of the Ideal Candidate, the one whose works every submission editor dreams of seeing on his desk.

The use of a feminine pronoun is not in compliance with newfangled political correctness: the Ideal Candidate is a woman. However, not all requirements have the same weight: you can make it even if you are a man, have never set foot in a British university, have Greek ancestry and are –horror– heterosexual. However, if you seek publication in Great Britain, there is no getting out of the drinking clause. The English cultural world is ready to accept rapists, murderers and even, if strictly necessary, French people, but is not ready to deal with teetotallers. Whoever can still walk in a straight line after eight o' clock is assumed to traffic successfully with the Devil –and a continental, garlic-munching devil, at that. But let's see some of the specific highlights.

Education: an actual higher degree in literature from Cambridge or Oxford will get you printed anywhere anytime. However, graduates from these universities are not many and tend to snub the crowd of the wannabe bards. Therefore, nobody really expects you to be one. However, some magazines will take your work into consideration only if you have a university education in modern literature. As with everything else, when these magazines are British, they will consider valid education only that imparted by institution in Ireland, Great Britain and its current or past colonies. Some magazines actually read your manuscripts only if you have an academic publication history and/or hold a position in higher education, but that attitude is sporadic.

In any case, to be on the safe side, you should hold at least a B.A. in a field close enough to modern literature. Ancient literature does not apply: the Editor, upon learning that you are a lecturer in Mediaeval Renaissance French Poetry, will assume that you write in rhyme, and dispose of your manuscript as toxic waste, shuddering. It is the only way of achieving rejection even if you have actually studied in one of the Old Fellows' Network universities.

Birthplace/ethnic group: with the exception of a few explicitly racist magazines, like Wasafiri, the two categories publishers like the most are their own countrymen and 'ethnic' people; the best is if you are both. Most British people fall short of realising that the Queen doesn't really rule over Ireland, Jamaica and a number of other smaller islands anymore, so these apply for the 'countrymen' category in England as well.

'Ethnic' is defined as belonging to a population that doesn't have a literary tradition the editor knows of; African people are 'ethnic' because they generally didn't write their stuff down, but so are the Irish because their language is too outlandish and their forms too complicated to be easily translated into English. One often confuses 'ethnic' with 'non white'. It is a fatal mistake: albeit publishers do like a touch of the tropical, the preference for 'ethnic' people is caused by the inferiority complex Anglo-Saxon literature feels towards foreign achievements, particularly in poetry. English scholars are painfully aware that Chaucer's ballades sound awkward and shallow compared to Villon's and American, Australian and Canadian ones know that in the fourteenth century their own people were too busy digging roots to sit down and start writing. Therefore, if you are French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Greek, just to give a few examples, your submitting to an Anglo-Saxon magazine will, more or less consciously, be regarded as an act of arrogance ('Bloody foreigners coming down and trying to teach us how to write').

Of course, if it is the States' market you are interested in, you can often rely on the fact that many Americans ignore that there is life beyond Canada and Mexico (not that there's much of it in Canada, either) and if you are, say, an Icelander, they are more likely to imagine Iceland is somewhere near Cuba (an area safe from rhymes) than to think of Snorri Sturlusson.

Looks: most of the times, no one expects you to send your picture along with a manuscript, so you don't have to worry too much about that. It is generally assumed by editors that if you are vain, arseholish and smoke a lot you must also be good-looking, so that the problem is one of contents and shall be discussed in the next chapter. Your picture will, however, be requested if you are in for an entire book; in this case you are supposed to have lots of hair and no glasses. Never smile for a British editor (rather, glower into the camera or look at the photographer with deep contempt) and have your hair styled for an American one. In fact, if you are a woman seeking recognition in the States and you are past forty, you are supposed to have a lifting, a ton of make-up, a raven or platinum dye, an idiotic smile showing all your molars, a garden in the background and a dog (if outdoors) or cat (if indoors) on your side. For men, it is generally advised to have a bookshelf behind you and a very expensive desk cluttered with papers and odd items (bronze ones look quite stylish and ethnic ones, like New Guinea penis holders or African enema pipes are just perfect). Australians and Canadians are traditionally shaggy, so anything goes there.

Wealth: in the rest of the world, the state of you bank account can stir indifference or even envy. In the United States, however, rich people are automatically assumed to be genetically, morally and aesthetically superior to the general bulk of humanity. It is therefore advisable to be well off, albeit not blatant millionaires (those are assumed to be too good for literature, and their submission to a magazine would stir perplexity); however, it is quite hard to convey the concept. You can't attach a copy of a bank statement to your manuscript; you can either intervene on the content (James Thurber did this masterfully by making continuous references to the number of his servants and to the expensive places he went to on holiday) or send along your picture with a really, really expensive desk, and hope the editor knows something about furniture.

Whereabouts: British people won't ever understand why you'd live anywhere not enlightened by the Queen's government; Americans have a vague conception that poets live in New York, San Francisco (if gay), Europe or Canada but don't really care that much; Australians absolutely don't give a shit (London's no more out of reach than the God-blighted Outback or Tasmania, anyway). Canadians, however, do care for your whereabouts. The true Canadian intellectual starts at fifteen complaining that his town is dull, and moves to Toronto; at eighteen he objects to Toronto for not being 'ethnic' enough and moves to Montréal, ready to accuse it in a couple of years of being too provincial and to move to France. Once there, he will swear he's from Montréal in an attempt to get the sympathy of the indigenous population (who, unknown to him, actually thinks the Québecois are a laughing stock) with which he can't really mix because of dramatic differences concerning the consumption of horse meat. After a few months in France, the Canadian intellectual will say that wherever he lives is provincial as well, and move to Paris. Incidentally, life in Paris is murderously expensive, so that being well off is, in a twisted way, a requirement for Canadian magazines as well.

Sexual Tendencies: really, if the States, Canada or Australia are your neck of the woods, you should be gay (if male) or bisexual but mostly lesbian (if female). Your poetry should show it, too. If you aren't, try England: liquors have substituted sex with the higher classes of the nation a long time ago.

In any case, keep in mind that the literary world is, more or less, moralist; they don't really like gay people, they just pretend they do to cover up their real ideas and because gay people often buy a lot of books. Therefore, if you are a paraphiliac (in simpler words, a pervert or fetishist), avoid at all costs showing it.

Previous Publication: every submission editor receives, each day, an immense amount of proposals. Most of them resemble Shania Twain lyrics or are, if such a thing is possible, even more trite. Editors, on the other hand are, generally, disgruntled and underpaid and simply don't feel like going through all the papers, but they have to pick something. The solution to this quandary lies in using other editors' toils: great minds think alike (or they are supposed to; most of them tend to actually disregard silly adages) and all editors think they possess great minds. Therefore, if you were published before, you end on top of the stack. Previous publication is second only to Oxford and Cambridge in how it helps getting accepted. However, if you are reading these instructions you are either one of the Present Author's personal acquaintances (hi! You got this far already?) or somebody looking for a first-time appearance. On top of that, you are perhaps French, Caucasic, studied Applied Toxicology, ugly (toxicologists tend to be so) and don't have a buck (hard times for researchers, innit?) and therefore you don't stand a chance anywhere. Add to this that your deep knowledge of the effects of ethanol on the liver and of terpenes of the tujone group on the central nervous system probably makes you a very moderate consumer of pastis: what should you do about it? Give up? Not Quite.

Just Lie

It's as simple as that, really. Consider your situation. You do everything by mail: poetry magazines have problems making ends meet (they generally come out only a couple of times a year and try to solve the problem by putting up outrageous prices, but that just reduces their market. As a result, hundreds disappear every month) and certainly can't afford background checking their authors. All they know for sure are your name and address, which can be compromising but most likely are not so much so as to prevent success.

Let's consider again our French toxicologist above. Let's suppose his name is Bernard Lebreton: this is already an advantage, as he can pretend it is English; other nations don't have this advantage, but might have others instead. Let's further suppose he wants to be published in England and let us build from there. To start with, he should build a suitable address, e.g.:

Bernard Lebreton

P.O. box 6969

Great Smith Street post office,


If you visit England on occasions, get yourself a mailbox somewhere –downtown London would be perfect– and deal with editors from there. They will think you don't want to give out your real address because it's somewhere too private, or that for some reason you have to handle huge amounts of correspondence, and both things, albeit considered somewhat bizarre in the Continent, are perfectly normal in England (and actually in the States and Canada as well). Never in their life would they suspect you do it because your actual address is something like:

18, rue du Camambert Fétid

69023 Saint-Certain-sur-Crêche

–horror– FRANCE

If you can't get a post box in London, things are more complicated. We suggest that you appeal to friends who live in England (everybody seems to have some; the Present Author has a good dozen); failing this, get a P.O. somewhere 'ethnic' –an engineer acquaintance who makes frequent trips to Nigeria or Côte d'Ivoire would do just fine. Failing even this, you could use an address somewhere haunted by rich English tourists. Paris, the Côte d'Azur (it's France but it's really expensive, so it's all right), certain parts of Spain and inland Tuscany are perfect. Note that these territorial indications are somewhat valid even if you want to be published in the States or Canada; for the States only, you can add New York, Hollywood and other places notorious for their concentration of millionaires and their outrageous rentals.

Your resume should sound something like this:

Bernard A. Lebreton [add a middle initial even if you don't have one. It sounds very Anglo-Saxon], who was born in Saint Kitts in 1975, was educated at the City of Kingston School and at the Leeds University, Leeds.

After graduation he spent a few years working as a freelance reviewer and correspondent for several Saint Kitts magazines. He has also worked in his family's import-export business and as a fashion photographer.

His works include 'Jamaica Kinkaid and Racial Prejudice in West Indian Literature', (M.A. thesis, publication pending) and several poems published locally and, in England, on The Black Bough [be sure to choose a magazine that is long-gone, fictional or absolutely minor]. He also wrote some short essays for The Saint Kitts Literature Journal, dealing mainly with West Indian poetry.

He lives in <the place where your mailbox is located> with his wife and two mastiffs. [you can leave out the mastiffs and put in children, if you like, or get corny about your wife; however you should put at least one 'unexpected' detail to show that, after all, you are a brilliant, original man].

Remember: the key to credibility is using only one major lure (in this case your birthplace) and just adding mildly interesting details to it. The C.V. above is that of someone well-travelled, scholarly sound and modern, and with quite a bit of money. All right, you may be from a French family, but what of it? It is forgivable, provided you can't speak the language properly. For the American market you can leave out the family business and insert a long list of less intellectual occupations, e.g.:

...he has also worked as a karate instructor, gardener, taxi-driver and librarian. [put in at least three; avoid activities that require special training, like formation dancer and private investigator: they sound suspicious, no matter how alluring the idea might be]

If you have a common surname, you can fill up your publication list by shamefully using your homonyms, but be careful not to overdo it. Some of the works might have been printed before your graduation, or even before your birth, and the editor might notice. That didn't, however, prevent a guy who adopted the name of Thomas Moore to bank in on the more notorious courtesan of Henry VIII and cash in on spiritual self-help books.

Also, if the States are your target and you are European, you might make up you are a nobleman; they won't believe it, but people pretending to be noblemen are very respected in North America. It might work in Canada as well, but the Present Author has never seen anybody trying it successfully there. If you come from a country that has no colonies and your name is very revealing, you start the race with an enormous handicap. England is practically barred to you, but you can try to dupe the Americans (never too hard a task) with something like this:

Sven A. Sigurdsson was born in Lulea in 1975 of a Swedish father and a Javanese mother; the Scandinavian branch of his family is related to both the House of Sweden and the Dukes of Pomerania.

Then go on along the lines of the previous example, save your thesis title should be something on the lines of 'Homosexual Literature in Northern Europe: Three Centuries of Discrimination' and you should write 'Sweden' instead of 'Saint Kitts' in all occurrences. Remember to top your education with a British university. As Swedish is too little known to verify anything, you can also pretend you read English at a local university. We actually strongly advise you to do it (it proves your English is faultless). If, in spite of all odds, you still want to try British magazines, have your father marry a Caribbean woman and cut the nobility crap. Retain the rest, including the lectureship, but consider replacing the gay issues with racial ones.

If none of the above applies to you and you are from Eastern Europe, go for the Jewish thing and try Canada. Everybody with a name like Szimanowsky, Szegeti or Aznagiparashvili is automatically assumed to be Jewish in North America, even if his ancestors were enthusiastic nazi supporters and devoted much of their free time to pogroms. Only be careful that, Canada having quite a community of actual Jewish people, your bluff must be really, really good. They know that Aznagiparashvili is a Georgian name, for instance. We suggest that you go with the I-don't-accept-the-oppressive-family-thing and avoid getting in the mystery of how one is supposed to spell bar mitzvah. Think Roth, man. Failing that, think Woody Allen.

Of course, if you are, say, Chinese or Japanese, of from some other relatively industrialised country in Asia, there is no reason why you shouldn't pull the gay issue as well. You might as well go for the sexual discrimination one –everyone assumes you mistreat women, anyway–if that embarrasses you too much.

Latin Americans should go for native issues or wax political; moderation, however, is advisable: in spite of the fact that being a staunch communist brings you closer to the Nobel prize, you are not quite there yet. Marxism is acceptable, even welcome, in Canada, but thought of as bad taste in England, and regarded with horror by most Americans, especially in these days of pray-for-the-people-unite-against-the-enemy bull.

Africans should convey a mild sense of blaming colonialism, but of approving unconditionally of the Anglo-Saxon educational system; it is somewhat of a balancing act, but keep in mind that if you are African, editors start off loving you in any case, and you can afford a number of slips. Just remember to say that you have been educated in England.

Finally, if you are from the Middle East, either Arab or Israeli, show somewhat that you disapprove of your country's traditional religion. They'll love that.

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