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Caring for Your Pens and Nibs
A Few Things to Consider When Publishing to Magazinesby Audrey Wildhagen
So. You’ve finished your poem, flash fiction, essay, or short story of choice. You’ve polished every word, burned the midnight oil scouring the thing for grammar errors, and gained the approval of the few private beta readers you confide in. Congratulations! The journey is half over. Time to publish!
This can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never submitted anything before. Separation anxiety is quite normal. The long process of choosing the right magazine, adhering to its submission guidelines, and making sure you don’t stick your foot in your mouth by breaking any etiquette laws can be very overwhelming! It is something that takes a lot of nerve, a lot of patience, and a thick hide. Fortunately, publishing is something that becomes more familiar the more you do it. Keep it up and you’ll find the rewards are worth it—there’s a wonderful satisfaction in knowing the editors are beginning to recognize your work out of the billions upon billions of other submissions they receive. You will carve a nice little niche for yourself, and the publishing process will become easier.
Let’s begin by figuring out how to choose the right magazine.
The best way to do this is to read. Order subscriptions and raid your local library and bookstore for anything that looks interesting. This helps you doubly—not only does it introduce you to journals that might have otherwise gone overlooked, but it also gives you a good idea of what the editors are looking for. Besides, it makes them feel good that you’re reading their magazine—it shows that you’re interested and willing put aside time and money for their organization.
Also, join writing communities, blogs, and critique groups—every once in awhile someone might direct you to a magazine or writing contest that you might not have heard of.
Definitely check out your local Writers’ Guild, if you have one. Not only will joining give you an opportunity to attend workshops and mingle with other writers, but you might end up meeting an agent or editor who would take interest in your work. Writers’ conventions may be a little expensive, but the rewards are worth it.
If you’re looking to publish online, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to just hunt around Google and see what pops up. (Some searches are more legit than others. Choose your keywords wisely!) Even if you don’t find anything that seems promising, you might end up linked to a place that does.
If you’d rather send it through the mail, that’s fine too. You can find many publishers browsing in bookstores or in libraries. Again, even if you don’t find anything that looks interesting—try looking in the back of the magazine. You might find advertisements there that are more similar to what you’re looking for.
Whether you’re looking online or off, keep deadlines in mind as well. There are magazines that publish weekly and magazines that publish yearly. Still more only publish during the summer months or during the fall. Save yourself some time and look for the kind that have deadlines within your relative timeframe—otherwise you’ll end up swimming in journals whose deadlines have already passed. Don’t hesitate to save any magazines you find that have deadlines in the distant future, though—even if it’s several months away, it could still be useful!
A few things to watch out for when journal hunting:
Writer Beware also has a huge list warnings you might find useful.
Now! Let’s say you’ve found a legitimate magazine that is practically begging for just what you’re looking to publish. How do you do it? Usually online journals will have an easy-to-find list of clear, specific guidelines regarding what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. This varies from journal to journal.
Follow these rules down to the letter.
Some editors will tear up a perfectly good manuscript if the format is wrong—if they ask for asterisk marks instead of italics or “straight” quotation marks rather than “curly” ones, do what they say. Also, some online publications don’t accept email submissions. If they tell you this, don’t try it anyway. Believe me, the reading process is long and nerve wracking no matter how you send it, and email isn’t going to make things go any faster.
Neglect these rules, and you run the risk of waiting for two months, only to find out your work was rejected thanks to some silly error. Following the rules not only insures that your work will be read, but it’s also courteous to the editors involved and generally makes their lives easier. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, either—it’s a rare editor that will mind this, and it’s generally better to sound a little silly than it is to find out you made a mistake.
For those of you wanting to send writing through snail mail, here are some basic guidelines to follow:
Poetry writers follow mostly the same guidelines with the following exceptions:
Now, suppose you’ve already published something and you want to submit it to another magazine as well. Whether or not you’re allowed to do this depends on the publisher. Some will refuse to accept anything that’s been published beforehand—even if it’s just something that was on your own website. Other places will say it’s all right to re-submit your articles as long as you mention that the piece was first published under the original magazine. Usually they’ll let you know their views on this somehow—if not in their submission guidelines, then in their advertisements, emails, or in some other way. Asking can’t hurt, though!
One important thing to remember, though: Never, ever submit something to a second publisher when you haven’t heard back from the first one yet. Wait for some kind of response first. If it’s been months after the reading period has passed and you haven’t received anything, it can’t hurt to write a note and ask what happened. (Don’t write them letters asking them for a response, though, if the reading period is still in progress. They have enough people telling them to hurry.)
A note on query letters:
Some online magazines will ask that you provide a short paragraph about yourself. Oftentimes editors just want to see whom they’re dealing with. Be brief, concise, and professional—there is no need to include your life story or every writing accomplishment you’ve ever achieved. Try to include facts about yourself that are relevant to the magazine.
That aside, whether you’re publishing online or off, you are typically not required to submit a query letter in order to get things done. Editors spend enough time reading the piles of submissions they receive; unless you have connections with the journal or a huge reputation, query letters usually aren’t needed.
However, if you do send one out, be careful what you say. Biographies usually aren’t necessary unless they ask for one or you have something in your life story that’s amazingly relevant and adds credibility to what you’re writing. Don’t mention any self-published works, vanity publications, or online works.
What is the absolute cardinal sin of query letter writing, you ask? I will tell you! An introduction explaining what you are submitting. This is a no-no. They already know what you’re sending; there’s no need to explain it to them a second time.
Above all, try to have fun when you publish. This is an adventure! You are taking your writing to new places! Who knows what could happen! If you end up making a mistake or getting rejected for one reason or another, don’t get discouraged. It’s not the end of the world, and your reputation will not be forever tarnished by one little blunder or rejection slip. As with anything, this becomes easier with practice!
Here are some places that might be of help:
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