It’s Not Just Us . . .

I routinely read several agents’ and editors’ blogs so I know that the editorial team at BiblioBuffet is not the only one who receives queries that leaves us scratching our heads. What I cannot figure out is why. Why do writers not do their homework about the publication if having their work published there is so important to them?

What homework? Well, please get comfy. This will take more than a couple of paragraphs. First, we publish writing about books and reading and related issues. Related issues can be subjects as diverse as bookshelves, book buying, weeding out unwanted books, the unexpected impact of a certain book, censorship, libraries, bookmarks, bookplates or bookish ephemera, a book festival or bookstore. It is in fact anything that might be of interest to readers—and that covers a wide range. What we do not publish is anything else. 

In addition, we expect a certain level of quality. High quality. The fact that we can pay very little does not mean we accept beginners’ writing attempts. We do not. Do you know that the best way to find out what level of writing we publish is to read several of our issues? If you do that, you will learn why Carl Rollyson or Lev Raphael are much published authors, and why they are treasured essayists. You will learn how Nicki Leone explores her relationship with her books, and why she doesn’t review so much as she intwines herself into her reading. You will learn how Lindsay Champion and Pete Croatto, each of whom has a review specialty, talk about their books so that their readers know whether that book will work for them too. You can see how Gillian Polack handles the Australian publishing and books scene with wicked Aussie wit. You can read how Laine Farley, my co-writer for the On Marking Books column, researches and shares her information on bookmarks in a passionate way that brings her readers into her world. In other words, if you are a writer looking to join BiblioBuffet please read what we publish and then sit down and ask yourself, honestly and as objectively as you can, if your writing comes close to what you see in BiblioBuffet.

One of the most disturbing trends Nicki and I see in queries these days is the focus on “content.” Because that’s what much of what is seen online is considered ephemeral or fleeting as is the payment for it. BiblioBuffet is an online publication, yes, but we do not publish content. We seek to engage our readers with passion, with excitement, with excellent writing. We use as our role models magazines like Harper’s, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. We rarely utilize links in most columns, the exceptions being my editor’s letter and to a lesser extent, On Marking Books. Columns should stand on their own; our feeling is that if one cannot say what one wants to say without relying on crutches links then one has nothing to say.

Another point I want to make is that BiblioBuffet’s reviewers like to search out books that are bypassed by larger publications. We don’t eliminate any books because if a reviewer is passionate enough to want to write about it she or he should be able to do so—and will in fact do so in new ways. But our goal is to help our readers find books that may otherwise go nearly unnoticed. And good books that sink unnoticed are a loss to all good readers. So please do not e-mail us about wanting to review *bestseller*. It’s a waste of our space and of our readers time.

Queries generally trickle in here and there as writers find us. But whenever BiblioBuffet’s guidelines get posted on a writers’ site we tend to get a deluge within a few days. Out of the last batch of around thirty-five queries we chose to keep working with two of the writers. That’s not unusual. Writing may be a matter of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but publishable writing for good publications demands much more. The writers we feature on BiblioBuffet demand a lot of themselves. They are talented, no question, but talent is only the beginning, They spent years, decades, honing their skills until they considered themselves “writers.”

For hopeful writers, the only advice I can give is to say that just because you can get your writing published online early in your writing process does not mean you should. If you enjoy writing “content” then follow that route. There’s nothing wrong with that goal. But if you want to write prose worth thoughtful reading then know that the best thing you can do for yourself is to skip the quick and easy detour. Stay on the Road of Hard Learning while you read those publications—not necessarily ones you agree with but those that issue fine writing—to which you aspire, and the columns and writers you admire. They are never so far above you that you can’t see them; they are merely in the place you are moving toward.

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