Thursday, October 6

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, October 06, 2011 10 comments
Whether your ultimate goal is to secure agent representation or to simply get paid for writing (even a pittance), establishing a publication history will help you.

The best way to get started is with short-form work--articles, short stories and poems. If you think you don't have time to generate material while pounding out novels, think again. Some of my most recent publications were pieces I rescued from the cutting room floor.

"Tribute," published in Motley Press vol. 1, issue 3, is a flash fiction piece revised from a scene I'd cut from a novel.
"The Lost Coin," published in Drown in My Own Fears, issue 16, is a fiction-in-verse adaptation of another cut scene, one that I'd unsuccessfully attempted to sell as flash fiction.

For more on giving new life to unused material, see my post Giving Life to Peripheral Stories.

I'd also argue that taking a break from your long projects to write new work in multiple forms and genres will keep you creatively fresh and flexible. It's also a great way to try out germs of ideas that could become novels.

Once you have some material to submit (critiqued and revised first, of course), how do you go about submitting?

As Angela mentioned yesterday, there are Writer's Digest market books to help you: The Poet's Market and The Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. These are both decent, comprehensive guides to publications seeking submissions. They have the disadvantage of being paper rather than databases. For a more searchable list of markets, you want the website Duotrope's Digest.

There are several schools of thought about how to break in to magazines. One school says always aim high first--that is, submit first to publications offering professional payment and high prestige. Personally, I don't think that's the best idea if you have no history at all. Aim a little lower first--markets offering semi-pro payment. If you don't have luck there, aim lower--to token payment and then to nonpaying markets. (Yet another school says start with "low-hanging fruit"--the non-paying, take-almost-anything pubs--just to have something to put in your bio. )

Another factor in a publication's "prestige" is its acceptance statistics. Duotrope provides that information for most markets. A magazine that accepts 1% of submissions is tougher to crack than one that accepts 40%. Whether payment or presitge matters most depends on your ultimate goal--do you want to be considered a "serious" poet or story-writer, or do you want to build audience and look mass-marketable?

Fit is one of the most critical considerations when deciding where to submit. Above all else, you need to see a publication's content to know what styles and themes the editors like. Most publications have at least one back issue online for perusal. A local university library would be another place to peek at issues.

If you find a high-prestige market that might be a fit, but you're intimidated about approaching, Duotrope can help you find parallel markets. Let's take, for example, Ancient Paths, a pro-paying religious market. They accept about 5% of submissions, making them fairly discerning. Duotrope provides this data on Ancient Paths's page:

Work submitted here was also submitted to...
[Fiction] The New Yorker; Harpur Palate; Ninth Letter; Cream City Review; ShatterColors Literary Review; GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator; Relief; The Midnight Diner; Fifth Wednesday Journal; Birkensnake; Ashé Journal; Mobius: The Journal of Social Change
[Poetry] The Toucan; The Electronic Monsoon Magazine; Time Of Singing; Palettes & Quills; Rock & Sling; Boulevard Magazine; Raleigh Review; Three Line Poetry; The Pedestal Magazine; Dappled Things; A Public Space; Poetry Magazine

Users accepted here also had work accepted by...
[Fiction] Insufficient data.
[Poetry] The Pedestal Magazine; Foundling Review; The Ante Review; Rufous City Review; Barnwood Poetry Magazine; Boston Literary Magazine; Pirene's Fountain

Wow, look at that! A host of other markets that have parallel tastes. Take a gander through these other listings, and you should have a plan of where to submit.

The thing with publication history is that it tends to snowball. So don't be too quick to turn your nose up at nonpaying publications. If you rack up a half dozen, the more prestigious magazines are apt to sit up and take notice--and give your work more than a passing glance.

Remember, too, that e-zine publication can increase your blog readership. Self-published writers find that getting their name out there helps drive book sales as well.

Have you started building a publication history? How might you approach doing so?


  1. Great stuff, Laurel. This reminds me that I need to get more submissions out there and to buy a newer version of Writer's Market. Happy Thursday!

  2. An inviting guide to the world of publishing. Duotrope's Digest is a very helpful site, one I will use again. Thanks for this reminder. :)

  3. Thanks Laurel,

    This is a a great source to start out in magazine work. I've been toying with the idea because so many of my Flash Fiction pieces get such good reviews on my blog and in contests.

    I think I will start by checking out Duotrope's Digest.

  4. Yeah, I took the 'low-hanging fruit' route and ever since I had something accepted there, my acceptances have been increasing. I think bios mean a lot more than we think they do when submitting to magazines! :o) Great post, Laurel!

  5. Karen: I'd forgotten to mention the regular Writer's Market, which focuses more on nonfiction markets!

    Jade: All the links right to magazine sites is so helpful, as is the acceptance rate data and parallel markets. It's a great tool.

  6. Michael: Flash fiction is one of the hot categories in short form. There are over 1,000 markets for it. Good luck!

    Jessica: I've sent some of my less mature/crafted stuff to the low-hanging-fruit markets in hopes that having more credits will open doors for my very best work. We'll see!

  7. I've been so busy trying to get my "novels" out there, I haven't really tried the short story yet. I have two shorts published in anthologies, but really want to try breaking into the magazine market. Would LURVE to get a story into The New Yorker. Ha! Who wouldn't. Maybe after Christmas I'll have some time to write up something great.

  8. I've found most of the non-paying markets to be quite discerning. And while a bio won't sell a writer by itself, it certainly doesn't hurt to have credentials.

    Pill Hill Press is probably the easiest place I've ever submitted, and I'd recommend them to anyone who wants to break in.

  9. Anne: I can see a huge advantage to placing some short stories once you have novels to sell. Zines are a good place to build audience, and your bio can lead readers to your novel-length work.

    Angela: The nonpaying academic markets are THE toughest to crack. Absolutely. They're largely in the business of maintaining the careers of the MFA and PhD set, from what I can tell.

  10. Great article Laurel. I was told to 'aim high' but it makes sense to 'aim lower' and establish publication credits. I have been holding off looking at Duotrope for another publication to send a particular story to, but you have inspired me to try again.