Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes trying to craft prose or poetry knows there are a bajillion books, periodicals, and Web sites out there with copious advice on getting published, not all of which begin with the phrase “How to.” Everybody has a tidbit, talking point, piece of experience, whatever, on what to do and what to avoid. For my part, I have read something like 6 percent of what’s been written on the subject. This is not a hallmark of my lazy reading commitment, but much more a statement on the volume of ideas, with much more being churned out daily.
So why not jump into the fray with a few points of my own? (And yes, I’m going to refer to some other things I’ve written on this blog in the past.)
1. Know who you are as a writer. There will always be neat and exciting opportunities to submit pieces, but if you’ve never written a gay protagonist underwater sea adventure before and that’s what the magazine wants, you’re probably not going to get accepted with two weeks to go until their deadline. Your time will be better spent working on your current projects. Which leads me to…
2. Have more than one project to work on at a time. Writers write on a frequent, regular basis, and some days one is more in sync with one piece than another. Sure, there are times when one needs to sink into a project—I get that way with novels of mine—but it aids one’s craft to have a repertoire of writing styles and forms. Keep those creative gears greased. This also will help when calls for submissions pop up, because then one is more likely to have an available piece to send in to the editors.
3. Speaking of submissions, keep the pipeline flowing. Got a rejection? Send the piece in again to a new market. Do not pass go and do not start all kinds of rewrites. You should have already polished it to a fine gloss, so it ought to be more about finding that right editor or market than working on the words. Make a list of all probable markets for each completed work, and then send out one after the other, once something’s been rejected. It’s not a personal thing, it’s just how this crazy business works. And respect the “no simultaneous submissions” restriction. Editors hate having pieces withdrawn because they were accepted somewhere else. Don’t make a bad reputation for yourself. You should be working on another project (see points 1 and 2) anyway, not sitting around waiting for email responses.
4. Read, read, read. I know there aren’t a lot of hours in the day, and that is why I try to make special time to read contemporary work and see what people are contributing to publishing. I also read at least a couple of older works a month because well, foundational work is important to what I do. I love a fresh twist on an old premise, after all. Reading across genres and markets will help you get a sense of which project to query where, and when joined with reading up on agent trends, can help with pitching long form work to those gatekeepers of the business. Yes, we all need to work on what makes our writing special and interesting, but it’s due diligence to keep up with the industry we say we want to be a part of. However,
5. Focus on your ideas, not the market. This may sound counter-intuitive, or at cross-purposes, but it isn’t. Pinky swear. If our focus is on what’s getting published now, we will always be two years behind the trend, since that’s roughly the lead time for traditional publishers. I know folks are touting self-publishing these days—they’ve even renamed it “indie” publishing—and for writers wanting to go that route, peace be to them. It still holds true that the best ideas are the ones not linked to a commercial license or fad. Write the stories that are pushing themselves through your fingertips, and keep at it until you find an agent or editor who digs it. Because once you’ve given up, it’s certain that nobody will publish you.