Magazine Submissions: Advice from Someone Who Is Not an Expert, but Knows A Little
By Kristy Gherlone
A couple of years ago, I didn’t know anything about the writing world. I knew I wanted to be a writer and I had a lot of ideas, but that was about it. As a child, I expressed the desire to become a writer, and it was met with a great deal of criticism. It probably didn’t help that I also wanted to be a ballerina, a singer, a figure skater, and an actress. My dreams were always dismissed as foolish, wasteful, and not very realistic. My mother had me late in her life and held on to old-fashioned ideals that a woman should get married and raise a family, but despite that, I did go to college and took my first writing class. The class was called Written Critical Expression. I wrote a piece that received high praise from the Professor and earned me an overall A in the class. I was so proud! The Professor encouraged me to write more. I thought I might have a chance to make one of my dreams come true, but I ran out of funds after two years, and had to drop out of school. I got married and had children, just like everyone expected me to. The idea of becoming a writer did seem unrealistic for me at that point. I was up to my neck in diapers and had to work three jobs, at times. I still had all kinds of writing ideas, but never could find the time or the energy to jot them down.
Finally, when my children were grown, I turned on the computer and began to write. I didn’t know where it would take me, but it didn’t matter. I was finally writing! I completed my first novel and by that time, I knew a successful writer well. I reached out for advice and assistance and was surprised when I didn’t receive a whole lot of encouragement. This is what I was told:
- Writing is a tough, competitive business.
- Everyone thinks they can be a writer, these days.
- Most people don’t make it.
- There’s a lot to it.
- You’re better off trying to figure things out on your own, like I had to.
- I don’t have time to read your work.
I was stricken. I didn’t want to give up, but I didn’t know how to achieve my goals. Like I said, I didn’t know anything about the writing world.
Since I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my abilities, especially after that advice, I didn’t even try to submit my novel to a traditional publisher. I found a local publisher and did it that way. I received some fantastic feedback and sold quite a few copies. It boosted my self-confidence a bit and I was happy until that same author dismissed my success by saying that I had cheated by using a “vanity publisher.” After that, I had to admit that a part of me did feel like a cheater. My success didn’t feel real to me. I didn’t feel like a real author, so I did some research to find out what the “real” authors were doing. I found that most of them had started their careers by publishing in magazines. Everyone has to do what they feel is best for their own careers and for their own confidence levels, and I decided that what I needed for me to feel better, was to give that a try. Easier said than done!
I wrote some short stories and began submitting to magazines. My early attempts were all rejected dismissively, harshly, and unapologetically. I began to question whether I had any real talent at all.
It turns out that I just wasn’t doing it right. Now this is where I want to point out that I am definitely not an expert. Most of my submissions are rejected and I have yet to make it into the “top” 50, but I have received 10 acceptances in less than a year. I’m proud of every one. I have been in some beautiful magazines. If you only submit to the top 50, you are missing out on being part of some truly wonderful journals, and the chance to get your name and work out there.
I want to share with you a few tricks in the hopes that I might make things easier for you. I want to give you encouragement, where I was given none. Here’s what I learned:
- Get an editor. I can’t stress this enough. I use The Letter Works and my talented husband. It doesn’t cost as much as you think. Your submission will be rejected for spelling mistakes and bad grammar most of the time. You might think your work is mistake free, but a good editor can point out where your work can be improved, plus they are immersed in the business. They know what’s going on out there. I have learned a lot from mine. Even still, my work will never be mistake free. There is still too much I don’t know and the rules are always changing. This document is probably full of mistakes because I didn’t let my editor edit it. Haha.
- Do the research. I mean that. Don’t just skim through the magazines you want to submit to. I’m embarrassed now that I sent what I did to the “top” magazines. I never had a chance! The magazines usually tell you, right up front, what they like and don’t. If you send a romance to a Sci-Fi they will reject you. Go figure. Also, check the word counts of the material they usually publish or ask for. If they are prone to publishing 2, 000-5,000 word stories and you send them 500, they might not take it. The same in the reverse. Don’t send a novelette to a flash fiction mag. Check the style of writing they publish. Are they contemporary, genre specific like non-fiction. What do you write? Does your writing fit in with what they have already published? Doesn’t mean they won’t take your writing, but it’s less likely.
- Keep your cover letters simple and on task. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the magazine will tell you what they want you to write in a cover letter. A few do want flashy, creative cover letters, but I have found that most don’t. They don’t have time to read it, so they just want the facts. And don’t be showy. If they ask for a past publishing history, give it to them, but only if they ask.
- Do simultaneous submissions. Don’t just send one piece of writing to one magazine unless the one magazine you’re submitting to does not allow simultaneous submissions. (Again…do the research into the magazine you’re submitting to-this could make or break your career) You will have a greater chance for success if you send your story to a few magazines at a time, if allowed. And keep track! This is very important. Keep a log of every submission, every rejection, and every acceptance. You will need this information to withdraw, if you get accepted somewhere else and for a thousand other reasons I can think of. Keep careful track.
- Have realistic goals. Very few people just starting out get in to the top 5. Not to say that you won’t, but try smaller and work your way up. But only if you want. If you really need that top 5, keep writing and improving and keep trying. It could happen and it does to some people. But like I said, you’ll be missing out, in my opinion, if you hold out for only the top rated.
- Don’t give up. You need to keep writing and improving.
- Be yourself. You don’t have to write with the trends to be accepted.
- Celebrate your victories but then keep moving, unless one acceptance is good enough for you.
So did I achieve what I wanted to? Yes and no. I guess because I’m an artist, I still feel like a fraud sometimes. It comes with the territory, I’m told. I did ditch my worries about using a “vanity publisher.” Who cares as long as you’re happy and doing what you love. Do whatever it takes, just don’t give up.
That’s all I have for now, but look at how much I have learned in such a short time! Just by doing research! I’m here if you have any questions. I’ll do what I can to help you achieve your dreams.
And whatever happened to that “successful author” with the wonderful advice? I don’t know. I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life.
Also, here are some good sites to look at to find who is requesting material and when:
1. New Pages
3. Subscribe to Submittable
4. Simply google “literary magazines seeking fiction 2017” and you’ll come up with a bunch