What the editing team looks for
New and emerging writers have wonderful verve and sincerity. We look for depth and clarity to match the passion. We are open to different styles and genres so it’s all about how well the writers convey their intention. If you can’t access print copies of ZineWests, explore our ezine which includes winning works from 2007 onwards.
What kind of works have succeeded in past years?
Stories about people and relationships and places; not tales designed to teach the reader how to think or behave. Prose pieces that have won ZW awards are quite layered for works under 800 words and far from predictable. Poems range widely in theme. They usually move deeper than excellent description. We chiefly seek fiction, however non-fiction entries using the skills of creative fiction, eg a good slice of memoir, have often been published.
What is the overall standard like?
Almost all entrants show enough talent to avoid the standard pitfalls (see some below) yet we sometimes feel we’re reading a promising draft. If the work had been mulled over, given a touch more development, the writer might have produced a winning work from the material. Some specifics:
Syntax: We overlook the occasional slip but errors handicap the way your words flow in the reader’s mind. When narrative threads wander, or nouns lose control of their verbs, readers are left puzzled.
Imagery: Ingenious but ineffective images can distract. Fearlessly assess what role your images play in the work.
Clarity: Even the best work can be guilty of an awkward phrase that the reader has to go back to, may never be quite sure of. The golden rule is: if you have to explain it you need to change it
How to find your blind spots
Ask for feedback from readers who have an excellent grasp of English and some appreciation of the genre of the piece. This is particularly helpful to entrants working in English as a second language. It should be a “cold” reading. On no account read the piece aloud to your readers or explain things beforehand. You can’t do that for editors and judges. Listen to your reader’s responses and questions. Don’t defend the piece. Keep a clear mind about what your reader didn’t catch onto and draw on your creative powers to re-express!
Some common problems to dodge:
Yelling your enlightened views: We can be so passionate we don’t realise we’re shouting at the reader, instead of shouting at the problem. “Checkpoints” by Y. Tambiah (ZW12) is an example of a poet illustrating/revealing rather than shouting/lecturing. By the end, when the poet expresses rage, we know why. Conflict has been demonstrated through story.
Inverting phrases to achieve a rhyme: You’re clever enough to find a better solution.
Solid work that lacks development or a distinctive voice: Unleash yourself! We cannot all be great writers but we are unique individuals. Find your detail, your special observation and base your work on it.
Lyrics or performance pieces: Choose carefully when entering these gems for a print zine; some can die a little death on the page. Without the expressiveness of performance and/or musical accompaniment, they need to be as rich in story and imagery as poems.
Writing about the past as if the writer still lives there or the characters don’t: Imagine you are writing about the events as if they are happening right now (in the present) or have just happened (as might be expressed in a diary). Capture the past for the contemporary reader by using the devices of fiction.
Word Limits and other rules
Ignoring the entry conditions may mean one of your entries is not eligible. Please read the entry form carefully and fill it in accurately. NB: We publish a very small piece now and then, but generally it isn’t wise to go too far under the word limit. Eg if you submit haiku or tanka, send us a themed suite rather than just one tiny poem.