So, you’re thinking of publishing your work for the first time. From one writer to another, congratulations! You’re ready to share your work with the public, and that’s courageous behavior. I’m proud of you, and I want to help you find a home for all your precious words. I’ve placed my work in print and digital over 25 times, and it was all within the last three years.
When you’re new to publishing, everything is intimidating and confusing. You just want to know that your work is worth reading. It’s totally natural to want validation as a writer, since our struggle to produce work is mostly invisible to others. Your family and friends might not support your work, or you may struggle to summon creative energy after your day job runs you ragged. The world is typically not kind to artists unless they “prove themselves” in an unfair, rigged system.
This is why independent literary magazines and presses are a gift to writers. Do you want someone to take a chance on you? Do you want to be told that your work is excellent, well-written, important, etc? My first publication was life-changing and made me feel like a writer, not just someone who writes. The magazine was small and didn’t pay, but the editors were kind to me and generous with their promotion. I knew immediately that I wanted to publish more.
Let’s explore a much-maligned tactic for getting published: sending out submissions with a “more is more” mindset.
Figure out your requirements.
Submitting to a lot of markets doesn’t mean you’ll throw your work at anyone. You should have standards, even as a new writer! Your work deserves it.
For example, I like seeing a mission statement page and a masthead, preferably with photos of the staff. I want my words to live in places that are inclusive, welcoming, and innovative – not upholding tired standards of what is “literary” and who can write or edit it.
What’s important to you? Do you want to submit to only places that will print your work physically? Or maybe you’re attracted to a large social media presence? Whatever your requirements are, take note of them and use them to filter your submissions. Hint: Chill Subs has a vast array of filters in their database to help you find exactly what you need!
Keep track of everything; keep everything on track.
It’s pretty easy to submit the same piece to a market multiple times (guilty!). Getting organized feels powerful, and it doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. I use a Google Sheet to list all my pieces that need homes, and I use Chill Subs and Submittable to track the status of current submissions. The best method is the one you’ll use, so try a few different ones. You’ll feel proud of yourself and pro as hell.
Practice welcoming rejection.
Lots of submissions means lots of rejections, and that’s true at any level of experience. A rejection does not mean that you or your work lack quality. It just means “not here, not now” and that’s okay. Do the emotional processing that you need to do, and know that facing rejection will get easier with time. The road to “we love your work and feel so lucky to publish it,” is paved with “no thank you.” Rejections are an uncomfortable but necessary part of getting published as a creative.
Don’t submit work that has never been seen by another person.
There are so many free options for excellent feedback. Check out Pencilhouse, writers’ workshops in your area, virtual feedback circles, or even a trusted friend who has great taste. Nobody is above critique or revision. This goes beyond your creative work! Your cover letters, queries, and follow-up emails should partner with your work to make a good impression.
Reading everything out loud before you hit send is an easy way to catch subtle mistakes that your eyes might skim over. Also, copy/paste is your friend! I keep a document of recent cover letters and bios that I reuse, with minor changes, for each submission. Streamlining your processes is key for saving your energy while you cast a wide net. Submitting your work is exhausting and time-consuming, so make it as easy for yourself as possible.
Cultivate patience, but also cultivate the ability to move fast.
You’ll be submitting simultaneously, which means you’ll have a piece under consideration at multiple markets at once. Please know that there is no secret link of communication between every lit mag in the world. Usually, they have no idea where else your work is being considered, and if they’re a venue that accepts simultaneous subs, they won’t care. But they do want to know if your work is accepted elsewhere. Make sure you stay on top of this with the organizational strategy you chose in step #2. Once your piece has found a home, send a swift and polite withdrawal email to the markets that will miss out on your creative genius.
Know when it’s time to stop.
Casting a wide net was a great strategy for me when I was first getting serious about my writing, and I don’t regret it. But after about a year of rapid-fire submissions, I started to slow down and get more selective. Currently, it feels best to connect deeply with a market’s past publications before I consider submitting to them. I’m a better (and more published) writer, and I feel that I can afford to be more choosy. Plus, I have less time on my hands for submissions, so I’m picky about the few places I’ll send a piece. This also makes rejections hurt more than they did before, since my hopes are less divided. Keep in mind that evaluating your strategy and being willing to change it will serve you well.
The publishing world is obscure, niche, and ever-changing. There’s a lot of advice out there, and you should leave behind anything that doesn’t resonate. Remember, you are the most important authority on what to do with your words. You can do it! I’m wishing all the best for your work to find its perfect home.