Many aspiring authors find (or perhaps invent) numerous reasons not to submit work to publications. I am certainly guilty as charged. Though my focus here on Word Bank is to showcase my freelance writing and editing services, I still aim to write a book someday. In the meantime, I’ve decided to up my author game by getting serious about establishing greater credibility as an author by seeking publication in magazines and literary journals that implement editorial discretion. I’d like to invite you to do the same. No matter our writing path (traditional, indie, or hybrid) it only makes sense to grow our author platform in as many ways as possible.
Let’s face it, many of us toil away at blog posts while trying to grow our readership numbers. We attempt to pump up our email subscriber list and share posts on social media without coming across as too spammy. Other times, we write guest blog posts to reach potential new readers. All this effort sometimes feels like a hamster running in endless circles on a squeaky, aimless wheel to nowhere. Yet, we persist. If the process feels a bit insane, it’s because it is. One person can only accomplish so much in the race to find 1,000 true fans. A prudent step is to harness the power of already established literary platforms.
At its simplest definition, editorial discretion means someone (usually assisted in some capacity by an editorial staff) has the authority to decide if a submission meets the standards upheld by the publication in question. Depending on where a piece is submitted, an author’s claims will be evaluated for accuracy and fairness as well as sources for relevance. My time spent as a submissions editor for the Idaho Review taught me a lot about all that goes into the selection process. Sometimes that process is all about pieces that truly shine, and other times it’s about name recognition. So it goes.
Gain Valuable Experience
The process to submit work to publications entails becoming familiar with a wide variety of submissions guidelines. Finding the appropriate venue for one’s work means becoming familiar with the audience and genre(s) represented. It’s largely a process of reading widely. An author who doesn’t read the magazines and literary journals they are submitting to has no business querying them. And if said writer doesn’t have time to do all that research, then shame on that writer. The same goes for novelists who don’t take the time to research comparable titles and the categories and genres applicable to their work.
Earn Publishing Credibility
Let’s face it, anyone can self-publish. Too often writers bemoan the futile nature of trying to get past the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. Gatekeeping often gets a bad rap and is deemed overly subjective. News flash: all selection processes are subjective. There truly is merit to putting one’s writing before an experienced and discerning publication to see if one can make make the cut. Yet, some incredibly savvy authors without much traditional publishing experience have earned a respected place in the writing community, and it’s because they are putting out a great product and working toward professional standards. Besides, rejection builds character!
Access a Wider Audience
This is a no-brainer. Every time an author is published, that author’s writing gets in front of potential readers who would be next to impossible to reach with their own author platform. Readers who like their work will be inclined to read their brief author bio and potentially seek out the author’s website or other published titles. So while toiling away all on our lonesome, we should always ask ourselves what we are doing to find cross-promotional opportunities. It’s a bit cliche, but always be looking for ways to work smarter, not harder.
Make Some Extra Cash
If an author is putting most of their platform building efforts into writing articles for free, that author is most definitely doing it wrong. Granted, many publications and contests can’t afford to pay much for publishing a piece, but they do pay. We live in a world where free is becoming the norm, but the average artist can’t make a living from giving their work away for free. The artist is far and few between who can make decent cash from affiliate links, advertising, and sponsorships. We need to value ourselves enough to price our creative products accordingly and only use free sparingly as a promotional tactic.
Self-Publish After Initial Publication
Many literary journals and magazines offer first rights. Upon buying a piece that particular publication gets to be the first to print it. Afterward, the rights revert back to the author who can then sell other rights or self-publish. This approach makes a lot more sense considering many bloggers often realize they’ve written strong posts that could potentially appeal to a wider audience, only to be denied the submission process since previously published material is often not eligible for consideration.
How often do you submit work to publications? What results have you had? What advice would you give? If you aren’t submitting, what’s stopping you?
Make sure to also check out this post: How to Write a Submissions Cover Letter.
The cover images used in this post are for promotional purposes only and comply with fair use guidelines.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.
Always wise and prudent advice, but have to admit that I chuckled and moaned at the same time as I read…’rejection builds character.” All right all ready…I AM a character! These kinds of submissions can be tedious but worth it if you get lucky and gain some “street cred” in the process.
Jacquie, there is definitely a huge amount of luck involved with gaining street cred. Yep, rejection sucks but it’s also a great learning tool when the writing can use it to refine their writing process when it comes to understanding audience. My background in rhetoric and comp probably feeds a lot into how much I value undertaking audience analysis. I’m all about behind-the-scenes stuff, which is exactly why I need to get better about actually submitting more of my own work to such publications. I tend to get hung up on process.
Sound advice and glad you are embarking on it. I go back and forth on reading magazines and submitting to their contests. What I haven’t challenged myself with yet is submitting to magazines without a contest involved. Yep, I sure see the validity in that market!
I will if you will?
Kidding. This process is a part of what I’m trying to work into my habits.
Good luck, Jeri!
Rose Mary, no kidding. Let’s be serious about this 😉 We’re in the same boat in trying to work the submission process into our habits. I’m finding lots of inspiration in my current critique group that’s a subset of Boise’s NFAA chapter. Seeing other members get published makes me itch to do the same. Community matters for so many different reasons when it comes to writing. Accountability partners are also great too.
I chuckled at Jacquie’s reaction to rejection building character. I remember a friend saying something to me years ago about having had enough character-building experiences. Seriously, though, I do submit to places with editorial discretion. It can be a time-consuming process finding appropriate publications and taking time to understand submission guidelines. One has to become resigned to the fact there will be more rejections than acceptance. But an acceptance, when it does come, is so sweet.
Donna, my current goal is to get to where I’m submitting one piece a month to multiple publications. A spreadsheet of course is in the works… 😉
Good advice Jeri. It’s really hard to continue pursuing this route, and I think you have to be in it for the long haul as so little actually gets published. That said there are an incredible amount of magazines and other pubs. in the US to choose from. Which of course has its own problem as there’s so much to choose from, so it’s not one for the feint hearted. But then none said that getting published is easy, and if you really want something, this is an instance where you have to put in the time and hopefully you will reap the reward. I really like the point you make about getting to know what your readers want. An excellent by product of this process. Insightful post Jeri.
Kathy, any form of publishing requires the ability to stick with the process. It’s so overwhelming at times and hard to see the end in sight. Like you said though, a person has to be in for the long haul.
I don’t submit to publications but it sounds like a good idea. It’s important to be open to others’ suggestions even if we don’t like them. You never know where the suggestions will lead. Thanks for sharing these tips.
Sabrina, with all of the posts you’ve written on home organizing, it would be worth looking into publications that accept such pieces.
A timely post Jeri – I’ve been feeling like one of those hamsters going nowhere fast. Aside from a couple of essays that gained me only free magazine subscriptions I’ve been too cowardly. Perhaps because what I really don’t a platform; just my own faint warblings.
Jan, I felt like a hamster too when I started this blog years ago and foresaw it as an author blog. As I gear up to start submitting short pieces, I’m much more prepared to finally envision what my author platform needs to look like. It’s a long process any way you look at it. Those warblings will find their audience with concentrated effort, but it can feel so defeating and stink at times to give submitting a go. I’m tired of thinking out it, and am finally going to start to commit to sending things out on a regular basis.
Stop the presses, I actually disagree with something you said (which I think is a first): “It’s largely a process of reading widely. An author who doesn’t read the magazines and literary journals they are submitting to has no business querying them. And if said writer doesn’t have time to do all that research, then shame on that writer.”
Well, I sort of disagree. I agree that a writer must read widely, but it is really, really difficult to do so. There are so many magazines and journals, and if you have three pieces that are vastly different, so you’re looking for three different suitable markets, well, reading becomes a full-time job, and that’s just not viable. And yet, it makes sense to have at least three pieces in the submission circuit at once, if not more, because some markets take up to nine months to respond. I’ve had one sit in a queue for eight months, and I wasn’t allowed to do simultaneous subs while it was in the queue. Three or four months is quite normal. Also, if a publication doesn’t publish online, then it can get costly to order back issues or full subscriptions, especially if you’re also submitting to contests at the same time and paying submission fees. Also, I hesitate to order back issues and subscriptions because then I know I will get them in the mail and not have time to read them, like many of the books I buy. It’s a sad reality, but it’s reality. I do the best I can. I’m at the point where I will read one or two pieces from a magazine or lit journal before deciding to submit or not.
I agree that research before submission is necessary, however, I think we need to be okay with incorporating some elements of expediency so that we don’t stop ourselves from submitting at all because we don’t feel we’ve done due diligence.
Thanks for a great post, Jeri!
Laura, your comment makes perfect sense and is well taken. Too often when I was reading submissions for the Idaho Review, it became apparent a good handful of authors just blindly submitted their stories to everywhere they could and did not even take into consideration that genre fiction isn’t an appropriate fit for a literary journal. Often, a decent scan of a website and a magazine’s submission guidelines reveals enough to surmise if a piece is a candidate for submission, but too many writers who are just getting into the submissions game don’t heed those guidelines. Reading widely is inherently a slow process, but then I’ll meet someone who seems to know the ins and outs of every publication under the sun and I’m then completely in awe and feel like such an underachiever 😉
Those people have been at it for a long time. After 10 or 20 more years of doing this, we’ll have that kind of market intel, too. And those are the people whom I always hope will write a summary blog post of market intel to help the newbies. 🙂
As so many publications, especially those that were primarily read in print such as magazines, have smaller staffs and smaller budgets. That has opened more opportunity for outsiders to be published, even at some surprisingly high-profile titles. But getting paid? That’s another story.
Ken, any form of pay is more than what most bloggers make 😉 What frustrates me is when literary journals seek primarily the work of well-known authors. Even though the journal can’t pay much, it’s a win-win for both sides. The journal gets to tout publishing an esteemed author, and the author then gets the chance to be anthologized in even more esteemed publications or to be eligible for respected literary contests. Meanwhile, a great piece can be looked over because the author isn’t a known name. So needless to say, a good deal of publishing in certain circles does come down to not only talent, but also networking, and luck.
I before sharing my writing on the web was into writing essays, articles, short posts who were never read by any one else but by self. One of my post was accidentally read by my husband who initiated me to share my writing which will help me improve in the long run.
While the reason i started my blog was to generate traffic towards my company site, it’s been approx two months from when i begin the journey and I am loving the freedom of expressing myself. Looking forward to learn and improvise from writers and bloggers like you and more.
Like Richard Bach says ‘A Professional Writer is a Ameatur who didn’t quit.’
We never know what the future holds for us.
Thanks for your post!
Sushmita, it’s great you are loving the freedom of expression yourself. Blogging can be addictive that way and has kept me at it for many years. The future does indeed hold a good degree of mystery, and the writer who works at many ways of growing their platform will find the right audience over time. Like so much in life, the path of publication is largely one of trial and error.
Hi there dear Jeri… a very interesting post concerning editorial discretion and the main standards when it comes to submission and if they meet the level of quality or attainment require…
The reasons above speak for themselves … they are good ways to increase exposition as well as improve writing and reach more people… obviously, being a writer is a career of life… I have always thought that it is far better when our personal likes go alongside our jobs or daily tasks – if there is other source of income-.
There are so many tools these days, that writing can even become a major career in which building a community or niche could be profitable and rewarding, both economically and professionally.
Thanks for sharing… Sending best wishes for your week. Aquileana 😉
Aqui, the tools you reference do indeed make it possible for writers to build major careers that can be profitable and rewarding. I’m excited to be a part of this Brave New World of Publishing.
I appreciate your advice and concern for ‘free writing’ and never getting the deserved recognition. Many times good writers go unnoticed because they don’t know the right platforms to share their work and yes, rejection fear is always at the back of their mind, giving a devilish advice!
I had once submitted an article in Reader’s Digest, with the least hope of getting published but it did though it was edited so harshly that the emotion behind it got lost! No regrets because they paid quite well. Second time they invited me I couldn’t write upto their standard and never tried after that.
Balroop, perhaps you will once again submit some work to magazines? Your write beautifully. That’s too bad the emotion behind your RD piece was lost in the editing process. I think that’s one of the biggest fears and concerns many writers have about working with an editor.
I have shared my work via blogging forums, posting as a guest in a friend’s e-magazine and posting on Facebook.
Exposure and constructive criticism is good if one would like to develop their writing skills and enlarge their target audience.
I haven’t sent stories to publications for a long time. Maybe it’s time to try again?
Candy, yes try again! My efforts stalled for years and years, but it’s always time to get back on that horse again 🙂
This is an approach I never would have thought of. Thanks for expanding my horizons Jeri! I love what you said about rejection. It’s a hard pill to swallow but so true!
Meredith, within your niche of decorating, crafts, and home decor I’m sure you could find lots of places to submit your work. It would be such a great way to gain more exposure for all the wonderful creative things you do.
Really good advice for getting yourself out there and seen. I think you can’t rest on the idea that people are going to find you. You have to actively seek ways to get in front of your audience. I do think it is amazing how free is becoming more the norm for publications. I’ve used a few free platforms to my advantage. However, I’m not really a writer. I’m just using my blog to create more visibility for my product so it is a bit different. I think when writing is what you sell, eventually you have to do your best to be properly paid.
Erica, and it can be such a struggle to be properly paid for writing (or for editing for that matter.) Like you say though, being active counts for so much. A writer can’t just expect to become known if they don’t take a huge role in helping spread word about their work and ensuring it’s read by an audience that’s a good fit for the material.
Excellent post, Jeri. As someone who has been writing for publication for 23 years, I can certainly agree with your points. Your writing really does improve when you work with good editors who enhance your work without changing your voice.
Doreen, that’s what it’s all about for me when it comes to writing. Every act of submitting work or getting feedback from writing groups, etc. is a step in becoming a better writer. There’s really no limit to how much any writer can improve.
I too, like many, have not thought of this before. I have concluded, it does not matter what the outcome is, just write. Write, and write for anything you can get published in. A trade, and writing is a trade, takes time to learn the techniques of that trade.
Getting editors to look at any work, helps you get advice on future writing projects.
Thanks for sharing.
William, you have a great attitude. I am trying to get into that mode of “just write” as well. It’s been a long journey to say the least, but there’s always time to start submitting pieces to as many different places as possible. That can’t happen if a writer doesn’t “just write.”
Hi Jeri, I appreciate your post and advice. It is interesting to see the other comments on it also. Rejection seems to be a key concern. Or should I say repeated rejection. You definitely have to have, or build, a thick skin so the rejection doesn’t become disheartening. .
Susan, the percentage of rejections will always far outweigh a writer’s submissions that do get accepted. To me, that’s not the part that gets to me. When I got into a good groove a few year ago, the process does indeed become almost machine-like. It can get really monotonous to research publications and keep track of the guidelines and where the submission has been sent. I’ve developed a decent spreadsheet that helps me from getting a complete headache. In a way, it’s akin to what we developed to keep tabs on all of the many files we’ve been working on to get your publications ready.
I continually learn from you & appreciate your wisdom wholly.
I send out to a few publications, but never get paid. (SIGH)
It’s always for visibility. Alone. I did win 2 writing contests and received a cash prize, though.
Just sent a poem to my all time favorite magazine. They say your chances of getting published in this particular magazine is like getting struck from lightening. I mean, seriously.
For me, getting published in this mag. would be more important than publishing a book!
Thanks, dear, for your incredible knowledge. xx
Kim, good luck with your poetry submission. My goal right now is to start with local and regional magazine submissions and branch out from there.