Even though this week has seen me struggle to lift my quaking limbs out of the morass of infirmity (i.e. I’ve been really really sick), I am proud of one thing I managed to accomplish. Small and humble it might be, but I’m glad of it all the same.
I had another story accepted for publication.
So, this means I have two stories – one for adults, and the other for children – being published within the next couple of months. Over the last fortnight I’ve actually sent off several stories, to a variety of places, and I’m hopeful that some of the rest of them will hit the mark too. Even if they don’t, though, I’m still glad I sent them out into the world. For what’s the point of crafting a story and then leaving it unread? It’s like making a delicious meal and then tipping it all into the bin. Silly.
I don’t think there’s anything I’d recommend more highly to people who want to write than submitting stories to magazines and journals. Sure, you’ll send away a much higher proportion of work than that which you’ll see in print; not everything you write is going to make it. But it’s still worth it, for loads of reasons. It gets you used to deadlines, demands, waiting on editorial responses (which never becomes fun), dealing with feedback (when the editor/s are in a position to offer it to you), and – hopefully – it gives you a chance to taste a small bit of what being a published writer is like.
There are a few things to bear in mind when you’re starting this process and – even though I am by no means an exhaustive authority on the matter – here are some of the things I’ve learned about submitting stories for publication, and how you can give yourself the best chance at success.
Write all the time. All right, not all the time. You’re allowed to sleep, and eat, and use the lavatory, and things like that. What I mean is, write for your own pleasure. Take notes of any story ideas that come to you, and keep them in a safe place. Look at everything that happens to you – people having an argument on the bus as you commute to work, a dog chasing a butterfly in the park, something funny that your child says – and see them as story elements. There is inspiration everywhere, and never let yourself feel downhearted or hopeless that you can’t find anything to write about. Taking the pressure off yourself can sometimes work wonders. Then, write the story, as well as you can, and leave it to one side. Come back to it, rework it, get someone else to read it and give you feedback, think about that feedback and then put the story aside again. Then, come back to it and finish it.
Repeat as necessary.
Build up an arsenal of words, a storehouse of stories. That way, if you come across a competition or a submission opportunity that has particular parameters – stories about cats, or pterodactyls, or written in Newcastle dialect, or whatever – you might have something in your hoard to suit. Also, with any luck, every story you write will be better than the last.
Write as much, and as often, as you can, but don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way. As long as you’re doing it for you, and it brings you joy, have at it.
Do your research. There’s no point in sending off a ten thousand word potboiler to a flash fiction publication, and there’s equally no point in sending off a piece of romantic comedy to a journal whose interest lies in the macabre. All that will happen if you send your work to the wrong place is that you’ll upset yourself (because they’ll likely reject you, and you might not be sure why at first.) It happens, though – I know a few magazine editors, and they’ll all say the same thing: they get one or two stories every time they call for submissions which are so far off their target readership that they wonder whether the writers have ever read the magazine at all.
Which brings me to my next point.
We’re living in a world where – luckily, I guess – a lot of these literary magazines are freely available online. However, if you’re submitting to a magazine which has a paid subscription, then it’s always a good idea to buy an issue or two, if you can. Not only does this give you a clear idea of what that journal is looking for – which increases your chances of being published in it next time – but it also supports the people who give up their time and energy to create it in the first place. Nobody goes into publishing a literary ‘zine in order to make money, but it’s a good thing to keep the circle going, if you have a few euro/pounds/dollars/shekels/whatever to spare.
Also, no matter how good your story is (and it may be the best story on the topic of plastic spoon production of its age, or any other), if it doesn’t suit a magazine’s theme or remit, chances are it won’t be accepted. This can be depressing, if you’ve worked hard at your tale, and if the magazine can’t offer any feedback. Don’t let this happen to you.
Make sure you use a reputable site or reference point to source the magazines or competitions you want to submit to. Unfortunately, there are a load of make-believe places out there who want to take your money. I have been caught out by one. I’m not going to name names, but I’ll say this: if I’d taken a second to Google this particular competition, I would have found out enough to keep me from ever submitting to it. If a competition has a submission fee, or a journal has a reading fee, then it’s always good to dig a little to make sure they’re on the level. Ninety-nine percent will be – and I have no problem paying entry fees or reading fees for anything which is genuine – but it does no harm to check. It’s a good habit to get into in general, even if they don’t levy any fees.
Then – once you’ve written, rewritten, polished, done your research on the journal, and you’re sure your story is as good as it can get – submit, and forget about it. This is probably the hardest bit. Submit, and don’t spend the next few days or weeks or months refreshing your inbox. Chances are, for the first while, you won’t get very far. But, I firmly believe, if you keep at it, you’ll eventually get that wonderful email that tells you how great your story was, and how pleased the journal would be to include it in a future issue, and that – well. That feeling is just fantastic.
And it’s worth all the work that came before it.
So, my pretties. Write. Submit. Go forth and grab that success out of the sky. If there are stories bubbling inside you, there’s no point in trying to keep them there.
And may all the good luck in the world go with you.
Edit: How could I forget this bit? If, at first, a story doesn’t succeed, don’t throw it away. No work is ever wasted. What didn’t work for one competition or magazine may well be just the ticket for another. The marvellous E.R. Murray wrote a blog post about this very thing only a matter of mere weeks ago, so I refer you there for further details.