The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. More people are reading. Yes, in addition to binge watching their favorite flicks and listening to online concerts, they are reading books and magazines and listening to podcasts and poetry. They have the time, while confined home or cautiously trying to navigate social distancing, to read.
Writers have reacted to the “new normal” by either taking advantage of the solitude to become more prolific or suffering from writer’s block. I’ve found myself in the first category and have committed myself to the practice of writing each day. Sometimes I write for twenty minutes and sometimes for three hours. My day is not complete unless I’ve put part of a story into words.
The economic instability created by the pandemic, in addition to family responsibilities, provides challenges and reasons for why many writers are being forced to put their writing lives on hold. But even if you give yourself ten minutes a day to write one beautiful sentence, it is possible to take your mind over to that “other world.” Write a few more sentences and you might craft a fine piece of flash fiction.
So if you’d like to get some of your short stories, poems or essays published in literary magazines—what is the next step? I have a publishing history; but newspapers, magazines and information websites give me a different set of credentials. To succeed in the literary world I had to see myself as a novice and act accordingly.
Every week new magazines are founded and others stop publishing.Take the time to do the research, and you will discover magazines that are starting out, eager for contributors. Most likely there will be less competition when you submit.
Duotrope is a subscription service that helps writers locate publishing markets. Others sites to check out include The Review Review and New Pages. And there are many bloggers who make it their mission to list available publication opportunities every month. Search social media and find groups to join and follow them on Facebook and Linked-in to learn of opportunities.
Submittable is a platform used by many publications to track submissions. Most publications charge a nominal submission fee to cover the cost of the platform fees. Other publications charge no submission fees or have a “tip jar”. Writers can use the Submittable platform and their Submishmash newsletter to find publishing opportunities. Still other publications accept submissions directly through their email or use another submission tracking application. Be prepared to spend hours assembling a list of potential markets for your work.
It doesn’t matter how wonderful and perfect your submitted work may be, prepare yourself to be rejected. Every magazine has a different idea of what they think is good and what they want to print. One magazine may only be interested in nonfiction and another only pieces under 500 words. Take notice of whether they are looking for pieces that are experimental in nature and whether they favor mixed media that may combine art and photography with words or traditional writing that is set in a particular region. Always you will be asked to send your very best work, and do. Each week hundreds and thousands of writers send their pieces for publication consideration to literary magazines. The competition can be intense.
While pieces are rejected because their poorly written, many are rejected because they don’t resonate with the editors. Everyone has different tastes. Read what has been published in a magazine and ask yourself if you like the work. If you don’t like what they choose to publish, why would you think they would like your submission?
If you have the time and inclination, you can volunteer to be a reader at some of these publications. In many cases, the editors don’t initially read the submissions. It depends on the publication, but often a team of readers initially cull through the submissions and they decide what is worthy of passing up to the next level. If you become a reader for a short time, you’ll see the process close up and gain a better understanding that will help insulate you from feeling totally depressed each time a rejection email arrives.
Most of these print and online publications do not pay their contributors for first time North American serial rights. Sometimes they pay a small honorarium. Creative writing is not a money making proposition. The income, even for bestselling authors, is sporadic. Your goal is to share the art you’ve created. And in order to be read by a large audience, you’ll want to build up a list of publishing credits.
When you read other writer’s work you admire, look up where they’ve been published. Read online interviews with editors of literary publications to understand what they are looking for and how they judge the quality of submissions. A literary magazine devoted to mermaids, and there is at least one, is not going to be interested in your story about a dog in the mountains, regardless of the power of your story. A magazine focused on recovering from substance abuse, is only going to be interested in pieces that relate to their mission.
Pay attention to the submission guidelines. For one year I was a reader for the Stonecoast Review, published through the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast Writing MFA Writing program, and we read everything blind. Writers were asked to remove all identifying information about themselves from the manuscript. Immediately rejected were pieces that contained the author’s byline, regardless of the quality of their poetry or prose. I was surprised by how many published writers ignored the directions and put their name and their credits on their submission.
If the directions tell you to single space and put your 50 word bio on your submission follow their directions, and conversely if they tell you don’t indent then do what they ask. Otherwise they probably won’t consider your work.
I’m not a big success—yet, but I’m working at it and thus I’ve accumulated half a dozen literary publishing credits. That’s a start and you have to start somewhere. The restrictions of the Pandemic can provide you with the time to write new work plus review and revise older pieces you’d like to see published.
The more times you send out your pieces and the more pieces you send out, the more likely something is going to get published. I recently read a Facebook post from a writer who shared the news that a story she’d sent out 52 times was finally getting published and she was happy she hadn’t given up. What a thrill to read, “We loved your story and we would be privileged to publish it,” in reference to a piece that had been previously rejected several times. It’s happened to me more than once.
Getting published is hard work. But so is writing. Persistent effort yields rewards.