Stuff I’ve Learned So Far

I’m fairly new to the world of writing and publishing. Some of you have been at this a lot longer than I have been, and know much more than I do. Still, in the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve figured out a few things about publishing my work, that I thought might be helpful to pass along.

1) REJECTION – When you’re starting out, brace for rejection. It gets better. I get rejected less often than I used to, but I still have my work rejected on almost a daily basis.  I made a game out of it and decided to see if I could amass 50 rejections in one year. I celebrated each one as it came in, as I imagined it getting me closer to publication. It took something like 50 rejections to get my first story published and I’m happy to say that I didn’t (overly) agonize.

2) AUDIENCE What’s changed?  Well, I think I’m a better writer now, a more confident writer.  The negative voices from my MFA days have faded and so I trust my instincts more.  But what has also changed is that I’ve begun to figure out my market. I’ve read a lot of magazines and journals and I have a sense of who will like or dislike my work. I haven’t cracked places like The Missouri Review, for instance, and while I hold them in high esteem and will keep trying, I sort of doubt that my stuff will ever appeal to their editors. I’ve stopped feeling bad about that

3) SUBMISSIONS This pertains to “audience” as well. I target my submissions more economically now. I don’t send certain pieces to McSweeney’s, say, and I don’t bother with The Paris Review. I know enough to know that anything under 6,000 words should be kept away from One Story, and anything non-medical in nature should be kept away from Bellevue.  But I’ve also learned to send my work out to a lot of places at once. Some will take months (or even a year) to get back to me, so I pick the places I most want to work with and start with the top 5 or 10.  As rejections come in, I either submit my work elsewhere, or sometimes take a piece off the market and go back to work on it, if I feel that’s warranted.

4) RULES I’ve learned that there are few universal rules amongst publications, and so I try to roll with it. They all seem to want work submitted differently from one another (some want PDFs, some want specific info in cover letters, others want all author ID removed from MSSs). It makes it time-consuming to submit your work, but it’s worth getting it right.  I’ve been surprised to find how generous many editors are. For instance, when I heard from one journal that they wanted to publish my work, I immediately withdrew it from all other publications.  Two of them contacted me to see if they might also publish the piece, and upon asking permission, everyone said to go ahead.  Very kind. So I’ve had certain pieces published in 3 or even 4 different venues, with different audiences. Same goes with prizes. I’ve had two pieces that won more than one prize, and that’s all because these particular editors were really pro-writer and did whatever they could to help.  These editors/journals are angels (Souvenir, Lunch Ticket, Cahoodaloodaling, Hospital Drive, to name a few).

5) RELATIONSHIPS  This one is so obvious I hate to even go into it, but with each publication, I’ve done my best to build some kind of relationship with the publication. It doesn’t always work.  One place just never answered my emails, for instance.  That’s ok. They published my story and I love them for it. But with the other places, I’ve found that promoting their journals is a nice thing to do. I do what I can – suggest to friends that they submit work to these journals, share links to their sites, etc. And I stay in touch in what I hope is not an annoying way. For instance, I don’t write to them all the time.  I reach out once or twice a year, maybe, either. This has paid off and not just in a pecuniary way. I’ve made a few real friends in the process, been invited to be a visiting scholar at a university because of it, shared reading recommendations, etc.  And I start at the very beginning when I’m submitting my work in the first place. In my cover letters I thank the editors for taking the time to read my work. They probably never see this, or notice it, but I like to take a professional, adult tone in my work. It really does mean a lot to me that they’re reading my stories. And when someone publishes my work, I read the entire issue and follow up with the editor about what I loved about that issue outside of my own work. And I thank them briefly but sincerely about something tangible. One recent publication highlighted a sentence from my story that I, too, really loved. I mentioned it and the editor was really happy, because he had made that decision, and was glad that I was glad.

As I continue to work, I have a lot left to learn, which will be the subject of a later post.  For now, I hope that some of this is helpful to my writing peeps out there who, like me, are trying to figure out how to navigate this vast and confusing world.

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