Question # 3: How Do You Get Your Work Published?

If you have never had your work published in a professional venue (i.e. magazine not owned by family members, anthologies, newspapers, contest win leading to pro publications, etc.) and you are eager to do so you might like to ask yourself:

Question #1: Have I worked long at developing my craft?


Question #2: Have I had professional critical feedback on the piece I’d like to submit and I’ve re-written it once again (after numerous previous revisions)?

I think it’s really important that you’ve accomplished these two things before submitting. Of course I’m not speaking in absolutes. There are many paths and ways to being a published writer. The path I’ve taken is what I consider “The Tortoise’s Path” of “The Tortoise and the Hare” model. I’ll blog about that path on another day. ~__~

There are a few other questions you may like to consider. Writers write and seek publication for a wide range of reasons. We are complex and complicated creatures and life is never boring even if a great many of us are neurotics. I digress. I would like to caution the writer who is seeking first-time pro publication, however, if her primary drive to be published is ego-driven. I think that before the ego must come craft…. I’m sure there are wildly successful authors whose ego considerations come before their craft. And that’s fine for them. And, perhaps, that’s fine for you. Who knows? I have strong feelings, however, about the art-fullness of work to be made public. If you’re going to do it, do it to the best of your ability. Make it count. Because once it’s out there you cannot take it back.

If you are a gifted young writer, and I met so many gifted and hard-working writers at the VPL Writing and Book Camp this past week, I would encourage you to not be in a terrrible rush to be published (Unless you’re suffering from terminal illness– that would very sad, and rushing would totally make sense.). Maybe you long to make a big literary Splash in the publishing scene. It has happened before, and it will continue to happen in the future. I think this kind of entry into the publishing scene is not without certain stresses and drawbacks that could deeply affect your career and writing development trajectory. Because even after the pro publication our writing continues to change and develop. We dig deeper. We think harder. We continue to grow. This is the lovely and amazing thing about being a writer. We can keep on learning and growing as long as we seek this! If, perhaps, you seek early career publication and it makes a Splash, you’ve set yourself up in a very public way and there will be expectations that you produce something just as splashy the second time around. The Second Book Syndrome can be paralyzing and destructive to your creative process. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. I’ve seen this happen to adult writers. I would hate for this to happen to someone in her teens. Not that you might not be up to the challenge. But let me reassure you: it’s okay to take your time. Writers needn’t race toward publication. If the story, the poem, the novel, is well-crafted and a lovely thing, it will find a home. Author Justine Larbalestier has blogged about being published early that may be of interest: I don’t want to discourage you if you’re young and ambitious. It’s great to have goals and dreams. I know sometimes there feels like a great urgency to be “a real writer” (i.e. published. I don’t know if I think that only published writers are “real writers” but that’s another essay)…. I swear. There’s lots of time. Read and read and read. Write, rewrite, ask questions, find someone to professionally critique your work, rewrite. Rewrite some more.

Now, if you’ve answered  a resounding, “Yes!” to question #1, I would suggest that you go do research at your largest library and find out what kinds of magazines and journals are being published locally/regionally. Of course you can also look online for these journals as well as looking for online publications. You need to seek out venues that would be a suitable place for your stories/poems. If you’ve written a Pro-Choice poem and submit it to a Roman Catholic magazine it’s not going to be accepted. You need to research the market and submit to likely places. Read a wide variety of journals and magazines and look for a publication that publishes work similar to yours. There’s also a lot of helpful pro tips online if you look around. Do tons of research!

Contests are also a place to submit your work. If the contest is asking for a submission fee or processing fee that doesn’t differ so much from the prize I would advise you not to participate. For instance, if they ask you to pay $25 and the prize is $500 I would consider it “not worth it”. A true contest should not have you paying anything at all. Often a magazine will have a contest and with the processing fee you receive a year’s subscription of the magazine. If it’s a magazine you like and it publishes work similar to yours and you’re interested in the content then I don’t think it’s a rip-off.

Beware of online contests and publications. There’s not a great deal of quality control there yet. You may want to seek out professional advice before submitting to venues you’re unfamiliar with. Do research. Ask around.

Question #2: Where do I go for professional critical feedback? If you live in a major city it is very likely that the central libary or university(ies) have a Writer-in-Residency Program. The Writer-in-Residence is hired by the library/university/etc. to be available to the writing public to offer professional feedback/critiques. I’ve served in four residencies and not so many younger writers were coming in to access the services. There’s no age limit. Younger writers should feel free to book an appointment to receive feedback on their writing. You needn’t worry about your work “not being good enough”, because the whole point of the writer-in-residence is to provide feedback to writers who are working on a project, so they can strengthen it. I would also add, however, that some writers-in-residence may be more helpful than others. This is true of editors. If you have a less-than-helpful interaction with a writer-in-residence or editor it may be that they weren’t the right one for your kind of work. Please don’t despair. Find someone else. Maybe there’s a school teacher who is interested in writing, is a writer herself. Maybe there’re writing workshops through Continuing Education. Find places where you can receive critical feedback so you can further polish and develop your work. Family and friends who encourage us is very important to keep us going, but they may not be the best people to critically evaluate your work. The work being critiqued may not feel so pleasant, but it’s a necessary part of revisions.

There are many paths to becoming a published writers and you will find your way somehow! Ganbare! And believe! ~__~