My goal for this series of blog posts is for writers to save themselves a lot of time and frustration. This series is meant to get you on the path toward publication, provided you put in the work of writing and revising. Don't worry if you don't follow all these recommendations--who could? I'll be the first to admit that even I'm guilty of sometimes not using my time wisely--look for my tip on social media! But overall this series contains hard-won truths on how to make writing a bigger part of your life. I hope it clarifies the publishing guidelines, professional etiquette, and protocols you may have been unsure about in the past. More than anything, I hope it puts you on track toward opportunities you may not have imagined.
Submitting my work for publication was something I was utterly clueless about before starting an MFA program. But I soon came to realize that there's a whole literary world out there that's looking for good content to publish. Whether you hope to publish in a print magazine, an online journal, or enter a book contest, you have to do research on what's out there and know where to look for opportunities--and trust me, they are out there.
Some of my favorite places to learn about new journals are sites like Newpages.com, PW.org, Duotrope, and, of course, Twitter.
My best advice would be to start small, if you're new to submitting your work: send to places that are known to be easier markets. Duotrope's makes it easy to see which journals have fast turnaround times, which journals are notoriously competitive, and which have a higher acceptance rate. If you're a young writer (think: high school), there are opportunities for you as well. I published my first poem in a special issue of Hanging Loose Press that was devoted to featuring high school students. In fact, Newpages.com features a fabulous Young Authors Guide that details a variety of places open to publishing the work of young writers.
Many writers puzzle over questions like when is the right time to submit my work? and how do I know whether a piece is ready to be submitted or not?. This is something I've never been sure of how to answer, because often when a story or poem is ready I sense it's done rather than deciding it's done. If it helps, many editors have been more than happy to allow me an edit on a piece that's been accepted for publication. I can't think of a single journal, press, or magazine that didn't agree to a minor edit if I felt it was needed. So basically, if you are fairly confident the piece is done and you are satisfied with it, I would encourage you to begin looking at places to submit the work. See who the editors are by reading the journal's masthead and see if they are currently accepting submissions. Most journals have designated reading periods.
The best way to learn about what journals and magazines are out there is to read what they publish. There are many beautifully designed online journals whose content is available for free online, and then there are hard-copy journals that make a small sample of each issue's content available for free online. You can also subscribe to journals, which is especially nice, as this kind of support directly helps the staff with publication costs and allows the journals to continue paying their contributors. Each year I try to subscribe to a handful of places, while reading widely online.
An editor can only say no, right? You can't let rejection stop you from sending your work out, because rejection happens to everyone. Over time you develop a thick skin. You know you're getting closer to an acceptance when you begin receiving more personalized rejections, which you will. The trick is to keep reading, keep writing, and do make time to submit your work when the piece is ready.
Tasha Cotter, @TashCotter, is a poet and fiction writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and the full-length collection, Some Churches (Gold Wake Press, 2013). You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com.