This essay is the first in an occasional series that addresses topics of interest to poets and writers — topics which are often posed to me. I hope you will find them useful as you pursue your writing career.
People often ask me how to go about publishing their work. Whether it’s a poem, a short story or a novel, writers of all genres want to get their writing in front of an audience. Likewise, they want feedback and, of course, they want to get paid. We’ll leave that last question until last.
For a beginning writer, publishing can seem a daunting endeavor. Where do I start? Where do I find venues that are open to new writers? How do I choose a legitimate publication, either online or in print? And how do I submit?
There are, in fact, many resources out there to assist writers, some of them commercial, such as Writer’s Digest, and others dedicated to those more interested in literary publications. Poets & Writers is by far the most popular and one of the most respected publication in this last arena. P&W has been around for quite a while and, besides offering articles on getting published, finding an agent and other relevant topics, they have a comprehensive listing of journals and other publishing venues that are looking for poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, etc. They also publish an exhaustive listing of literary competitions and grant opportunities. P&W subscriptions are available for about $20 per year, and subscriptions include access to their online databases and as well as their other online resources.
Another useful resource, similar to Poets & Writers, is The Writer’s Chronicle, a publication of The Association of Writers & Writing Program (AWP). Like Poets & Writers, The Writer’s Chronicle publishes articles and interviews with writers as well as calls for submissions and listings of grants and other professional opportunities, all from a more academic point of view. The Writer’s Chronicle is published 6 times per year and is included in the cost of AWP membership which is $75 per year. The magazine is also available as a standalone subscription for $20 per year. (N.B. All costs are of November 2017).
P&W and The Writer’s Chronicle are perhaps the most referenced by both new and experienced poets and fiction writers, as well as those specializing in creative non-fiction.
Of course, writers should not simply search for submission calls and submit their work willy-nilly. One also needs to do some research to make sure that their work fits in with the specific journal’s aesthetics as well as the subject matter of an upcoming issue. A call for submissions might be as broad as “seeking quality poetry and fiction of any style or subject matter” or as specific as “looking for poems by mid-career women addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.” Yet, even when a publication specifies the kind of work and/or subject matter they are looking for, a writer needs to investigate further into what the overall posture of the journal is. This research should involve looking up the journal’s web site or acquiring a sample copy of their print journal. Reading work that a specific journal publishes will give you an idea of the type of writing they are seeking (formal, for example, or experimental) as well as how subject matter is presented. One might also email the editors directly, depending on the journal, with specific questions, but reading what they publish is the best option you have.
In addition, editors will often specify not just what to submit, but how. Some journals will only accept manuscripts via postal mail. Others will, on the other hand, require a submission from an online submission vehicle such as Submittable. If they accept email submissions (and many don’t), they may specify that you should include the text of your poem or story in the body of the email. Others, will specify Word or RTF format. And still others will say what font to use and whether or not to include your name and other personal information in the document. Editors will almost always have a word limit (no more than 4000 words, for example) or a limit on the number of poems to submit. And, more than often, deadlines are specified. Pay attention to these details. If they are not followed as stated, your submission will most likely be returned or rejected without being read.
Once you have done your research and have identified the journal or journals you wish to submit to, it’s time to send your work. Unless otherwise stated, you should include a short note introducing yourself and the work you are submitting as well as mentioning any publications you have had int he past. If this is a simultaneous submission whereby you are sending the same poem or story to various publications at the same time, you should state that as well. But make sure that the publications you are submitting to allow for that and be sure to inform them should your work be accepted somewhere else.
After you send your work, you will need to play the waiting game. Some publications will give an indication of how long they take to respond to submissions. Others may not. Either way, if, after about 3 months, you do not hear back from the editors, send a short, polite email inquiring about the status and asking when you might expect to hear from them. Editors are busy individuals, spending much of their time going through the slush pile, so be patient.
While you’re at it, make sure to keep track of what you are sending and where. A simple spreadsheet might be sufficient. I have found using a database, such as Microsoft Access, is much more efficient.
Feedback is not something you should expect on a regular basis. As stated above, editors are busy reading submissions (and most publications get more submissions than they can handle) and do not have time to give individual feedback. On occasion, however, when an editor spots something that is not quite right for the edition they are working on but sees potential in your work, he or she may compliment you in a written note and encourage your to submit again in the future. Feedback or not, you should be prepared to collect rejection slips.
As for payment: most publications pay their authors in kind, usually with one or two copies of the edition that contains their work. Others may offer a small, nominal payment. Either way, the thrill of being published, especially for new writers, is often payment enough. Eventually, as you build up a publication history and your writing becomes known, you may begin to get larger payments. But do beware of publications that request payment in order to print your work. These outfits (there is no better word for them) should be avoided at all costs.
My next topic will deal exactly with that topic: vanity presses and the pitfalls and possible benefits of using them.
If you should have any questions about this article or wish me to address any question you may have about writing or publishing, please post them in the comments section of this article.