So You Want To Be A Published Author?
If you’re like I was, starting to think about publishing is a little mind-boggling. You don’t know where to start, you don’t know what to do, and you don’t even know if you’re old enough to get published. Everything is foreign, and you don’t know where to turn for answers.
Luckily, publishing isn’t actually as complicated as it looks at first. For young writers, there is a legitimate concern in not feeling old enough, but in many cases excellent writing speaks for itself. If you’re good, you’re good and it doesn’t matter how old you are. Of course, competing with writers who have been at their craft for years puts young writers at a slight disadvantage. Even so, there are a few places that look specifically for young writers, and a ton of contests out there geared toward young people (meaning high school and below).
But as you grow in your writing life and career, it’s natural to want to branch out into other venues. And while novels and agents seem like the most likely duo, there’s one market a lot of burgeoning writers overlook: literary journals and magazines. The most important part of starting your professional writer career is building a portfolio (yes, even for you novelists), and that means getting a lot of publishing credits in a lot of places. It confirms your talented, marketable, and wanted and that will do wonders for future contacts about novels, collections, and other writing opportunities.
But still, where do you start? It’s easy to do basic research about writing a query/cover letter and sending to magazines, but here are my top 5 tips to starting your publishing journey:
1. Be Professional
Nothing is a bigger turnoff for agents or editors than a writer who doesn’t know what they’re doing. When you’re sending your work out you’re acting as someone trying to sell a product, but this doesn’t mean to use some sort of shtick to get your work attention. Nothing sells better than excellent writing and clear professionalism. When writing a query letter, learn and follow the basic format (which varies slightly between poetry, short fiction, and novels). In the end, it’s your writing – not your query letter – that’s going to get you noticed.
2. Know Your Market
The best way to get your work accepted somewhere is to submit to places that do what you do. If you write hardcore science fiction, don’t submit to an agent/journal looking for strictly literary fiction. If you write really flowering sweeping poetry, don’t submit to a magazine with a minimalist aesthetic. Agents, magazines, and journals all have a specific type of work they’re looking for, and you’ll be most successful if you send your stuff somewhere that publishes things similar to what you write. And the best way to find that out is to try to get your hands on copies of a journal, or look into other books/authors an agent has represented in the past.
3. Revise, Revise, Revise
While many agents will work with an author to get a manuscript looking right before sending it out to editors (who then may also work with the manuscript), magazines and journals take work on an as-is basis. The best advantage is to polish your work to its best and brightest before sending out (even novels benefit from this treatment before querying). This doesn’t mean you should anguish endlessly over every little detail, though. Get something looking good, and start sending it out. If you get back ten rejections, revise some more and try again.
4. Submit a Lot, Submit Everywhere
Submitting to one venue at a time is a great way to waste time. No matter what you’re submitting, it’s always going to pay off to find 5-10 journals, agents, etc and submit to them all at once. Of course, it’s courteous to let them know the work is under consideration in other places (this is called a simultaneous submission), and obviously to inform anyone you’ve submitted to if the piece is taken elsewhere. But be clear on the submission guidelines before you submit; not everywhere takes simultaneous submissions (and generally, I think everywhere ought to take simultaneous submissions and avoid the ones that don’t on principal).
5. Keep Trying, Keep Learning
Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected from one, ten, or however many places before getting that final acceptance. Even the greatest writers get rejected, and one acceptance doesn’t guarantee everything you submit in the future will be eagerly accepted as well. Being a writer is an amazing experience because we’re all growing, always learning and improving. You don’t get better without practice, and you don’t get published without trying. So keep writing, and go for it.
Have you ever considered publishing? Have you ever been published? Share your experiences, concerns, and questions in the comments below!