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Submitting a Story for Publication-Step 1: Where is right for you?

February 1, 2010 2 comments

The first step to seeing your story in that magazine or journal or newspaper or wherever you want to be is figuring out where that is. That is, once you have a finished story, you run into the problem of where to send it.

Recently at a workshop in Florida, a beginning author asked me, “Where do I send my work? How do I know what’s good for me?”

The only real response to that is, “Read.” If your library has a nice selection of magazines and journals, from the New Yorker and Poetry to the Paris Review to the Smalltown Quarterly, you’ve got to start reading around to discover what your contemporaries are writing, what works, how to improve your writing, and to research what editors like.

As you read, keep tabs on who the editor is, what he or she seems to like, and imagine your piece fitting in amongst those other pieces. Note the most popular topics, the ones that seem worn out (leave those alone), and the more innovative things that you can appropriate to keep your writing new and interesting.

It might not be enough to write like Anton Chekov anymore.

If you have a really youthful voice in your pieces, certain publications might detest that, and others might embrace it.

Great ways to research publications:

  • Library stocks
  • Online Magazines – Most of these are free to read, and a bit easier to get into, as long as you write quality material that fits. And it’s good to get into these as well because they are most likely the future of literary magazines.
  • Barnes & Noble, Borders, and any other bookstores carry herculean proportions of magazines and quarterlies; many of them local as well.
  • Online sources like ProQuest have immense catalogs of magazines to view, including decades of back-issues. If you are still at your university or have access through your library to e-resources like this, make us of them. It will save you lots of money and–more importantly perhaps–time.

Once you’ve got your publications in mind, it saves you time in the long run to create a method or formula for submitting. To organize your would-be publications, I recommended the method poet and essayist Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking, uses to send out his work:

First, he created 4 columns of magazines, the first being the most selective or desirable and the last being the least. So the first column has The New Yorker on top, then the next The Paris Review on top, since I can’t remember the third let’s say it was The Gettysburg Review, and I’ll make up that the last column was headed by The Michigan Quarterly.

Once you have the four columns, you make five rows. So beneath The New Yorker, put down Poetry magazine, Prairie Schooner, Granta, etc. Do that for all the columns.

Since he’s a big famous best-selling author he’s going to have a more impressive list. Don’t worry about those big magazines at this point. The Paris Review is one of the only magazines left that still bothers with the slush pile–all the unsolicited manuscripts–and even then you only have a .006% chance of getting selected, so I recommend making your lists from magazines that draw heavily on unsolicited submission until you have made a bit of a name for yourself.

When it’s time to send out a piece, he sends it out one row at a time. So that way, if The New Yorker doesn’t take it, hopefully The Paris Review will. But if not, maybe Gettysburg or Michigan Q will. If not, he sends it out to the next row.

Note that, in his words, “The worst outcome from sending it out is you get rejected. So what?”

Now, another reason that he does it this way is because he ignores the “no simultaneous submissions” rules that many magazines have. Why? Because it’s hard enough to be a writer sending your work out to everyone at once, if you have to wait for 6 months before you can put a piece back on the market, you’re not going to be financially successful and it would take DECADES to get your career anywhere. It’s likely that if you send it to The New Yorker and Poetry at the same time, there is a chance you will be found out and develop a bad reputation (at least that’s what one editor warned me), so do as he does at your own risk. For Lynch, the worst possibility in his method is that he has to turn someone down and say they can’t have it after all.

“Oh boo hoo!” He says.

He was speaking as a poet, so I imagine he has a whole different set of lists for other genres.

In fact, create lists for each genre and sub-genre you write in. If you’re a sci-fi writer, yours might look like this:

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Interzone Locus any
Analog Science Fiction and Fact 770 Neo-opsis Small-print
Asimov’s Science Fiction Not One of Us scifidimensions.com and local
Strange Horizons Challenger Continuum magazines
Another Realm Clarkesworld Magazine On Spex Magazine you know

So get busy reading and researching.

Even if you want to play it safe and lawful by obeying whatever rules editors have about simultaneous submissions (and you can always tell them that you have submitted it elsewhere right in your letter or email), you can still use this method with just the publications that do accept simultaneous submissions. And those are many.

Pens at the ready!

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